Super Bowl 2012: A Steelers Fan's Guide to Hating the Patriots
If you're a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and you're still not sure who to root for in Super Bowl XLVI, let me help you out.
The New England Patriots have kept the Steelers out of the Super Bowl twice in the last decade. It's not a stretch to say the Patriots have denied the Steelers at least one championship.
The Steelers have won two Super Bowls since the last time the Patriots won one in 2004. Wouldn't it be nice if it stayed that way?
Also, if the New York Giants win the Super Bowl, the Lombardi Trophy would sort of be in the Steelers family, as the families that own the Steelers and Giants are related by marriage.
Kathleen Rooney, granddaughter of Steelers founder Art Rooney, married Chris Mara, grandson of Giants founder Tim Mara. One of their daughters is even named Rooney Mara, and she's an Oscar-nominated actress.
Nothing beats a Steelers championship, but the next best thing was watching the Giants foil the Patriots' perfect season in Super Bowl XLII.
I'm a Patriot-hating extremist. I even rooted for the Ravens to beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
It seemed the majority of Steeler Nation sided with the Patriots in that earache-vs.-toothache matchup. But the majority of Steeler Nation did not grow up in New England, like I did.
That's right. The rise of the Patriots dynasty wasn't just something in some faraway land that I saw on TV. It was right outside my window every day. It was really annoying.
Not until I fled to New York in 2005 did the Steelers finally win One for the Thumb.
Believe it or not, New England wasn't always enemy territory for Steelers fans. The Steelers actually held their training camp at the University of Rhode Island from 1964 to 1966.
Back in a simpler time, Steelers fans could peacefully co-exist with Patriots fans in New England.
Not any more.
Let's take a look at the timeline of Steelers-Patriots relations and examine how it went from a they-don't-bother-us, we-don't-bother-them situation into a bitter rivalry.
As a bonus, you'll get my Super Bowl XLVI prediction.
Follow me @Steel-Tweets on Twitter.
The '80s and Early '90s: Patriots Still Harmless
As I've said before, I'm a 79er.
I signed on as a Steelers fan as an 8-year-old in 1979, the year they won their fourth Super Bowl, and I've been a Steelers fan ever since.
The first NFL game I attended, however, was a New England Patriots game at what was then called Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., in 1980.
The Steelers were mediocre in the 1980s, so I didn't expect much from them. Whenever the Patriots had any success during the Steelers' dormant periods, I rooted for them.
In 1985, when the Patriots made a surprising run to the Super Bowl as a wild-card team, I got behind the Squish the Fish and Berry the Bears campaigns.
The former was the rally cry for the Patriots to beat the Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game. The latter, using the name of Patriots head coach Raymond Berry, didn't work out so well in Super Bowl XX.
Of course, if the Patriots crossed paths with the Steelers in the playoffs, it would have been different. But the Steelers went 7-9 in 1985. They were nowhere to be found. So there was no conflict.
Whenever the Steelers and Patriots met during the 1980s, the games were relatively uneventful. It's almost as if the Steelers and Patriots existed in parallel universes.
A Steelers fan could live comfortably in New England during this era.
I went to many more games at what was renamed Sullivan Stadium and finally Foxborough Stadium, which was a reasonable drive up Route 1 from where I lived in Rhode Island.
Back then, the Patriots' logo was a man in Revolutionary War attire, including a tricorn hat, ready to snap a football.
While Pat Patriot's face was menacing enough and the logo was a nice piece of art, it almost suggested a cartoonish existence for the franchise, a perception furthered by the Patriots' no-frills stadium, where fans sat on metal benches and urinated in sinks during the halftime bathroom rush.
No, I'm not kidding. This was hardly a professional sports venue.
Then the Patriots fell on hard times as the '80s gave way to the '90s, going 1-15 in 1990 and 2-14 in 1992.
It was impossible to hate the Patriots at that point. All you could do was laugh at them.
Mid to Late '90s: Tensions Rise
Here's where the Patriots became a little bit of a problem.
It went both ways, though, because the Patriots found a nemesis in the Steelers.
Things changed in New England beginning in 1993. Bill Parcells became the Patriots' head coach. Drew Bledsoe became the Patriots' quarterback and Pat Patriot was retired in favor of a modernized logo.
The Patriots no longer were laughingstocks. In 1996, they dethroned the Steelers as AFC champions by defeating them 28-3 in an AFC Divisional Playoff game on a foggy afternoon in Foxborough.
It wasn't the most painful Steelers' playoff loss because it wasn't all that surprising. After all, Mike Tomczak was their starting quarterback.
And yes, I did pull for the Patriots against the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI, albeit with a touch of bitterness.
However, any simmering Patriot hatred was snuffed out in 1997 when the Steelers broke the Patriots' hearts not once, but twice.
During a regular-season game at Foxborough in December, the Patriots had a victory over the Steelers just about wrapped up. They led 21-13 with just over two minutes to go. The Steelers had no timeouts. All the Patriots needed was one more first down.
