In the most anticipated match on this year’s Pittsburgh Steelers schedule, today the Black and Gold face their archrivals, the Baltimore Ravens.
Now, you would be forgiven if you forgot this was even happening this afternoon (3:40 p.m. EST).
And, you’ll certainly be extended some grace if you, like tens of millions of others, won’t be able to watch the game because…you know…you’ve got a job.
In fact, few will be able to catch the game live in Heinz Field because it’s closed to a live audience. If you work in downtown Pittsburgh, you might be able to walk by the stadium on a lunch break, and experience a few stray sounds emanating from the mostly vacant stadium.
The cracking of pads. An odd expletive or two. A whistle.
Of course, you can watch it on television, or stream it online with one of your premium services or creative computer hacks.
But, without any witnesses, is it really happening? Is it live or a simulation? Did a man really land on the moon or was that all performed in a Hollywood studio on some elaborate set?
Regardless of the outcome of the game today, the headline story is that Covid-19 will take hostage of what was to be one of the highlight matchups of the National Football League season.
I mean…the Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Baltimore Ravens? C’mon, bring it on.
Sadly, the virus has stripped the Baltimore Ravens of many of their marquee players, most notably their sensational quarterback Lamar Jackson. Their defensive line will be replaced by orange construction cones, and they’ll be playing without a seasoned professional who can confidently snap a ball on offense.
In other words, what should have been hyped as one of the year’s biggest rivalries has devolved into a game that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell simply just wants to be done and over with.
For the Steelers, the matchup still retains significance in terms of keeping intact their pursuit of an NFL history-making season-long perfect record.
Yes, it would also solidify their dominance over the AFC North, and would make only the Cleveland Browns a chance contender in the division from here on out.
Yet, outside of that? A win? Meh…
And that’s a truly unfortunate turn of events to be sure.
This was a game that was supposed to be played before tens of millions of turkey leg wielding observers on Thanksgiving Day. Then it was moved to Sunday. And then Tuesday. And, now it’s on a Wednesday at a time and place where gainfully employed fans are unlikely to be able to watch it live.
In other words, this game is less exciting and less meaningful than the Steelers prior matches against woeful out-of-conference competition like the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
But. There is a silver lining to this dark, nebulous, snow filled cloud.
As it turns out, this might be the most important game on the Steelers schedule. Because, it’s the one where the team became painfully aware of their most devastating opponent in the 2020-21 season.
It’s not the Baltimore Ravens. It’s not the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s not even the Green Bay Packers or the New Orleans Saints.
It’s the asterisk.
The asterisk to a perfect regular season. The asterisk to an impressive run in the AFC playoffs. The asterisk to the team lifting up their next Lombardi Trophy.
Win or lose…and they better win…this game against Baltimore is already tattooed with an asterisk. An asterisk caused by Covid-19.
The Steelers players and coaches and front office can’t change this. Roger Goodell can’t change this.
Even with all of his schedule scheming and manipulation, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh can’t change this.
This game will permanently have an asterisk besides the results.
The Steelers must do whatever it takes to avoid this entire season having an asterisk. Because this is the greatest threat to their historic run this year.
Pittsburgh can’t control what other teams are doing, but they can take a champions’ approach to how they beat Covid-19 on and off the field.
Whatever it takes. If that means bubbling up, cloistering themselves like monks in some remote mountainous region to limit the chance of exposure, so be it.
If the NFL proposes an official “Bubble” for the playoffs, the Steelers should be first in line to endorse and support it.
It will be tremendously inconvenient to their plans over the next couple of months. It would require even more sacrifice from their friends and families.
But, many years from now, when their beards are graying and their gait bears a slight limp, they will be able to know this sacrifice during this brief moment in their lives was well rewarded.
Not only did they enjoy the greatest season in NFL history, but they also conquered something that no other team ever had.
They bested all other 31 teams in the league. AND…they also defeated Covid-19.
Bubble up, guys. It’s time for a playoff run.