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Boredom gave birth to The Renegade, but not until another birth made it happen

Justin K. Aller

I was bored.

It was Easter of 2012, and I was driving back from my parents place, just dreading having to go to work the next day. I absolutely hated that job (it was hard to determine what was worse, the 40 mile commute, the trashy, unfriendly co-workers or the premise of what we were doing).

I was in the process of grasping how to attract an audience to Behind The Steel Curtain and comprehending the amount of work associated with that effort.

Upon consulting my idol, Steel City Insider publisher Jim Wexell, I had come to the conclusion I will never be as sharp as he is. His writing is always informative and entertaining. My goal, modest in itself, was simply to meet those criteria. Reading and studying Wexell, and hundreds of others over the years, I'd been stuck in the idea that I simply cannot write like those guys.

Seth Wickerstram of ESPN is probably my age, give or take a few years either way. I can't write features the way he can. I can't capture a scene or connect the bigger picture of the subject to seemingly unrelated yet very appropriate avenues.

That feeling only led me to the conclusion that I had peaked as a writer. Much like my football and baseball careers peaked in high school, I was on the flag football and slow-pitch softball circuits of my writing career.

I was a "blogger," for lack of a better term. And I was bored.

Something Wexell had told me the previous year (I have been writing game match-up columns for him since 2007) about being technical but not too technical, being detailed but not suffocating the reader always intrigued me. Since having been placed in charge of BTSC's editorial content after the 2011 season (my first game story for the sight was Denver's overtime win over the Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoffs, otherwise known as "The Tebow Game"), I had been waiting for a topic to land in front of me, one in which I could be technical but not too technical. I could be detailed but not suffocate the reader.

Why I thought this was something that just landed in front of Wexell is beyond me. "If I was a better writer," I often thought, "I would find what's there and seize it."

For whatever reason, that April evening, my boredom drew me to the idea of a season preview, much like former BTSC editor Michael Bean had put together through the now defunct Maple Street Press. I got excited about the idea of publishing an entire magazine, perhaps collaborating with other Steelers "bloggers," and some design and graphics people I knew from my newspaper days in North Dakota and Iowa.

It excited me. It was a huge undertaking - I remember how stressed Bean seemed when he was hammering out features for the MSP season previews. I was excited at the idea of being stressed. That's what boredom does to me.

It also makes me make proclamations like I'm going to climb Mount Everest, only to quit the pursuit when I remember I don't have any climbing equipment. Grand plans, little follow-through. I accepted the fact I passed time by dreaming up ideas, knowing subconsciously I'd never take it past that stage.

I wonder if Wexell ever had this issue. Maybe not, he's not a "blogger."

That April evening, I didn't care. My mind was set on a season preview issue of some type. Self-produced, maybe I could find a way to get some advertising. Hopefully I could get the support of SB Nation (the owner of Behind The Steel Curtain). Maybe Wexell could even write a forward of some kind. I could use the credibility.

All I needed, as I slowed to a stop on highway 62 in Eden Prairie, Minn., was a name.

I flipped the radio station, and there was a quick pause, followed by 15 of the greatest words in Steeler Nation.

Oh mama, I'm in fear for my life from the long arm of the law

Boom. Buh Boom. Buh Boom.

Lawman has put an end to my running and I'm so far from my home

Cue harmony.

Oh mama, I can hear your crying you're so scared and all alone

Boom. Buh Boom. Buh Boom.

Hangman is coming down from the gallows and I don't have very long


I had a name for a season preview issue that would put the rest to shame.

The Renegade

I cranked the radio, scaring my wife in the process. She's well aware of the significance of the cheesy rock song turned Steeler Nation anthem. Like everyone, she doesn't think the song is anything of value until the idea of the strategically used highlight reel is played - only in big defensive moments at home games - gets thrown into the mix.

Great moments are born in such ways. Fittingly, I like to think the legend of the Styx song among Steeler Nation began the same way - someone thought it was a cool song to use as a video montage of big hits from Steelers players. So the video people at Heinz Field gave it a shot, and the response was huge. They kept doing it, and it became legendary.

Comparing what would be my end product to either the Steelers defensive success, the notoriety of the song or the highlight montage its known for in Pittsburgh was, and is, silly, but it wasn't going to dampen my enthusiasm anymore. Even the thought of it was more exciting than anything I would face in my job, as well as my contributions for the web site in a post-draft delirium.

