After almost five decades inhabiting the planet, with the majority of those years existing as a die hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I have had the pleasure of witnessing the full spectrum of Steelers seasons. Thankfully I wasn't around for the pre-Noll and Mean Joe years where the Steelers were the laughing stock of the NFL.
My earliest memories as a child revolve around the unparalleled Steel Curtain dynasty. Four titles in a six year period is unprecedented and the very definition of domination. That era of success set the bar of expectations for a large portion of the fanbase old enough to have experienced it. Some expectations are simply unrealistic.
The NFL is celebrating it's first century of existence this season. Many franchises have come and gone, each experiencing different levels of success and failures. Presently two franchises share the distinction of having won six titles during the Super Bowl era, the New England Patriots and our beloved Steelers. It has been far more feast than famine for all of us Steelers fans, if we are being honest.
This season of heart breaking losses and the catastrophic injury to the face of the franchise has tested the intestinal fortitude of the fanbase. Many individuals have had their fandom called into question. Some fans will cling to the positives while others will choose to focus on the negatives. Both groups have merit and are valued members of Steelers Nation. They simply have different mindsets and choose to focus on different aspects of the product they see each week on the field. With that being said, the time has come for Steelers Nation to learn to appreciate the journey, not just the destination.
Ben Roethlisberger has never endured a losing season. With a healthy Big Ben behind center, the Steelers had to be viewed as a playoff contender with Super Bowl aspirations. There were going to definitely be growing pains with all the new faces in new places, but the talented additions to the team, especially on the defensive side of the ball, were undeniable. One elbow injury later, and the expectations for the season changed dramatically.
Suddenly you are looking down the barrel of a rebuilding season and are forced to make adjustments on the run. If I am being honest, I have been pleasantly surprised with the Steelers hierarchy new found aggressiveness and forward thinking, starting with the addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The Steelers watched a potentially historically bad Miami Dolphins team throw a fire sale of any of their remaining valued assets in a unbiased attempt to tank the season for improved draft positioning, and the Steelers decided to not look a gift horse in the mouth.
I am in no way a draft guru, but Fitzpatrick is superior to any potential safety prospect entering next year's draft in my humble opinion. He also represents an immediate upgrade over Sean Davis, the man who held the position previously. This is also an important development seeing how Davis will almost assuredly not be returning to the team next season.
Suddenly the Steelers have one of the fastest, most athletic, young safety tandems in the league. They seem to be enjoying an instant chemistry, which is imperative to Terrell Edmunds development. Troy Polamalo would have been unable to play his instinctive, free lancing style of football without his partner in crime Ryan Clark having his back. Each man brought out the best in the other. I feel the Edmunds/Fitzpatrick union can achieve similar results. The potential to witness the evolution of this chemistry promises to be a sight to behold.
The inspired draft maneuvering to acquire ILB Devin Bush looks like a stroke of genius, as it has elevated the performance of the defense as a whole. As I mentioned in a previous article, Bush's presence on the field escalates Vince Williams strengths, while at the same time minimizing his weaknesses. Bush is still learning the professional game, but his speed and instincts are impossible to ignore. He is a leading candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the shrewd addition of Steven Nelson at cornerback. He has performed at a superior level, and brought much needed stability to the CB2 position. His preparation and competitiveness have been quite impressive to say the least.
My hope for the rest of this season is that each of us, as members of Steelers Nation, can faithfully cheer for our beloved team as they strive to achieve their full potential as a cohesive unit, not just for this season but for those to come. Hopefully we can support each other as we endure the peaks and valleys of a rebuilding season which so many of us are completely unaccustomed to.
We hold our team to a higher standard because of the unprecedented success of the organization. Maybe it is time each of us looked in the mirror and decided to do the same as a fanbase.
This team has portrayed a level of camaraderie and character that we can all be proud of. They have displayed a team first attitude. That hasn't always happened in the past. They deserve our steadfast support.
If Big Ben has a successful rehab from his elbow surgery, he should return next season to a team with improved experience and playoff aspirations. Sounds like a plan to me.