(We're still taking the day off, but we thought we'd toss this out there for you, so you had something today. Plus, it's really good. See you tomorrow.)
We are officially less than a month before the start of the NFL season, so it's probably time to start previewing the monster. The key to the NFL's success — other than fantasy football and gambling, of course — is the rabid nature of its fans. That is to say: You don't see a lot of people painting their faces for their favorite golfer.
We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, even a TV guy or two, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, why My Team Is Better Than Your Team. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever. We will be running two a day until the beginning of the NFL season.
Right now: the Pittsburgh Steelers. Your author is Don Spagnolo.
Don Spagnolo is a freelance writer and editor of Mondesi's House, a Pittsburgh sports comedy blog. He is also the owner of Steelcityauctions.com, a Pittsburgh-based sports memorabilia firm. His words (and pictures) are after the jump.
If you've ever wondered how important the Steelers are to Pittsburgh, let me take you back to Monday, June 12, 2006. Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers' 24-year-old Super Bowl Champion quarterback and resident King of the City, was thrown from his motorcycle and onto the windshield of a 62-year-old woman.
The media covered the event with the 'round the clock coverage reserved for international tragedies. The local news on the ABC, CBS, and NBC affiliates each devoted the first 20 minutes of their 11 p.m. newscasts to the accident, as if nothing else happened in the world that day. And then they kicked it to sports, where they covered it again. Fans drove from hours away just to sit outside the hospital, where other fans were holding tailgate parties and vigils simlutaneously. There was a parade of media members descending on the city to cover the tragedy. The event was an absolute circus, by anyone's account. Thankfully, the big lug survived. But Pittsburghers acted as if one of their own was lying on death's doorstep.
Pittsburgh has always been a city that is very proud. When a national media member dares rank the Steelers too low in an absolutely meaningless Power Ranking poll, Pittsburghers take it as a personal insult. They are proud of their football tradition, from the amateur ranks to the professional. This is a region that has produced Bill Cowher, Curtis Martin, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas, Lavar Arrington, Marc Bulger, Marty Schottenheimer, Marvin Lewis, Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett and Ty Law, just to name a few. Not to sound like a clich , but football is life in Pittsburgh.
With that as a backdrop, you may be able to imagine how honored I was when I opened my email on Monday morning and found an invitation to write the Steeler Preview for Deadspin. Of all the great Steeler and Pittsburgh sites on the web, I'm flattered to be the writer asked to represent my city.
If you've ever visited my site, Mondesi's House, you know that I'm big into lists. So today I give you 50 Reasons Why I Love the Steelers, in no particular order. I realize there are plenty of Steeler haters out there, so this could easily be construed as a list of reasons why you should hate the Steelers. But look around at our city. We have a baseball team that hasn't had a winning season since 1992. We have a hockey team that threatens to leave town so often, you can set your watch to it. We have a college football rivalry that's been on hold since 2000. We have a city government that is $839 million in debt. So bear with us if we feel the need to celebrate our football team.
50. Only two head coaches since 1969. The Emperor Chas Noll was in charge until 1991. He left behind a legacy of four Super Bowls, nine Hall of Famers, and never buying a house in North Carolina while he was under contract.
The chin in a non-gametime moment
49. A strong-armed, swashbuckling quarterback from Louisiana. Played the game with a gambler's mentality. Once had a season of 24 interceptions and six touchdowns. No, I'm not talking about Brett Favre, I'm talking about one Terry Paxton Bradshaw.
48. We may not always have a great team, but we always have some fantastic names. Alvoid Mays, Bam Morris, Boo Bell, Bubby Brister, Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, Kimo von Oelhoffen, Louis Lipps, Shayne Edge, Tunch Ilkin and Weegie Thompson. The Steelers have never let me down in this category.
47. The Jerome Bettis Trade. The St. Louis Rams traded Jerome Bettis and their third round selection (Steven Conley) in 1996 to the Pittsburgh Steelers for their 2nd round selection (Ernie Conwell) in 1996 and 4th round selection (later traded to the Miami Dolphins) in 1997. The Rams were right, Bettis was a bad seed. Good thing they drafted Lawrence Phillips that year.
46. Rocky Bleier. An American war hero who was injured in Vietnam after being drafted by the Steelers. Sort of like Santonio Holmes, only the total opposite.
45. Nate Washington. He attended Tiffin University, which is NCAA Division VIII for those of you wondering, and he is quickly ascending up the Steelers' depth chart at WR. In the mold of Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, he is proving that you don't have to play at USC or Miami to be an NFL receiver. He's every bit an NFL player as they are, as Bill Cowher will point out. But why does Cowher insist on calling him "the player"?
