I’m thankful to be a Steelers fan. For those of us of my generation who cheer for the Black and Gold, there’s more to it than just the quality of football on the field. Yes, we have more Super Bowl victories than anyone else. Yes, we’ve appeared in Super Bowls in four consecutive decades. Yes, we’ve sent a plethora of players to the Hall of Fame. But there’s more to being a diehard Steelers fan than just winning.
The Chief, Art Rooney, was the epitome of what a successful person should be: humble, down-to-earth, kind, generous, and loyal. He was, in the words of Terry Bradshaw, “A good king.” When Dan Rooney took over the helm, he has continued his father’s legacy of embodying decency while maintaining success. Dan Rooney is the man who pushed for racial equality in the league where 70% of the players are African-American but nearly all of the head coaches and literally all of the owners are white. He then followed through on his scruples by hiring a young, unproven African-American in Mike Tomlin, who in turn rewarded the Rooneys by winning the team’s sixth Super Bowl.
The haters will chime in with jeers about Ben Roethlisberger’s off the field indiscretions and how that has tarnished the Steelers’ image. My only response is that while Big Ben has behaved stupidly and immaturely in his life, he has not been charged with any crimes. A more telling illustration of what the organization stands for comes from the mid-90’s. Bam Morris was a rising star at running back and a perfect fit for Coach Cowher’s smash-mouth style. During the off-season, he was caught with an absurd amount of marijuana in his trunk, obviously for resale, and the team immediately released him, declaring that there was no room on the team for that kind of character. Around the same time, Michael Irvin was arrested in a hotel room with cocaine and hookers. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones scrambled to do damage control with the media and made every effort to sweep the incident under the rug.
In 1988, my junior year in high school, the Steelers went 5-11, the team’s worst record in my lifetime. Every day, I wore my Steelers hat proudly. I was still grateful to be a Steeler even though the team was not winning right then, and in my experience, most Steelers fans feel the same way. Many fans of other teams (locally the Titans come to mind) are fair-weather fans, proud to wear their gear when the team is good but quick to don another team’s jersey when the record slides. The difference is because the Steelers embody more than just performance–it’s about a mindset of how to conduct yourself in good times and bad. It’s about being proud of being blue-collar. It’s about digging in deep when things get tough. That’s what the Steelers mean to me, and I’m thankful to call myself a Steelers fan.