Ivan’s Accidental Vacation

by Ivan Cole

It was an accident because not only was it not planned, I was unaware of what was going on until I was in the midst of it.

I haven’t contributed much to this site in weeks. In part this was by design. I serve on the board of an organization that was sponsoring a conference in the beginning of April and there is also a book project related to that, so I knew that a temporary reordering of priorities was necessary. Then I was asked to speak and help lead a retreat at the last minute, so that was an unanticipated diversion of energy as well.

But what began as short term reduction in production became a virtual sabbatical, not only from writing about football but, with the exception of keeping up with one or two big stories, getting away from the game entirely.

In hindsight, I think I needed it.

For those who might not know, one of my ongoing tasks when I was writing regularly for Behind the Steel Curtain was providing weekly updates on Steelers related news items. I took things seriously enough that it was a rare week that I didn’t produce something Steelers focused.

During the period from the beginning of training camp to whenever the team’s season came to a close the piece was easy to produce. It was just a matter of setting priorities and drawing readers’ attention to the most interesting takes that I could find on the week’s developments. The off season was more challenging. Particularly, because I didn’t deal with the low hanging fruit of mock drafts and the endless speculation of the meaning attached to pro days, facility visits and any contact, casual or otherwise with someone who might someday find themselves on the Steelers roster.

The NFL has done a remarkably good job in promoting the idea that its product should be a whole year obsession. While I view much of this as greedy and manipulative, I also recognize that there is a significant subset of the fan base that are intrigued and engaged with the game to the point that unpacking its intricacies is, essentially, a full time endeavor that sites like this one and BTSC attempts to serve faithfully, with care and integrity.

But sometimes you (or at least I) have to get off the train. And you know what I learned?

I really didn’t miss much if anything at all. At least nothing that I can’t catch up on between now and the beginning of either training camp or the regular season. There were some free agent gains and a few more losses. The draft, the real one, is still in progress. And if the pattern holds, many of those players chosen, as well as those who come via the route of undrafted free agency will be a surprise to virtually everyone not working in the Steelers facility. Nor will the pecking order of those players, that is to say, who will make the team’s final roster and practice squad, and their relative contributions to the team’s efforts in this and future seasons be known for certain until, literally, months, and in some cases, years from now.

In other words, I learned something that us more ‘dedicated’ fans may have a lesser understanding of than those whom we may dismiss as being ‘casual’. Though there are satisfactions related to our speculations, analysis and discussions, little of real significance has transpired that impacts the bottom line—the quest for the seventh Lombardi.

So what can I share based upon a fresh perspective gained from having a little time off? Sympathy.

First to the NFL. Corporatism is a trap of shortsightedness and greed that is undermining not only the NFL, but many other organizations as well. Hopefully, some with wiser perspectives will realize that care must be taken when nurturing a good thing, otherwise the goose that lays the golden eggs will almost certainly get cooked.

Sports media. Everything I just said about corporatism applies here as well. The pursuit of clicks is an eventual dead end, with the wrath coming down on those who are merely trying to preserve their jobs. What I viewed with anger a couple of months ago has morphed into sadness. Hopefully, someone will come to understand that quality sells more reliably, if not as quickly as quantity.

To those fans who have been chug-a-lugging the Kool Aid that the league and the media has been serving them. It could (and can) be a much better experience based upon a healthier and more enlightened vision of what this sport and business could be.

Appreciation.

As one who roots as much for those who inhabit the uniforms as for the uniforms themselves, this is always a poignant time of the year. Kelvin Beachum, Sean Spence and Terrence Garvin were among my favorites. And I was rooting that somehow Cortez Allen could pull it together. I wish them all well in future endeavors.

Hope and prayer.

You know what? If the past year has taught us anything it’s that the most important factor in what could be a championship season is not how the returning players perform or mesh together, nor what can be added through free agency or the draft. If the injury gods are kind the Steelers have enough. If these deities provide a repeat of last season, then the team’s efforts may likely fall short.

As a member of the great Steelers teams of the seventies said once, you have to be good, but you have to be lucky too.

10 comments

  • Usually how I approach sports. Enjoy the hockey playoffs and baseball seasons! (NBA if you must)
    Football will still be there in the fall… and just how you thought a lot of stuff was really important in high school and college; once you graduate, you realize that it didn’t matter at all. Lots of folks gnash their teeth over the draft… but how much do you actually care about last year’s draft (Draft Rollins!)?
    🙂 Enjoy the summer, Ivan. The gray clouds will be gone soon enough from the DC area.

    Liked by 1 person

  • There’s a story somewhere in Cortez Allen.

