Steelers Made Me a Fan – Not The NFL

by Bob Poole on February 4, 2011

Alert – This is a post about football, the Super Bowl and the NFL. So if you’re not interested I’ll see you in a couple of days. 🙂

I grew up 33 miles from Pittsburgh. Other than a 4 year stint in the Navy, I spent the first 48 years of my life living in the area. For twenty years I worked in Pittsburgh. My first memory of the Pittsburgh Steelers centers around one of the more interesting players in the Hall of Fame. His name was Bobby Layne.

Bobby began his pro career in 1948 with the Chicago Bears. His last years of playing were with the Steelers from 1958 – 1962. I was 10 years old in 1959 and I got my first real football Christmas that year. It was a Bobby Layne autograph edition.

I’m not sure why I got a football autographed by a Steeler player. My father was a Cleveland Browns fan back then as the Steelers didn’t have much of a winning tradition up to that point. We lived in East Liverpool, Ohio and despite the fact Pittsburgh is only 45 minutes away and Cleveland more like 110 miles a lot of local people grew up as Browns fans watching Jimmy Brown make history as a running back.

Whatever the reason I got this particular football it started my lifetime of following and enjoying the Steelers. In 1969 Chuck Noll became the head coach. The Steelers won one game that year and lost thirteen. Three years late on December 1972 (just a month after I was discharged from the Navy) I was wielding a sledge hammer in a second-floor, walk-up apartment in East Liverpool, Ohio listening on the radio to the AFC divisional playoff game between the Steelers and the Oakland Raiders. I was using the sledge hammer to take out a wall between two rooms to turn the entire upstairs into what would become my first photo studio.

I don’t think I had a choice about listening on the radio or watching the game as it was blacked out back then as they were playing in Pittsburgh. With only about a minute to play the Steelers were losing and it was 4th down. Terry Bradshaw, drafter in 1970, threw a desperation pass under an enormous rush. The ball was headed toward Frenchy Fuqua who collided with Jack Tatum of the Raiders just as the ball arrived. The ball bounced backward several yards and just before it hit the ground, Franco Harris, arriving out of nowhere caught the ball and ran it in for a touchdown and what today is called The Immaculate Reception. I remember yelling my head off in an empty building. It was the beginning of a dynasty in professional football.

The Steelers won Super Bowl Championships in 1974, 1974, 1978, 1979, 2005, and 2008. Sunday they will go for their 7th Championship. Pittsburgh has won more Super Bowl titles (six), won more AFC Championship Games (eight) and played in (fifteen) and hosted more (eleven) conference championship games than any other AFC or NFC team in history. It has been quite a fun ride for me and millions of other fans of the NFL. The league has grown to become the most profitable sport in the world with annual revenues of about $9 billion.

In 1982 the players went on strike for 57 days during which time no games were played. Thousands of fans learned there were other things to do on Sundays. In 1987 another strike occurred and one week of the season was cancelled. But, it might was well have been more as the NFL staged games with replacement teams made up of players cut during training camp and a few veterans who crossed the picket line. Once again thousands of fans came to the realization that Sunday afternoons could be spent doing other things than watching a TV screen and a game.

Now the league is ready to lockout the players and face a work stoppage since the current collective bargaining agreement expires on March 3rd. If this occurs I believe it may ultimately lead to the greatest loss of fans in the history of any sport.

It’s all about greed as near as I can tell. Billionaire owners want more money as do the multimillionaire players. Everybody wants as much as they can get. I don’t think the average fan really will have much empathy for either side especially considering the state of our current economy.

I could be totally wrong about the loss of fans. But, my gut tells me people are fed up with greedy CEO’s (the owners) and greedy employees getting multimillionaire dollar paychecks to play a game willing to say “so what” to the people who ultimately pay them.

I’ll be watching the game Sunday. But, I’m also going to put my two cents into the pot if there is a work stoppage. There will be no more NFL related purchases by me. No more games. What about you? Let’s assume you enjoy watching the NFL.

How do you feel about a work stoppage so billionaires and millionaires can fight over getting more money while disrespecting the paying fans?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Becky Blanton February 5, 2011 at 11:32 pm

That’s a tough one Bob. I worked security for The Denver Broncos in the 80s. I have clients now who are NFL players, or retirees. The average NFL player has a career expectancy of 3-4 years. Many only play for one year. They spend 12 to 20 years of their lives getting to a point where their career will last only one to three seasons. The pressure is enormous, and so are the costs – thus the pay scale $150,000 to multi-millions. Most players will play injured that entire time – if they want to continue to play. Most will suffer life altering injuries and need medical coverage for the rest of their lives – coverage they can’t afford once they’re no longer playing. Of those that do play and do make multi-million dollar incomes, 78% of them will be broke within two years of retirement. Many become homeless. Others go onto $30,000 sales jobs, or struggle in the employment market like most folks – especially if they weren’t “a name” people recognize.

I support the players right to request more money – but it should come from the greedy owners – not the public. There’s a very false perception (thank you media and hype) that all professional athletes are rolling in money, women (or men) and drugs and living the high life. Certainly a small percentage of them do – but (1) they earned it (2) it won’t last long and they know it.

P.S. Professional cheerleaders – in case you didn’t know – cheer for free. Most work full-time jobs and practice, travel and cheer entirely at their own expense!! WTF!?! Many of the vendors ($5 for a .50 cent hotdog anyone?) are greedy as well. The media makes a bundle on advertising. It’s the janitors, the crews, the support staff working for minimum wage that is really hurt. It goes back to the owners though. I support the players. Look at the salary range – and don’t just focus on the few players who get all the TV time. Only a handful of players ever make the 10-14 year mark and for those – the abuse their bodies take, and the lack of health care the league gives them is a travesty. I just wish some lazy sports reporter would do a real story on the costs. But no – that wouldn’t sell as many papers as a “Lockout” brawl.

Bob Poole February 8, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Thanks Becky for the feedback. Over the years I’ve become friends with at least a half-dozen NFL players. Some never caught on and got only one year and several are in the Hall of Fame. All of the ones that played for any length of time suffer from the beating they gave their bodies over the years. I think we have to remember though that it was their choice. Most of them would do it all over again. There is no doubt that the NFL makes loads of money and yet there was Jerry Jones crying on national television prior to the Super Bowl about finances. I just don’t buy his tears nor do I think 99% of the fans. Shutting down for part or all of a season and then almost certainly raising prices to pay for the new agreement is not the way you treat your best customers. But, we both know that.

If anyone is likely to do a real story on the costs it will have to come from someone at Sports Illustrated or a totally independent. The business is so big that getting an unbiased story from those who have much to gain (or lose) by the truth isn’t likely these days in my opinion.

PS – The Steelers have never had cheerleaders. I always liked that about them. The Packers used college cheerleaders for a while and then stopped.

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