I was recently asked by someone who is obviously not a Steelers’ fan the following question. “Does it feel the same?” I looked in their direction and said, “huh?” “Does it feel the same every time? Does going through the playoffs all the time and being so close to another Super Bowl feel the same or does it lose some of its’ luster because your team has done it so much?” I imagine you too might get this question from time to time especially if you live outside of the ‘Burgh. My reply was simple. “It never gets old and it never will. While each one is different, the feeling is always the same. It’s euphoric, nerve-racking and exciting and you wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
This got me thinking about our fans in general and how we all have one common goal, but the generations of Steelers’ fans all took different routes to get there.
There’s the ‘50’s and 60’s generation that remember the dark days and all of the tough times for Steelers’ teams back then. This group is obviously dwindling with the onset of age, but this group also can attest to the fact that they know both good times and bad as Steelers’ fans and therefore they probably appreciate the team’s rise to prominence more than anyone else. There is of course the group that as kids (like me) who grew up during the ‘70’s and the amazing run of 4 titles in 6 years. For my money, this is when the Steelers’ Nation truly became “a nation” because so many kids across the country knew the two best teams were typically Dallas and Pittsburgh so you had to choose which one to follow. Some went with the Cowboys while some went to the Steelers. My guess is that the number of Steelers’ fans today grew exponentially during that time period.
Anyone from those two periods will unfortunately recall the swoon of the 1980’s and the “Post-Bradshaw-Pre-Ben” Era that left many fans yearning for the good ol’ days. While the economic woes continued in Pittsburgh, the team could no longer help take fans’ minds off of those troubles like the ‘70’s teams could. For the kids across the country who were growing up in the 1980’s, they faced a similar dilemma as did those of the Dallas-Pittsburgh times. Only problem was they were choosing between San Francisco or Washington as the Steelers were no longer relevant on the national stage. The 1990’s brought back hometown boy Bill Cowher who vowed to return the team to past glory and Cowher did that indeed, but was it all just the ‘team’ that garnered a new following of fans or was it because of the kid called ‘Slash?’ As much as the return to the playoffs most years kept the diehards happy, the new generations of fans were captivated by Kordell Stewart as sales of his jerseys nationwide were pretty huge. Along came Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward as well and we were well on the way to something special once again despite the 1-2 record at home in AFC Title games.
For kids growing up in the last decade, they have been treated to some pretty special, yet troubling things in following the Men of Steel. A home AFCC Game loss to New England in 2001 left much to be desired, but then came the boy from Ohio who as a rookie would lead us to an amazing season, yet another loss to the Pats. And then things started to click. An amazing run to the Super Bowl XL title and yet another 3 years later under new coach Mike Tomlin and now as the page turns on that decade, we find ourselves on the precipice again. While Ben Roethlisberger brought much glory to the Steelers’ Nation, he also brought much shame with off-field issues, but time heals and his life-lesson turned into life-lessons for all of us and especially our kids and newest Steelers’ fans.
So now on the doorstep to what could be our 8th Super Bowl appearance and 7th title, does this ride feel any different? Yes, because there are some different players and different coaches and even different fans. But does the fact we have had so much success over the last 35-40 years degrade the feeling of this? Hell no.