Normally, a marquee mid-season matchup against the Baltimore Ravens would be enough to fire up Steelers Nation like the Northern Lights of the North Pole.
Yet instead, after the dismal, mind-numbingly embarrassing whoop-down by the Cincinnati Bengals by a score of 41-10 the Pittsburgh Steelers and their punch drunk fans are left in corner of the ring without answers.
Not even Angelo Dundee nor Mickey Goldmill seems to be able to talk Rocky back into the fight. Is it throw in the towel time already? There certainly aren’t any Terrible Towels spinning in the Burgh.
Meanwhile the Pittsburgh ghosts of glory past are taking to the airwaves to opine their dismay with the current state of their once-proud Steelers.
No heart. No push in the trenches. And, a quarterback well past his prime.
At 5-5-1 Coach Mike Tomlin has a record that is divided straight down the middle. And much worse, for the first time in his career, he has a Steelers locker room that is equally divided.
Is the unthinkable thinkable now in regard to Tomlin? Has he lost his team?
The old guys are saying the kids don’t get it, and the kids are saying they want better jams coming out of the speakers during practice.
The Ravens are coming. Winter is coming. The end is coming.
Have we ever been less enthusiastic about a game being played in this storied rivalry since some guy name Ray Lewis was drafted?
It’s as the famed sports journalist Jimi Hendrix once had to say:
Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things, they don’t seem the same
No Jimi, they don’t. These ain’t my Steelers. In fact, no one currently wants to claim them. They’ve been left at the doorstep of the neighborhood nunnery.
But…we…are…Steelers Nation. Our team may give up 700 yards on the ground, but we will never give up caring about our team. So, let’s give this ugly baby a Spin.
Eat Your Spinach
I, like many of my Steelers Nation brethren and sistren, have made a pact with my beloved team that despite all inclinations to the otherwise, I would never turn off a Steelers game while there are minutes left ticking on the clock.
In the past, this means that despite them getting out-passed by Tim Tebow, outcoached by Bill Belichick or cheated out of a coin toss during a Thanksgiving dinner with my family, I never turn the game off until the players are shaking hands and prayer circling at the end.
It must be said, that during this shameful display of appeasement…nay surrender…against the Bengals, never before has this pledge been put to a more dire test. The Steelers were down 31-3 at half-time and suddenly there were at least…say…a hundred things to do in my life more meaningful than watching the rest of the game.
But, watched I did.
Except. It was no longer football. Certainly not Steelers football. It was like some trippy 5K Thanksgiving Benefit Turkey Trot where the Steelers players cheered on and high fived Joe Mixon as he ran by them.
The scars on my eyes may never heal.
Living In Tomlin’s Head
One of the most bizarre turns of the entire game was in the fourth quarter of a decidedly meaningless and painful to endure match when Tomlin inexplicably kept sending his incompetent starters back on the field.
It made no sense, until it did.
Clearly, the Bengals Tyler Boyd was still in Tomlin’s head. Following the September game when Cincinnati also shamed the Steelers in front of their home field fans, Boyd had uttered a bulletin board-worthy statement in saying that Tomlin’s team had quit.
For Tomlin not to trot Mason Rudolph…or better yet…Dwayne Haskins onto the field was strategically baffling. For him to keep handing the ball to star rookie and overworked Najee Haskins was an impeachable offense.
Tampa Two Step
The Detroit Lions…of all teams…cracked the code several weeks ago, when they declared to the world that the Steelers couldn’t stop the run, even if they promised not to even threaten to pass.
The Los Angeles Chargers decided to show off their shiny new quarterback Justin Herbert the following week and shouted, “They can’t stop the pass either.”
The Bengals didn’t do anything unique or patented last weekend other than rinse and repeat.
Regardless of whether you feel the Steelers are suffering from a bad case of Covid, unfortunate injuries or bad luck, what we are seeing is the defense of Tomlin’s imagination.
This is his Frankenstein.
It was many years ago when he announced that the Casey Hampton anchored type of Steelers defense was a dinosaur of Coach Bill Cowher’s design. The National Football League had…evolved. What was needed was a faster, more agile, less impact-producing type of defense.
Yet. I don’t know. Call me old fashioned. How many would have preferred to see the Steelers Cowher version of the defense on the field last weekend?
This May Surprise You
I’m still a Mike Tomlin fan. I love having him as our Steelers coach. Yes, there is a heavy touch of arrogance there, and unwillingness to listen to the obvious, obviously…but who among us don’t suffer from both of these afflictions?
He’s a man of character, a great leader of men and despite what was displayed on the field last weekend, he does understand the Steelers Way.
Yet, he shouldn’t get a pass this time around. This Jurassic Park triceratops of a dropping is for him to own and examine.
For those who say, “He’s doing the best he can considering the roster…the cap…the injuries…the stars in the skies”…well, hogwashy.
This isn’t a coach that inherited this mess this year. He’s been here for nearly two decades and has been heavily active in every draft and each and every player decision.
This is all his.
Well…his and the Steelers front office. And, in particular, the team ownership.
Let’s be honest. What Steelers Nation witnessed last weekend, and truly, through most of the games this year is a…dare we say it…”soft” team on offense and in particular, defense.
This design comes from the top. The decision making in terms of player personnel, coaching moves, and activity or lack thereof in free agency has been soft for years. Many years.
Will this monstrosity get cleaned up? If so, it’s going to require EVERYONE in the pool.
The Best Fans?
It’s remarkable the Steelers record (5-5-1) is as good as it is, considering how miserable the fanbase feels. This is because there hasn’t been a single win this year where you could honestly argue, “This team is Super Bowl bound”.
Probably the reason this feels so vomit-inducing is that we were expecting our defense to be elite this season. Instead, they have been run over like tourists in Spain’s Running of the Bulls in San Fermin.
This has elicited questions by the younger members of Steelers Nation who are wondering, “Was this what it was like being a fan of the team in the 1980’s?”
It kind of does. Except, the Steelers always had a respectable defense. Even during the “Dark Ages” of the 80’s. There were some great defensive players during that decade, although on the offense, there was…maybe…Louis Lipps.
Still, we were spoiled bratwurst in that decade of Duran Duran and Thriller. The only reason the team seemed THAT bad was that we had enjoyed the greatest decade ever to be a Steelers fan. Four Super Bowls victories in the 70’s? That was living!
No…the “Greatest Generation” of Steelers fans are those who rooted for the team before Joe Greene was drafted. And even in those first years of Mean Joe, the team was dreadful.
I joined Steelers Nation as a fair-weathered kid fan in 1974, and never looked back. I don’t deserve any applause.
To those of you who were Steelers Nation before the dynasty was hatched? We tip our hats. Long may you wave your Terrible Towels.
This game against the Baltimore Ravens DOES seem like the type of game that Tomlin and his staff are able to pull out of their hats.
Could the Steelers redeem themselves against Tomlin’s coaching rival John Harbaugh? It would shockingly get them back into contention.
It’s possible…but as the Doobie Brothers sang in the past, “What A Fool Believes”.
That’s what we do, though, as Steelers Nation. We believe. Against all evidence to the contrary.
I’ll do my best. But, no promises.
This game against the Ravens. It’s all a Purple Haze to me. I’ve been actin’ funny, but I don’t know why. ‘Scuse me, why I kiss the sky.