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2014 Jersey Rules: Best Steelers jersey to buy this season

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A battle between a few young bucks on the Steelers in 2014 leads to one of the most labored Jersey Rules Committee decisions ever. This decision comes in wake of a change to a long-standing rule, and an increased frequency of decisions given.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers jersey is a garb of honor. We feel there is a process to be maintained in order to establish and uphold the integrity for which that jersey stands.

The Jersey Rules Committee represents that integrity, and provides a list of regulations fans much adhere in order to remain true.

These rules are not always met with an appropriate level of dignity. Some have accused us of being puppets for the NFL. Others have said we're too rigid. Some even used the dreaded C-word ("Communist").

A gigantic pish-posh to all who decry us. Hang whomever speaks of less. The Jersey Rules Committee is, and always will be, the preeminent source of purchasing information.

Committee meetings this year took on a tone of nostalgia, both for the inclusion of veterans into the dreaded "Don't Buy" category (big one this year), but for the fact it could be the last time the gathering was done in its traditional zip code. The Committee moves its headquarters to Pittsburgh this year, which is both exciting and sad.

Thank you to the City of Minneapolis, the Metrodome (which no longer exists) and Target Field for hosting our meetings. We look forward to starting up again outside PNC Park in 2015.

Without further delay, we're excited to announce a rule change. Just as society is flexible (to some degree) show shall we be able to flex and bend. The Rookie Rule has changed, thanks in part to the inspiring play of one of those rookies last season. We also changed our bylaws; this is but the first of TWO Jersey Rules Hearings we will unveil. Look for the second one sometime in December (more on that in a bit).

First, we must go over the rules...

We determine four categories: Don't Buys, Qualifiers, Finalists and Champion. There is no set amount of members in the Don't Buys and Qualifiers categories, but there must be at least three finalists, including the champion.

As the rules below will explain, the idea here is to buy the jersey of the player who has the best combination of exclusivity (i.e. it's not the jersey one out of three fans own, including that loser at the bar wearing a Pouncey jersey who, when complimented on his choice, said "I don't know who he is, I thought the name was funny. Yes, a male said this. More on the Awkwardness Rule in a minute), likelihood of standing out and modest but rising popularity among Steelers fans and fans of the NFL.

Bonus points rewarded for general "coolness" of a player, leadership among the team and likely impact of that player on the team.

As we said, there has been a rule change. We will list that rule first.

The Wary Rookie Rule (Troy Edwards/Chris Rainey Clause):

"Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) in purchasing a rookie's jersey - in particular, the first-round choice. While it does fit the Commitment Rule, and the Steelers are known for an excellent track record selecting in the first round, it does not guarantee future success, but rather, suggest less than adequate research was done. The player hasn't proved himself yet, fans should encourage him to be among the team before becoming a standout on the team."

This has been the standing rule for many years. We at the Committee are pleased to announce with the splitting of the Jersey Rules Hearing into a first half and second half, this rule has changed.

Forever forward, it shall be written as such:

Le'Veon Bell Broken Helmet Clause

Rookies must prove themselves, and as if the initial buying period (described as the final weeks leading into the start of training camp), rookies have not yet done it. They have not earned their hypocycloids. It is possible they may do this by the middle or end of the season, but not at the beginning. Therefore, rookie jerseys cannot be purchased until the beginning of Week 14 on the NFL calendar ("The Le'Veon Bell Broken Helmet Clause").

Steelers rookie running back Le'Veon Bell became the first Steelers rookie ever to win a Championship in the history of the Jersey Rules Committee. He did this because of the infamous Touchdown That Wasn't against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14 of the 2013 season.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin gave ample reason for fans to focus on him stepping on the field during a kick return, but Steelers fans should always remember that game as the one in which Le'Veon Bell became a Steeler. In a goal line situation, Bell powered his way forward in what could have been a game-tying score late in a critical rivalry that was writing a new chapter.

Bell was hit savagely, helmet-to-helmet, by two Ravens players. The force of that hit was so hard, parts of his helmet broke, and he laid motionless on the ground for a period of time. He sacrificed his head and consciousness for the sake of getting that touchdown - a true Man Play - but wasn't given that touchdown.

Finding a ridiculous loophole, officials on the field correctly ruled, since Bell's helmet had come off during the play, the ball is ruled dead when the helmet was removed. That was short of the goal line.

We vowed to honor Bell by giving him a proverbial touchdown anyway, considering he won the battle - the double-helmet-to-helmet shot given to him did not prevent him from crossing the goal line with the ball. The Ravens were bailed out on a rule interpretation that goes past the purpose of the rule itself - it's designed to increase player safety, not be used as a means to spot the ball.

The Committee is not going to complain about the call (the Steelers would score on the drive anyway), but plays like that deserve their own place in memory. We may not be able to give him the touchdown, but because of that play, Bell was named the Champion of the first ever Jersey Rules Hearing happening inside the season.

