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Riding the football fan roller coaster

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The Steelers haven't won a playoff game since January 2011. During that time, Packers and Ravens fans have experienced the ultimate in emotional highs and lows, as both teams have won a Super Bowl, and each has lost a conference title game in gut-wrenching fashion. Being a football fan is not for the faint of heart, but it's hard to beat as a hobby.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when Antonio Brown (one of the young pups in Mike Tomlin's "two dogs, one bone" rookie kennel) caught that pass on third and six to clinch the AFC championship for the Steelers? It was glorious. Heinz Field erupted, Rex Ryan spiked his headset, and an eighth Lamar Hunt trophy was headed for the Rooney's trophy case.

It was a great night to be a Steelers fan, but that was four year ago this Friday, and we haven't had another night like it.

Since then, the Steelers have suffered three playoff losses (including Super Bowl XLV two weeks later), sandwiched around a lot of veteran releases, salary cap maneuvering, and, yes, rebulding.

During that same time-span, the Packers and their fans experienced the absolute height of emotions, when they defeated the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, and the absolute low, when they blew a 19-7 lead to Seattle with just over five minutes remaining in the NFC Championship game last Sunday and lost in overtime.

Also, in the years since Pittsburgh's last playoff win, its biggest rival--the Ravens--put their fans through a roller coaster of emotions.

Following the 2011 season, the Ravens found themselves in the AFC Championship game at New England, and appeared to be on the doorstep of Super Bowl XLVI in the final seconds. But on second and one, receiver Lee Evans couldn't hold on to what would have been the winning touchdown pass from Joe Flacco. And on fourth down, kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the contest into overtime.

That loss was a close second on the gut-wrenching scale to the Packer's meltdown in rainy Seattle last Sunday.

Of course, just two weeks ago, the Ravens were at, you guessed it, Gillette Stadium, this time in the divisional round, and this time with a two-touchdown lead  - not just once in the game, but twice. But they watched both leads slip away, and, like the Steelers, will be watching Super Bowl XLIX on TV.

What's worse, the roller coaster ups and downs of the playoffs, or spending the past few springs wondering which veteran the Steelers were going to release next, whether or not they would ever get cap compliant, and what position and player they were going to target in the NFL Draft?

Most of us would choose the roller coaster every time.

Being a sports fan is not for the faint of heart, and that's why no other hobby, no other pastime can possibly compare. People often talk about living vicariously through someone or something, and having a vested interest in a particular sports team is the very definition of that.

I often catch myself wondering why something I have no say in can elicit such emotions, but as my mom told me when I broached the subject following Pittsburgh's come-from-behind playoff victory over the Ravens on the way to Super Bowl XLV, "It's because they're our team."

The Steelers' roller coaster has been heading downward since that last playoff victory. We've endured the Rashard Mendenhall Super Bowl fumble, we were victimized by Tim Tebow's greatest game in an overtime playoff loss at Denver, and we had to sit back and watch as Josh Harris and Ben Tate tried to fill in for Le'Veon Bell in a wild card loss to Baltimore.

It's time for the roller coaster to start that long, steady climb up.

We're ready.