We are less than one month away from seeing the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field for the first time in 2021 season. Granted, it’s the earlier-than-usual inaugural contest of the preseason also known as the Hall of Fame Game. But still, it’s Steelers players in uniforms and pads for our viewing pleasure either in person or on our television screens.
Unless you began your Steelers fandom within the past year, you should be aware that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys were scheduled to play in the 2020 Hall of Fame game which would have given both teams five preseason contests. Instead, this game, as well as all other preseason games, were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. BEcause of the postponement, the same matchup is slated for the 2021 season.
But a lot has happened in the NFL since then. The regular season was expanded from 16 games to 17 games as it is the first increase in contests during the regular season since 1978. In doing so, teams are only playing three preseason games giving them a stagnant grand total of 20 contests before the postseason begins.
Whether or not trading a regular-season game for a preseason game really counts as playing the same number is up to your own interpretation. Getting an extra meaningful game appears to be a good thing for fans, unless your team manages to lose said extra game affecting the overall success of their season and possibly changing their postseason status.
But enough about this, we are here to talk about the Hall of Fame Game.
One of the cuts to the NFL preseason is that the game lost is what would typically be Week 4. With the regular season still starting at the same time, it gives teams two weeks of preparation between their final preseason game and their opener. The Hall of Fame Game has always been thrown on at the beginning of the preseason, which it is once again in 2021.
Usually, the extra preseason game is not something that teams desire. The last time the Steelers played in the Hall of Fame Game they lost place kicker Shaun Suisham not just for the season, but for his career after he suffered an injury on a kick return along the sidelines on what was deemed an unplayable field the following season. So playing that extra contest has not always been something teams wanted to do.
But for 2021, having a fourth preseason game is basically rolling into the season similar to what teams have been doing for years. How each franchise has allotted their playing time each week the preseason varies, but teams like the Steelers have a general idea of who’s going to play how much each week.
What is nice about 2021 is the Steelers will get to keep that same model if they choose. Additionally, they will still get the two-week break before the beginning of the regular season. It basically gives the team only one changed factor for a season rather than two. For the other 30 teams in the NFL, they are dealing with adjusting to the number of games and the additional time before Week 1. The Steelers and Cowboys will just have the one change this year with what would likely be the other adjustment next year.
One thing which does have a negative consequence of playing in the Hall of Fame Game is the need to start training camp earlier as players will be in a live contest before the rest of the league. The NFL set a starting date for both the Cowboys and Steelers of July 21 in preparation for the extra game. Although in official report of when players will begin various meetings and team activities has not been released, the first padded practice open to the public at Heinz Field is on July 28. Therefore, it appears that the Steelers, although possibly using additional time for other preparation, are not taking the field too early in the process to drag out the ‘physicality’ of the season more than they have to.
Whether or not the extra preseason game will affect the Steelers in 2021 is anyone’s guess. And by the time the end of the season rolls around, most fans will probably forget about the Steelers even playing in the Hall of Fame Game. Additionally, these factors may have no bearing on the season. But if the preseason is going to be changed somewhat, implementing that change in stages like the Steelers and Cowboys are able to do in 2021 may make the transition a little bit easier. Add in the induction of Bill Cower, Donnie Shell, Troy Polamalu, and Alan Faneca to the weekend and it makes for plenty to be excited about the first week of August.