Last summer, right after I discovered the wonders of streaming television, I started watching really old Steelers games on YouTube.
You know how they always say life was so much better back in the “old days,” a simpler time when stuff—for example, football--was superior to how things are now? No offense to the “old days,” but football games from the 1970s just seemed so much more intriguing and mythical when I grew up watching edited highlights of them courtesy of NFL Films, a stark contrast to the taped broadcasts used by networks (in fairness, I believe it’s impossible to actually broadcast anything on film live—although, I ain’t no CMU major). Anyway, with the help of slow-motion effects, the famous NFL Films music as a backdrop and the late, great John Facenda using his gifted pipes to narrate the action (let’s not forget the late, great Harry Kalas, who did his share of NFL Films narrating during the league’s golden era), there was just something glorious about watching football that way. Watching a “live” network broadcast from those days, on the other hand? Yuck—or kind of like how one would react if they went back in time and had dinner with George Washington (“He’s much smaller than I pictured, and what’s with those teeth?”).
But I digress.
This really isn’t about NFL Films, and how it did more than anything else to help shape my love for the game of professional football (some kids had fathers that inspired their love, I had NFL Films). This article is more about those ordinary times, and how things really just happened without most people going absolutely nuts.
What am I talking about, in particular?
I’m talking about some truncated highlights I found of a midseason Monday Night Football game between the Steelers and Raiders that took place at old Three Rivers Stadium way back in 1980.
I wanted to write about this last summer before training camp kicked off and everyone focused their attention on the Le’Veon Bell holdout and how everything he did that wasn’t football-related (rapping and water-skiing were great examples) was totally distasteful and an affront to the Steelers organization, his teammates, the players that came before him, the fans that bought tickets and the fans that didn't buy tickets but who followed things from afar (like on TV).
I never got around to it, and millions of articles later, I forgot about it.
But here we are, today. It’s one year later, and the NFL—even in-spite of its ongoing crusade to make sure fans can’t financially benefit from decades-old football games, complete with horrible graphics and bad camera angles—hasn’t taken those aforementioned truncated highlights down.
So what caught my eye? Was it the Steelers once-dominant defense getting owned by Jim Plunkett and an Oakland team that, by season’s end, would become the first wildcard entrant to win the Super Bowl? Was it the multiple injuries that Terry Bradshaw suffered in the game? Was it the obvious deterioration of the Steelers 1970s dynasty in-front of a national audience?
No, it was a simple “Hi, Mom!” by veteran safety Mike Wagner as he stood on the sidelines in the final seconds of a 45-34 loss that dropped Pittsburgh to 4-3.
OK, so what, right? Yeah, so what. Wagner said, “Hi, mom!” and the world didn’t collapse. In fact, I’m guessing nobody—reporters, coaches, teammates, fans—even noticed this little gesture that is normally reserved for a win. And if anyone did notice it, I’m guessing they didn’t even care.
And they shouldn’t have cared.
Wagner obviously cared about this loss. Actually, maybe he didn’t. Maybe the deterioration of Pittsburgh’s once-great football team wasn’t so obvious to him, his teammates, the coaches or even the fans (the ones closest often have the hardest time seeing things for what they are). Besides, the Steelers were back-to-back champions and only a few years removed from a ‘76 campaign where they started out 1-4 and never lost another matchup until they advanced all the way to the AFC title game.
OK, maybe Wagner did care, but he was super-confident that his team—you know, the aforementioned dynasty—was going to be just fine.
To reiterate, the Steelers weren’t fine, and they wouldn’t be “Super” for another 25 years.
At some point between Wagner saying “Hi, Mom!” during an obvious loss in 1980 and the present time, people began to care a whole heck of a lot about EVERYTHING.
And then social media was invented.
I guess what I’m getting at is, can you imagine if someone said, “Hi, Mom!” in the waning seconds of an obvious loss in this day and age?
Can you imagine how thoroughly disgusted Bob from Brookline would be as he called into some postgame show to talk, not about a horrible game-plan or a questionable coaching decision, but that damn player (I won’t use a real example in-case you already hate him) saying “Hi, Mom!”?
The host of said postgame show may even agree with the caller and insist that there’s no place in football for that kind of stuff. You know, the whole “If you don’t care, you shouldn’t be here” kind of reaction people like to give in a really self-righteous way these days?
Mike Tomlin would likely get asked about this cavalier sideline reaction from his player. The player in question may even have to issue a public apology or, worse yet, lie about it: “I was coughing, and I’m sorry if my actions were misinterpreted as something else. Nobody cares more about winning than I do, and I look forward to helping the Pittsburgh Steelers, the single greatest organization in professional sports, win another Super Bowl.”
As they prepare for the next opponent, this player’s teammates might get asked about this controversial “Hi, Mom!” incident that may or may not have occurred in the waning seconds of an obvious loss (that’s right, this would likely turn into a dreaded distraction).
Oh well, I’ve rambled on long enough. This article isn’t meant to disparage Mike Wagner—you don’t start 10 years on an all-time great defense if you don’t actually care.
But he sure was lucky to have played football back when things were simpler and people cared less about EVERYTHING (even lower quality network broadcasts and “Hi, Mom!” gestures during an obvious loss).