As I’ve stated multiple times, Steelers’ Nation is a diverse crowd. Whether young or old, from the Pittsburgh area or never setting foot in the United States, there are a lot of differences in the people that make up the Steelers fan base but a very common thread in which they are united.
As I participate in various podcasts on he BTSC network, there are some complaints about the Steelers that get to me quite often. Talking about the team not making the Super Bowl in 12 seasons, or only having three playoff wins since the last appearance, I understand that the Steelers could give much better results. But I’ll dive more into that later.
In looking at some of these differences in expectations for the Steelers, I found it was very common that it wasn’t just about how someone became a Steelers fan, but when they became a Steelers fan.
While I’m not going to try to speak for all fans at this time, I can do what anyone of us can do and share our perspective about my history with the Steelers and how it affects my expectations each year.
Born in the late 70s, I have no recollection of the great Steelers dynasty. They are very few players I remember at all only because their career spanned later in the 80s. Players such as Mike Webster, John Stallworth, and Donnie Shell are ones that I saw play as a kid, but not that I knew of them as being Super Bowl champions.
The first quarterback I remember for the Pittsburgh Steelers is Mark Malone. I have no idea where my first memory of games fell between 1984 and 1987, I just know it was during the Malone era that I can remember seeing the games on television.
Because the first two quarterbacks I experienced in my lifetime with any memory of the Steelers were Mark Malone and Bubby Brister, I started off my Steeler fandom as someone following a team that used to be good but wasn’t anymore. Hearing about the Steelers winning four Super Bowls in the 70s was ancient history to me. My experience with the Pittsburgh Steelers was a team that was unlikely to make the playoffs and nowhere close to the dynasties I saw in San Francisco and then Dallas.
With expectations of the Steelers not being a good football team anymore, I followed them through my middle school years but also paid attention to other dynamic players around the league such as Randall Cunningham. The Steelers would always be my team, but it’s not like I was cheering for someone who was going to hold a Lombardi trophy at the end of the season.
When I entered high school, the Bill Cowher era began and it was exciting as a Steelers fan. Seeing that team through the 80s, as well as my father constantly saying how bad they were when he watchedthe games, I still never really believed the Steelers could be Super Bowl champions. Even when they won the AFC Championship Game, I still never had an expectation that the Steelers could win the game. They were two touchdown underdogs to the Dallas Cowboys and I never really thought a win would happen. So when it didn’t, I wasn’t surprised.
The first ever NFL draft I watched was in 2004. There was all the drama of Eli Manning and where he would or wouldn’t play, plus I had watched a prime time college game late in the season where they were highlighting Miami of Ohio because their quarterback was someone who was going to get drafted. I remember saying how I would love for the Steelers to trade up and get him. But when the Cleveland Browns passed on Ben Roethlisberger, I knew that he would be there for them to draft at the 11 spot.
It was also an interesting time in my life because that was the first NFL draft that happened after I got married. I had followed the Steelers as much as I could the prior season, but now living outside of the Pittsburgh area and games not yet being available via the internet was a how things were. So when I got to actually see Steelers game on television, it was exciting.
As the Steelers kept piling up victories in 2004, more and more of their games were available to watch. I saw Roethlisberger take his first snaps earlier in the season as they were playing the Ravens which was the home market for my area. The back-to-back wins against the undefeated New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles were really exciting. But I still didn’t have Super Bowl expectations.
The 2005 season changed everything. The Steelers squeaked into the postseason, and I got together with my former college roommate to watch the playoff game against the Bengals. I thought the Steelers had a real good chance. As we know, they were victorious and moved on to the following week. I was excited because I felt they could upset the Colts, but I wasn’t banking on that they would. The fact that Indianapolis rested their players to end the season and had a bye, I felt that was unwise and that they were in the best position of the entire postseason to get knocked off. If the Steelers weren’t going to do it, they were going to run through the Super Bowl.
After that victory against the Indianapolis Colts, it was the first time in my life that I honestly believed the Pittsburgh Steelers could win a Super Bowl. I was 27 years old, and for the first time as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan I felt my team could actually win it.
As we all know, the Steelers went on to appear in three Super Bowls over the next six years and won two of them. It was a great time in the life of Steelers fans who weren’t alive in the 70s. I couldn’t believe I was getting to experience such a thing.
Because I had such low expectations of the Pittsburgh Steelers throughout most of my life, I’m not one of those people who are down on the team for not winning more playoff games over the last decade. Instead, I’m someone who loves the team is relevant every year. Looking back at Ben Roethlisberger and seeing that he only played in two games in his entire career where the Steelers weren’t still alive for the playoffs and therefore had a chance at a Super Bowl, that’s an amazing stretch. With the 2005 season showing all that it took was getting a ticket into the postseason and playing well at the right time, I thought the Steelers have had a chance ever since. Even if they haven’t won playoff games, knowing that your team at least is in a position to where they could contend has been an absolutely amazing run.
How long will this run continue? I don’t know. It would be great if it does through the 2022 season and then take it from there. But I’m just grateful for what the Steelers have offered through my adulthood. Because when I look at my childhood, I didn’t have any hope that my team would ever do anything.
Because this is where I come from, it frustrates me when other fans complain about the playoff wins or saying that not having a losing record is settling for mediocrity. I get it. But if your Steelers fandom started with Ben Roethlisberger, no wonder you feel that way. Even if it started with Neil O’Donnell, there’s a lot of good Steeler seasons in there to be happy about. But for me, growing up watching Mark Malone and Bubby Brister, I’m just happy going into the final week of the season and knowing that my team still has a chance to play for the championship.