The Pittsburgh Steelers football team won 13 games this season, won their division and had a bye week to set up a home playoff game. Pretty good season, right? Wrong.
They lost a bitter game to the New England Patriots when they were jobbed by the NFL which meant they would not be playing the Tennessee Titans but the Jacksonville Jaguars. One of only three teams to beat the Steelers in the regular season when five interceptions (two pick-sixes) led to an embarrassing 30-9 loss. One of two teams with a winning record against the Steelers at home (the other? Yes, the Patriots).
That is what is called foreshadowing. So naturally, any remaining positive feelings from winning 13 games and the division is flushed down the toilet in demoralizing fashion when they lose again to the Jaguars 45-42. One and done. End of season. Poof. All of that offensive talent finally healthy and it doesn’t matter. Fans who desperately wanted revenge against the hated Patriots, were instead handed another depressing loss to the Jaguars. The wailing and gnashing of teeth will last for some time. Anger, depression, confusion, a swirling sea of emotion as fans come to grips that football is over for the year.
For fans of dozens of teams these bitter tears are sweet. Browns, Bengals and Ravens fans are all enjoying this moment I am sure. There are no shortage of fans who hate the Steelers and their fans (who often dominate visiting stadiums across the country thanks to all the Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania folks who left to find job during the economic slide the region experienced).
But many of those same fans would also laugh at the bitter complaints of Steelers fans. Who are not known for their calm and balanced reactions.
And it is a weird feeling to be so bitter about this franchise when they have experienced so much success.
In my lifetime (1970), the Steelers have won something like 23 division titles (my rough count), played in 8 Super Bowls and won 6. They have won more Super Bowls than any other team in the NFL. They haven’t had a losing season since 2003.
After the legendary and dominant Steelers of the 70s, the Steelers are once again a perennial contender in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl wins in three tries. Most fans would love their team to have this kind of record. Heck, Roethlisberger has more wins in Cleveland than the Browns do.
And yet. The fact of the matter is that Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have dominated the NFL and the Steelers since Brady came in to replace an injured Drew Bledsoe to beat the Steelers in 2001. 17 consecutive winning seasons, eight consecutive 12 win seasons, 15 division titles since 2001, and five Super Bowls and counting.
Losing at home, after a bye, with all your stars healthy hurts. To again commit critical turnovers and mistakes and to let a pretty mediocre QB beat you adds to the pain. To watch helplessly as the defense gives up big play after big play, is demoralizing.
But what really pours salt in the wounds is to know that the Patriots are still favorites to win the Super Bowl. It is the knowledge that the Patriots don’t seem to lose these games, don’t seem to let these type of seasons slip away, that lingers.
Today felt like a chance for the Steelers to reassert themselves as the team to challenge the Patriots. Ben Roethlisberger’s career is coming to a close and he won’t have this much talent around him forever. But instead of setting up the rematch everyone wanted and was expecting, they will be spending the offseason thinking about what might have been. Even as Tom Brady seeks to add hardware to his already crowded shelf.
And that is a bitter pill for any fan to swallow.