The Five Stages of Steeler Fandom in 2015


via cbssports

Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote “On Death and Dying” in 1969. In it she postulated a model of how people experience (and eventually come to terms with) the death of a loved one. I believe we can trace in this the ways we have attempted to cope with this unusually difficult season.

Although it seems as if this season has been even more of a roller coaster ride than usual, the truth is, it isn’t easy being a Steeler fan. Even in the best years they seem to be the Cardiac Kids.

If you’re a 21st century Patriots fan, you can just about bet your team is going to make the post-season, and if they are a top-two seed they will almost certainly go to the Super Bowl. Of course, unless they win it, (which they have done a suspiciously large number of times in the last decade and a half) you are going to have a huge letdown at some point. But there is comfort in knowing that as long as Tom Brady is healthy (and he generally is) your team is going to win a lot of games. After all, they even won a lot of games with Matt Cassell at QB.

It could be a lot worse, though. If you root for, say, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you know the chances are not good they will even make it to the playoffs. They have made it to the post-season 10 times in the 40-year history of the team. (Conversely, during the same 40-year period the Steelers have made the post-season 23 times, the Patriots 21 times.) And of the 10 times Tampa Bay made the playoffs, they only advanced beyond the first game three times, and only made the Super Bowl once (but then won it.) The last time they made the playoffs was 2007. This season’s 6-9 team isn’t going either.

So as not to tempt fate, I won’t mention today’s opponent. Let’s just say it REALLY hasn’t been easy to be a fan of the Factory of Sadness since they re-emerged in the late 90s. They have had a winning season twice during this time, made it to the playoffs once, and lost in the wild-card round.

To return to Kübler-Ross, her five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I think we can all relate to these this year.


As I noted in my opponent preview, pretty much no one expected the Steelers to win this game [Steelers at Patriots.] They didn’t. The final score of 28 – 21 looks better than it really was. 

And yet, perhaps the most frustrating part was it looked for most of the game like they had a decent chance to compete.

That looks rather like denial. “Denial” can also include a goodly dose of questioning the officiating:

But there were a lot of passes which should have been complete which weren’t. The Seattle secondary is very aggressive, and they made a lot of good plays on the ball.

I noted the refs were happy to let them be aggressive, too. Seattle had a lot of penalties for one thing and another, but not a single pass interference call, despite draping themselves on the receivers at various points and a seriously egregious incident where Antonio Brown was shoved to the ground before he touched the ball.

Next comes Anger(Courtesy of Ivan):

52 Steelers played well enough to win.

It’s not often that my reaction to a Steelers loss is one of such anger and frustration. What Josh Scobee just learned the hard way is that the margin of error in Steelers vs Ravens is too narrow to accommodate what he put out there last night. And while there were some other issues out that one might criticize, mostly having to do with some play calling decisions, it would be hindsight and nitpicking to say that those things were significant.

It would be a matter of tough luck if Scobee missed a makeable field goal once. Heinz is a tough place to kick. But he did it twice.

The anger doesn’t even have to be at the Steelers per se. This is courtesy of Homer J.

The Rams aren’t setting the league on fire…but…indoor pyrotechnics is simply insane. it should be banned by the fire marshals, but there isn’t a fire marshal in the nation who has the political clout to stand up to the NFL and still expect to have a job on Monday morning. This should serve as a wake-up call to the NFL that this type of nonsense should be banned. Indoor pyrotechnics killed 100 people at a nightclub fire in West Warwick, RI a few years ago, and doing it in a place with 60,000 people or more in a closed area is absolute insanity. Almost criminally insane.

I think we can all remember plenty of instances of anger this season, both our own and others. Last week is still too fresh. Next comes:


I’m afraid I can’t think of any quotes off-hand for this, because this is something we all do in the privacy of our own thoughts. It probably relates best to the superstition article. The following was from a pre-season Asked and Answered:

Bob, I need your help. Back in the 1970s, my grandfather gave me a Terrible Towel for Christmas. I don’t remember the exact year, but my dad always told me it was the first year the Terrible Towels were sold. The problem with mine is that it seems like every time I’ve pulled it out over the last 8-to-10 years, the Steelers have lost, no matter the opponent and how overwhelmingly impossible it seemed they would lose – the 4-12 Oakland Raiders in 2012, anyone? My question is, what can I do to shake the bad mojo out of this Towel so that I can fly it on Sundays without having to feel like it’s my fault the Steelers lose? I KNOW that it’s not really my fault, but being the superstitious former athlete I am, I can’t help but think my Towel is a jinx.

