The Steelers are 3-0. That’s three wins in three games without Ben Roethlisberger. Troy Polamalu is the most important player on this team and you can’t convince me otherwise.
During the summer, we all offered up pretty much the same first-month-of-the-season qualifications: “If the Steelers can somehow manage to go 2-2, then they’ll be fine once Ben returns from exile, and the playoffs are a very real possibility.”
Well, Pittsburgh accomplished that after Week 2. And as is often the case with fans, we’re a greedy bunch. The Falcons and Titans were tough opponents so to sweep them was, frankly, hard to imagine. And after last week’s Bucs beatdown, the Ravens are now coming to town. The Steelers might be on quarterback No. 4, but we all want 4-0.
Not so much because of the down-the-road playoff implications, but because it’s the Ravens. If, say, the Steelers were playing the Packers Sunday and didn’t face Baltimore for another month, we would certainly want them to win, but we would also settle for 3-1 heading into the bye week and the Return of Ben.
The thing is — and this happens every time these two teams get together — I have no idea what to expect. The Steelers could win by 31 like they did in 2007, they could get absolutely demolished like they did in 2006, or it could end on a controversial touchdown … that was, in fact, a touchdown (quit hatin’, haters — and, yes, I’m 12 years old).
I was talking to my father-in-law about general sports fandom last week. He has worked in the restaurant business since he was like eight and has never followed sports. He found it both mystifying and borderline insane that usually normal people could get so invested in a game that, in the grand scheme of things, has no consequence on their daily existence.
I didn’t even try to explain it because, well, I can’t. No, it isn’t rational for a grown man to yell at his television for three hours on Sundays. But that’s what I do. It’s gotten to the point where my wife takes our three-year-old son to grandma’s house on game days because there’s way too much chaos — the gesticulating, the fist pumps, me shit-talking players who apparently can’t hear me through the TV despite my screaming. I get the sense my dog would like to join her on these field trips. And if it’s unbearable against a Bucs team that has absolutely no history with the Steelers (‘paper champions,’ aside), imagine how absurd it’ll be this Sunday.
Of course, you know this, perhaps better than I do. I mean, seriously, can you imagine going to watch a Steelers game with a bunch of people you didn’t know, many of whom aren’t even football fans?
A sports bar is one thing — nobody shows up at 1PM on Sunday for the karaoke. But when we first started dating, my wife couldn’t comprehend why there was so much yelling and screaming and gnashing of teeth over a football game. Even after three years in Pittsburgh and seven more in DC and now Middle-O-Nowhere NY, I’m still not sure she gets it. Whatever, that’s her cross to bear.
I bring this up for no real reason other than to point out that even though every week is THE MOST IMPORTANT WEEK OF THE NFL SEASON, Ravens Week is even more important than that. It’s the “Animal Farm” of the Steelers schedule — “All games are created equal, but some games are more equal than others.”
And even without its franchise quarterback — and worse — a 35-year-old has-been replacement under center, we expect Pittsburgh to win. (For the record, I do think Chaz is a “has-been.” As I mentioned on SLP #5, I think he’d be the No. 2 anywhere else in the league.) The fact that they’re 5-5 since 2005 is what makes this a rivalry. Well, that and guys like Brian Billick, Bart Scott, Chris McAlister, and now Ray Lewis, Houshyomamma and T-Fizzle. Unlike the sad-sack Browns and the you-can’t-really-hate the Ochocinco Bengals, the Ravens are a loathsome bunch.
That’s why this Sunday will be awesome. But you already knew that.