In the wake of two underwhelming performances by the Steelers in Weeks 1 and 2 of the 2014 season, the pundits' traveling medicine show is out in full force, bearing every manner of snake-oil tonics reckoned to quickly cure the grievous and myriad ills now ailing the Black and Gold. But a significant portion of their prescribed alchemy appears to be based on a misreading of that venerable motto: "The standard is the standard."
The Steelers' vaunted standard of organizational excellence isn't the child gone missing in this case. The Rooneys are still the Rooneys, and their outstanding track record stands as compelling testimony to their proven ability to adapt to changing times in the NFL. In reality, the nagging issue that has spurred so much hand-wringing among Steelers fans nowadays involves the fleeting nature of consistency as it relates to the team's performance on the field.
Perhaps we need to smell the coffee and recognize that the current Steelers roster comprises a mishmash of aging veterans and green youngsters. The quick-rebuild scheme envisioned by many Steelers fans, which would vault the Black and Gold back into the thick of the NFL championship hunt, appears to have taken a significant detour. Presently, the team finds itself in the unenviable position of needing not only to replace those players retired or released, but also to find surrogates for the locker-room leaders among its current, veteran core.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' revival as an NFL power obviously won't be any short-term project. And the sooner Steelers Nation accepts this fundamental fact, the less likely we'll be to buy whatever the armchair pundits might be peddling in the heat of the moment. In the meantime, the most constructive use of our time might simply be to separate the wheat from the chaff. More than anything else, the Steelers need to discover during the course of this season (and probably also the next one) which of their young, talented players are keepers and which are not. The time has passed to concern ourselves with whether Troy, Heath, Ike or Keisel might rebound to provide the necessary boost of veteran leadership for this team. Sadly but undeniably, these players are rapidly approaching the end of their NFL careers and won't continue to play leading roles in this team's fortunes.
Yet in facing this painful transition, many fans cling desperately to the trappings of past glory, expecting this patchwork team to magically right itself, perhaps as early as next week or next month. But what on earth forms the basis of such rosy expectations? How many players on the current Steelers roster can we count on right now to provide the kind of leadership personified by former Pittsburgh greats such as Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward, James Harrison, Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton? Because this question raises such troubling uncertainty, it speaks to the severity of the home team's current dilemma.
While many continue to base their expectations on the team's post-2000 glory years, the very heart of the Steelers' rosters that made those triumphs possible has slipped away piece by piece during the past several years. What remains today, unfortunately, isn't a particularly solid NFL team by any stretch of the imagination. Clearly, as the past two games have underscored, this realization is a particularly hard and bitter pill for Steelers Nation to swallow.
But does this mean the Steelers won't be back on top again in a few years? Perhaps it'll help to recall September 18, 2011, when the Steelers came out and stomped all over the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks by the score of 24-0 on a perfect, sun-drenched afternoon at Heinz Field. Lest we forget, it doesn't take too long in today's NFL to complete the journey from league-doormat to Lombardi-winner. As seriously flawed as Seahawk fans probably felt their team was in the wake of its drubbing only three short years ago, the Hawks are considered today as the class of the league.
It could help if diehard Steelers fans are able to maintain some sense of context. The city of Pittsburgh just might win the award as the nation's biggest, small town. Strong families and family values have always been important keys energizing the success of Pittsburgh natives. And no family better exemplifies these hometown values than the Rooneys. Even in view of its modern metamorphosis to a sports organization having truly global reach, the Steelers also have continued to operate both as a local, Pittsburgh business and an extended family. Indeed, many of the greatest Steelers of all time still wax eloquent about the special relationships they've enjoyed over the years as members of this organization.
It's also important to realize that the Rooneys and everyone who works for their organization consider the Steelers' loyal legion of fans around the world as an essential part of their own extended family. So the question begs as to the proper way to treat one's family members. When they stumble, do we lift them back up, or do we give them a swift kick in the pants as they're sprawling in the dirt? If they confront problems, even problems persisting for months or years that frazzle our patience and nerves, do we then threaten to excommunicate or abandon them? Do we suddenly lose our trust in the capabilities they've demonstrated so faithfully, time and time again, during a relationship spanning decades?
If we truly care about being loyal members of Steelers Nation and not just fair-weather interlopers, it's important to realize that this actually is one huge, raucous family. We'd never reject any of our kin simply because they don't always succeed or live up to our expectations. In a family, you root for your brother or sister even when they fail. That's what the legacy of Arthur J. Rooney, Sr., the entire Steelers family and the black-and-gold colors we proudly don on game days truly are all about. And it matters not whether we live here in the lovely Burgh or anywhere else around the wide world.
So the next time it seems appropriate to condemn or question the ancestry of Steelers ownership, coaches or players, bear in mind that, if we stood in their corner as the glimmering confetti flew while they hoisted six Lombardi trophies in triumph, we also need to have their backs at times like this. Beyond the normal, constructive advice which freely flows and always has been the spice of the BTSC community, can we suspend judgment for awhile and trust that our Steelers will bounce back to make us proud again during the months and years ahead? Can we do this, not because we're pleased by the recent turn of events, but because this huge, diverse family truly matters to each and every one of us? And armed with the assurance that we've done right by our family, is there any doubt that we'll find our way back home?