44. Greg Lloyd. He was named to five Pro Bowls and three All Pro teams in 10 seasons with the Black and Gold. But in my mind, he'll forever be remembered for the t-shirt he would frequently wear, that read, "Real Men are Black."
43. The Steel Curtain. Mean Joe Greene. L.C. Greenwood. Dwight White. And who could forget Ernie Holmes? How does this guy not get more love? He was arrested for shooting at a police helicopter, he appeared in Wrestlemania 2's Battle Royale, and he's absolutely ginormous.
Why is this man not on Celebrity Fit Club?
42. The Roethlisburger. A $7 concoction of beef, sausage, scrambled eggs and American cheese named in honor of our hero. It's about time these Pittsburghers put some meat on their bones.
The best part? Totally fat free.
41. The Kent Graham Experience. I love how Steeler fans have totally erased this from memory, as if it never happened. Wasn't that the basis for that movie, " Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"?
40. Hines Ward. The former Georgia Bulldog quarterback and 1998 draft pick earned his first Super Bowl ring in 2006. Well, there's at least one former SEC quarterback picked in 1998 who's gotten the Super Bowl monkey off his back.
Someday, big guy. Till then, just cut that meat.
39. The Bus. No one has ever taken advantage of his popularity as a Steeler more than Jerome. We were treated to years of Bettis Salsa, Bettis Cereal, Bettis Mustard, even Bettis Helmet Cakes. Now we get a weekly dose of Bettis with a side of Cris Collinsworth and Peter King. Makes me long for the salsa days.
Eat my cereal, so you can have a build just like mine!
38. Troy Polamalu. The hair. The religion. The song. The bulldozing of former USC roommate Carson Palmer en route to the end zone. Everyone loves Polamalu. Even NFL refs, who give the Steelers all the calls (right Seattle?). Like Troy's interception of Peyton Manning in the AFC Playoffs. What, that was overturned? He didn't have control?
The real reason he never gets a haircut? He's cheap.
37. The Immaculate Reception. Was it a catch? Wasn't it a catch? Between this and the Tuck Rule, I think there's some sort of unwritten NFL by-law that requires an incredibly controversial play in order to truly be considered a dynasty.
Just imagine the outcry if we would have been playing Seattle that day.
36. Steeler Nation. No professional team can boast fans that travel quite like the Steelers. They could play in Iraq and there would be 20,000 towel-waving lunatics drinking Iron City with tailgates set up on camels.
Steeler Nation, Iraq Chapter
35. Myron Cope. Creator of the Terrible Towel and Steeler broadcaster for 35 years. His catchphrases were adored by Steeler fans who turned down the TV set so they could listen to the radio broadcast. Anyone who's ever heard Joe Theismann on TV would agree that this is a brilliant idea.
34. Three Centers since 1974. With the exception of a few games, the Steelers have started three centers since the mid-70s: Mike Webster (1974-88), Dermontti Dawson (1988-2000) and Jeff Hartings (2001-present). For perspective, I think Cleveland has gone through as many this year, and we're not yet out of the preseason.
33. The Kordell Stewart Era. He burst onto the scene in 1995, changing the way people look at quarterbacks. He was the forerunner to today's Michael Vicks and Vince Youngs, who, much like Kordell, will end their careers without Super Bowl rings. Note to Messrs. Vick and Young: a losing season will make you publicly defend your sexuality. I love Pittsburgh.
Kordell, back when we didn't hate him
32. The 2006 Playoff Run. The Steelers sat in week 12 with a 7-5 record, needing four wins and help to make the playoffs. Not only did they win all four games, they rattled off road wins at Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver, and then toppled Seattle in Super Bowl XL. Of course, none of these wins are recognized from the losing teams, who prefer to credit poor officiating, unfortunate injuries and them "beating themselves."
31. Neil O'Donnell. A lot of Steeler fans hate O'Donnell and blame the Super Bowl XXX loss solely on him. I fail to believe that a guy who was so efficient in limiting turnovers would purposely tank, as conspirators contend. He never had more than 9 INTs in seven seasons as a starter. Steeler fans should have taken the high road and wished him luck with Rich Kotite and the Jets.
Super Bowl XXX MVP Neil O'Donnell
30. Training Camp at St. Vincent. The Steelers continue the tradition of holding training camp at a college run by Benedictine Monks that is surrounded by cornfields. Yet one player still managed to get arrested during camp this year.
29. The Ben Roethlisberger Drink Like a Champion Photos. A milestone day for Deadspin, and a budding controversy brushed under the rug by Pittsburgh media. Could he be destined for the Deadspin HOF?