And we look forward to the rematch in Baltimore in Week 2 this year. This story may come up again a time or two.

The Oversaturation Rule:

"While allowable, it is discouraged to buy the jersey(s) of the most popular player(s)."

One of the marks of a true fan is the ability to identify and support the efforts of a lesser-heralded player. The Superstar player can't help being popular, but think of it more as spreading the love, and starting your own group of fans of a player who deserves the attention.

Or, a real life scenario, you go to a bar to watch a game and there are 50 people there in Steelers jerseys. Of those 50 jerseys, 46 of them are Troy Polamalu's. There's nothing wrong with that, but wouldn't you rather have someone that 96 percent of the people in attendance don't have?

The Bandwagon Rule (Silverback Clause):

"A breakout Steelers player will emerge every year. Find the breakout player before he breaks out. Conversely, be careful not to join the masses in buying his jersey a year too late."

This is the foundation on which the Jersey Rules are based. It's more directional than prohibitive, and it challenges the fan to know the team. Get the player's jersey before the market for his jersey becomes saturated.

It's named after former Steelers OLB James Harrison - a shining example of the value of the Jersey Rules. He was a perfect jersey to buy in 2004-07, then he was thrust into the national spotlight. By the time he was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, he was one of the greatest stories in franchise history.

The Commitment Rule (Dermontti Dawson Clause):

"A player has to be assured of being on the team for at least another few years."

This is named after Dermontti Dawson, who, in the early and formative years of the Committee, was the heart and soul of the franchise, leading someone close to the Committee to purchase his jersey because "I know he isn't going anywhere."

Those who purchased Mike Wallace jerseys in 2009, or after being named Champion in 2011 can attest to this. Wallace's name reached four-letter status last year, and that's when he was on the team. Now he's not, it will draw even more negative attention (yes, there's a rule for that too).

Arguably, no other rule is more important on its own than the Commitment Rule. Extra points are given to the guys who just got contract extensions. Certainly, it's caveat emptor if you're assuming a player will sign an extension at some point (like Wallace), but it's not impossible either, so this rule advises fans to be smart and do some research.

The Throwback Rule (The Steel Curtain Clause):

"A former player reaches Throwback Status when he has been retired from the league for five years, or has a combination of five years having played on a different team and is out of the league (aka the Rod Woodson Clause). If that player plays five years or more outside of Pittsburgh, then retires, a one-year waiting period is required."

Sadly, this rule will likely be re-named for Harrison at some point in the future. Harrison is not currently on the Steelers. If he retires in 2014, he will be off the team for one season. Four years after that, in 2018, Harrison's jersey will be eligible to be worn.

If somehow we turn around on Wallace, and he retires from the Dolphins in 2019, one season must be played before his jersey would be eligible to be worn.

This is easily the most controversial rule, and it's the one that seems to be creatively, and incorrectly, interpreted. While the Committee has heard hundreds of exception requests, it has denied all but one - official jerseys with Super Bowl XL, XLIII or XLV patches may be worn at all times.

The Committee's first official endorsement was Hines Ward before the 2001 season. It was worn every season through his retirement. Hines Ward jerseys cannot be worn until 2016 - the fifth year since his retirement. However, the Committee implemented The Hines Ward Rule, in which Ward jerseys can be worn during the Steelers' Week 17 games to honor is 1,000th catch, which came in Week 17 of the 2011 season.

We must support who we are, not who we are not.

A corollary to this is Recyclization, which is continuing to wear the jersey of a player before the five-year mark, and claiming it's a Throwback.

Recyclization draws a penalty, and detracts points from your fan credibility. Those who have earned Throwback status are to be honored, not cheapened by the inclusion of players who simply have not spent enough time out of the organization in order for their contributions to be fully realized.

As we are seeing with the absence of Ward, his memories and legacy are getting better and stronger each day. Don't use the excuse of claiming he's already a throwback because you refuse to spend the money on a new jersey.

No one said being a fan was easy. Don't cut corners.

The Dress the Part Rule (fka The Pirates Rule):

"The cheaper alternative is rarely better. Buy the real thing."

The name of this rule was officially changed with the resurgence of the Pirates this season, but it's based more on their success over the last two years. It used to be poking fun at the Steelers far-less-successful neighbors, now, the Steelers should be taking lessons from them.

This rule, simply put, mandates fans to buy the real thing. If an "official" jersey is selling for $30, there's a reason. The Committee is not interested in stories about how someone a person knows flies to China four times a year and the "real" jerseys can be bought on the streets. If it isn't real, it isn't real, and an objective eye can tell the difference.

People have tried to stump the Committee on this before, and the Committee welcomes all challengers. We can identify mistakes, knock-offs, incorrect sizing of letter, changes in font or anything else that shows a Steelers jersey is not official.

If a stitched jersey is selling on a web site for anything less than $270-$300, there's a reason. It's not real. Do. Not. Shortcut. The. Jersey.

