In the comment section of a recent piece I wrote, an argument broke out. Weird, huh? The debate was over whether the Patriots, at their best, could beat the Steelers from the glory years. I don’t know the answer to that question, but what interested me was the difficulty of trying to envision such an encounter. Various points were made about the way the game has changed, which rule book we’d use and how that would impact the outcome. Others pointed out the physical differences in the players from differing eras. Players are bigger, faster and stronger than they were back in the day. Don’t forget that Jack Lambert, in his rookie year, weighed less as our middle linebacker than Chris Collinsworth weighed his rookie year as a wide receiver.
Then our illustrious editor posted an account of Big Ben’s learning curve on the RPO and its part in the evolution of the game. And of course, we’ve seen countless takes on the impact on the new rules designed to better protect the heads of players. That’s a great deal of change in not such a long time.
But the good news is — the game is still the game. I consider myself a purist and a traditionalist. Like a charter member of the Flat-earth Society, I’m not only deeply irked by the mere existence of designated hitters in baseball, but I pull out what’s left of my hair over inter-league games. At the end of the day, even with sub-packages and specialists for this and for that, the object of the game of football is still to get the ball to pay-dirt and to keep the enemy from doing the same. It’s still two armies seeking to impose their will on each other. And it’s still the best spectator sport in the world.
Also, we shouldn’t forget that spectating has evolved. The Steelers’ first playoff victory, capped off by the Immaculate Reception, wasn’t even telecast live in the Pittsburgh market because the game hadn’t sold out. That, I believe, was the last time this ever happened. Living 60 miles from former Three Rivers Stadium, I watched the games on a 19-inch console equipped with rabbit ears — no NFL Ticket, no Gamepass, no smartphones, and no 60-inch, high-def televisions. There were no 24-hour sports channels, let alone an NFL network. There were no VCRs or DVRs to time-shift our experience of the game. You watched it when it aired or not at all. There was also no Internet, and you waited until Monday morning to read any analysis in the newspaper, devouring Vito Stellino, Bob Musick and John Steigerwald.
I don’t miss the paucity of information we had back then, but I’m grateful that, at its core, it’s still the same game, and I get to see more of it, more often and more clearly. I’m grateful that the “Stillers” are still the “Stillers,” still under the Rooney family’s control and still winning. I don’t know who would win a battle between the Steelers of yore and the Patriots of today. My hope is that the Steelers of today will do well enough to face them in the post-season, and win — plus finishing the season with a victory in an inter-league game.