Interested in rooting for one of the NFL's 32 teams -- but don't know where to start? Adam Rank has you covered with this series, which will present a handy guide to becoming an instantly rabid fan of each organization in the league. Below, find out why you should root for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What you need to know so you don't sound stupid
The Steelers have won the most Super Bowls in NFL history with six. They were the first to four (winning four in six years during the 1970s), allowed the 49ers to get past them at five, but have won two since. And to be a Steelers fan means that you essentially need to ignore the NFL pre-Super Bowl -- even though the team was founded in 1933.
The Steelers didn't have a winning season until 1942. Didn't make the playoffs until 1947 (and promptly lost 21-0 to the Eagles). And then they wouldn't make the playoffs again until 1972. Pretty tough stretch, eh? Then they won six Super Bowls after that (as noted above), so they are fine. They don't need your pity.
The club's first playoff win is something you might've heard about a time or two. It featured a pretty famous play. The Steelers trailed the Raiders 7-6 with 22 seconds left in an AFC divisional playoff game and faced a fourth-and-10. Terry Bradshaw attempted a pass to John Fuqua, but the ball was batted into the scooping hands of the hustling Franco Harris, who raced to the end zone for a game-winning, 60-yard touchdown. The play came to be known as "the Immaculate Reception":
The play ended decades of losing and, of course, started the Steelers' winning tradition. Oh, yeah: It's also immortalized at Pittsburgh International Airport, right next to a statue of George Washington:
Pittsburgh kinda likes football.
Steelers fans love the Terrible Towel. In fact, I'm not sure we've ever seen such an inexplicable love of an inanimate object. (Teenagers flocking to Justin Bieber concerts comes close.)
Longtime Steelers announcer Myron Cope came up with the Terrible Towel during the 1975 playoffs. And the visual of 70,000 Steelers fans waving the towel has become one of the most indelible images in all sports fandom. Steelers fans take this very, very seriously. Don't ever disrespect the towel. The Titans finished 13-3 in 2008, spanking the Steelers in the process. Tennessee then headed into the next season as the odds-on favorite to go to the Super Bowl. The Titans started 0-6 and finished at 8-8. The reason? Well, Jeff Fisher, probably. But the Titans also stomped on the Terrible Towel in the '08 blowout of Pittsburgh, and it all came apart.
It's not just the Titans. Other ill-fated Towel besmirchers: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the San Diego Chargers after the 1995 AFC Championship Game, the mayor of Phoenix prior to Super Bowl XLIII and so on. Even the Los Angeles Rams tried to mimic the Terrible Towel prior to Super Bowl XIV with the "Rammy Whammy". (Thank God I wasn't alive for this.) And, well, the team eventually moved to St. Louis, lost its soul and then hired Fisher. So, time is a flat circle.
The franchise's best
"Mean" Joe Greene is the best player to ever lace 'em up for the Steelers. It's a tough call, though. I mean, trying to find the best Steelers defensive player (or just best player in general) is like trying to pick your favorite "Fast and the Furious" movie. You can make a case for just about all of them. Well, not you, "Tokyo Drift" -- but there are a lot of good ones.
I'll pick Greene because of the credentials: Ten Pro Bowls, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, a Defensive Rookie of the Year, four Super Bowl rings, yada, yada, yada. But here are a few more pillars of his candidacy: Not only was he in a Coke commercial -- which I have to believe was big in the 1970s -- but his alma mater, North Texas, is known as the Mean Green because of Joe Greene. OK, some folks dispute this, but since I love urban legends, I'm going to continue to believe this forever. That is amazing to me. More amazing when you consider he's the second-most famous football player to come out of that school (with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin being No. 1).
Best tag team
The Steelers have long prided themselves on their defense, what with the "Steel Curtain" and all of that. But it's been the offense that has carried the club in recent years. The Steelers have Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Both are considered the very best at their respective positions. I mean, you could make arguments for other running backs ahead of Bell, but you don't have a great argument. Brown is the best at his position, and I won't even entertain arguments to the contrary. If you want to compare them to a WWE tag team, you really can't, because now they have a third member, with Martavis Bryant. Wait, that would make them "The New Day." Stee-Lers rock! Stee-Lers rock! Oh, and I want a finder's fee if the three of them ever start selling ice cream.
I'm trying to think of any recent -- or historical -- NFL equivalents, with one squad having the very best running back and receiver at the same time. Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin? Jerry Rice and Roger Craig? Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed? Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison? Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt? Fine, I'll humor Steelers fans with Franco Harris and Lynn Swann. (But Walter Payton >>>>>>>>>>>>>> Franco.)