Labriola advised he retire the towel with honor.

Last Sunday Adrian and I went to early church (I was visiting him and his family in Colorado) so we could make it to his friend Donna’s house for the 11 am kickoff. Hopefully I was kidding, but afterwards I commented that it didn’t seem right that the Steelers would lose when we had done our part and gone to church first. Hopefully…


Bill S. skipped the previous step, as he commented after last Sunday’s loss:

I have gone from angry to just plain depressed. What a waste. Good teams don’t lose games like this. The wins against the Bengals and Broncos were illusions.

There are only too many examples of depression.  Here’s the most recent, from Homer J.:

About the best thing you can say about Sunday’s loss is that they have closed all access to the Greenfield Bridge in Pittsburgh, and they are going to blow it up on Monday. So that negates one final exit route for those Steeler fans who believe they have no reason to live after this totally unexpected loss. 

Of course, Pittsburgh – as the social scientist Reggie “Crusher” Lisowski once observed, is the only city where a guy can commit suicide jumping out his basement window, because there are so many places to end it all after this Gloomy Sunday. 

For Homer, this also means listening to the incessant yammering of Redskin fans in DC, since the .500 skins have won the NFC Least Division. They will be going to the playoffs, while the Steelers will be playing golf in two weeks. Until the ‘Skins are one and done, Homer will have to bear the pain of listening to these idiots and he will envy the deaf. 

If that isn’t depression I don’t know what is.

And finally, Acceptance.

As skyfire said in response to the 5 Smoldering Questions this week:

I will let DeAngelo Williams answer this question. (DeWill said after Sunday’s loss): “What bothers me is that people overlook 4-10 teams like they aren’t allowed to play good football or play up to a team that is hot or has a winning record. This is the National Football League. It is any given Sunday, and it is not always the best team that wins on Sunday. It’s the team that plays the best on Sundays.”

George Siegal commented on the same post:

The Steelers only lost to one team when they were favored this season and that was the Ravens last Sunday. The Steelers won four games when they were the underdog, including the last Bengals game and the Broncos. Under Tomlin they average 10.6 wins per season. Rebuilding a team with records of 8-8, 8-8, 11-5 and (hopefully) 10-6 is amazing, granted the secondary still needs to be finished.

I think perhaps acceptance includes making excuses, as I did in this week’s Stats ‘n At:

Hopefully Ben Roethlisberger will look more like himself next week. I found myself wondering if he had the flu, since it has been going through the locker room, and in fact Ben went home sick yesterday. So hopefully we can attribute his bad game to not feeling very well, and hopefully he will feel better Sunday. Much better.

But true acceptance can’t come until after the Steelers are actually officially eliminated from the post-season, as may very well happen later today, however things play out in Cleveland. At that point I’m guessing the entire cycle will begin again, and we will perhaps have made it all the way to Acceptance by the Pro Bowl or so.

Maybe this just isn’t the Steelers’ year. But given how well they played for the majority of the year, and the very surprising victories over what have continued to prove to be strong teams (such as the Landry Jones-led Steelers beating the Arizona Cardinals), and Ben being able to return after escaping not one but two potentially season-ending injuries, it just seemed like kismet. As I write this, I’m hoping it is, and somehow or other we will see at least a few more weeks of football this season—that the early Week 17 games will end in the resurrection of the Steelers’ hopes and not the as the final graveyard.

If not—well, let the grieving begin.


  • For the first time ever, I completely disagree with Rebecca and everyone else quoted. I feel a bit shell shocked by that. 🙂

    I don’t or won’t feel a speck of grief about this season. Or any real disappointment. Maybe a little if the Bills don’t win tomorrow but that’s not on the Steelers.

    This team has entertained and interested and amused and irritated and excited me for 17 weeks. I’ve been able to spend Sunday after Sunday yelling at them and yelling for them. I’ve gained new respect for some guys who’ve been around for a while, I’ve learned to really like a few more I didn’t know much about, and except for my inexplicable dislike of Spaeth, there’s no one on the team I’m not happy to wave my towel for. I was about to launch into a list of players and plays that made me ridiculously happy but there are far too many. I doubt there was more than a quarter when I didn’t see something that made me glad to be a fan. And as far as I can remember riight now, I did have to watch every single quarter of every game down to the last seconds because it was never a done deal until the very end. Okay, maybe once I was sure they’d win before the start of the 4th quarter. But what excitement–was anyone else this much fun all year, even if the “fun” was sometimes the agony of defeat in the last moments?

