I am a Steelers fan.
Since I was a third grader in January 1979, when I chose to cheer for the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII, I became a fan of the black and gold and haven't looked back.
I could never be a Bengals fan, or a Cowboys fan. I can't bring myself to cheer for a team that deliberately brings in players who have made very bad decisions in their private lives, hoping that it won't affect the team in a negative way.
I like rooting for the team who recognizes character and integrity as essential components and expects it from their players.
I first realized that this is the Steeler way in March 1996, just after Super Bowl XXX. Bam Morris had just had a great season, thrilled me with a few good run plays in the Super Bowl, then got caught with marijuana in his vehicle a month later. The Steelers cut him immediately. Goodbye, Bam Bam.
I immediately thought, "Best RB I can remember since Barry Foster. What are the Steelers going to do?"
Enter Jerome Bettis. I'll talk more about him later.
Then there were some of his teammates. Plaxico Burress got caught for open alcohol in public. A few seasons later, he's a free agent. Goodbye, Plaxico. The Giants had to deal with it when he really lost it.
In contrast, his teammate, QB Ben Roethlisberger, goes to work for Campbells Soup, fighting hunger with Donovan McNabb's mom. Being humble about his loss in the AFC Championship game he admits, "I'm going to sit down with coach LeBeau and learn how to read defenses."
Santonio Holmes got caught with marijuana and had to sit out a game. He realizes that he could have been the difference-maker in a loss to the Giants. Re-groups for his biggest catch in Super Bowl XLIII.
Joey Porter takes a bullet in September and still has a great season. O.K. there was a pre-game fight. I'll give you that one. No questioning his toughness, though.
How inspiring is the toughness of Hines Ward? Everytime he gets blown up by a defender, he gets up and smiles. On the next play, he lays a block. It's only fitting that the NFL's toughest and best blocking wide receiver plays for the Steelers.
In this past 2008-2009 season, Ben Roethlisberger gets knocked around a little because of injuries and inconsistency on the O-Line. Ben takes the high road, compensates for it with good play, builds those guys up in the media instead of criticizing, and leads them to another Super Bowl.
Another aspect of Steeler football is undrafted and high round picks that make the team and become greats, such as James Harrison (undrafted), Brett Keisel (seventh round), and Willie Parker (undrafted).
I like to see my team find talent where no one else does. These guys stepped up and earned a spot on the Steelers when no one else gave them a chance.
Willie Parker understands being a team player. He has two Super Bowl rings and no rushing titles. He likes it better that way.
Did I mention Jerome Bettis? Comes to Pittsburgh in 1996, forms The Bus Stops Here Foundation, drives kids to a computer day camp in a school bus, sits out for the last game in the '05-'06 season, missed a 1,000-yard season. When asked about it in an interview, he says it's better for the team, cheers his teammates on from the sidelines, and makes a few plays in Super Bowl XL.
His biggest moment, however, was coaching Willie Parker to run off-tackle instead of around end. Willie gets a 75-yard TD run as a result. The Bus gets to retire a champion by being a team player.
Toughness, integrity, persistence, and selflessness—these are the dominant character traits of the Pittsburgh Steeler organization.
As I see the team keep bringing in players who personify these attributes, while other teams take on problem players who get cut for being foolish, I can hold my head high and say, "I'm a Steeler fan!"
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