Were it not for Super Bowl XL, I wouldn't be writing this post today.
It was while watching that game at a Steelers bar in D.C. that I took this photo, which I later included in a post on Kissing Suzy Kolber (caution: naughty language abounds) outing myself (previously known only to the online world as Christmas Ape) as Michael Tunison, mild-mannered staffer for The Washington Post. That April 2008 post resulted in the swift termination of my three years of employment with the paper, which hurdled me into the often pantsless existence of a full-time blogger.
"But," one quibbles, "you could have included a photo of yourself eating a sandwich and you would have still been fired. What was important was that you came forward as a person who spreads filth flarn filth on the Internet." While true, this is beside the point. Because it's the only photo I would have possibly used.
From today's perspective, it's hard to conceive of a Steelers fan who's had to endure any real degree of anguish. Ah, but for someone of my age, born just after the initial glory days of the '70s, rooting on the Steelers prior to the 2005 season was an exercise in protracted disappointment. Granted, they were a consistently competitive team and almost perennial playoff entrants in the '90s. But they would always fall just short of where their expectations or their potential suggested they would finish. Being a fan of an always pathetic team is to succumb to a numbing dullness. The pangs, though constant, are never particularly sharp. I know this. I also like the Pirates.
Oh, but to be strung along by a good team that always manages to screw it up in the end. That, my friend, is some pain.
The gut-wrenching losses in huge games were numerous. The mammoth comeback upset by the Chargers in the 1994 AFC Championship Game was the first of four home losses in the conference championship in an 11-year span, three of which at the hands of eventual Super Bowl champions.
And, of course, there was Neil O'Donnell in Super Bowl XXX.
I dreaded that sooner or later the Steelers generous window for a championship would shut tight and a decade of mediocrity (such as what they had in the '80s) would descend before the team was able to take home its first elusive title during my lifetime. The long belabored "One for the Thumb" mantra from fellow Steelers fans felt like a cruel taunt, that they had seen great things that I would never get to share.
Then came 2005. After going 15-1 a season before, the Steelers suffered a few costly injuries that led to a few more losses. They finished 11-5, which was only good enough to earn them the 6 seed in the playoffs, which tells you how good the AFC was in the middle of the decade. The Bengals and the Patriots could both finish 10-6 this year and have a home playoff game. The '05 Steelers weren't in as amenable circumstances.
They would have to win three straight on the road to advance to the Super Bowl. Which was extra daunting because, at that point, the Steelers had yet to win a road playoff game under Bill Cowher. In his decade-plus as head coach, Cowher had acquired a reputation as a choker who coached too conservatively in the postseason, not unlike his mentor Marty Schottenheimer.
Yet in the next three weeks, the Steelers knocked off the top three seeds in the AFC (the Bengals, the Colts and the Broncos) using gadget plays and passing to set up the run, which announcers will often tell you is not STEELER FOOTBALL. The rest, I'm sure, you remember. Pittsburgh advanced to Detroit (from which Jerome Bettis hails) and beat the Seahawks in what wasn't an entirely well-played Super Bowl. Not that that really mattered to me. They had finally sealed the deal. The Steelers could have won that game 3-2 and I'd still cherish it like my first born.
So, when consigning myself to possibly a lifetime of sports writing, how could I use any other image than one from my fondest memory as a fan?
That, and I was drunkly hugging a giant parrot. Which is just hilarious.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.