The sight of dozens of Steelers players and coaches who stuck around after a 16-13 victory over the Bengals and watched helplessly as the fate of their 2018 season played out on the Heinz Field jumbotron is something that will stay with me for quite a while.
With the thousands of fans who also remained in the stadium to see the final moments of the Browns and Ravens game at M&T Bank Stadium unfold, it had the makings of a truly awesome scene, one in which the players and fans could have celebrated as one—as a black and gold family—and one that I would have cherished for years.
Sadly, there wasn’t a happy ending, and the players and fans, instead, grieved as one, knowing what they had been dreaming of since training camp—a world championship—would have to wait until next year.
If only Baker Mayfield had just one more magical pass left in his magical rookie season. If only that wide-open Browns receiver had caught that pass at the end of the first half instead of allowing it to clang off of his face-mask. If only the officials hadn’t blown a play dead prematurely and prevented a Lamar Jackson fumble at the goal line from being returned all the way for a touchdown.
If only the Steelers hadn’t needed the Browns to win in-order to punch their ticket to the postseason for a fifth-straight year. Now, Pittsburgh will have to begin a new playoff streak in 2019.
It didn’t have to come down to scoreboard (or jumbotron) watching, not after having a 2.5 game lead in the AFC North with just six to go. Had the Steelers been able to take care of business down the stretch in their own stadiums—stadiums in-which they held fourth quarter leads in their last three losses—they wouldn’t have had to worry about the proceedings at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday night.
Make no mistake, a 2.5 game collapse in six weeks is pretty bad. And if the Steelers players felt helpless and hopeless as they watched Mayfield and Co. try to get them into the playoffs, imagine how the fans felt over the final six weeks as they watched the team throw away a prime seed, a 2.5 game lead and, ultimately, the postseason.
Imagine how the fans almost always feel.
Sure, it’s just a game, but it’s a game in-which thousands of fans have decided to make an almost unhealthy emotional investment in. And that is kind of silly, since, you know, we’re just fans, fans who have no actual control over the outcome, save for those really loud cheers designed to “mess” with the opponents’ heads.
Standing around and clutching your Terrible Towel as you helplessly watch other people decide how happy or sad you’re about to be is no fun.
“What the hell was he looking at?” T.J. Watt may have screamed as he watched Mayfield’s fourth down pass wind up in the arms of the Ravens’ C.J. Mosley with the game—and Pittsburgh’s season—on the line in Baltimore.
Now he knows how we feel.