In a city where football success is measured by Super Bowl rings and Lombardi Trophies, all seems to be lost.
With three games still to play, the Pittsburgh Steelers are — for all intents and purposes, if not mathematically — eliminated from the playoff chase. Christmas was still more than two weeks away last Sunday when the Steelers bumbled through a 34-28 loss to Miami, making it clear to Steelers Nation that a playoff berth would be an unfulfilled Christmas wish.
But all is not lost. As a matter of fact, the Steelers have quite a bit to play for.
Like pride and tradition. And, you know, the “standard” that the Steelers point to so readily … well, they’re all on the line as Pittsburgh plays out the string of a disappointing year.
Entering this season, the Steelers were second only to New England with nine consecutive non-losing seasons since a 6-10 campaign in 2003. Already assured of a winning season, the Patriots have extended their stretch of non-losing seasons to 13, and the Steelers have their work cut out for them if they are to stretch their own run to double digits.
During their most recent run, the Steelers have had six seasons of 10 or more wins, one 9-7 year and a pair of 8-8 campaigns, including last year.
Going back further, they have only seven losing seasons since 1972, compared to 34 seasons of .500 football or better. And over those 41 seasons, they have qualified for the playoffs 26 times, appeared in eight Super Bowls and won six of them.
In the same span, the Detroit Lions have posted 10 winning seasons. One of the most storied franchises in NFL history, the Green Bay Packers, have only 21 winning seasons since 1972. Even America’s Team and one of the most successful teams over the last four decades, the Dallas Cowboys, are four behind the Steelers with 30 non-losing seasons during the same span.
But the Steelers have been as steady as it gets. Sure, they endured a rough stretch in the 1980s during which they weren’t competitive, and they’ve struggled the past two seasons. Even so, there’s a reason NFL players consider Pittsburgh a destination spot. And there’s a reason why average NFL fans consider the Steelers a model franchise, like the Patriots of recent years or the traditional favorites, the Packers and the 49ers.
This season, it’s been a different story. The Steelers haven’t been at or above the .500 mark all year, and the only way they’ll get there is by winning their last three games.
Getting to .500 won’t give Mike Tomlin a raise. Similarly, it’s doubtful that any Steelers player has a contract clause awarding him a bonus for playing on a .500 team.
No, an 8-8 season is nothing to write home about. But at the same time, avoiding losing seasons is as much a part of the Steelers’ “standard” as is winning Super Bowls and making the playoffs.
While they won’t do either of those things this season, the Steelers still have a winning standard to live up to, and they can do it, at least partially, by winning out.
• Apparently, myself and some other reporters got under Ben Roethlisberger’s skin following last weekend’s game.
After calling one reporter’s question “silly” to start his postgame interviews, Roethlisberger was snippy throughout the interview, and he was clearly annoyed when I asked why the Steelers grounded their running game in the second half of the loss to Miami.
Roethlisberger answered with an attitude, his response suggesting he wasn’t pleased with Todd Haley’s play-calling.
“Coach Haley is over there,” Roethlisberger said. “You could probably ask him. Their scheme. I don’t know. There was no particular reason. We just tried to move the ball. I thought we did a good job passing in there, too.”
Two days later, Roethlisberger lashed out at the local media on his weekly radio show Tuesday, saying, “It’s unbelievable. It gets blown up and it’s by reporters that come in there and ask the dumbest questions after a game, and it makes it ridiculous when they only take part of your answer.”
“It was taken way out of context. There is absolutely no issue between Coach Haley and I.”
Note to Big Ben: When a reporter uses your entire quote to an answer, that’s not taking it out of context. And if you don’t want any drama to be perceived, then don’t answer like that.