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Why the Steelers vs. Panthers game actually matters

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No one can really get into the final preseason game, but it may matter to a player who ends up getting cut…or one who makes the team initially.

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Few things irritate passionate football fans more than the final preseason game. It's almost worse than watching someone live-tweet a Miley Cyrus concert.

The things I read are intense. I'll admit I'm one of those people who refuse to get totally dedicated to it and it's hard to feel a ton of pride about it. It's borderline-work to watch, like sitting through a terribly boring movie. You want to like it and they swore there were good actors in it. You feel nothing. Is it over yet?

You'll likely never see half of these guys again and, frankly, with the amount of flags in any given game, the notion that we're supposed to wear our jerseys and cheer loudly is a remote possibility. It's not even a game against opponents, it's like an organized inter-squad scrimmage. Do you know who Stephen Houston is? He's a guy with roughly as much chance of making this team as BTSC's John Phillips, but Houston will have more carries than Phillips tonight.

Although I might pay more to see Phillips lug the rock, all things being equal.

The question it begs, though, is how pointless this final game might be. It may not mean much to us. It may not mean much to the announcers, the columnists, or the starters, but for the players fighting to make that final roster spot, it's the most important game of their life. And against the slimmest of odds, they might make the team. They also may be cut the next day.

Ex-Steelers punter Drew Butler outlasted veteran Brian Moorman to make the 53-man roster last year. He was unceremoniously dumped the same day when Zoltan Mesko hit the market, fresh off his release from New England. Mesko would end up being released during the season in favor of Mat McBriar and, currently, Butler, Mesko and McBriar are all free agents. But the fact the Steelers scout punters about as well as Miley Cyrus sings without AutoTune is beside the point. Guys who "make the team" based on the strength of tonight's performance can be cut the following day.

Such is life for our Fourth Quarter Preseason All Stars. But we can root for that. Maybe we SHOULD root for that. We can cheer the thought of a guy finally being able to call himself an "NFL player," regardless of whether it's on the bench or the practice roster and even if it's only for a few hours. It works in reverse, too. Last year, Kion Wilson was released by the Steelers, signed to its practice squad, promoted to the active roster, given a game-day helmet in Week 1 and played the entire fourth quarter in a loss to Tennessee after Larry Foote's injury. That's a lifetime of roster transactions in the span of just a few days.

That's more to the point, though. Let's face it, injuries happen. So some of these guys will get a chance to prove their worth at some point as a kind of tryout for a different team (Steelers Fourth Quarter Preseason Hero DuJuan Harris is having a great camp in Green Bay). But if they don't make their case in the final game, someone else might be wearing their jersey.

I understand it's annoying and while I'm not demanding that we suddenly abandon our hate for this game, let's at least try to understand why it's so important for coaches and general managers. After all, what if your favorite player ends up going down at some point during the season and backups aren't available? These guys might be the ones replacing them.

Just some food for thought.

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