In the run up to the second Ravens game I argued that it is games against potential playoff teams that can tell us if the Steelers are going to be a playoff team. Given how that game went, followed by crushing another likely playoff team in the Panthers, I’m feeling about as good about Pittsburgh’s chances this year as I have in just about any year. I noted in that same piece that it is a rare thing indeed for a consensus No. 1 seed to win the Super Bowl. Why? Because for all the measurables available to us, for every incursion of Billy Ball into the NFL, at the end of the day, like precious few other team sports, “want to” can make a huge difference.
We all know the sad calling Trent Dilfer has, being the poster child for the concept of Super Bowl winning game manager. It has happened, and will likely happen again, that a quarterback that just isn’t that good will hoist the Lombardi. But there is a difference between a guy called to not screw up, and a guy who has little talent, but who can still will his team to victory. Tim Tebow, take a bow. I know he’s a distasteful example, since his playoff victory came at the Steelers’ expense. But the man wasn’t even good enough to be a game manager. He was, however, determined enough to find ways to win.
Bubby Brister certainly was better at playing quarterback than Tebow, but the two had will-power in common. Bubby’s problem was he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Mobility matters, see Michael Vick in his prime. Intellect matters, see Peyton Manning. Arm strength matters, see Terry Bradshaw. But at the end of the day you have to put the ball where you want it. Bubby couldn’t. But he had moxie, drive, grit, heart. During his time under center the Steelers didn’t make the playoffs often, but were always competitive. In 1989 he lead the team to a playoff spot and a victory over the Oilers in the wild-card round. Pittsburgh lost the next week by one to Denver.
My hope is that the Steelers’ current struggles throughout the first quarter of this season will scrape off any remnants of cockiness or entitlement from the team. My fear is the most recent success will tempt the current players to take the foot off the gas. The team always has the Patriots standing in their way. The Chiefs look to be the real deal again this year. The fact remains, the Steelers are not going to coast into the playoffs, much less through them. They will need to fight, as underdogs. It worked in 1974. It worked in 2005. Pittsburgh’s quarterback isn’t as mobile as Michael Vick was in his prime. He’s not as brilliant as Peyton Manning in his prime. He’s not as strong armed as Terry Bradshaw in his prime. But he is mobile, smart, strong, and able to put the ball where it needs to go. Better still, he’s got fight in him. Which is why, after such an atrocious start to the season, the Steelers are still in the fight.
Eye of the tiger.