    And the silly things–AB and that goal post. And then his Christmas card. Big Play WIllie Gay and Joey Porter on their knees. DeAngelo’s bow. AB’s back flip. AB’s locker room “What it is.” And the not so silly things. DeAngelo’s pink hair in honor of his mother. Will Gay and his purple shoes. AB taking high school kids to see Concussion. There are a lot more but it’s late, I’m tired and that’s all my mind can come up with in 20 seconds. Those horrible Christmas carols! And Deebo gave away Christmas ornaments of himself on Facebook–who hangs a little James Harrison on a Christmas tree? No, I’m not going to come up with any more because I’m sure I could work backwards through the year and find more and more of these silly things.

    I would much rather be a fan of a team like this (or really, just this team) than be a Patriots fan and go to the playoffs every year. So they had some bad games, people did some not so great things, some games seemed like they should have, could have won but they didn’t. So what? Some of them will get better, some will learn to work with each other, some won’t be here next year for better or worse; but they all gave us an awful lot of good football and a little bit of bad football and I”m glad I saw it all. They didn’t cheat with deflated balls or malfunctioning equipment, and the coach didn’t turn purple and jump up and down on the sidelines pitching fits, the players didn’t (very often) act like jerks and the owners aren’t firing people.

    I’m grateful for this year. I appreciate the season we’ve had, imperfect as it was. I’d like to see some more but if it all ends tomorrow, I’ll just cuss out Rex Ryan for 5 minutes (I sort of like him, so I probably won’t) and think: Next year! What I really hope is that the players of this team feel some pride in what they did accomplish, not satisfaction, but some pride. I”m not entirely satisfied myself but I’m pretty proud to have been a fan of what did happen.


    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you for disagreeing. I think I love you. This is how I feel when I run into the people who moan about Ben Roethlisberger or are clearly offended that the Steelers don’t go 13-3 every year (and what’s with those three losses, anyhow?) and win the Super Bowl. It’s hard to win and easy to lose. Sometimes you’re sick and have to play anyhow. I’ve conducted a concert with a bad case of the flu more than once, and once in the midst of an asthma attack, and I can tell you it isn’t easy to concentrate on the task at hand. Some days you are on and some days you aren’t. We can’t just be “on” in our lives—what makes us think these young men can just turn it on at a moment’s notice. Sometimes you aren’t on and win anyhow—does anybody make you give back the “W”? Sometimes you are on but the other guy is “on-er”, which isn’t a word but I don’t care. Sometimes the chips fall your way, and sometimes they fall the other guys’ way. I’ve never understood why we expect a perfection from other people we don’t and can’t from ourselves.

      Yes, I’ll be disappointed and sorry (but neither angry nor depressed) if they don’t make the playoffs, and I do regret that another year of Ben’s prime will go without a chance for him to get to the Super Bowl, but as you say it has been an amazing year.

      I’m off to church now (I’m in Hawaii, tough job but someone has to do it) so you guys hold up my end of the bargain for me.


      • I’m blushing. 🙂

        Also, if I felt the need to cook up a new superstition, I really think “Hawaii = Playoff berth” would be at the top of my list. You need to consider what part all that white sand played…



  • I admire Earthling’s mental stability. I am grateful for the many s year and I would have gladly taken 10-6 at the season’s beginning. As I commented earlier, I could not contain my ecstasy when we beat Denver, which triggered my utter gloom with last weekend’s debacle. I think I went through all five stages in 48 hours.

    I can accept where we are and be happy for the fact that the defense played well enough to get us to the playoffs, as the offense did not put up enough points to win. Our star is rising, a situation that has not been so apparent in recent years. Of course, if we manage to get in, optimism and schizophrenia are back in play. I’ll take my chances. Go Steelers, Go Bills.


    • I don’t want to misrepresent myself as mentally stable, for pete’s sake!

      Reading this, it occurs to me that some people watched the Denver game and thought it was a turning point. The first half was bad,but the team figured it out, got better and were going to continue to improve. As if it were a narrative with an UP arrow. I watched that game and thought it was a pretty good picture of this team–half bad, half good. I saw a snapshot, not a narrative, so there was no tipping point, so when Bad Ben and company showed up again, I wasn’t upset. I don’t know why that is, btw. I’m not claiming any sort of expertise.