28. Three Rivers Stadium. Joke if you must, but it was the home to four NFL championship seasons and two MLB championship seasons, probably the last of those in our lifetimes. Also home to the 1985 "Drug Trial" Pirates squad that went 57-104.
27. Passing on Dan Marino in the 1983 Draft. This makes the list strictly for the nerve it took. I was only six years old at the time, so I can't say I remember the draft, unless it was accidentally featured on Spiderman and His Amazing Friends. Looking back at the stats, I see Bradshaw played in one game (his last), and the rest of the duties were given to Cliff Stoudt and Mark Malone. Ironically, the Dolphins would beat the Steelers in the '84 AFC Championship. I wonder if Marino took much satisfaction in that win?
26. The Terrible Towel. The No. 1 team-related accessory in pro sports for over 30 years. A symbol of the city. And the shoe-shiner of choice for T.J . Houshmandzadeh.
Hines Ward actually uses Terrible Towels to dry off after his shower.
25. The Mean Joe Greene Coke Commercial. In the days before the Miller Light Catfight and the GoDaddy girl, Super Bowl commericals used to be clean and reach America's soft spot of the heart. Unfortunately, if this were 2006, Joe's agent would auction his jersey for big bucks.
A bottle of Coke for a Joe Greene game jersey? Sounds like a reasonable trade. That child was actually played by a young Billy Beane.
24. Bill Cowher gracing the cover of the first-ever coaching video game. For the market segment who wishes to emulate the job of glamour guys like Bill Parcells and Andy Reid, I give you NFL Head Coach for the Playstation 2.
So realistic, it even wakes you up in the middle of the night to inform you that Santonio Holmes was arrested again.
23. Rod Woodson. Played in the Super Bowl the same year he tore his ACL, named to the NFL All Time Team and a sure-fire HOFer. Yet all that could not sooth a jilted Steeler fan's heart when he moved on to San Francisco. The inevitable demise of Woodson's All Star Grille would follow soon thereafter.
22. Tyrone Carter's brother skipped going to jail to attend the Super Bowl. Yes, you read that right. The defensive back's brother had 4 1/2 years tacked on to his sentence as punishment. But at least he got to party with Snoop Dogg.
Just try and make fun of Snoop for wearing a Kordell jersey.
21. Al Bundy was a Steeler. Well, sorta. Ed O'Neill was cut in training camp in 1969. Just imagine how many Super Bowls the Steelers would have won with the Polk High star in the backfield.
Bundy, Bleier, and Franco? Could have been...
20. We're turned into a de-facto broadcasting school. Bettis, Bradshaw, Hoge, Ilkin, Malone, Swann, Tomczak, Wolfley...but we can't take credit for Michael Irvin.
19. The Big Ketchup Bottle. Heinz Field was opened in 2001, mostly just to distance the Steelers from the Pirates. It's a beautiful field that drives kickers absolutely crazy. And the Steelers seem to do well there with the exception of games called "The AFC Championship."
18. Sharing Facilities with Pitt. What a great tool to benefit both sides. Pitt gets to show recruits how they can rub shoulders with the Super Bowl Champs. And the Steelers get daily doses of wisdom from Dave Wannstedt and Matt Cavanaugh.
17. A Supreme Court Justice Alumni. Byron "Whizzer" White played for the Steelers in 1938 before leaving for Oxford in 1939. He would later be appointed by JFK to the Supreme Court in 1962. Fortunately for fans, I don't see this scenario playing out with any members of the 2006 squad.
The Vikings had the Whizzinator, we had the Whizzer
16. Terry Bradshaw in "Cannonball Run." A loaded Bradshaw alongside Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise and Farrah Fawcett equals comedy gold. Each of his scenes is a classic. You know this movie will eventually be re-made, with the above roles being filled by Brett Favre, Chris Rock, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Artie Lange and Jessica Alba.
You talkin' bout these rosary bleeds?
15. Ricardo Colclough. We see the spelling, yet he insists his name is pronounced "Coakley." He either doesn't understand the concept of phonetics, or this is all a cruel practical joke aimed at broadcasters. Not Al Michaels on Madden Football, though. He's not falling for it. See for yourself.
14. Lynn Swann. His catches were so spectacular and so important, he made the Hall of Fame despite making just three Pro Bowls and never having a 1,000-yard season. If you think that's incredible, wait until you see all those Yinzers going to the voting booths when #88 is up for election as Governor of Pennsylvania.
If this were 2006, Tom Landry would have definitely challenged this one.
