Why Football Matters

So here we are again.  Just weeks away from another Superbowl.

For some folks, it’s the ultimate sporting event.  For others, it’s just another crazy example of how willing people are to focus huge amounts of attention (and fiscal resources, it should be noted) on something that really doesn’t matter all that much in the long run.

Like a lot of wives the world over, Anne likes football but I don’t think she really understands why I’m so passionate about it.

For her, as someone famous once said, football really is just a game.

And I imagine if the game itself didn’t feature exceptionally muscular men running around in exceptionally tight pants, she might not bother to watch football at all.

I don’t know if anyone can really explain why grown men spend Sunday afternoons in the fall, gathered around the TV set, living and dying with every play their team makes but in a nutshell, here’s why football matters to me.

Growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1970s there wasn’t an awful lot to be excited about or proud of.

As the saying goes, in many ways, Pittsburgh was dead on its feet and too stupid to fall over.

The Steel Mills were closing left and right.  Huge numbers of people were unemployed.  The economic and social effects were devastating.

Pittsburgh is plenty picturesque, believe it or not.  But there aren’t any Rocky Mountains in the background and at least back then, there wasn’t much of a tourist economy to speak of either.

Pittsburgh’s identity was its industry.  Generations upon generations of people had worked hard in the mills, made a living wage, and helped to build the United States, steel beam by steel beam.

And as all that started to wash away, it called everything into question for lots and lots of people.

But as Pittsburgh was in the process of becoming a bad joke with no punch line, up came the Steelers.  They’d been in existence since the 1930s and never come close to winning a damn thing in their first 40 years.

And then, just when the city needed it most, they became THE dominant force in the NFL.  They won 4 Super Bowls in 6 years and they did it with players that had come exclusively through the draft.

And talk about a team who’s personality matched their city?

The Steelers best defensive lineman was a guy named Mean Joe Greene.  No one is sure why he was so mean.  No one got close enough to ask.

One of their stand-out running backs, Rocky Bleier, was an undersized full back who’d had part of his foot blown off while serving in Vietnam.

And while the 70’s Steelers had their share of “vertical passing acrobatics” courtesy of Terry Bradshaw’s right arm rifle and wide receivers Lynn Swan and John Stallworth, the Steelers won football games by pounding other teams at the line of scrimmage.  Running the ball straight down their throats and then putting their Steel Curtain defense on the field and daring anyone to try and get through it.

Occasionally sports writers have compared football games to a ballet.

In the 1970’s, Steeler games were more like a street fight than a ballet.

It wasn’t always pretty.  But it sure was effective.

And believe me when I say if you asked most Pittsburghers which they’d rather watch, I’m guessing a solid 80% are going street fight over ballet every time.

And while pro sports were totally different back then, it should be noted that the Steelers won without massive contract hold outs, or massive endorsement deals.  They won without anyone griping in the press about how they weren’t getting the ball enough or how the coach’s game plan left something to be desired.

Pittsburgh was, and probably still is, a “team” kind of city.

And in our Pittsburgh Steelers, everyone managed to see just a little bit of themselves, and hopefully, a chance at something better somewhere down the road.  As long as they kept their head’s up and worked as hard as humanly possible.

Winning Super Bowls doesn’t fix an economy, or bring back jobs, but it does offer some kind of hope.  Some sense that while you’re hometown may be down, it ain’t necessarily out.

And even when everything else seemed to be going wrong, it gave a lot of people the chance to say “Damn right I’m from Pittsburgh…Home of the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers…”

And that, as near as I can tell, is why I love football.

And that’s why I love the Pittsburgh Steelers

And THAT’S why football is more than just a game.

At least for me.

As for Superbowl XLV?

Steelers 24.  Packers 21.

You heard it here first.

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