As I sat with my brother and prepared to watch Super Bowl XLV between the Steelers and Packers on February 6, 2011, I remember thinking or saying out loud, "This whole Super Bowl thing is becoming quite familiar." And while Super Bowl appearances and victories never truly get old, at that moment, seeing Pittsburgh's favorite football team on the sports world's grandest stage seemed like just another round of the postseason; a really awesome round, but another round, nonetheless.
Growing up as a huge Steelers fan since the age of seven, I always wanted to be part of an era where seeing them in the Super Bowl was almost an annual event. Three trips in six seasons from 2005-2010--including two appearances in three years--was exactly the kind of era I envisioned.
Only problem when fans experience periods like that is they begin to expect that kind of success on a yearly basis. In Steeler Country, it's known as the "Super Bowl or bust" mentality; a mentality that's only further reinforced by a few Super Bowls in a little over half a decade.
It's no secret that Steelers fans are a bit entitled, but that's not a crime, either. In fact, we're no different than fans of any highly-successful sports team. Fans of the Yankees, Lakers, Alabama Crimson Tide and the Duke men's basketball team all have a similar "championship or bust" sense of entitlement.
Even though the championship success raises the bar of our expectations and makes winning seem almost commonplace, it's still fun to brag to fans of less fortunate teams about our team's accomplishments, trophies, parades and very rich tradition.
Having said all that, however, there is the flip-side of championship expectations, and that's the joy a fan feels when his or her team accomplishes something for the very first time, or for the first time in a very long time.
One of the things I love about sports is the child-like feeling you have even as an adult when your favorite team goes on a magical postseason run. Most people who are into watching sports begin doing so as a young child and always remember that first time their favorite sports team came of age and actually did something like knock off a juggernaut, win a division title, a playoff game or even a championship; the feeling is something you cannot buy, and it stays with you forever.
The Pittsburgh Pirates (that's right, I'm talking about baseball again) are having that kind of magical season, and I haven't been this excited about a sports team in quite a while.
It's actually quite refreshing because, unlike my Steelers, the Pirates can satisfy me with a lot less than a championship this season. Heck, after 20 years of losing, I'd give anything just to see the Buccos celebrate clinching a wild card spot.
If the Pirates magical campaign (60-39 as I write this) is making me feel like a little kid again, imagine how actual kids, who have no Earthly idea what a winning baseball team looks like, are feeling this summer.
There's a kid at work, a huge Buccos fan, who wants to be a sports trainer, and he actually landed an internship with the Pirates this summer. Can you believe that? He's 21 years old, and if this is the year the Pirates finally break through and accomplish something special, he'll be sharing his memories with other fans for the rest of his life.
Older Steelers fans no doubt remember what it was like around here in the early 70s, when the team started winning for the first time and how magical it all felt.
Instead of being the "Same Old Steelers," the team that cut Johnny Unitas and held its training camp in a horse pasture filled with manure, they were now winning division titles, playoff games, and eventually, championships; they were no longer the butt of jokes, they were among the elite teams in the NFL and a source of pride for long-suffering fans.
I recently posted a series of pieces on Steel Curtain Rising about the Steelers' magical run to Super Bowl XL and how that made me feel as a fan. I was 33 years old at the time, but to reiterate, I felt like a little kid again as I followed Pittsburgh during its magical quest for "One for the Thumb."
For me, it was the perfect example of why you follow sports and why you put up with the heartache and pain of seeing your team fall short time and time again. When it finally does happen, and your team does something truly special like win a championship for the first time in 26 seasons, it just doesn't get any better than that.
It's been 30 months since I've seen the Steelers play in a Super Bowl, and even longer since I've experienced the joy of a playoff victory. While I still have high expectations even in the face of all the adversity the team has dealt with recently, it's nice to have the Pirates around as a reminder of just how precious winning is, and how it should always be appreciated.
Will I be satisfied with just a wild card playoff spot for the Steelers in 2013 even though many experts will say that would be quite the achievement? Probably not. But maybe I'll appreciate the next playoff victory a bit more.
Here's hoping for a magical 2013 season for our Pittsburgh Steelers.