What If the Steelers Weren’t Around?


The Steagles—photo from Temple University archives, via Philadelphia Eagles

By Ivan Cole

The inspiration for this came after it was announced that Justin Gilbert was given a year-long suspension by the league. We have become accustomed to players being unavailable for numbers of games, and even entire seasons. But what if that happened to an entire team? What if for some circumstance that is currently unforeseen the Steelers would not be playing for a season or more while the rest of the NFL continued?

This is not as foreign a concept as it might appear at first glance. In the days when the Steelers were, well, terrible, it was common practice for many fans to adopt a more competent, competitive team to root for. No doubt, this is how in current times many people may have come to be followers of the Steelers. So (with nothing of real significance happening for about six weeks), I came up with a thought experiment—what if the Steelers weren’t around for whatever reason, and I still desired to follow the NFL? I also went further in thinking how that might play out for one season, and then permanently.

I decided that rather than taking a neutral posture, I would, like I did in earlier years, adopt a team. I came up with an evaluation process that would yield both a short term (2017 season) and long-term team that I would follow.

NFC East

Short term: Philadelphia Eagles. You have to overlook a fan base that can be fickle, vulgar, obnoxious and negative not only to opponents, but to their own. It helps that I attended college, lived and worked in Philadelphia for years, and developed a tolerance for the Philly character. I have some limited loyalty to the Eagles representing the state as well. This doesn’t extend to all Philadelphia teams. I don’t and have never been able to stomach either the Phillies or the Flyers. I did deeply embrace the 76ers during the Dr J years, easy to do since Pittsburgh offers no alternative in pro basketball.

Besides liking their style of play, a couple of big short-term considerations can be a sense of justice and pity. The last time the Eagles won a championship of any sort was a few weeks after the Pirates of Bill Mazeroski won the 1960 World Series.

Long-Term: New York Giants. When considering a longer commitment, the approach and character of team ownership and management carries more weight. The Mara family tips this in favor of the Giants over the Eagles.

It may seem strange that I would choose New York (or Philadelphia) over my local team, Washington. This is particularly true, given that I can count several people affiliated with the team over time as friends and neighbors. Their training facility is only a few miles away. But, at the end of the day it comes down to Daniel Snyder. Transformation is always possible, I guess, but for now, to willfully attach yourself to his team when you have the capacity to do otherwise is an exercise in masochism.

As for Dallas? Owner Jerry Jones may be the only other team owner that I would speak of in the same breath as Snyder. Besides that, I find the Cowboy brand of self-righteousness particularly off putting.

NFC North

Short Term: Minnesota Vikings. I find all the teams in this division likable enough, but few teams can match the Vikings in the justice/pity quotient. Not only have they never won a championship, but as Steelers fans well know, getting to the Super Bowl and not winning can be worse than not getting there at all, something Minnesota has done four times. Detroit comes in a close second here.

Long Term: Green Bay Packers. This can probably be summed up in two words: public ownership. That, and the resulting relationship with its fan base, makes the Packers an easy team to root for.

NFC South

Short Term: Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An interesting young team that hasn’t been among the league’s elites for some time.

Long Term: Carolina Panthers. In a division that doesn’t move me that much, I choose Carolina based upon the leadership of Jerry Richardson, and the relationship between the team and the community. I still hold something against the Bucs for pulling the trigger on Tony Dungy too quickly, and Atlanta for choking like dogs in the last Super Bowl.

NFC West

Short Term: Arizona Cardinals. Pittsburgh West. That says it all.

Long Term: Seattle Seahawks. I find nothing particularly attractive about any of the California teams. The Bidwell family makes me nervous. Seattle wins by default.

AFC East

Short Term: Miami Dolphins. For a bunch of small reasons, one being the presence of Lawrence Timmons, and other attachments to the community, I give the Dolphins a small edge.

