Well the 2012-2013 NFL season isn’t even 24 hours old and already my picks for the week are screwed. Thanks, Cowboys. As things were wrapping up last night, and as the Giants and I were starting our season 0 – 1, I felt a familiar feeling. It was a feeling from my childhood, two feelings at once really, which is difficult for a grown man to process (let alone a baby boy no bigger than a squirrel). I was simultaneously pissed at Dallas just because they had won, and begrudgingly respectful of how well they played. I am so conflicted anytime that I have to give a Steelers’ rival any measure of respect where respect is due.
Like most guys, I blame my father for any flaws and defects in my otherwise perfect persona (you should see the size of my ears, they’re huge). The Old Man was always able to see right down the middle of every situation. He loves the Steelers like a real man should but, being the square shooter that he is, never dismissed the Black and Gold’s rivals as lesser teams. “Every man needs a rival.” He would say. “They keep you on your game.” He was right, too. Where would the Steelers of the seventies, those teams of my youth, be without their rivals? The Cleveland Browns, Houston Oilers, Oakland Raiders, and Dallas Cowboys pushed the Steelers to the top of the NFL and then helped to keep them there. It was these rivalries that gnawed at Pittsburgh, kept a fire in the belly of the best franchise of that decade. Like it or not, those teams that the Steelers fought with the hardest, played almost as much of a role in the Steelers success of the seventies as did Bradshaw, Harris, Lambert, Greene, or Noll. You can respect a rival. Mike Webster (RIP) used to tell a story about Tunch Ilkin, Craig Wolfley, and himself, all plowing into Cleveland’s Bob Golic on a play. Only two of the three of them were supposed to take on Golic. As Golic lay on the field counting his fractures, Webster extended his hand, helped his rival to his feet, and said “Sorry, Bobby. One of those guys F’ed up.” Many of John Madden’s raiders make the trip to Pittsburgh or host former Steelers players in Oakland to drink and relive the old days; this, from dudes who tried killing each other with regularity. Bum Phillips, Al Davis, Art Modell (RIP), and Tom Landry, were personalities I could really take issue with while at the same time give them some props when they were having their moment.
Then, the 80’s happened and the whole damn thing went sideways on us. No Bum Phillips, John Madden, or Tom Landry. Our rivals had changed shape. We got Jerry Glanville, The Raiders moved to LA, and where in the HELL did the 49ers come from? Cleveland decided that Denver would be a better rival for them than Pittsburgh, although they fared no better against them. It has blasphemously been reported that ‘the game’ passed Chuck Noll by. I suggest that Noll just expected a better class of rival. Football coaches had been replaced by evil geniuses, schemers, and tyrants. Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells, and Mike Ditka were stealing the fire of Noll, Shula, and Landry. The whole shooting match was turning into big business. Rivalries were determined by Neilson ratings and advertising dollars. You didn’t really have to respect anyone any more.
It’s easier for me now. I can just freaking hate. Hate the Patriots. Hate the Cowboys (remember SB XXX!). And most of all HATE THE RAVENS (TCSFB). But damn it, Dad, now and then I just want a respectable rival.
RIP Art Modell. You had a terribe stadium deal and you did what you had to do.