Thursday, January 13, 2011

Steelers Hate Reaction

This week, I read this post on Kissing Suzy Kolber. At first, I read it out of context, since I didn't know the point of the article. KSK runs this feature every year. Anyone associated with the site that supports a team that is out of the playoff hunt gets a chance to hate on a team that's still in it.

At first, I read it and was very angry. Once I realized the point of the post -- it's for entertainment purposes and KSK should never be confused with a reputable news source that is running editorial commentary -- I was mostly not angry.

The trouble is that, both before I had a context for the post and after, I thought the poster actually had some good points.

Steeler fans are pretty insufferable. They're everywhere, they're arrogant, and they link entirely too much of their self-worth to the success of their team. I'm not trying to distance myself from this. I'm just as guilty as anyone. I wore my Roethlisberger jersey to Seattle a month after Super Bowl XL -- which the Steelers won, by the way -- and that was a douchey thing to do. I also mention the Super Bowls that the Steelers won every time I mention the game itself. It's now kind of a running joke, but it really did start out as an arrogant, "hey, look what my team did!" thing.

The problem with Steeler fans is that it's very difficult to determine whether or not they're fair weather fans. The team has been very successful for the better part of the last four decades and doesn't seem to be slowing down for the 2010s. And, ultimately, I'm not sure that being a fair weather fan is that bad of a thing.

I'm not sure that it's some kind of unforgivable sin to follow your team and cheer them on, taking pride in their accomplishments when they're doing well, but mostly leaving them alone, possibly being dismissive towards them, when they're doing poorly. Players on a sports team are part of a disembodied franchise that sees you, the fan, as an entity that buys tickets and merchandise and converts beer into urine. Players may thank the fans for their support, but that's similar to James Cameron thanking all the fans for seeing Titanic. The revenue they generated by going to his movie validated his project and made future projects possible, but he's not happy for the fans that he won an Oscar. He's happy for himself. He's not proud of the fans for seeing the movie, he's proud of himself for making it and winning awards.

That's where the dynamic becomes a little weird and one-sided. Fans are expected to support their teams and feel pride in the accomplishments of those teams, but they're fair weather fans if they don't turn out to see a bad product. Nic Cage won an Oscar, too, but I'm ashamed that I paid money to see Bangkok Dangerous. As a consumer, I have a right to decide where I spend my money. If I choose to not see another Nic Cage movie -- as many have done -- then I'm simply exercising my right as a consumer to not be subjected to another terrible movie where Cage has unfortunate hair. I'm not being a "fair weather" Nic Cage fan, I'm making a choice as a consumer.

As a Pirates fan, I continue to watch games and go to games because I love the game of baseball. I can't give it up. My brother made a choice to start rooting for the Phillies when he moved to Philadelphia and I can't fault him for that. The Pirates organization has been at least as toxic over the past 18 years as Cage's recent choices in scripts. I accept, going into the season, that the Pirates are not going to be good and that I will witness mostly losses when I go to PNC Park to watch a game. At this point, that is the contract that I have entered into with the sports team that I root for.

So, all of this brings me to one of the things that upset me about the article: The idea -- not the fact that it was brought up in an article meant mostly for entertainment -- but the concept that the infectious nature of Steeler fandom is some kind of virus that has ravaged most of the sovereign 50 states of the American union. The notion that the steel industry collapsed and spread Steeler fans across the country in search of gainful employment led directly to the establishment of the plague known as "Steeler Nation" is absurd.

I lived in Northern California from when I was nine to when I was 16. If there was a time for me to pick a side, this was it. I was from Pittsburgh and had family in Pittsburgh, but my parents never forced me to be a Steeler fan (or Penguins fan or Pirates fan), that was a choice that I made on my own. During that period -- 1989 through 1994 -- the 49ers won two Super Bowls (they won another following the 1994 season), the A's won a World Series and appeared in three straight, the Giants were competitive and signed former Pirate Barry Bonds, and the Raiders were at least respectable. If any of those teams had a fan base -- remember this was a local fan base, as I was 3,000 miles from Pittsburgh -- that was as passionate and dedicated as the Pittsburgh teams I was rooting for, I would have switched so that I could fit in and enjoy the excitement.

I didn't. This isn't meant to damn the fan base of any of those teams. I know a number of fans of all of those teams and they are loyal, passionate fans. I just have not experienced anything that equals the level of passion and intensity that I see in Steeler fans.

