Even in defeat, I have many reasons to still love my Steelers

I’m sure this sentiment echoes true for most of Steelers Nation. For the most diehard of fans, they can’t let go of something they love.

This isn’t unfamiliar to an article of the same title I wrote at the end of last season, where I compared my love for the Pittsburgh Steelers to a “mistress”. Much to the dismay of my wife, I’m an addict for all things Black and Gold. When they win, I’m floating on Cloud Nine.

And when they lose, I’m as miserable, disappointed, and frustrated as anyone else. For some, that resentment boils over into getting answers to the question: “How did the Steelers lose?”

The hard feelings start with fingerpointing and scapegoating. What was once an “okay” proposition of having a 13-3 team that had a bye week has turned into a witchhunt for scapegoats and problem players. Some critics will go so far to say you “aren’t a true fan” unless you are being overly critical of the organization.

While I feel blame is something that the players, coaches, and front office all share in different ways, blowing up an entire team that just had a 13-win season isn’t the way to go about it. I get it, the loss to Jacksonville was bad. The playcalling, the decision making, and the inability to make adjustments handicapped the team. Luckily, they had the talent to overcome those obstacles and remain in the game.

But is not having a quarterback sneak play the decision of Todd Haley? Is Ben Rothlisberger sincere in saying he wants to run the ball? Or does the decision come from higher above… maybe higher than even Mike Tomlin?

Those types of questions won’t get answered, but we do know changes are coming. There are free agents that won’t be brought back, players on this year’s roster that won’t be on next season’s, and we’re all well aware that Haley was sent packing, as a necessary move to keep Big Ben happy and help reset the locker room culture (where Haley was reportedly a fireplug and then some).

Embed from Getty Images

We all know the ultimate goal of any team is to win the Super Bowl and falling short of that goal means they failed their mission. 31 teams will fail their mission this year. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s one person’s fault. In fact, I’d argue the Steelers did everything that was in their power to win now. They found three defensive starters in the 2016 draft (Burns, Davis, and Hargrave) then set out to improve the weaknesses on their team by adding Joe Haden, and trading for Vance McDonald and J.J. Wilcox. They cut losses with Sammie Coates and Ross Cockrell by getting something for them and found more special talents in this season’s draft with T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and Cam Sutton.

Martavis Bryant returned, stayed clean, and kept a cool head for most of the season. The little spats we hear about are mostly social media making a mountain out of a molehill, as the real adversity hit this organization with the passing of Dan Rooney and the loss of Ryan Shazier.

The latter put the team up against insurmountable odds. Shazier was their defensive quarterback, the guy who called plays and made adjustments on that side of the ball. Aside from his Pro Bowl talents, the other intangibles he brought as a leader were lost when he left the field. His backup, Tyler Matakevich, also wound up hurt and MIA, leaving the team in dire straits by starting Sean Spence fresh off of the street.

I’m not sure that can hardly be an indictment of Keith Butler and his staff. Who can plan for that? You can only have so many stars on one roster… and adding Joe Haden proved to be what was going to put the defense over the top until they lost Shazier.

Running down the depth chart, that was the same deal with James Harrison; himself nor the coaching staff saw Watt ascending into his role so quickly in his first season. Watt’s counterpart, Bud Dupree, is getting fingers pointed at him as being a “bust”, yet fans don’t recognize how often Watt and Dupree were pulled off of the field in situations or dropped into coverage entirely.

According to Pro Football Focus, Watt played the second-most and Dupree the fifth-most, coverage snaps out of all edge defenders in the league (meaning outside linebackers in a 3-4 or defensive ends in a 4-3 scheme).

While some may call that a failure, the success of others, such as sacks leader Cam Heyward, are predicated on making changes. CB Mike Hilton was also a key piece of Pittsburgh pass rush, which seldom sent a blitz, but when they did, used the slot corner with maximum effect.

These are the things the staff will examine just as we are picking them apart this offseason…. which is yet another reason why I love my team.

Granted, I’m also disappointed too. But I look at the way they won and lost some of those games this season, and am grateful for the memories, both good and bad. An overtime loss to the Bears may have changed their fortune to the one seed, just as a controversial Jesse James touchdown reversal would have too.

Finding a way to overcome Jacksonville at home, twice, would also have been welcome.

Embed from Getty Images

But for every stinging loss, there were also Big Ben comeback drives and Chris Boswell clutch kicks that sent us home happy campers.

With the 2017 season behind us now, all we can do is look forward. The hope was to be holding a seventh Lombardi trophy at the end, but the path was cut short.

We all feel it as fans but imagine the players. They risk it all: emotionally and physically, to fight for us. And fight they will continue to do.

The wait is excruciating, but the initial sting of a solid season should turn into a moment of pride. As a nation, Steelers Nation, we collectively raise our heads up, stick our chests out, and soldier on.

For those who will return in 2018, they will be a year more experienced, a year more battled tested, and have a year to rest, reflect, and prepare to retaliate.

We know it as fans, and it draws us back in. Frustration may have set in, but it has now settled from disappointment to something else: pride in our team for playing their hearts out.

Sure, there are things that will need to be fixed, and faces who won’t resurface next season, but that’s part of what makes this affair with football worth it.

Until next time old friend. Until next time…

Suggested articles from our sponsors