Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses of Terrible Towel spinning Pittsburgh Steelers fans.
There. There. It’s been a tough year hasn’t it?
The last thing you need is for the Spin to go all Ebeneezer, all Grinch on you. It would be cruel to spend much of our precious ink reminding that in all likelihood it’s coal in the stockings for you this year, friends.
Instead, it’s time to put a little rum in your eggnog. A little cinnamon in your cider.
Perhaps the problem is we have been taking this game a little too seriously. Yes, I am here to remind you…it is just entertainment. Football’s version of Hollywood. Our little diversion from what really matters in life.
Faith, family and football. Wait? Did I just say that?
Chin up, Tiny Tim. We’re 6-6-1 with four wins to go. The season is not over. It’s…just a bit of damaged goods so far.
Maybe you won’t get all you would have wished from Santa this year. But, heck, that Elon Musk Science Kit might pay even bigger dividends down the road.
Yes, we’ve got some difficult discussions here together today. But no glum faces as we face this together. I promise some Holiday sweets at the end. So…let’s give this a Spin.
Chasing butterflies seems to be the opium of the masses for Steelers fans. Twitter and Instagram accounts were abuzz with replays of 23-year-old Chase Claypool precociously celebrating a tough first down completion with critical seconds ticking off of the clock in his team’s bitter loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday.
All of the lemmings in Pittsburgh and its global surroundings now had their anti-depressant scapegoat and holding hands together went completely off the cliff together in finger-pointing Chase to the point of over-the-top embarrassment.
For those who have a short memory, Ryan Clark was a loudmouth immature player when he played for the Steelers. Yet, somehow from his lofty sports broadcast tower, he felt entitled to go on an epic rant that Claypool was the most immature player he’s ever seen.
Folks, Claypool had a bonehead 15-yard penalty in the first half. Yes. He also squandered ten important seconds in a game that had 3,600 seconds in total. This is also true.
But, he didn’t put together a mindless gameplan on offense and defense that didn’t see any signs of life until the Vikings took their foot off of the gas in the fourth quarter.
He didn’t leave open running lanes that the pre-game concessions trucks could have driven through. He didn’t shank punts. He didn’t do high snaps. He didn’t air tackle. He didn’t do a lot of things.
He did make some tough catches.
Claypool is a fine player. He has exceptional raw talents. He has a wide receiver personality. Very few are Larry Fitzgerald. Even Hines Ward had his moments. Have you forgotten the Lynn Swann days?
Again, he is 23.
Please stop chasing butterflies and focus on the real issues.
Speaking of butterflies, quarterbacks have three lives. There are the caterpillar years, where they are green, need to be handled with care, and the good ones excite with their extraordinary promise.
These are the Joe Burrows, the Kyler Murrays and many years ago was a young Ben Roethlisberger.
These caterpillars are cute and cuddly and also are on rookie contracts, so they don’t impact the rest of the team’s budget and cripple development at other positions.
Then they enter the butterfly stage. This is the beginning of their prime. They are bright, colorful, dazzling, and can fly to places few other players in the National Football League can go.
These butterflies are also very, very, expensive. Team’s entire investment portfolios have to be shifted and built around them.
Finally, after several glorious years, these butterflies turn into moths. Most moths are sent out to butterfly pasture in their early thirties, while some discover longevity rests in radically discounting their services and living out their final seasons as a backup quarterback to some young caterpillar.
The truly talented butterflies can stretch careers out as highly functional moths. They can do things on occasion that can remind you of their glory days as a butterfly.
One thing you can’t do is continue to pay them butterfly salaries when they are in moth years. This is where moths cripple teams, slow down their talent advancement, and can set organizational evolution back for years.
Because, caterpillars need their chance, and they can take a few years to become butterflies. You also have to kiss a lot of caterpillars to get your prince.
Ben Roethlisberger, unquestionably deep into his moth years, has flashed as a butterfly on many occasions this year. Despite many claiming he is “washed out”, “done”, “hurting the team”, he has single-handedly field-marshalled incredible comebacks.
His pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth was one of the finest of his career. Under tremendous pressure and out of time, in a fraction of a second he chose the best option, and put the ball on a line within an inch or two of the only place it had a chance of being successful.
Big Ben can still play. He still gives the Steelers a better chance than most humans on the planet to win.
But, Ben is a moth. You can’t pay moths $30 million a year. You can’t build your future around moths. You have to have green caterpillars in line and far into their butterfly training waiting for their opportunity.
Anyone who doesn’t appreciate what Big Ben has done for this team, for this franchise, is both ignorant and ingrateful.
