I am a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I started liking the black & gold team from western PA when I was a 7-year-old who collected those miniature football helmets you could get in a gumball machine for a quarter. Although I lived in the middle of Redskin territory, I liked the Steelers because they had their logo on only one side of their helmet. They were the only team who did that, and for some reason I thought it was cool.
I became a true “fanatic” on December 23rd 1972. I was a 13-year-old kid in 7th grade, watching the Steelers play the Oakland Raiders in a divisional playoff game. I was in my living room with my family and a few of my neighborhood buddies when it happened. That was the day of The Immaculate Reception.
In one of the most famous and controversial plays in the history of the NFL, future Hall of Famer Franco Harris caught a ball that was deflected off of his teammate, “Frenchy” Fuqua, and the Raider’s bruising strong safety, Jack Tatum. Harris took the ball into the end zone for a game winning touchdown with only seconds left on the clock. It seems like it was the first time I ever saw a game winning final play – maybe it was. It’s the first time I remember seeing my father get excited in a positive way…I had seen him pissed off plenty of times, but on this day, I saw him truly excited, delighted, with the outcome of something as insignificant as a football game.
It was an amazing play, and it was an amazing moment that I’ll remember forever; probably as much for the surprise of my Dad’s reaction as for the play. I remember how my heart pounded, I remember all of us screaming, and giving each other five (the “high-5” had not been invented yet). I remember my dad kicking the foot rest on his recliner shut as he jumped out of his chair. It is a fond memory.
Those `72 Steelers lost their next playoff game to the undefeated Miami Dolphins team that went on to win the Super Bowl. But the victory against the Raiders, and perhaps that one single play, changed the culture of the perennial losing Pittsburgh franchise. That team was loaded with future Hall of Fame players, coaches, and executives. They have maintained a winning tradition, and they have developed a rabid fan base that is as loyal as any found in American sport. I travel to every major and mid-market city in the US. I can find a Steeler Bar in just about any town I visit. This is not my opinion, this is simple fact.
Now here is some opinion…Based on what I see when I travel, there is only one other football team that instills the level of passion in places other than their own home town, the Green Bay Packers. Dallas certainly has their fan base outside of Texas, and the Raiders have remained a popular team despite their pathetic performance in recent years. But to those of you who hate my beloved Steelers for their winning tradition and aggressive style of play; to all who want to smack that arrogant smile off of the face of Hines Ward (the “Dirtiest Player in Football”) as he trots back to the huddle after another first down, and to you fans who live in cities of Steelers divisional rivals…I understand how you feel. But, if there is an “America’s Team”, it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they’re in the Super Bowl.
If you are a Ravens fan, this is going to be a tough week, because it’s Steelers week (and to a much smaller extent, Packers week too I guess – wink wink!!). The Ravens are a great football team. Please understand that while I can’t stand the Ravens, simple football common sense tells me that other than a few head case receivers, and an aging linebacker that can’t shut his annoying yap, one must appreciate and respect their roster. The Ravens can, and should, beat any team in the NFL. They just have a hard time beating the Steelers when it really counts*. Now if you are a Browns or Bengals fan, every week pretty much sucks for you, so you’ll get no Large Man tip of the hat. These poor Ravens fans are really suffering, and they deserve better.
Yup… gonna be a tough week. It’s will also be a tough week for Ben Roethlisburger, but his tough week is deserved. This makes it a tough week for me as a football fan.
I really like watching football. I don’t really like football players that much anymore.
I remember how I admired the star players of my youth. I didn’t admire only the Steelers players, although Terry Bradshaw and Jack Lambert were once heroes to me – I was always a fan of the sport, and all of the sport’s standout players. My favorite player ever was Lynn Swann – a Steeler, but Earl Campbell, Bo Jackson, John Elway, and Mike Singletary played for other teams, yet I still considered them some of the most exciting players I have ever watched snap on a chin strap. This was because I loved the game.
I could tell tales about these men, and their amazing athletic accomplishments all day long. It’s one of my favorite things to do, but it does make me feel old… bragging about the sports legends of the past. Because of these heroes of my past, I don’t really admire many of today’s players the way I did as a teenager and a young adult. Again, simple football common sense tells me that because the players of today are bigger, faster, and stronger than their predecessors, they’re probably better football players too. I’m not sure they are better men though. To me, it doesn’t really matter anymore. Nobody is a hero for what they do in a game on a Sunday…this includes Terry Bradshaw or Lynn Swann. They were just great football players.
I’m a little more selective about who I label “hero” these days. This is because I’m older, and if not wiser, at least more experienced. Now that I’m “more experienced”, my heroes are in the military; my heroes fight fires and crime, and teach children. My heroes walk for days to raise money for cancer research, they work to protect our environment, and they make sick people better. My hero is anyone who hauls their tired ass out of bed and goes to work every day – that’s friggin hard! My hero is a 10-year-old boy who looks for the best in people, an 11-year-old girl who works hard to get good grades, my heroes are the friends who stand behind me in a time of tragedy, or stand next to me in a moment of triumph or joy.
With all these heroes, I don’t really need football players to fill that role. I just want to watch them play. It would be nice if ball players treated us regular folks with some sense of decency, and honored the laws of society – but that’s pretty much all I’m looking for. I think most professional athletes are decent, if not excellent people. I also think it’s a shame that the Ben Roethlisburgers, the Mike Vicks, Leonard Littles and the Donte Stallworths get all the press. I know that there are real heroes in the NFL…men that give back to their community, men that make a difference in the lives of people less fortunate. We need to spend more time telling those stories. Maybe I will. Good guys and victims always seem to get lost somehow.
It’s gonna be a tough week for Ben Roethlisburger because his dumbass actions put him in this position. So I guess he deserves whatever he gets. He does have a chance to show us something this week though. Four touchdown passes on Sunday would be great, but a little bit of humility and contrition on Tuesday when he’s getting peppered with questions about his alleged sexual assaults would be even better.
I don’t know if Ben is a good guy or not, at this point it’s hard to defend anything about him; I hope he is. I hope his brush with the legal system taught him a lesson, and even if he wasn’t a good guy before, that he can become one. I hope he realizes that he has the good fortune of living in a country where you are innocent until proven guilty. And, if you have a shitload of money and you’re white, for some reason it’s really difficult to be proven guilty.
Smart ass remarks aside, I do believe everyone deserves a shot at redemption, whatever that redemption may be…because without the possibility of redemption, there is no possibility for hope. Hope is an essential element to life – just like calcium and vitamin C. I think you have to hope for Ben. I hope he has a great football career, and that the stupid decisions he made while he was in his twenties won’t haunt him or define the rest of his life.
Just like the decisions made by an underage girl who had too much to drink and a fake ID shouldn’t define her life…or the idiot bouncer or club owner that allow underage girls into the club. We could pass around a lot of redemption here. It is truly shameful and ugly, but it’s also part of our world – it’s a scab that we have to pick at.
In all candor, I wouldn’t want the worst decisions that I made in my twenties to define me today – I could insert a few funny jokes here, but the reality is that I’m lucky to be alive, lucky that I’m not in jail, and I’m lucky that I never injured or killed anyone…and that sobering fact just isn’t very funny. I’m damn lucky. Maybe Ben Roethlisburger, Michael Vick, and all the a-holes just like them deserve a little luck too. Damn…that is a difficult thing to say – even tougher to write, but I believe it’s true. It’s a tough week.
Thanks for reading. We’ll have more fun next time.
The Large Man
*While that comment may be “rubbing it in” a little, I also realize that the Steelers pee down their legs every time they play the Patriots – we all have our demons.