I can't help but be irritated by the New England Patriots. It's not that I don't admire their ability or their record... I just don't think they deserve the attention. And like Barry Bonds and his record with an asterik this year, I believe the Patriots deserve the same for cheating early in the season.
I recently read an article in the Dallas Morning News about the Patriots:
"Patriots Not Quite at Level of Greatness"
In the article, it gives credit to the Steelers teams of the 1970s and the Dallas Cowboy teams of the 1990s. And those are teams much more deserving of the credit than the 2007 New England Patriots.
Indeed, the Steelers, Cowboys, and San Fransisco 49ers are the only teams with 5 Superbowl victories. The Cowboys have been 8 times, the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers have been 6 times. The only Superbowl the Steelers have lost was in 1996 to the Cowboys.
If the Patriots make it to the Superbowl this year, they will tie Pittsburgh and Denver for second place for most Superbowl appearances.
Do I sound like one of those guys who is obsessed with the game and likes to quote football statistics? It wasn't always like that.
I grew up in Pittsburgh in the 1970s. I was young, and didn't really understand the sports history unfolding around me. But it was clear that something on the television set got my Grandfather excited. And perhaps the reason why my favorite color is black is not because I am dark and depressing (I certainly am not), but the colors I associate with happiness are black and gold, the earliest colors I seem to remember, the colors Pittsburgh was and still is adorned with... the colors of its teams - the Steelers and the Pirates.
I am a product of Pittsburgh in the years it held the title "City of Champions" - centered around the 1979 Steelers Superbowl and Pirates Word Series victories. One of the few, maybe only city that holds the distinction. It was precisely what Pittsburgh needed at that moment in time. Life was dismal in the gas-crunched and inflation soaring years in the late 70s. Jobs were leaving as the steel mills shut down, and there wasn't a lot to be happy about if you happened to live in the rusting shadow of Pittsburgh's greatness.
The Steelers are such a part of my own family history. It's the team that's been with us through all of our moves around the country. When we lived in Eagles country and later Bears country, everyone knew I was a Pittsburgh Pirate and Steeler fan. But honestly, I wasn't REALLY a fan of the Steelers yet... I just associated myself with the team because I was from Pittsburgh. I certainly followed the Pirates because as a youngster, baseball was the coolest.
An interesting side note here: My grandfather died the same day as the founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Art Rooney. I remember this because my Grandfathers brother, Father Clinton Farabaugh, presided over the funeral and made mention of the fact in a humorous anecdote that made everyone laugh, though the exact reference eludes me.
I didn't really become a true fan of the Steelers until 2001. It was the year that PNC Park and Heinz Field officially replaced Three Rivers Stadium. I had volunteered to cover the opening ceremonies of both stadiums for my employer at the time, WOWK-TV 13 News.
At Heinz Field on opening day, which was a pre-season game against the Detroit Lions in August, I was left on my own when my photographer said he couldn't make it. Thankfully, my uncle Randy, a semi-pro still photographer, was eager to snap up the extra press credential and we both attended that pre-season game. I admit now I knew little about the Steelers that warm August afternoon. It was clear when Kordell Stewart, the quarterback at the time, starting messing around with my camera shot on the field for warm-ups before the game. I didn't know who he was, and my uncle had to fill me in. In the elevator on the way up to the Press Box, team owner Dan Rooney came up to me and shook my hand and looked at my credential to get my name. I think he asked me how I liked the field, and I can't remember what I said. I thought he looked familiar, but it wasn't until he was leaving the elevator we shared up to the Executive level that I finally realized who he was.
That's when I decided I should get to know the team better if I hope to cover them if they made it into the post-season. And so I began reading all the Steelers Media guides I could get my hands on as well as watching NFL Films highlight reels and so forth. By the end of the 2001 season, when the Steelers made the play-offs, I was informed enough to cover the games without having to dip into a guide for reference stats. Not enough knowledge to do the play-by-play, but enough to take on any amateur fan who thought they knew the stats.
Another interesting note: That first game at Heinz Field against the Detroit Lions was also the first time that a Pittsburgh fan could attend a Steelers AND Pirate game in the same day. The two teams shared Three Rivers Stadium for thirty years, and couldn't play on the same day. So when the Steeler game was over, Uncle Randy and I did what hadn't been possible in both of our lifetimes - we attened both games in the same day.
In learning the stats and the history, it's hard not have an affinity for the team. It took the Steelers forty some years to have a winning team. A lot of heartache and hurt laid the foundation for the dynasty that persists to this day.
It's a legacy the Steelers have that isn't tainted by cheating or scandal. A team that is still owned by the family who founded it. A team that is loved by the city it represents and the fans that city has produced. But it isn't isolated to Pittsburgh.
I was in Atlanta last year for training related to my current position. I arrived on a Sunday when the Steelers were in town to play the Falcons. I didn't have tickets to the game, so I popped into a bar with my friend Brian Steep to watch the game on TV. The announcers mentioned that there were a lot of Steelers fans in black and gold at the stadium. The banners in the bar proclaimed "When the Falcons are away, the Steelers will play." The stadium was down the road from the downtown bar we were at, and when the game was over and we left the bar, the entire downtown area was a sea of Black and Gold, most people sporting Ben Roethlisburger jerseys. I was amazed... and it certainly appeared as if there were more Steelers fans than Falcon fans in Atlanta. Whenever there is a nationally televised game of the Steelers, I often hear announcers mention things similair to that. It happened this year in Denver. The Steelers lost that game in the final seconds.
You don't hear things like that about the Patriots. Everyone said the Patriots were destined to win the 2002 Superbowl, vaguely referencing the show of patriotism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. I heard "Americas Team" casually thrown out to describe the 2002 Patriots. That's what people call the Dallas Cowboys. I tend to dispute all those claims.
Pittsburgh is America's team, if not in some reference to the team name certainly by team spirit. I would also place Green Bay at a close second.
I was rooting for the Baltimore Ravens yesterday, who almost defeated the Patriots in Monday night football. It unfortunately didn't happen.
As of today, the Patriots are 12-0, on track to be the first team to have a perfect 16-0 season.
But there is an obstacle in the way of that record. It's a game scheduled for this Sunday, at 4:15. If the Patriots have at least one blemish on their almost perfect season record, it deserves to be the real team of America. One that didn't cheat to get where it is. The Pittsburgh Steelers.