      Besides, it’s not really fun to win everything every year. I lived in Boston when the Red Sox won the world series for the first time in about a century. 2004? 2005? I have never liked baseball, I knew nothing about the team, but I got caught up in the excitement, as did everyone around me. People would literally stop traffic on the street to talk about the team. I listened to the games on the radio, something I’d never done before and have never done since. In the week of the semi-finals or whatever they’re called in baseball, the seven game series with the Yankees, I learned the players’ names and nicknames histories, and some strange chant ( “Who’s your daddy?”) and sat in my kitchen barely able to breathe while listening to some of those games.

      A couple of weeks after the Red Sox won the world series, the Steelers beat the Patriots and ended their winning streak from the season before. 20 games? I watched that game in a restaurant, pretty much alone. No body cared. Afterwards, I didn’t hear a single person mention it. The Patriots went on to beat the Steelers in the playoffs that year and then I’m pretty sure they won another Super Bowl, and no one around me cared. The same people who danced in the street for the Red Sox seemed bored by the Patriots. Every once in a while, I find that so unbelievable I look it up, and sure enough the Patriots won Super bowls before and after the Red Sox won the world series.

      who now wonders why I thought any of the above was interesting but heck, I did all that typing!


      • It’s the subtle change to entitlement. The shift took place with astonishing rapidity with the Pirates. People who would have been thrilled at the beginning of the 2013 season for the team to win 81 game and break the 20-year losing streak are now upset because a team which won 98 games and had the 2nd best record in MLB in 2015 couldn’t beat an essentially unhittable pitcher in a one-game elimination match.


  • It was a little bit before Rebecca’s time, but there was a run of nearly a decade when playoff runs and championships seemed to be the Steelers’ birthright. What made it so intense and giddy is that Pittsburgh went from being the equivalent of Tampa Bay (or maybe more appropriately Cleveland) in a relative blink of an eye.

    I guess the bad part about that is the creation of unrealistic expectations. I remember an exchange I had with someone a few years ago who said that he felt that is was realistic, realistic mind you, that the Steelers win the championship every year. I guess he thought this was the Big Ten. And, I apologize for repeating myself, there were those who were calling for Chuck Noll to be fired smack in the middle of that great Super Bowl run. I remember people discussing on BTSC a couple of hours after winning SB 43 what changes needed to take place during the off season.

    This supports Earthling’s point. Nobody feels sorry for Steelers fans because at the end of the day there is nothing to feel sorry about. With all due respect to the Patriots, the last decade has been extraordinarily successful: three SB appearances, with two championships under two different coaching regimes. Not one losing record even when rebuilding. Interesting and relateable personalities both on and off the field; truly likeable owners, Cowher and Tomlin, Bus, Deebo, Peezy, AB, Fast Willie, Troy, Hinds, Big Snack, Big Play, DeAngelo, Heath, LeBeau, an embarrassment of riches really. And they haven’t had to lie, cheat and steal to get there.

    Most fans of other teams will see nothing like it in their lifetimes. Maybe in a decade or so, if we live so long, we’ll come to fully appreciate it.

    Liked by 2 people

  • Oh and I forgot to disagree with Bob Labriola. I must be feeling contrary.

    If every time you take your grandma to a game the Steelers lose, you don’t solve the problem by leaving her in the parking lot! Clearly that towel is pretty ticked at being kept in a drawer most of the time and only “trotted out” on occasion. I love the towel as much as anyone but if you think about her history (Is the towel a she? I don’t know why I think so), she’s pretty spiteful when she thinks she’s been mistreated. Ray Rice’s head, TJ Housh’s shoes–she didn’t think twice about destroying them.

    So the worried asker needs to get her out for every game and wave her until she feels she’s part of the family again. Because she is. I’ve got one of those legacy towels, she’s got a big red blotch on her from the game when the first greatgrandchild spilled her juice after a TD and someone grabbed the towel to wipe it up. The towel understood and forgave. That’s what you do with family. 🙂

    Go Steelers! Go Bills!



  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    Well, I don’t know about everyone else, but I am in remission for at least one more week.


    • From reading Homer’s game notes it looks as if one more week might be about the extent of it. Let’s hope the secondary learns to tackle, Ben stops with the picks, and DeAngelo is okay!


  • Sports is just about enjoying the ride as a fan. And hoping your team can carry you from one sport to the next. Sadly, my hockey team fell out of contention 8 games into the season, so this Spring will be a little dry. I’ll just have to do yardwork or read more books.


  • It’s time to change this year’s Pittsburgh Steelers’ theme song. It had been The Ballad of John and Yoko (Christ, you know it ain’t easy). But henceforth, it shall be the BeeGee’s timeless hit, “Stayin’ Alive.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s