The timing was not quite perfect.
It would have been better if it had started a couple of years earlier. My love affair with Joe Greene, and by extension the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers started at the beginning of my senior year of high school. Greene was a rookie on a Steelers team that was a long ways from the winning ways that we associate with the franchise today. But that was the genesis.
He was as much mentor as hero. I played defensive line and quickly adapted and patterned my style of play after his with good results. Of course what he brought to the table reverberates to this day. For the time of his playing career he was part of what is arguably the greatest professional football team ever. Certainly the best during the Super Bowl era.
The problem is, unlike the heroes I followed and celebrated via comic books, myths and other legends the heroes of the gridiron are all too mortal. Their longevity more akin of that of a house pet. So the party, though glorious, ends all too soon. Those fans under the age of forty heard about that group of 70's Steelers from those of us who are older and were fortunate enough to be witnesses to their greatness. No matter how we try, we usually feel that we fall short in accurately conveying what those times actually felt like. As younger fans tolerated our rantings with a sense of awe, envy or resentment, there was no way that you could fully comprehend their triumphs, nor the sense of loss when, one player at a time, in the early Eighties the ride came to an end.
But now it's your turn.
Yes, Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison and Heath Miller are still here, but the retirement of Troy Polamalu feels like the end, doesn't it? And this is what this particular generation of fans is about to learn. Regardless of how many Lombardi trophies are stacked in the trophy cases on the South Side, some things can simply not be replaced.
Sometime, ten, twenty, thirty years hence, assuming that there is still care and passion for this game, you are going to have to try to explain to someone who was never there what it was like to be part of the experience of Troy and the Bus, and Ben and Peezy and Deebo and Hines and Big Snack and Fast Willie and a dozen or more others. And despite your best efforts plus media aids, you will fail. You had to be there.
So, if you have any sensitivity or perspective as a fan at all you have to realize that now is a time to grieve. There will be plenty of time to contemplate the mundane concerns of the 2015 squad and the immediate future of the team and it's players. Hopefully we will see them create a new legacy. Unfortunately for many of you it may be years before you fully realize how lucky you were to have been a part of a great era, but largely missed it, didn't appreciate it because of a fixation on more petty concerns. I guarantee you'll come to regret it.
So here is the reality, if you are capable of comprehending it. Put aside your mock draft and fantasy calculations for just a moment, please. Troy is gone. And with him an era of Steelers football that will be as legendary in it's own way to future generations of fans as the Seventies are to this. No replacement is coming. There will be someone different, maybe even better if we're lucky. A sense of appreciation requires that we mark the moment.