At least on the surface, the story of the Pittsburgh Steelers hasn't changed much since 1979. Historical in nuance, it writes itself. It is an
American institution, a celebration of Glory Days, a saga that redefines timelessness.
Pittsburgh barely snuck by Cincinnati in Week Eleven, but the pundits will inevitably turn this mundane victory into further evidence of old-school
Steeler toughness and grit. Armed with a heavy hand, the powers that be will scribble parallels to the Dynasty of the 70's. They will remind us of the
four Super Bowl victories the Steel Curtain secured during that mighty decade. They will tell you that the Steelers of today are as good as ever,
hailing Bill Cowher as Chuck Knoll, Ben Roethlisberger as Terry Bradhsaw, Jerome Bettis as Franco Harris and Joey Porter as Joe Greene.
Indeed, Pittsburgh's cliché factory is blowing out more smoke than a steel mill. A well-oiled machine, it knows no relent. It clogs the airwaves. It
pollutes the presses. And it manipulates the masses into believing that history will always favor the hometown team.
Beyond the brouhaha, there's a glitch in the Steel City's seemingly flawless assembly line. It's been almost twenty-six years since the Steelers last
won a Super Bowl, and the well of nostalgia is running dry. For the past three decades, the Steeler storyline has developed undeniably tragic
overtones, and it's time for the Blitzburgh bandwagon to be sacked into reality.
But a nation of Steeler supporters won't have it. They're in denial. They're turning a blind eye to the twelve consecutive failed playoff appearances
since 1979. They're acting as if the franchise never skipped a beat, as if the Steel Curtain never really closed.
"The Autobus," Poet Laureate and Elder Statesman of the Steeler locker room, would have us all be reminded that Steeler Football is all about
tough-minded, stingy defense and ball-control offense. Yet Bettis himself has lost many a football slumping awkwardly into the end zone under the
Sunday Night Lights. Aside from illustrating the career maximizing effects of relentless self-promotion, what Bettis has shown us perhaps more than
anything else is what can be achieved if you hang around the league long enough and get plenty of rest on the bench.
The professional football world will see if 2004 marks a change for the better for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Who knows? Maybe they can salvage a fallen
legacy. Maybe they can live up to the hyperbolic hype of those tough-as-nails (and winning) Steeler teams of yore. After years of impotence, maybe
they can win it all. Maybe. But don't bet on it.