Yet, being of the strong belief that this team can’t mortgage the team further to keep Ben at full salary cap impact, or that there should have been a Super Bowl level caterpillar plan years ago isn’t cruel. It isn’t disrespectful.
It’s intelligent football.
It’s why San Francisco, when they were at the top of their game, replaced Joe Montana with Steve Young and why Green Bay did the unthinkable of replacing Brett Favre with Aaron Rodgers.
It’s why Tom Brady is happily and successfully playing for Tampa Bay and Mac Jones is being touted as the next Tom Brady in New England.
Where would you rather be as a franchise? In Tampa’s position or in New England’s? What looks more promising for the next ten, fifteen years?
It’s also why New England is currently leading the AFC and is a Super Bowl favorite, while the Pittsburgh Steelers are gutted in talent on both sides of the trenches.
What you saw as a mistake in the game by Chase Claypool is a mere pittance, a mere fly on the wall, of the errors the front office has made in the past five years in preparing this team for its next great quarterback transition.
Fourth Quarters Are For Backups
It seems that the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings had much in common entering Thursday’s game.
Both teams were desperate to stay relevant in the playoffs hunt, and each of their head coaches were under uncomfortable scrutiny.
The Vikings likewise were in many fingernail-biting matches this season with all of their games being decided by a single score.
The Steelers, for their part, had thrilled their fans with their last two games coming down to the very last moments of play. A few days earlier, a failed two-point conversion by the Baltimore Ravens gave Pittsburgh a much-needed win.
Then against the Vikings, a last second incompletion in the end zone sent the Steelers packing and heading home with a loss.
Yet, the true story for both teams is that quality organizations don’t unnecessarily drain and infuse their fans’ dopamine over and over in the fourth quarter. The good teams are pulling their starters in the last fifteen minutes and forcing commentators to fill airtime with background stories, plugs of upcoming television specials and tales of days past.
Fourth quarters should be boring. That should be the objective of the Steelers moving forward, and for years to come.
Dominant teams are a bore. At least in the fourth quarter.
If you’re watching the final seconds of a game, pulling your hair out, while beer is dripping from your beard, and those around you are screaming and jumping…then your team has failed you.
Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairies
As promised, we will finish this Spin will some seasonal cheer. Some hope for the future. Something to warm your spirits like that crackling fire.
Your Steelers aren’t that far away from having a dominant defense again. One of the most expensive repairs to a broken defense is creating a pass rush. Pittsburgh is just fine in that department and with a dominant player like T.J. Watt and a promising young player like Alex Highsmith they are set for years to come.
This may be shocking to you, but Devin Bush will end up being a fine complimentary player in the middle of the field. All he needs are a couple of youthful versions of Casey Hampton and Levon Kirkland so he isn’t expected to be the strength in the middle.
Next year, if he hasn’t been permanently psychologically damaged by the fanbase, he’ll be another year removed from his knee injury and be able to be the deer that he was designed to be.
The Steelers do need to retain Minkah Fitzpatrick, and if they do, he’ll be able to make any secondary serviceable, even if it doesn’t bankrupt the team in getting expensive Showtime-type cornerbacks. Fitzpatrick won’t be cheap, but he’ll allow them to go discount everywhere else in their backline.
Offensively, the Steelers are set for many years to come at the talent tri-fecta of running back, wide receiver and tight end.
Diontae Johnson is as explosive a wide receiver as the Steelers have had…well, since that Antonio Brown guy, and he doesn’t seem to be plagued with the typical positional Prima Donna-ism.
Re-pairing him with a resigned, and healthy Juju Smith-Schuster could free him up even more to express himself.
Pat Freiermuth is the next Health Miller, and who would have ever thought that could be possible?
If running back Najee Harris consistently had the holes that Dalvin Cook saw on Thursday, he would easily be a 3,000 yard running back. You think he’s a tough runner now, wait until he gets some blocking.
Next year, the Steelers will enter their next great adventure at quarterback. Hopefully, they learned their lesson and have a blue-chip caterpillar on the roster, and perhaps even a gun-for-hire butterfly to take them through the transition.
It will be entertaining at the least.
Finally, there are four games left. If the Steelers win out they’ll be 10-6-1 and most probably would find themselves in the playoffs, albeit probably not for long.
So cheer up Steelers Nation. ‘Tis the season for it. Enjoy watching the last games of one of the greatest quarterbacks this team will ever have wearing Black and Gold.
See what Coach Mike Tomlin can conjure up to finish out the year. At least we know this team won’t quit.
Remember. It really is just a game. And, we’re all family.
Let’s spread some joy. And, maybe hit a few on defense.