By Jason Keidel
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It sounds rather convenient to say one’s a Steelers fan, what with all manner of Super Bowl ring and bling and their endlessly bejeweled masthead flying in the winter wind. It sounds like we picked our teams using the same, cold calculus as Yankees fans. To you, we measure life and love by championships.
But the more frigid reality is that when the Steelers won their fourth Super Bowl, I was 10. When they won their fifth, I was 35.
And if they trade Ben Roethlisberger, I will be 60 when they win their next Lombardi Trophy.
There’s a baleful buzz around Big Ben and my beloved black & gold these days. Reports say that the mountainous QB is now a mutinous QB, demanding he be traded at the end of this season, ending an iconic career that saw three trips to the Super Bowl, two ending in ultimate victory.
As fans we are expected to eat a lot of crow, crap, and humble pie. We are asked to be patient during rebuilding times, through indifference, and through incompetence. The term “Root for the laundry” implies that no matter who’s swathed in our favorite colors, we cheer, never jeer, our boys.
But some crimes are not forgivable. We can tolerate some apathy and stupidity, but not self-mutilation. Trading Ben Roethlisberger is such a celestial blunder that it rattles the implicit and impenetrable bond between our stars and ourselves. As troublesome as it sounds, it could force some of us to reconsider our loyalties, and even alter the altar we bow before on Sundays.
The fan/franchise relationship is wretchedly one-way. They do what they want – not always with winning in mind, but always with money in mind – and we are expected to stick with them, like a beleaguered spouse who knows their partner is serially unfaithful.
We are expected to buy the “stay with us” battle cry, without question. We are expected to spend our hours and dollars on the premise and promise that they do everything they can to reward us, their fans, their souls.
And we perpetuate this pathology by remaining faithful, through thick and thin and thunderous, murderous seasons. Even the Steelers fan endured the Cliff Stoudt, Mark Malone, Bubby Brister, David Woodley epoch of inequity and iniquity.
But trading Big Ben is a deal-changer if not a deal-breaker. For the first time in this fan’s life, it’s time to ponder my dedication to the proposition that all Steelers teams are created equal.
Forget who’s right or wronged, whether this falls on Ben or Haley or Tomlin or all three. Who cares whose ego is most bruised? We are talking about men who get paid copious quid to either play or coach a game. And it seems one ball isn’t enough for them.
It’s no secret that Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley don’t get along, that they see the playbook in entirely different hues. It’s also no secret that the Steelers’ offense hasn’t been the same since they brilliantly let Bruce Arians walk.
Arians, of course, took his act to Indianapolis, where he helped some kid named Andrew Luck become a star, a stud, and a perennial All-Pro for (at least) the next 15 years.
Hubris is a helluva thing. We who worship the Steelers, who still get that childish, Christmas jolt of adrenaline just at the sight of that logo on the right side of the helmet, who regard black & gold with the same reverence we afford red, white, and blue, are used to their penurious ways.
The moment a Steeler becomes a star, the Rooney family can’t find their checkbooks. We – yes, some of us still speak in the collective – have let many a warrior walk, from Rod Woodson to Levon Kirkland to Mike Wallace to Plaxico Burress to Santonio Holmes.
The only time the Steelers dug deep into their gold-plated pockets was for Big Ben, the hulking heart of our team. No. 7 has been No. 1 for too long. Trading him could leave some of us with no choice but to jump ship.
Or maybe not. We are strong and loyal. And stupid. And they know it. Let’s just say it’s not in the Steelers’ best interest to test our friendship, our marriage, or our intelligence.
Even those of us who saved our Terrible Towel from 1978 – when the faded, yellow rag had just three Super Bowls stitched on the cloth – have a breaking point. If they trade Big Ben, the Steelers will be breaking bad. And we may break right along with them. Even the most frothing fan has a limit. Please, Pittsburgh, don’t find out what that is.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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