This isn't to say you have to buy the real game jersey. The screen-printed jerseys on sale through the league or the team is perfect acceptable. Those are running for about $80 now. If the price is lower than either of those for those products, just avoid it. Don't try to justify it, the excitement of getting a great deal is clouding your judgment.

Don't Buys

It's with a heavy heart we must acknowledge the outstanding career of one "Ike T Squared." We must also acknowledge Ike Taylor is at the top of the Don't Buys list this year. Through hook or crook, unsigned or retirement, Taylor will not be on the Steelers in 2015. We hope he shoves all of that in our faces and dominates one last season.

Will Johnson has been a popular choice over the years as well. A fan favorite, recent roster moves suggest Johnson may be fighting for a spot in camp this year. While he's looking to assume something of a dual-role, H-back as well as fullback, we just can't feel confident enough in his long-term future with the team.

Much of the same, unfortunately, goes for nose tackle Steve McLendon. Rules Committee Hearings have always gone very favorably for him, but as it sits right now, he has two years left on his contract and the steady increase in dual inside/outside defensive linemen fairly call into question whether McLendon will be brought back in the near future. The economic realities of the game force good players off rosters. We hope it doesn't happen, but we can't ignore the storm clouds on the horizon.

That said, we have a variety of reasons to place Lawrence Timmons in this spot. He's possibly oversaturated, having appeared in favorable spots the last three years. He's no doubt a popular player, but he's making a lot of money over the next two years. The Committee wants to see Law Dog stay, but we can no longer vouch for his long-term security until a new deal is struck. Since that won't happen this year, we'd suggest avoiding adding another 94 to the population.

It's a bit more simple for Jason Worilds. Playing under the transition tag (as of the time of publication), he simply only has one season we can count on here. It's fair to point out LaMarr Woodley was a Don't Buy in 2011 even though we advised he'd be a champion had he signed a long-term deal instead of getting the franchise tag. Worilds is a lesser version of this. He wouldn't be a Champion, but he might crack Finalist territory if he had a contract. Without one, Don't Buy.

Qualifiers

The Committee is beyond excited for this group. Just stacked with talent...possibly the strongest Qualifiers group ever. Any time a two-time defending Champion like Cortez Allen drops to Qualifier status, you know it's good. We've vouched a lot for 'Tez, and we still feel those who trusted our judgement two years ago will see perhaps the best jersey investment ever this year. They'll be wearing the jersey of a bright up-and-coming cornerback, the same one they've had for three seasons now, and a guy who's all but assured of signing a long-term extension in 2015. That's jersey gold, that's what that is.

The soon-to-be league-recognized David DeCastro is on the verge of dominance. We throw aside emails from readers regarding the apparent "overrated" nature of DeCastro's game as simple dung-scrawlings from haters who don't understand the game. DeCastro showed flashes of becoming a very high-level player, and a zone scheme that doesn't emphasize cut blocking (ahem) will allow him to flourish now and in the future. A very solid purchase.

Boy, we'd love to throw Mike Mitchell and LeGarrette Blount on here. Technically not eligible, we feel the Qualifiers list can serve as a stepping stone for not technically eligible candidates toward future dominance on this list. Mitchell in particular has the means (freak athlete), the motive (long contract short on guaranteed money) and the opportunity (very likely the starting free safety for 16 games this year) to earn a special place on this list.

Dare we mention Lance Moore on this list for the same reasons? Hmmm...

Finalists

The Committee loves the difficult decisions. We can't go wrong here. We absolutely cannot go wrong suggesting the purchase of a jersey worn by a franchise record-holding wide receiver, like Antonio Brown. Dude was the lifeline for this offense through a horrendous start, and held onto that consistency throughout the season. He's the team MVP, he's still long in contract but only just reaching the top of his potential. Whether he breaks the team's single season receptions record (came two grabs shy last year) or not, Brown is a great story and will be a huge component of the team's offense this season and in the future.

The Helmet Break will always hold a place in our hearts, keeping Le'Veon Bell among the finalist group despite holding Champion status in December. Perhaps not much has changed, but our evaluation methods point us to believe oversaturation is likely to occur for the highly popular second-year player. Bell could go for 1,600 yards from scrimmage this year, and that may even be the expectation for him. A Parker-esque campaign aimed to revitalized a downtrodden running game could very well be the story come December, making him an early candidate for the second half Jersey Rules Hearing Champion.

For now, though...

Champion

This is a defensive-focused franchise, though, and the one guy coming closest to the tradition of a usually dominant defensive front seven is Wreck-It Cam.

Cameron Heyward held the edge outside, dominated the A gap inside and caused havoc every snap he was out there after taking over a starting role. Once thought of something as a bust, Heyward crashed through that opinion and landed on top of several ball carriers. The team has picked up the option on his fifth year and simply put, there is no defensive future without him. He's going to be in Pittsburgh long term, and he's going to be extremely difficult to stop this year.