I think it’s normal for most sports fans, even those that are openly pessimistic on a regular basis, to always expect their favorite teams to triumph.
As a Steelers fan, I know I almost always expect a positive outcome, even when their backs are up against the wall, even when the deficit on the scoreboard looks insurmountable and, as it pertains to the 2019 edition, even when they’re excessively compromised by injuries.
When you expect the best at all times, those feelings that come after a win are often a little more muted than they should be.
And when you’re always expecting the best, that normally means those negative outcomes, well, they sting quite a bit more than perhaps they should. For example, while I can sit here today and logically say that the Steelers (7-5) not making the playoffs would be an understandable outcome to the 2019 season given their aforementioned injury issues, if December 29 comes and goes, and Pittsburgh isn’t an official member of the postseason dance, I will feel as disappointed as I did when that dance was missed last year—and last year included Ben Roethlisberger and also required a lot of help from the Browns.
Back to those muted celebrations. I guess you can say I’m a bit jaded. That’s fair. I think most long-time sports fans are a little jaded. To quote that one insurance commercial, “We’ve seen a thing or two.”
And that’s why this past Sunday’s outcome against the Browns was such a surprisingly pleasant experience for me to behold.
Don’t get me wrong, in the week leading up to Pittsburgh’s important clash against the Browns at Heinz Field, a match-up that would keep the winner’s playoff hopes alive and put the loser’s on life-support, I was really confident.
Again, I expected the very best. It didn’t matter that rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges was starting just his second game in the NFL. It didn’t matter that JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner would be out of action yet again. It didn’t matter that the Browns appeared to be much more talented on offense than were the Steelers.
These were the Steelers, and they weren’t going to be embarrassed by the Browns again like they were in the first meeting on November 14—a 21-7 debacle at FirstEnergy Stadium.
But in the back of my mind was this nagging thought that Cleveland would come into Heinz Field and, no, not walk away with a laugher—Pittsburgh’s defense was too good for that—but leave town with a comfortable two or three-score victory.
Then, the game started, and that nagging thought appeared to be a prophetic one.
The Browns held the football on offense for all but 3:19 of the first quarter. The Steelers gained a mere four yards on their first two drives.
Midway through the second quarter, the Browns took what felt like a commanding 10-0 lead on a Kareem Hunt touchdown.
It just felt like it was going to be a long day, like Pittsburgh’s offense was about as capable of scoring as I was in high school.
But the next four offensive possessions by the Steelers—possessions where Pittsburgh gained 235 of its 323 total yards on the day—changed everything.
Hodges and receiver James Washington connected on a huge pass on each of the next three drives, plays that totaled 105 yards and led to 17 of the 20 points the offense would score on those four possessions. The offense even did that thing where it scored a touchdown at the end of the first half and took the opening kickoff of the second half and repeated it—that’s the dream.
By early in the final period, what was once a 10-point deficit had become a 10-point advantage.
Sure, things kind of quieted down for the offense after that, and the defense had to bail it out a time or two, but make no mistake about it, Pittsburgh had total control of that football game by the end.
As I sit here right now, putting the finishing touches on this article, I still can’t really believe it happened.
It’s nice to be pleasantly surprised as a sports fan every once in a while.