13. Franco's Italian Army. \No, it's not a group of Italian Nationalists, just some overzealous, well-lubricated fans of the Bearded One. Very few members are known to have relocated to Seattle for the end of his career.
The Army is hurting for recruits these days.
12. The Steelers Polka. An anthem for an entire generation of Steeler fans. As a young Steeler fan, I've had to endure this song for the last 27 years, with all the stories of how great the Super Steelers were. Now, our generation has our own title and our own anthems. Someday I'll be playing "Puhlamalu" to my kids and telling them stories of how Jerome Bettis almost fumbled away the season. I don't think it will have quite the same effect.
11. Kaye Cowher. No woman has ever been so influential in Steeler history. Her desire to live in North Carolina could either tear apart the Cowher family or put the kibosh on another potential dynasty before it has a chance to breathe. From her point of view, she's probably tired of a city that considers cole slaw on a sandwich a delicacy. She's given us Mr. Bill for 14 years, so maybe it won't be so bad if he moves on. On the bright side, we've got Kenny Wiz and Russ Grimm waiting in the wings. On the not-so-bright side, you know Cowher can't stay away forever, and the possibility of him coaching another team will rear its ugly head. We can only hope this plays out in a season-long Clemens/Favre-esque daily drama via the media.
The women behind the Chin.
10. "Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go!" Go to a Steeler game and you'll hear this within five seconds of opening your car door in the parking lot. You might as well get used to it, because it will go on as long as you'll be there. And for years and years after. It's like Chinese Water Torture for visiting fans brave enough to enter Heinz Field.
9. James Harrison Bodyslams the Cleveland Brown fan. I'm sure you've all seen the video clip or the photo, but this was an early Christmas gift when it arrived to Steeler fans on December 24, 2005. If ever one moment could symbolize the Hammer-Nail relationship that the Steelers enjoy with the Browns, this was that moment.
Say what you want about the Browns fan, but he's so color coordinated, he even has orange socks.
8. 17 Division Titles in the Past 34 years. Yep, the Steelers average an AFC North title every other year. Read it and weep, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland fans. Cleveland, you're still in the NFL, right? Didn't they give you another team, or did I imagine that?
7. The 15-1 Season. The year was 2004, we just drafted a quarterback from Miami of Ohio, and he was third string behind an XFL MVP/Insurance Salesman and a Lions castoff. One by one, the QBs fell, and history was made. Was it fate? What if Batch never got hurt? What if the Ravens played nice with Maddox that day?
6. The Steelers Logo and Helmet. Further cementing their bond with the city, the Steelers chose U.S. Steel's "Steelmark" design as their new logo in 1962. They are the only team to feature their logo on one side of their helmets. Legend has it that this was a result of equipment manager Jackie Hart being too lazy to put decals on both sides of the helmet. And coincidentally, they play in a division with a team too lazy to put a logo on either side of their helmet.
5. Ike Taylor. An up and coming defensive back who has already (reportedly) asked for a $10 million signing bonus. Here's what you may not know about Ike: His Trainer/Marv Marinovich Wannabe "Uncle Francois" sat in a truck tire and made a pre-teen Taylor drag him around to the point of exhaustion, keeping him up as late as 2 AM. He would also have Ike chase a rabbit to increase his speed. When colleges came knocking, Ike turned down offers from Yale and Harvard, finally settling on Louisiana-Lafayette.
Ike's training partners.
4. The AFC North. Also known as the NFL's Longest Yard Division, we can boast loads of talented players, like William Green, Chris Henry, Ray Lewis, A.J. Nicholson, Santonio Holmes, Ahmad Brooks, Corey Fuller, Frostee Rucker, Jamal Lewis, Odell Thurman, Barrett Brooks, Matthias Askew, Ruben Droughns, Eric Steinbach and Evel Knievel Jr.
3. Jack Lambert. Meanest SOB on the Super Steelers, but looked like he belonged on the Broad Street Bullies. Has a reverence level around that of the Pope in the Pittsburgh area.
I'm too intimidated to comment on this.
2. Big Ben. He's 24 years old, he's proven he is invincible, he's lost a grand total of five games, and has a Super Bowl ring. Yep, Carson Palmer's definitely better.
1. The Rooneys. They are the first family of the NFL. Patriarch Art Rooney bought the team with money won from betting on horses. 76-year-old Dan Rooney still walks to work each day. Art Rooney II allegedly discovered Willie Parker at a North Carolina high school football game years ago. The only mistake they ever made? Originally naming the team after the Pirates after paying the NFL franchise fee in 1933. Not coincidentally, the Steelers failed to win a championship until 1974.
Mr. Rooney, you would be embarrassed by your former namesake.