Previously, on Steeler Addicts …
Replace “Steeler Addicts” with “The Sopranos” and you have the dramatic, deep-throated voice-over greeting for every episode of “The Sopranos” before a montage of key scenes from previous episodes.
It was a familiar refrain on Sunday nights between 1999 and 2007.
With the passing of Sopranos star James Gandolfini at age 51, we’re taking another look at “The Sopranos” and drawing connections between the narrative arc of the show and the Steelers fortunes through the years.
In Part 1 of this series (click here), we explored how the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 1992 season was similar to Season 1 of “The Sopranos” and how the 2012 season was similar to Season 2. We’ll look at the rest of the seasons in this installment while we twiddle our thumbs waiting for training camp to begin so we can go back to writing about actual football.
We didn’t make you wait as long for Part 2 as some of the interminable waits between Sopranos seasons.
Almost two years went by between Season 5 and Season 6. It almost seemed as long as the 26-year gap between the Steelers’ fourth and fifth championships. The Steelers finally captured that elusive fifth title, winning Super Bowl XL in February of 2006 a month before Season 6 of “The Sopranos” debuted.
Not every season ended so well for the Steelers. Here’s how some of those seasons took on the same characteristics of chapters in the Sopranos saga.
Season 3: 2011
Never has a Steelers season ended so abruptly as it did in 2011.
The 12-4 Steelers faced Tim Tebow and the 8-8 Denver Broncos in an AFC wild-card playoff game. The game went into overtime, and the Steelers got whacked on the first play when Tebow threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.
The Steelers were eliminated in sudden death, just like so many characters on “The Sopranos.”
Some Sopranos rubouts were more sudden than others. In the Season 3 finale, Jackie Aprile Jr. tried to rob a card game with his buddies and shot to death someone who had some “friends” in the family.
The son of the former boss of the family who died of cancer two years earlier, Aprile wanted in on the Soprano action and was trying to get noticed. But his stunt went horribly wrong, and he went into hiding at housing project.
Aprile seemed to be getting comfortable with his host family and went for a leisurely stroll one afternoon when, out of the blue, Vito Spadafore shot him in the back of the head and jumped into getaway car.
The Steelers’ 2011 season ended much earlier than it should have, just like the life of Jackie Jr.
Season 3 also introduced Aaron Arkaway, beau of Tony’s sister Janice.
While not nearly as harmful on the show as Tebow was to the Steelers, Aaron was annoyingly religious.
Just like Tebow.
Season 4: 2004
Tony was in the process of buying a house on the Jersey Shore, but just when it seemed Tony and Carmela had everything they could have dreamed of as a married couple, Tony’s marital infidelity finally caught up with him at the end of Season 4.
The Steelers’ weaknesses caught up with them at the end of 2004 despite a 15-1 season.
Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took over for an injured Tommy Maddox in Week 2. The Steelers lost that game at Baltimore, but didn’t lose again in the regular season. Roethlisberger set a rookie record with 13 consecutive wins to start his career.
The Steelers even defeated their nemesis, the New England Patriots, to end their NFL-record 21-game winning streak.
Roethlisberger’s rise was as meteoric as that of Chris Moltisanti, who was promoted to acting capo early in Season 4 with Paulie Gaultieri in prison.
The Steelers were only going to go so far with a rookie quarterback, however. While the Steelers kept winning, the Patriots nearly matched them win for win. It was becoming painfully clear that one win over the Patriots wasn’t going to be enough to get the Steelers to the Super Bowl.
Roethlisberger threw two interceptions as the Steelers needed overtime to beat the Jets in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. Meanwhile, the Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts with cold precision to set up a rematch with the Steelers.
As Tony would say, “something bad is gonna happen.”
Something bad did happen when the Patriots defeated the Steelers 41-27 at frigid Heinz Field in the AFC championship game.
Tony, just as happy-go-lucky as the Steelers were throughout that magical 2004 season, was driving home one day with a cigar in his mouth blasting “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos when he suddenly ran over his golf bag in the driveway.
More of Tony’s stuff went flying out the bedroom window. Carmela wasn’t going to take it anymore. Irina, Tony’s former goomah, had just harassed Carmela on the phone and told her about an affair he had with her cousin.
Tony and Carmela separated, making Season 4 one of the few seasons that didn’t wind down with a nice family gathering.
Season 5: 2002
Steve Buscemi was the Tommy Maddox of “The Sopranos.”
Buscemi gave “The Sopranos” a new energy with his portrayal of Tony Blundetto, Tony’s cousin who was just released from a 15-year prison sentence and wanted to go legit.
Maddox provided a similar boost in Pittsburgh. The Steelers began the 2002 season 0-2 and were in danger of falling to 0-3 when Maddox replaced Kordell Stewart at quarterback. Maddox led the Steelers to a come-from-behind, overtime win over the Cleveland Browns and went 7-3-1 as a starter.
Maddox took the Steelers on a magic carpet ride to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs, where they lost 34-31 in overtime at Tennessee. Titans kicker Joe Nedney missed a field goal in OT, but an acting job worthy of a Sopranos role (he even said in the press conference after the game that maybe he should try acting) convinced the officials to call roughing-the-kicker. Nedney then made the winning kick to eliminate the Steelers.
Maddox didn’t make it as the Steelers’ long-term starting quarterback. The pixie dust wore off in 2003, and the Steelers went 6-10. Maddox was injured in Week 2 of the 2004 season and replaced by rookie Ben Roethlisberger. That was it for Maddox.
Blundetto didn’t make it as a law-abiding citizen and eventually caused so many problems that Tony had to whack his own cousin.
Despite his short-lived stint on the show, many Sopranos fans will remember Season 5 as the Steve Buscemi season, just as many Steelers fans will remember 2002 as the Tommy Maddox season.
Season 6, Part I: 2010
No Steelers championship seasons make this list, but the Steelers reached the Super Bowl in 2010 for the third time in six seasons. It was starting to seem like a Super Bowl trip every couple of years would become routine for the franchise.
Blessings seemed plentiful as the Soprano family gathered on Christmas Eve at the conclusion of Season 6, Part I. But trouble lurked beneath the surface.
Tony was alive and well after surviving a gunshot from Uncle Junior in the season debut, and he appeared to have made peace with New York boss Phil Leotardo.
A.J., Tony’s son, brought his new girlfriend, Blanca. Meadow, Tony’s daughter, called from California.
Things wouldn’t stay peaceful for long. In the final season, the New York-New Jersey feud escalates into a bloody war. Tony’s relationship with his nephew Christopher, already tense, ends when Tony gets rid of him. A.J. sinks into a deep depression after Blanca dumps him.
Likewise, calamity awaited the Steelers in 2011 and 2012.
Season 6, Part II: 1972
The last scene of “The Sopranos” sort of parallels the beginning of better days for the Steelers in 1972.
The Immaculate Reception, when Franco Harris scooped a wayward ball out of the air and scored the game-winning touchdown, gave the Steelers the first playoff victory in the 39-year history of the franchise. The Steelers vanquished the rival Oakland Raiders in much the same way the Soprano family ultimately prevailed over Phil Leotardo.
This time, only Tony’s immediate family is gathered in the final moments of the series. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” plays in the background. That song, had it been released a decade or so earlier, could have been a theme for the 1972 Steelers. Fans who didn’t stop believin’ through four decades of frustration were about to be rewarded.