Then Bledsoe, as he was wont to do, threw an ill-advised pass. The Steelers' Kevin Henry picked it off and returned it into Patriots territory. The Steelers eventually tied the game and sent it into overtime. Norm Johnson's 31-yard field goal gave the Steelers a miraculous victory.
For the Patriots, it was a devastating loss, and it cost them home-field advantage in the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Steelers three weeks later. The Patriots were without Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin, but the Steelers still had their hands full before hanging on to beat the Patriots 7-6.
Just as the Patriots did to them a year earlier, the Steelers ended the Patriots' reign as conference champions. It would be the last time the Steelers beat the Patriots twice in the same season.
The Patriots exacted a small dose of revenge a year later, beating the Steelers 23-9 in a regular-season game at Three Rivers Stadium. But that was just one of five straight losses that ended the Steelers' season, so losing to the Patriots was the least of their worries.
After that, the Steelers and Patriots went more than three years without meeting. All was quiet on the Steelers-Patriots front.
2001-2004: Patriot Oppression
The sports world changed forever on Jan. 27, 2002. From that day forward, the Patriots and Steeler Nation were sworn enemies.
The Steelers went 13-3 in 2001 and were thinking Super Bowl. But it would be another four years before they got there.
The Patriots came to Heinz Field and stunned the Steelers 24-17 in the AFC Championship Game, a game they would not have won were it not for two special teams flubs by the Steelers that directly led to touchdowns.
The Patriots rode that momentum to an even bigger upset of the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Then the Patriots christened Gillette Stadium with a 30-14 pounding of the Steelers in the 2002 season opener. Life was good for Patriots fans. They enjoyed three Patriots championships in four years and they no longer had to relieve themselves in sinks.
The Patriots beat the Steelers again at Heinz Field 41-27 in the 2004 AFC Championship Game. That loss was easier to take than the 2001 loss, because even though the Steelers beat the Patriots in the regular season, there was a sense they wouldn't be able to do it again.
After seeing the Steelers barely win that game, I watched the Patriots dominate the Indianapolis Colts the next day. As soon as the clock hit zero, I uttered a four-letter word. I knew what the Steelers were in for.
During the height of the Patriots dynasty, it was impossible to look anywhere in New England without seeing someone wearing a Patriots cap or a Patriots jacket or a Patriots T-shirt. Of course a lot of women wore pink Patriots gear.
And it was all at the Steelers' expense.
Yeah, I was jealous.
I couldn't believe there was a time when I rooted for the Patriots in any game, let alone playoff games and Super Bowls.
2005 to Present: The Fight for Supremacy
Since we're talking about a team called the Patriots, let's use a reference from the American Revolution.
During this era of the Steelers-Patriots rivalry, the Steelers were like the colonists trying to declare their independence.
The Steelers won two Super Bowls since the Patriots won their last one in 2004. Yet like the British, the Patriots wouldn't allow the Steelers total sovereignty. They remained a thorn in the Steelers' side even though they weren't winning championships and the Steelers were.
In 2007, the Patriots crushed the Steelers 34-13 at Gillette Stadium on their way to a 16-0 regular season, even though their quest for perfection went down in flames in Super Bowl XLII.
In 2008, the Steelers won in New England for the first time in 11 years, beating the Patriots 33-10.
The Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XLIII, and that victory over the Patriots was a jewel in their championship crown, but it came with as asterisk because the Patriots played that season without Tom Brady.
Brady and the Patriots easily beat the Steelers at Pittsburgh in the 2010 regular season, only to sit home and watch the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
The Steelers beat a Brady-led Patriots team for the first time since 2004 this season, but that's not going to mean much if the Patriots are reunited with the Lombardi Trophy.
Super Bowl XLVI Prediction
The Xs and Os favor the Giants in this game.The Giants have the receivers to exploit the Patriots' mediocre secondary and they have the pass rush to rattle Tom Brady.
On top of that, Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski (pictured) is going to play with a high-ankle sprain. So it's doubtful he'll be the game-changer that he normally is.
All that said, I can't help but think the Patriots are going to find a way to win.
Maybe I'm just trying to brace myself for the bitter pill of another Patriots title, but the Patriots seem loose this week, one day all wearing tricorn hats during their media sessions in a tribute to old Pat Patriot.
The Patriots took on too much in 2007. It's hard enough to try to win a championship. It's even harder to be perfect doing it. They carry no such burden into Super Bowl XLVI. Their only objective is revenge, even though they're denying that as motivation.
Even though the Patriots are favored by about three points, a lot of pundits are talking about them as if they're the underdogs. The Patriots are at their best, however, when they're not expected to win, when they have to figure out a way to win.
A lot of people seem to be forgetting that the Patriots went 13-3 this season and the Giants went 9-7. A 9-7 team has never won the Super Bowl.
I'd love to see the Giants become the first 9-7 team to do it. It would be nice to see the Patriots marked with the infamy of being the first team to lose to a 9-7 squad in the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, I think our seven-year respite from Patriot rule is about to expire.
Patriots 27, Giants 19