Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The greatest sports franchise?
We’ve made it this far.
::catches his breath and pinches himself again::
It’s still a bit hard to believe that the Steelers are in Super Bowl XLIII, with as many rough patches as we’ve hit this year. (And if it’s hard for me to believe, I can’t imagine what Cardinals fans must be thinking!) Then again, a Super Bowl seemed inconceivable to me in October of the 2005 season.
The Super Bowl is being analyzed to death, as usual. Will Hines Ward play? Will Ben Roethlisberger post a passer rating that media pundits won’t make fun of for years to come? How many Bruce Springsteen songs will we hear this week?
I’m not going to analyze the nuances of every position and matchup, mainly because I have a life and am not getting paid to write this blog. Instead, I’m going to talk about the team behind the team.
An ESPN columnist recently put forth the proposition that the Steelers are the greatest sports franchise—which, of course, set the message board on fire. And a case can be made for many different pro sports teams.
In baseball, there are the Yankees. In the 1950s, they would be the only candidate for the honor, but they have lost some of their luster, mainly because baseball has lost its luster. The steroids scandal looms large over the sport, and the lack of a salary cap has given the Yankees the reputation as “the best team money can buy.”
Within the NFL, some will say that the Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team.” In the NBA, arguments can be made for the Celtics and Lakers. Quite a few hockey fans voted for the Montreal Canadiens. If I looked deep enough on the board, there was probably some Brit making a case for Manchester United.
Only the truly blind fans of any of those teams can hold out against the Steelers as the greatest franchise.
I moved here in November 2002 (I will always remember it as the day the Steelers and Falcons tied), and it didn’t take long to get caught in Steelermania. When a co-worker was selling tickets to a game the next year, I jumped at the chance.
It was, technically, a meaningless game against the Chargers. It was December and both teams had been eliminated from the playoffs. The temperature was in the 20s—not ideal conditions to sit seven rows from the top of Heinz Field.
You wouldn’t have known that by looking at the fans. The parking lot was filled with tailgaters and the place was as packed as if a playoff spot were on the line.
But fan fervor isn’t the only thing that makes Steelers fans great. Win or lose, we do it with class. While there are exceptions, as a rule, you would never see Steelers fans pelting the turf with beer bottles or cheering over an injured player. And, as far as I know, Heinz Field does not have, or need, its own jail.
This was borne out in the AFC Championship Game when Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee was taken off the field on a stretcher after a scary neck injury. The sound in a stadium is far louder than it sounds on TV, and it was with pride that I could clearly hear Steelers fans shout, “Good luck, Willis!” as the gurney wheeled past.
Whatever happens on Saturday, I’m sure that the vast Steeler Nation will continue to represent the greatest sports franchise with class.
Steelers 31, Cardinals 17.