The origin of his Steelers fandom is a big factor in expectations

As I’ve said many times, Steelers’ Nation is a diverse crowd. Whether young or old, from the Pittsburgh area or having never set foot in the United States, there are many differences in the people who make up the Steelers fan base but a very common thread in which they are united.

As I participate in various podcasts on the BTSC network, some complaints about the Steelers come to me quite often. Speaking of the team that hasn’t made the Super Bowl in 12 seasons, or only had three playoff wins since the last appearance, I understand the Steelers could perform much better. But I will come back to that later.

In looking at some of these differences in expectations of the Steelers, I found that it was very common that it was not just about How? ‘Or’ What someone became a Steelers fan, but when they became a Steelers fan.

While I won’t try to speak for all fans at this time, I can do what any of us can and share our perspective on my history with the Steelers and how it affects my expectations every year.

Born in the late 70s, I have no memory of the great Steelers dynasty. These are very few players that I remember only because their careers extended later into the 80s. Players such as Mike Webster, John Stallworth and Donnie Shell are the ones I saw play when I was kid, but not that I know them as Super Bowl champions.

The first quarterback I remember for the Pittsburgh Steelers is Mark Malone. I have no idea where my first memory of games fell between 1984 and 1987, I just know that it was during the Malone era that I remember seeing the games on TV.

Because the first two quarterbacks I knew in my life with any Steelers memory were Mark Malone and Bubby Brister, I started my Steeler fandom as someone who followed a team that was good but who was no longer. Hearing about the Steelers winning four Super Bowls in the 70s was ancient history for me. My experience with the Pittsburgh Steelers was a team unlikely to make the playoffs and a far cry from the dynasties I saw in San Francisco and then Dallas.

As it was expected that the Steelers would no longer be a good football team, I followed them throughout my college years, but also paid attention to other dynamic players in the league such as Randall Cunningham. The Steelers would always be my team, but it’s not like I was cheering on someone who was going to win a Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season.

When I got into high school, the Bill Cowher era started and it was exciting as a Steelers fan. Seeing this team in the 80s, along with my dad constantly saying how bad they were when he watched the games, I still never really believed the Steelers could be Super Bowl champions. Even when they won the AFC Championship game, I still didn’t expect the Steelers to win the game. They were two touchdown underdogs for the Dallas Cowboys and I never really thought a win was coming. So when it wasn’t, I wasn’t surprised.

The very first NFL Draft I watched was in 2004. It had all the Eli Manning drama and where he would or wouldn’t play, and I had watched a prime-time college game on the end of the season where they highlighted Miami from Ohio because their quarterback was someone who was going to be drafted. I remember saying how much I wish the Steelers would trade and catch him. But when the Cleveland Browns dropped Ben Roethlisberger, I knew he would be there for them in 11th place.

It was also an interesting time in my life because it was the first NFL draft after I got married. I had followed the Steelers as much as I could the previous season, but now living outside the Pittsburgh area and games that weren’t yet available via the internet were the way things were. So when I got to see the Steelers game on TV, it was exciting.

As the Steelers continued to rack up wins in 2004, more and more of their games were available to watch. I saw Roethlisberger take his first shots earlier in the season when they played against the Ravens, which was the home market in my area. Back-to-back wins over the undefeated New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles were truly exciting. But I still had no expectations for the Super Bowl.

The 2005 season changed everything. The Steelers started the playoffs and I got together with my old roommate to watch the playoff game against the Bengals. I thought the Steelers had a real good chance. As we know, they were victorious and moved on to the next week. I was excited because I felt they could upset the Colts, but I wasn’t counting on what they would do. The fact that Indianapolis rested their players to finish the season and got a bye I thought was reckless and they were in the best position all postseason to get knocked out . If the Steelers weren’t going to make it, they were going to go through the Super Bowl.

After that win over the Indianapolis Colts, it was the first time in my life that I honestly believed the Pittsburgh Steelers could win a Super Bowl. I was 27 and for the first time as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I felt like my team could actually win.

As we all know, the Steelers went to three Super Bowls over the next six years and won two of them. It was a big moment in the life of Steelers fans who weren’t alive in the 70s. I couldn’t believe I was going to experience something like this.

Because I had such low expectations of the Pittsburgh Steelers for most of my life, I’m not one of those people who’s on the team for not winning more playoff games over the course of of the last decade. Instead, I’m someone who likes the team is relevant every year. Looking at Ben Roethlisberger and seeing that he’s only played two games in his entire career where the Steelers weren’t alive for the playoffs yet and therefore had a chance at a Super Bowl, that’s a amazing stretch. With the 2005 season showing all it took was getting a playoff ticket and playing well at the right time, I thought the Steelers had a chance since. Even though they haven’t won any playoff games, knowing that your team is at least in a position where they could struggle has been an absolutely amazing ride.

How long will this race last? I do not know. It would be great if it happened in the 2022 season and then from there. But I’m just grateful for what the Steelers have given me throughout my adult life. Because when I look back at my childhood, I had no hope of my team doing anything.

Because that’s where I come from, it frustrates me when other fans complain about playoff wins or say that not having a losing record is settling for mediocrity. I understand. But if your Steelers fandom started with Ben Roethlisberger, no wonder you feel that way. Even though it started with Neil O’Donnell, there are plenty of good Steeler seasons to be happy about. But for me, having grown up watching Mark Malone and Bubby Brister, I’m just happy to go into the last week of the season and know that my team still has a chance to play for the championship.

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