To extend the Pittsburgh example, the Pirates won two World Series in the 70s, but there isn't a "Pirates Nation". The Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups in the 90s and experienced continued success in the Lemieux Era, resurrecting themselves after the lockout to win another Stanley Cup in 2009, but there is no "Penguins Nation".

I have converted at least two casual fans -- or fans with no alliance -- into diehard Steeler fans because of my enthusiasm and love for the team. In order to understand the draw of Steeler Nation, you need to experience it, which this poster obviously hasn't. And neither has any other "hater" that sees the spread of Steeler support as a plague or virus.

The fact that there's at least one Steeler bar in most major cities is not a vast conspiracy or case of mass lunacy. I would have to assume that the people that own those bars are local entrepreneurs that saw an opportunity. Buy Sunday Ticket, advertise that you have the Steeler game on, and make lots of money from drunken yinzers rooting on their team.

I've gotten a lot more pragmatic and distant as a fan through the past three or four years, but Steeler Nation still strikes me as something magical and unexplainable. As a plug, Pittsburgh writer Jim Wexell attempts to explain the phenomenon in his book Steeler Nation. He does a great job and tells some vivid stories, but it's something that's hard to capture or quantify.

The other thing that upset me about the post -- I honestly thought this was going to be a quick blog to throw out, but the post really got me thinking -- was the portrayal of Pittsburgh as a gray, dark, bankrupt city.

I'll readily admit that the weather in Pittsburgh sucks. It is gray and dark for most of the winter and it's generally too hot and definitely too humid in the summer. Most of the non-muggy sunny days we get throughout the course of the year -- about 15 of them -- are in the spring and fall, where the weather truly is... well, at least good and sometimes amazing. It's usually in the 70s or 80s with low humidity and the evenings are generally cool, but not cold.

But, I also don't want the weather in California, where there are no seasons and it gets too cold at night. I don't want the weather in the Southwest, where it's too damn hot and there are flash floods. I don't want the weather in the Southeast, where it's too hot, too muggy, and you have to worry about hurricanes. I will say, though, that the weather in Hawaii seems about perfect. I also have never seen bad weather in San Diego.

As a city, Pittsburgh has recovered quite nicely from the steel crash of the 70s -- though most of the damage was done in the 80s and was not as a result of cheap, foreign steel, but again we'll let the poster slide because it's not like it was posted on -- and now has a thriving economy. It really can't be called a "blue collar" town at this point, since most of its jobs are in technology, health care, and education.

In 2010, Pittsburgh was listed among the most livable cities, the best cities to live in during the recession, and the best housing markets after the crash. The unemployment rate is better than the national average and, compared to other major cities, Pittsburgh is not too much in debt.

Anyone that sees Pittsburgh as a gray, old, blue collar town has not been there in the last 20 years. The city has revitalized itself, which is one of the reasons that it hosted the G20 Summit in 2009.

And... uh.... one other item:

they complain about Seahawks fans complaining about Super Bowl XL (more than Seahawks fans actually complain about Super Bowl XL)

This person has obviously never worn a Steeler hat in the Seattle Metropolitan area.

I have to agree, though, that Steeler fans are numerous, mostly arrogant, and mostly douchey.

I have posted -- at length -- about the skeletons in the Rooneys' closet. I am really not sure why Steelers ownership is still held in such high regard following the exposure of most, if not all, of those skeletons.

I also agree that Bill Cowher, Terry Bradshaw, and Jerome Bettis are all mostly terrible, mostly annoying announcers/analysts. But, I'd like to point out that those are the three guys that are currently on TV from nearly five decades of consistently successful football, including six championships and numerous conference championship appearances.

To appeal to a broad audience, you need recognizable talent. That talent usually comes from popular teams or at least teams that have won a lot of games/championships. In an attempt to appeal to that broad audience, the three Super Bowl championships the Cowboys won in the 90s have wrought Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Moose Johnston. We have also been exposed to: Tiki Barber and Michael Strahan (one ring combined) and Brian Billick/Tony Siragusa (one championship), as well as Steve Tasker (no rings, special teams player).

In order to stop this, we need to keep any player from winning any championship ever. I have a feeling that isn't going to happen.

Also, I would like to apologize to Kordell Stewart on behalf of all Steeler fans. We treated you badly and threw beer at you and made you cry. We also made jokes about you performing sexual favors for Bill Cowher in Schenley Park. That was wrong. We are sorry. You weren't a great quarterback, but that's no excuse.

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