    Like

  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    Kool-aid. I stopped drinking it when the store stopped stocking my favourite flavour.

    There should be lots to talk about now that the draft is over. We should know all the UDFAs by tomorrow as well.

    Like

  • hombredeacero

    Welcome back Ivan. Let me say that I think the word you’re seeking is a simple one: Balance.

    Honestly, I do not miss the days when the off season began in December (let’s not fool ourselves, there wasn’t a lot of January football in the 80’s and early 90’s) and, save for a spate of coverage around the draft, lasted until July. I remember all too well the days of scouring the Washington Post for any nugget of NFL news during the months of February, March, May or June.

    With that said, you’re right, the beast has grown out of proportion. I’m not sure how or when it happened. If you had to ask me to guess, I’d say it was in between 2011 and 2012. I remember it was at about then than pointed out to Michael Bean that quality Steelers features were getting pushed off the site’s prime real estate by stories about some ex-Steelers practice squad player getting cut by a Canadian football team. Then when BTSC went to its new format, well, the world got turned upside down.

    I get it.

    This is the way to make money, and people who invest in sites are there to make money.

    But it is hard not to suffer form information overload.

    Your point about greed and the Goose laying the golden egg is well taken. There’s some evidence to suggest the NFL reached that point and backed away. The NFL moved the draft in 2014 to the second week of May, and honestly I think it backfired on them. I could sense a palpable feeling of, “OK, let’s get this over with” on the part of the professional press, and I can remember seeing articles on blogs where GRADES OF MOCK DRAFTS WERE CRITIQUED and I thought, “This is simply too much.”

    The NFL’s moved the draft back, so that’s something.

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    • I don’t know that the NFL is to blame. It is up to people to simply not tune in. If you took it upon yourself to simply turn off ESPN and avoid the NFL from the day after the Super Bowl to the first preseason game… you might realize you missed far less than you think.
      NFL will put it out there because people watch. NFL treats fans like sheep…but fans did it to themselves first.

      Liked by 1 person

      • cold_old_steelers_fan

        Bah…bah.

        Hmmm, okay maybe there is something in what you are saying.

        Like

      • hombredeacero

        Elpalito – I don’t really “blame” the NFL. The truth is that football is by far the most popular sport. I remember in the mid or late 1990’s, SI did a survey of its readers, who told them they preferred football stories in the off season to stories about baseball, basketball or hockey.

        And as I mentioned, I very much remember the pre-free agency days when the off season really was an off season.

        You’re right, I might miss the NFL less than I think — I’ve had similar sabbaticals but during the season and during the off season where work/travel commitments have kept me from following the news. And you’re right, the break was nice.

        With that said, I remember my first few years down in Argentina, where I was dependent on internet dial ups, made on phone lines that charged in 3 minute increments, to read the Post-Gazette, the Trib, or ESPN. I’d load a couple of three articles into memory and then go off line before the first three minute mark it, and it was tough.

        Whenever I’d visit someone who had high speed (or who didn’t have to pay by the minute) I’d take a deep dive in.

        But with that said, the pendulum has gone too far. As a consumer, I find myself “tired” by the abundance of articles that say the same thing. As a proprietor of my own Steelers blog, the challenge is to say something (relatively) unique AND then fight to have it stand out can be daunting….

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  • Good article, and a good reminder, though I end up agreeing with elpalito and struggling to follow his recommendation.

    I try to be very judicious in my consumption of pre-draft information, just trying to familiarize myself with names at positions more than anything else, I don’t watch the draft itself, and after the draft, I again try to minimize my consumption of “draft analysis” — find out who the Steelers drafted, read an article (preferably one without a grade attached, though that’s nearly impossible) on each hopeful, and then tune it out. It doesn’t matter until August, when these hopefuls, along with others, will vie for the limited spots available on the team, and then I’ll tune in again to find out about position battles.

    I really do try to deprecate my obsession in the off-season, because the hysterical flavor of analysis of analysis is just too much.

    I love my team, and I follow faithfully during the season, but it’s healthy to take a break (which, obviously, I’m not doing, because I’m here — but I’m here and not anywhere else when I’m on a Steelers site in the off-season because this is a much healthier site).

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  • I’m with the don’t care until the preseason crowd. I watch no college football, so the draft is useless to me (as are every single mock draft). I do check sites regularly throughout the day mainly as a break from work. I do like to keep up with any news or analysis based story so that I can learn more of the game. I do take an interest in free agency because that has a big impact on the team. Mostly, I just want to watch and pay attention to meaningful football and news.

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