On February 1, 2009, the Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in a thrilling Super Bowl 43 to claim their record-setting sixth Lombardi Trophy. A few days later, while still basking in the glow of victory, I was surfing the internet reading every article I could find about the game when a link took me to a site I’d never seen before. “Behind the Steel Curtain” was a blog about the Steelers, with articles written by fans like me and a robust comments section that was a cross between high-end football conversation and a testosterone-laden episode of “The Real Housewives.”
I immediately created an account. I had no experience with blogs before but I’d noticed most members posted under a screen name related to their Steelers’ fandom in some way. My favorite at the time was “Bad Ma’afala,” a play on the name of former Steelers running back Chris Fumatu-Ma’afala. There were several user names related to my all-time favorite Steeler, Jack Lambert, such as “58,” “Jack Splat,” and “Jack Lambert’s Missing Teeth.” Still, I wanted a name related to Lambert in some way. So I came up with “Cliff Harris is Still A Punk,” which was a reference to the moment in Super Bowl X where Lambert slammed Harris, the Cowboys safety, to the ground after Harris heckled Steelers kicker Roy Gerela for missing a field goal (a more complete account of that moment is chronicled in the article to which I’ve linked below). With the “CHISAP” moniker in tact, my membership in this unique Steelers community was off and running.
The first Fan Post I wrote was about how Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes to win Super Bowl 43 was the greatest throw in Super Bowl history. For some reason, I used no capital letters in the post. Maybe I assumed there were no rules on the internet, even those pertaining to punctuation. Or maybe I was going through an ee cummings phase. Whatever the reason, people were complimentary of the content, but the comments about my disdain for punctuation were priceless. After being called everything from an idiot to (sarcastically) a delicate genius, I reverted to traditional punctuation in subsequent posts. Lesson learned.
That was one of the things about BTSC back then. The editors in the early days of my time here, first Michael Bean and then Neal Coolong, did a great job churning out interesting content. But they weren’t much interested in policing the comments section or promoting civility within the community. This had both positive and negative consequences. The positive is that free speech was alive and well. You couldn’t curse, but if you wanted to beef with a fellow community member you could have at it. You could talk about race, politics and religion, too, or debate hot-button topics of the day. Very little was off the table.
The negative was that BTSC often degraded into a cesspool. The beefs were ugly and personal, sometimes extending into 200 comment threads where 150 of them were two posters insulting each other in full keyboard tough-guy mode. The threads that incorporated politics and religion were even worse. Nothing matched the game-day threads for incivility, though, where posters excoriated Steelers’ players for every mistake as though they were criminals. There was a cheap entertainment value to these threads — like rubbernecking at the scene of an accident — but the overall effect was toxic. Valued members of the community were turned off and eventually stopped posting. The climate deteriorated. By 2013, I’d lost interest myself. I rarely visited the site, and I stopped posting altogether.
Then, around 2015, I happened to log back on one day, where I read an article by the late Ivan Cole, who posted under the name RickVa. It was a piece on what his Steelers’ fandom meant to him, and it was beautifully done. I’ve searched for it so I could re-post it here, but haven’t been able to find it. I did, however, find the article to which I’ve linked below, which is another thought-provoking piece by Ivan, like so many of his articles were:
When I read Ivan’s article that day, it got me thinking about what I’d loved about BTSC when I had first joined. Foremost, it was the news and information about the Steelers, which was more detailed and in-depth than any other source I could find. Just as much, though, I enjoyed the community. The fighting and name-calling was exhausting, but when I ignored that, and I focused on the people whose thoughts I really valued, it was a worthwhile place. I hesitate to list some of the members whose words I enjoyed most, and whose posts I read regularly, because I don’t want to forget anyone. But the names I do recall deserve to be recognized. There was Ivan, of course, and Paper Champions, and 5020, Hearts and Smarts, Phantaskippy (later revealed as Geoffrey Benedict), Steel 34D, Rebecca Rollett, Steeler Fever, Drop The Hammer, Homer J, PaVa Steeler, Maryrose, SNW, Steel Canuck, Shannon White, Pittsblitz56, Toronto Steeler Fan, GoldShoes68 For HOF, Tannosteel84. Great names, interesting posts, thought-provoking conversations about football and about life.
So I came back. I simply decided to read the people whose work I valued most and to ignore those I didn’t. And I started writing more often. And Neal, still the editor, began bumping some of my articles to the front page. And when Jeff Hartman took over I reached out and asked if he was looking for full-time writers. Jeff said yes, and I joined the staff. Along the way, Jeff, and some of his valuable community moderators, managed to eliminate the cesspool element and create a kinder, gentler BTSC. The game-day threads remain a dungeon of ugliness, but the disagreements elsewhere are largely civil. And the community remains strong.
That’s about to change, of course. For those of you who are late to the party, Behind the Steel Curtain is set to expire in its current form. You can read all about it in the letter below that Jeff posted on Sunday. The short of it is that Vox Media decided to drop its podcast platform, which created an opportunity for the staff here to develop a new one, which we’ve done. You can still find us over at Fans First Sports Network (Home - Fans First Sports (ffsn.app), where we are re-creating BTSC as The Steel Curtain Network, which goes live on 7/15. For direct access to all the content you’re used to, simply go to steelcurtainnetwork.com.
This, then, is my last article for BTSC. I want to close by saying thank you to everyone who has supported this blog, in general, and my writing, in particular, over the years. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to discuss my love of football and of the Steelers with all of you, and to engage with those who agree and disagree alike. If you are a football fan in general, and not just a Steelers fan, I’ll be extending my reach by writing for FFSN NFL and on my NFL podcast, “The Call Sheet,” the latest episode of which you can listen to here:
The film rooms and commentary on the Steelers will continue over at SCN, and as we gear up for an exciting 2023 season, I hope we can share it together. Thanks again to the voices past and present who have made BTSC a huge part of my life these past 14 years. And to those of you continuing onward and upward with us at SCN and FFSN, I can’t wait to celebrate that seventh Lombardi as a community.