Starting small, I mapped out 24 different story ideas, which would, by my estimate, total roughly 10,000 words. I had ideas for graphics and even toyed with a budget for freelance photographers.

The likelihood of actually getting any of these things accomplished seemed low, but I was going to aim big and see where it took me.

Amid the further scheming and early layout ideas I continued with my slow-pitch softball life - both in writing and actually playing slow-pitch softball on Wednesday nights. I came back from a double-header May 23, 2012, ready to get some ice, drink a few beers and watch playoff basketball and/or hockey. This tradition was, in many ways, more enjoyable than playing softball.

I came into my house and noticed it was a bit cleaner than usual (we aren't big cleaners, unfortunately). The couch cushions were neatly assembled, seams down and there wasn't anything on the table that suggested our preference of utilizing it as a catch-all. Odd, but nice.

I cracked open a Summit Extra Pale Ale, and poured it into my frosted Steelers pint glass. I cracked apart the bag of ice and lathered it over my strained quadriceps. Of course, as soon as I sit down, my wife informs me she left a bag in the car I would need to fetch. I did, among reminders I'm much more effective in such endeavors when I'm coming out of the car, or at least not in a state of ice, beer, couch and TV consumption.

She then tells me to look inside, so I did. I pull out something that looks like a pen or a digital thermometer. She looks at me, beaming, and I thank her for getting...whatever it is.

She asked me if I knew what it was. I flatly said, "no." She informed me it was a pregnancy test. She also informed me it was positive. It's rare when I'm at a loss for words, but a solid four seconds went by before I finally said, "Holy shit!"

Strangely, it felt soon after my boredom was filled with the idea of a Steelers season preview magazine simply to get me through to what would consume the rest of my non-working time.

Thus, The Renegade faded as quickly as it began. I thought about it often enough, but it just had to be placed on the back-burner. If I wasn't going to be able to do it the way I wanted, I didn't want to sully the grand idea. I would just do some sort of breakdown for the site come July, and go from there.

That's pretty much what I did. As I'm writing this, I don't even remember what I wrote last year. Probably the same tired stuff; again, I'm a "blogger." Todd Haley's offense. Jonathan Dwyer's ceiling and basement. Mike Wallace's contract. Some more about Mike Wallace's contract.

It's odd, but the "blogger" gets information largely from the beat writers covering the team. That information is oftentimes the trite, cliché stuff we see on news aggregate web sites.

Is that the fault of the blogger or the beat? Is a web site without team access, but a wide-reaching scan of internet headlines used to generate their own content worth anything?

Depends on which "blogger" you ask. Some do it with quality in mind, and add intelligent opinion and analysis. Some refuse to be labeled a "blog," and instead, indulge in the misnomer they are some kind of first-source news outlet (despite poor writing and merchandise advertising splashed through their picture-less content).

Through the birth of my daughter, job changes, financial strife and the recovery from all of those things, I came to a few simple conclusions.

I have the opportunity to improve as a writer as much as I want. I have the format in which to challenge myself every day in a positive way. I have the choice whether I care how I'm labeled in comparison with other writers, sites and blogs.

Steelers running back Rocky Bleier said, upon being drafted by the U.S. Army, "I guess I could just be the best soldier I can be." It wasn't a question of who he was or what he was doing. It was centering the concept of being the best he can be around the situation life gave him. I had lost sight of those simple principles through visions of glory and the thrill of competition.

I'd like to say my daughter taught me that; it seems the "bloggish" thing to write. She's teaching me why those principles matter.

Instead of delusions of a mass-produced War and Peace-like season preview of the Steelers, I'm just going to write it as best I can. You can't get bored with the constant drive each day to do your best.

With that in mind, I present to you the first edition of The Renegade. Call me whatever you want to - blogger, writer, editor, hack or author.

I'm writing this for my daughter as an example of what can happen when you stop letting yourself be bored. I'm doing it to show her I sat down with a plan, and I followed through on it. I'm doing it because I realize now I don't need to be Jim Wexell in order to produce quality.

Styx didn't write a "great" rock song. But it's still significant to a group of people, passionately devoted and loyal to the Steelers' brand.

Maybe this isn't Stairway to Heaven, but it's going to be the best I can do.

And I'm ok with that.

I hope you enjoy it, and from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your support.

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