So, there is a good chance we are enjoying the very best running back-receiver tag team in NFL history. You know what, @ me with your guys (@adamrank). I would love to hear what you have to say on the subject.
Dude, I got sore just watching that sick video. Seriously, if you ever want to feel terrible about your life, just follow his workouts on Twitter:
Don't ever talk about ...
Don't ever talk about, part II ...
Super Bowl XXX. The Steelers defeated the Cowboys twice in Super Bowls during the 1970s. But they couldn't recapture the magic in Super Bowl XXX. In that game, Neil O'Donnell threw a pair of critical picks to Larry Brown that cost the Steelers the game. (And landed Brown a Super Bowl MVP award and a sick contract from the Oakland Raiders.)
Fun aside here, Steelers fans like to moan about the O'Donnell interceptions. But Pittsburgh greatly benefited from an ill-fated interception in Super Bowl XIV when Vince Ferragamo threw the ball right into the arms of Jack Lambert. So, if you want to say the Steelers won Super Bowl XXX and the Rams took Super Bowl XIV, I'm good with it.
Not enough credit
Lynn Swann never gets mentioned with the best receivers of all time. Which is weird. Because he is. And it's not like he's some obscure player who you never see. The dude's highlight from the Super Bowl (you know, the juggling catch) is everywhere. He's the USC athletic director. And he was in the movie "The Program," where he played Lynn Swann. I guess the toughest things for some folks is his lack of yards. He ranks 226th in NFL history in receiving yards. That's less than Malcom Floyd, Emmanuel Sanders and Owen Daniels.
Owen. Freaking. Daniels.
Remember, though: It was a different game back then. And sure, when you see highlights of him, he's built like your average MLB second baseman. Here's the thing: When you're considering guys like him -- or Green Bay Packers legend Don Hutson -- you really need to focus on where he stood amongst his peers. And he was easily one of the best. And best when it mattered the most, too.
Easy. Jerome Bettis. Never led the NFL in rushing. Or rushing touchdowns. But he went to Notre Dame, played for a popular team and went into television after his retirement. So, he's in the Hall of Fame. He did pile up some numbers, which is more attributed to his longevity (definitely admirable) than his domination of the game. He's like the opposite of Swann. Numbers, but nobody ever thought of him as one of the best of his era. Think of the running backs he played with. Barry Sanders. Emmitt Smith. Curtis Martin. Marshall Faulk. LaDainian Tomlinson. Terrell Davis. Marcus Allen. Nobody would take Bettis over any of them, which is how the Hall of Fame should be measured. He's like the Steelers version of Shaun Alexander. Nice player. Nice guy. (I guess -- well, Shaun is.) But not a Hall of Famer. Hey, sometimes it's fine just to be a good NFL player. Not everybody needs to end up in the Hall.
I'm going with L.C. Greenwood's No. 68. The Steelers have so many Hall of Famers that you've probably seen a ton of those jerseys. So, make a bold statement with Greenwood, a highly valued player from the famed Steel Curtain who is not enshrined in Canton. Wait, is he? Let me check. (Hang on.) Nope, not in the Hall of Fame. Which is a mild upset. A somewhat-deserving Steeler not in the Hall? Crazy talk. But Greenwood retired as the club's all-time leader in sacks. And I'll just put it out there for you: His nameplate looks really cool on a jersey.
Many people have jumped on the Steelers' bandwagon over the years; it's either that, or Pittsburgh has one of the best birthrates in the nation. Lordy, you ever notice how the Steelers have just as many fans as the Cowboys and such, but never get the knock of being a bunch of bandwagon-jumpers, as if they're all Yuengling-swilling, Primanti Brothers-chomping Pittsburgh natives? If you decide to enter into their ranks, know you are joining a team that will probably be consistently good over the next 100 years. Seriously, they don't know how to lose. That doesn't mean it's a joyride, however.
When you are a consistent winner, you come to expect playoff wins and stuff like that. The Steelers lost in the wild card three years ago. The Divisional Round two years ago. And last season, they lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. If you asked a Browns fan, he or she would be all, "I would love to just make the playoffs." But Steelers fans will be gutted because they didn't hoist another Lombardi Trophy, which has become the standard. So tread lightly. Still, realize you will be rooting for at least two of the very best in the world at what they do.