My usual place to watch Steeler football on Sundays is fantastic bar and grill that gives my buddy (Brad is a Vikings fan and will not convert) and me a bit of special treatment as he used to work there and I have been going there for 20 years. We plop down at the bar a bit before kickoff of the early games, right in the prime spot for catching the nine TVs in the room. The bar staff always has our games on right in front of us and we can easily follow the action on the other four TVs too. The bar starts filling up with a lot of the regular crowd and new faces. I live halfway between Denver and K.C. and this is a college town, so lots of teams are represented weekly. Sometimes I even meet the occasional Steelers fan.
As a true-blue regular, I am lucky: I get my Steelers on the big screen with sound and a college kid showing pride in his Big Ben jersey a couple of seats down. It's nice having another Steelers fan around to cheer with and chew the fat with.
On this splendid fall afternoon the Steelers are playing the hated Bengals, which is always an adventure. Early on in the first quarter, Tyler Eifert, after making a snag, is heading to the turf and takes a vicious hit to the head from the always heavy-hitting Mike Mitchel. I shake my head knowing the flag is coming. The kid down the row yells, "What are the refs looking at? It was such a clean hit!" The replay shows the hit to the head. I shake my head and my buddy Brad says, "Leave it be." Brad knows what I was wanting to say to the other Steelers fan.
The Bengals second drive, which is early in the second quarter, starts off with a nice out pass to A.J. Green. Will Allen and Antwon Blake have converge on the sidelines and are wrapping him up. Whistles blow and then Blake slams the vaunted Cincy WR to the turf out of bounds. Yellow laundry hits the field for the personal foul. The college kid slaps the bar top in irritation and says, "How can the refs make such a bad call?" while looking at me. I look down and point out, "The whistle blew and Blake body slammed Green out of bounds – dumb play by Blake, as usual." He replies, "As a Steeler fan, how can you say that?" I reply, "Because I am a football fan first and a Steelers fan second."
This opens the door for the debate I have had with many football fans over the years. Are you a football fan, or are you a football fan? This young lad is clearly a Black and Gold fan first, and a football fan second. Is that wrong? Well I think so. It makes no sense to be a Steelers fan without being a football fan first. In theory, you want to watch a game that is played well and most especially by your favorite team. To argue with a replay is well, foolhardy and impossible. It is the digital age, and cameras are shooting from 22 angles now, not including the pylon cams. I'm not going to deny that plenty of calls are subjective in the NFL or just plain wrong. When you have guys who are 280 pounds and run a 4.4 40 time, barreling down on another guy who runs a 4.8, there will be wrong calls. Snap judgments are part of the game. But which is worse, being the homer that complains about the call or being the fan who has no clue about why the call was made in the first place? Hey, Steelers fans all want to see Pitt win, but are fans willing to look naive and fight against a call that even Chris (Pains-Me-to-Hear-Your-Nasally-Voice) Collinsworth, gets right the first time around?
I have no qualms with passionately protesting about bad calls; that is the nature of the beast and is required of any fan of any team. Not every ref's call can be right, every time, and when a bad call is made, it is a fans' duty to be upset. What bugs me is fans who can not even fathom any call even a correct and fair one, in the direction they do not want to see – that is, in the direction that goes against their team. Why boo at a clear holding or an obvious pass interference penalty? Why slam your mug on the bar even after the TV replay shows you beyond a shadow of doubt the penalty was warranted?
Here is where the football fan emerges: The one who understands the game of football and the many rules that come into play each and every Sunday. The one who will give kudos to the other team, even in those backbreaking moments when a good play goes against their favorite player or team. The one who knows that on any given play, there is going to be holding, that is not called. The one who is going to admit when he is wrong. The one is who going to be realistic about expectations. The one who respects the game more than he respects his own beloved team.
So which are you?