OK. The professional football season moves into its second week Sunday. And the road to the Super Bowl goes through Pittsburgh, as usual. And since it is going to be frigid and snowy in Northeast Ohio, I might as well go ahead and plan to spend Sunday in front of the TV — holding my Terrible Towel in one hand and clutching a triple Jameson in the other.
Wouldn’t fans in Cleveland, Akron, Canton and so on save themselves considerable angst and disappointment if they just became citizens of the Steeler Nation? I digress.
Whether you like the Steelers or not, I expect most would agree that over the last four decades the franchise — players come, players go — has been one of the most successful in pro sports. And the Steelers, mostly because of the leadership and management of the Rooney family, have accomplished this with a certain degree of dignity and humility.
Here’s from a NYT article by Judy Battista, “Steelers Ready for Big Game That’s Just a Game“:
Down the hall on the way to the Steelers offices are the shiny silver totems of a franchise. Their standard is so simple that when Coach Mike Tomlin was asked what it meant to play like a Steeler, he could sum it up in one word: “Win.”
So far, that has worked for the Steelers. While the Jets are the charismatic upstarts trying to emulate the run the Steelers made in the 2005 season from sixth seed to champion — the only time a sixth seed made it to the Super Bowl — the Steelers have turned conference championship weeks into a winter ritual as familiar as the missing teeth in Jack Lambert’s grin. This is their 15th A.F.C. championship game, the most appearances by any team since the 1970 merger between the N.F.L. and the American Football League.
In the airport on Tuesday morning, the “Go Steelers” signs were already flashing, the statue of Franco Harris making his Immaculate Reception was the focal point of travelers’ photos (George Washington, in full Revolutionary War regalia, stood ignored, steps away), the piles of Terrible Towels were stocked at the souvenir stores.
“The only story line we have is six trophies, and we’re trying to get another one, and that’s what we’re working towards,” safety Ryan Clark said Monday.
I want the Steelers to win Sunday. And I want them to get another Super Bowl trophy whenever that game is played, apparently this year in concert with the opening pitch of baseball season.
But I would feel better about this if the Steelers were going for the gold without Ben Roethlisberger. Would the Steelers be hosting the Jets on Sunday without Big Ben? Maybe not. And I’m sure that was the ethical dilemma — and ultimately business decision — that the Rooneys and the football staff faced this spring and fall.
Here’s the back-story from Karen Crouse in the NYT, “In Pittsburgh, a Quarterback Split“:
Since entering the league in 2004, Roethlisberger has delivered two Super Bowl titles and brought shame upon the city. Twice Roethlisberger, 28, has been accused of sexual assault, more recently last March by a 20-year-old college student who said he raped her in a bar restroom in Milledgeville, Ga., after a booze-filled night. No criminal charges were filed in part because of insufficient DNA evidence. Roethlisberger was ordered into counseling by the league, which suspended him for the first four games of this season.
On Saturday, Roethlisberger will lead the Steelers in an A.F.C. divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, and while Pittsburghers are firmly behind their football team, not everybody will be cheering for Roethlisberger.
He divides Pittsburgh, the City of Bridges, the way the Allegheny River does downtown from the north shore, with the split occurring mostly along gender lines. Men generally seem of a similar mind as Kenny, a sexagenarian nursing a beer at Jack’s Bar on Thursday morning who ascribed Roethlisberger’s behavior to youthful indiscretion and said, “No charges were filed, so I don’t pay any attention to it.”
Women were less forgiving, their ambivalence exemplified by Cecelia, a sexagenarian hotel employee who said she was tuning out Steelers games as long as Roethlisberger was on the team. “I watched the first four this season, but none since he came back,” she said. “It kills me because I really, really love the Rooneys.”
OK. Big Ben wasn’t convicted of anything — not even charged in the incident in Georgia. So maybe you just write this off as him being another self-absorbed jerk of an athlete, not alone by any means in the pros, college or even high school. And if the Fan-in-Chief is OK with giving Michael Vick a second chance, well, you get the picture.
Still the situation overall involving Big Ben strikes me as being, well, not in line with the history or tradition or culture of the Steelers.
And I hope winning doesn’t become the only standard for the black and gold.
If it does, then the Steelers become just another team.