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.
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.