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Loss to the Patriots the most bitter of losses for Steelers faithful

All Steelers’ post-season losses hurt, but none hurts worse than one occurring in the AFC title game. Such was the case Sunday night, when Pittsburgh fell to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

NFL: AFC Championship-Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

I get it, the Steelers had a great season in 2016.

When you win nine games in a row, the AFC North title, two playoff games and come within one victory of the Super Bowl, all you really need is some time and perspective to know it’s been one heck of a year.

But not enough time has passed to gain that perspective, at least not for yours truly.

You see, if there’s one thing I hate more than anything in sports, it’s losing in the conference championship round of the NFL playoffs which, in the Steelers case, was a 36-17 blowout at the hands of the Patriots in the AFC title game at Gillette Stadium on Sunday evening.

As a semi-professional football writer for the past six years, I haven’t had to deal with such a loss because Pittsburgh hasn’t suffered one since a 41-27 drubbing at the hands of those same Patriots in January of 2005.

That was a long time ago—long before I ever had a notion I’d be doing stuff like this. But, much like in 2005, or three years earlier following a 24-17 defeat in the AFC title game at Heinz Field against (you guessed it) New England, I probably won’t watch much of Super Bowl LI.

That’s a shame, because I really love the Super Bowl. In fact, I think it’s the greatest sporting spectacle in the world and a yearly event whose history I probably know more about than most people.

But my love for the Steelers trumps my love for the Super Bowl. So it’s only natural that I wanted them to make it that far, and when they lose the game before the game, it just takes a little longer for the numbness to wear off.

Don’t get me wrong, any defeat in the postseason hurts, but the thing about a loss in the wild card or divisional round is that it affords more time to gain perspective, and you can actually enjoy yourself on Super Bowl Sunday.

But when your team—in this case, the Steelers—reaches the conference final, that gives you a whole week to hope, to imagine how awesome it will be when it reaches the Super Bowl. With each conversation you have with a friend, family member or just a stranger at the grocery story, the bubble of hope grows more and more, as does the fantasy.

Just picture it: your favorite team playing on the game’s grandest stage. And not just the game itself, but what about the hype and build-up that takes place during the two weeks prior?

What about the city? Ever been in Pittsburgh during the two weeks before a Steelers’ Super Bowl appearance? It’s magical, simply magical.

I know you might hate it, but I can’t get enough of the hype and coverage...especially when Pittsburgh is in it.

Remember the beginning of the regular season, when Sammie Coates would actually catch long passes and then hop up and do the “feed me more” hand gesture afterwards? That’s how I would have been over the next two weeks, had the Steelers been squaring off against the Falcons down in Houston.

I know some people consider Super Bowls XXX and XLV to be two of the biggest heart-breakers in franchise history (and there’s no doubt that they were). But for my money, the AFC title game losses that followed the 1984, 1994, 1997, 2001, 2004 and now 2016 seasons were even more painful.

Maybe that’s why I was super-annoyed to see people on social media Sunday night proclaiming next season to be the Steelers’ year for No. 7, baby! I mean, this was like seconds after the game. For starters, you said the same thing last year. Secondly, just three hours before that, THIS YEAR was supposed to be our year for No. 7, baby!

Should I inform the Falcons and Patriots that, oh sure, they can go ahead and try to win Super Bowl LI if they want, but ultimately this will pale in comparison to Pittsburgh winning No. 7 next year, baby!

Speaking of Atlanta, I sure was annoyed to see so many Tweets and Facebook posts that read, “Go Falcons!” or whatever. What do I care if Atlanta beats the Patriots? I wanted the Steelers to do that.

Did I say I was annoyed? Yes, I was, and reading stuff like, “Well, at least we have the Penguins” sure didn’t help my mood any. What do I care about a regular season hockey game in January when the Steelers just lost out on a chance to go to the Super Bowl?

However, Penguins talk wasn’t nearly as annoying as, “Well, now it’s time to focus on the draft.”

Focus on the draft? Oh, you mean that thing that produced Landon Collins, the safety out of Alabama whose talents you hated so much, you threatened to break your laptop if the Steelers selected him in the first round two years ago?

I don’t know how Giants fans reacted when New York picked Collins in the second round—maybe they smashed something, maybe they didn’t—but he was just named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year, and he might win the same award that James Harrison won in 2008.

So, yeah, I can’t wait for three more months of that same kind of “evaluation.”

I know what you might be saying right now: “Hey, I’d rather them not even make it than make it and lose.”

Shut up.

At the end of the day, there’s a lot of emotional investment that has taken place by the time a team reaches the conference championship game—especially when two postseason victories were required to get there, which was the case with Pittsburgh in these playoffs. Therefore, if I seem moodier than usual over the next couple of weeks, please forgive me.

I just need some time and perspective to get over the Steelers’ loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

But the time for that perspective is not nigh.