Long Term: Buffalo Bills.Despite some concerns about ownership, I choose the Bills based upon the community and culture. The Jets have never moved me. And then there is New England. Where to begin. I don’t like Boston. I don’t like Robert Kraft. I don’t like Bill Belichick. I don’t like Tom Brady. Otherwise, everything is fine. To be fair, Brady is not a long-term consideration. I also admit to a sneaking admiration of Belichick. He’s a corrupt, cheating scoundrel, but I’m betting that he if were working for us we would be willing overlook much of that if it results in a favorable outcome. But I’d just rather not.

AFC North

Short and Long Term: Baltimore Ravens. Please don’t hate me. Cleveland is too incompetent, and Cincinnati has too weak a self- destructive culture. At the end of the day, in many of the ways that counts, absent Pittsburgh, Baltimore is Pittsburgh.

AFC South

Short and Long Term: Tennessee Titans. Pittsburgh South. Enough said. But I would keep my eye on Houston as well.

AFC West

Short and Long Term: Kansas City Chiefs. Solid organization and fan base. Bringing it all together, for 2017, I would be fine with the Vikings edging out the Eagles for a spot in the Super Bowl, where they would meet the Titans who beat out the Chiefs for their spot, and then flip a coin. As for my long-term affections, I would settle on one team from each conference, and I would lean toward the Chiefs and the Packers. Definitely not the Ravens. I can only go so far.

Let the debate begin. 


  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    Short and long, I can live with your options. I would give Minnesota an edge over Green Bay because of Bud Grant (former Winnipeg player and coach) but it would be wafer thin due to the high-jinx of some of the Vikes players in the past though my dislike of Brett Favre helps balance that out.

    I used to have a small fondness for San Diego but their ownership drove that out of me.

    This may be the season we see Cleveland start to rise from the mire, though without a good QB, I am not certain how that is possible.


  • I decided when Kerry Collins of PSU (my alma mater) was Carolina’s first draft pick that I would cheer them on (when they weren’t playing the Steelers). It seems as good a reason as any, and I haven’t had occasion to regret it thus far.


  • Great choice. Love your screen name. (Almost said “Scream name” – clearly Freudian…)


  • I watch all the NFL games available, locally (San Francisco) and used to wonder why I rooted for some teams and not others. I have always been interested in the history of teams (I have a MA in History from Pitt). Then I put the two together and realized I was rooting for the teams whose history I could embrace, specifically teams with longevity, a winning history and character.

    So the oldest franchises (longest time in the current city) : Packers, Bears, Giants, Lions, the Washington franchise, Steelers.

    Championships won: Packers, Bears, Giants, Steelers, 49ers, Washington franchise, Patriots.

    Character (positive aspects): community ownership: Packers; loyalty to fans (Longest tenure among owners: Bears, Giants, Steelers; No cheerleaders: Bears, Steelers, Giants, Browns, Lions, Bills. Fourteen teams play outdoors and on grass including Bears, Steelers, 49ers

    Character (negative aspects): Name: Washington {racial epithets}; serial cheating: Patriots

    So, I root for the Giants, Packers, Bears and the local team when not playing the Steelers.

    My two cents


  • Two words: Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Otherwise, it’s Pittsburgh North, and that’s the Green Bay Packers. They’ve had plenty of Pittsburgh connections, from the Head Coach on down.

    But if there’s no Steelers, there’s no reason to care at all about the NFL. And, for many Pittsburghers, no reason to live.


    • Your final comment is only too true. I talked to an Episcopal priest in 2010 who was going to wear his Steelers black and gold stole on Super Bowl Sunday for the service, and who said he was re-examining his “you don’t pray for a team to win” stance, since the mental health of so many of his parishioners seemed to hinge upon how the Steelers were doing…


  • As much as it pains me, I would probably be a ravens fan if this scenario played out. For the reasons Ivan listed as well as proximity to wear I live.


  • I’m with Homer. No Steelers, no football. No Question


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