As an ardent fan of one of the greatest professional sports franchises, I'm slowly becoming disillusioned with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yeah, I know, a Superbowl hangover season... well, not quite. They're 6-6 and in danger of missing the playoffs. Well, not really. All the injuries, the weak special teams, a defense that resembles a nylon curtain at crunch time... this really isn't the problem. Rest assured, here's the real problem - THE FANS.
Let me preface my comments here. I'm a lifelong fan since I can remember. I recall the string of championships in the 1970's. Although under the age of 10, I can conjure up vague memories of my family watching the big games. At the time, I couldn't comprehend the specifics but I definitely understood the magnitude that something unusual was happening. During the 1980's (and the Cliff Stoudt/Bubby Brister era) my interest in the team drifted here and there. In the 1990's it picked back up as they became routine contenders. I've been to well over 50 live games and seen every NFL team with the exception of the Saints and maybe the Rams. I've embraced the dank concrete of Three Rivers Stadium, elevated myself via the benches outside Heinz Field Gate A and done my fair share of tailgating. Never having been a season ticket holder, gives you a different perspective. You're forced to engage the crowd on a different level since the pre-game elements tend to vary significantly with regard to their respective trials and tribulations. Suffice to say, I've pretty much seen everything there is to see at the confluence of the three rivers.
Here's my beef. Around the NFL, Steelers fans have always been highly regarded. Their dedication, perseverance to the harsh elements, the "blue-collar" attitude, etc. Well, I've come to the conclusion that all of that is complete and utter BULLSHIT. I went to the Raiders game a few days ago. It was brisk weather but the sun was out. There were over 3,000 no shows! Of course the game was sold out as always. But come the fuck on - 3,000 "fans" didn't bother to go to the game. Yeah, we usually have 500-1,000 no shows for a typical regular season game. I understand that not everybody can go to every game. But lately it just seems that people are just content to bail. They don't even bother trying to make sure their tickets get used. Even worse, are the people who show up with extras and are very content to eat them. They'd rather have the seat next to them remain vacant. God forbid some unshaven fast food worker enter the precious, coveted 2nd level suite zone.
Here's what really sucks - all the people who leave early while the game is in progress. The game is on the line in the 4th quarter and people are rushing to the exit in some misguided attempt to beat the traffic. Our seats were in the corner of the end zone last week. The Raiders are storming down the field. I stand up with 25 seconds left, making some noise and trying to encourage the defense. The guy behind me asks me to sit down. "What is this? An opera?" There were only a few others standing, scattered here and there trying to embolden the crowd. This struck me as downright pathetic.
Here's some of the problem. Heinz Field is just too damn nice. If you are one of the privileged few who can dish out/waste $200 per ticket to sit in the luxury lounge, here's what you'll see. There ain't no hot dog or IC Light vendor roaming the concourse. Instead, you'll see a guy who looks like a butler in full regalia. They wear bow ties and are absurdly polite to the point where it becomes ludicrous. Like I said, is this an opera or a football game? Chefs with the puffed up white hats are carving up over-sized maple honey hams and steroid-infused smoked turkeys. The younger fans seem entirely disinterested in the action on the field. They'd rather text their friends and play video games on their hand held electronic devices. White Zinfandel seems to be the beverage of choice for the "SUV-driving-divorced-cougar-trophy-wife."
One issue of consideration is the tiny population base of Pittsburgh and the aging decrepit population. I think some of the old-timers are like, "Fuck it. Been there, done that. I'm not gonna freeze my ass off n'at." I guess they've paid their dues but how about making sure their tickets get used. Is that too much to ask? You'd think they'd feel some sort of obligation. Perhaps not.
I realize the NFL has problems with crowd behavior and is trying to provide a family friendly atmosphere these days. But since when did it become taboo to stand up and cheer or boo. And what's truly insane is the vast number of people who exit Heinz Field well before the game has ended. Here we are at 6-5 and in the midst of a wildcard opportunity and fans are leaving in droves. Didn't church end at noon? Where the fuck are these people going? Maybe they've decided to watch the rest of the game at McFlanigans or Fox O'Reilly's Pub and Grill. I just don't get it. Have you ever noticed the Green Bay fans? They stay til the end even when the team's getting badly beaten. They have the same inclement weather but, simply stated, their fans are more dedicated.
Rest assured, I'll be a Steelers fan til I expire from causes artificial or natural. And I'll keep going to the games because I love watching the throng of 65,000, well... er uhhh, 61,800. Plus, I love going to the games for free, $10 or $20 max. Next up is the Green Bay Packers at 4:15pm on the 20th. Imagine that - a free ticket for a Steelers/Packers game. Only in the Burgh. I'll just have to make sure I stay seated. Wouldn't want to offend anyone.