Fighting my instincts and pulling for the Steelers

January 27, 2011 | Thyrl Nelson

For those who are still finding themselves occasionally shaking their heads at the disappointing and unceremonious end to the Ravens season, welcome to the club. In the lead up to the season, we talked a lot about the burden of expectations and the possibility that decent sized stretches of the season (and as we learned the end too) would be difficult to tolerate much less enjoy.

In that way, you might argue that we should be pros at this type of disappointment. If there’s a downside to being a perennial contender, it’s that more often than not, you’re in for a disappointing ending to an otherwise encouraging season. I suppose we could ask Peyton Manning or even lately Tom Brady about that, as both have typically authored the types of seasons that lead fans to believe that the promised land is eminent, and both have fallen disappointingly short more often than they’ve seen it through.


Still, this season feels different. It feels different for a lot of reasons. For perhaps the first time in the John Harbaugh / Joe Flacco era, this season feels like it ended short of what were considered to be reasonable expectations. In 2008, although their ouster was to the same Steelers team, there was still an “aw shucks” mentality about the whole thing. We began that season with modest expectations and cautious optimism given the rookie coach and quarterback. And when the final draw in the playoffs was a Steelers team that had beaten them twice already, it wasn’t as difficult to digest as it has been this time around. Having won two playoff games that season, it was hard not to quickly turn from disappointment to pride and encouragement over what the team had accomplished and what they appeared poised for. You could say the same about last year. At 9-7 the Ravens hardly gave the impression of world-beaters. That they were able to pick up an impressive win in Foxborough over the Patriots before falling to the Colts and their typical Ravens kryptonite was again enough to be encouraged about.


This year however, things were supposed to be different. This was the year that the Ravens were supposed to turn the page, to get over the hump, to finish the deal. This year felt like they should have beaten the Steelers twice in the regular season, as opposed to the “could have” feeling of the previous two campaigns. And this year couldn’t have ended in a more disappointing fashion if it had been scripted.


As a fan it’s been tough to take. In fact it’s been downright torturous to not only see the season end at the hands of the team’s most bitter rival, but again to see that rival find their way to the Super Bowl as a result. And as a fan I surely can’t begin to imagine the impact that the loss has had on those players and coaches who had a hand in it. At least I hope not anyway.


Losses like that one can make or break a team. Whichever winds up being the case for this Ravens team going forward, it’s probably safe to assume that there’ll never be a better litmus test provided to John Harbaugh and his coaching staff than the season ahead and the opportunity to gauge the character and the wherewithal of every member of that locker room.


I hope that they’re losing sleep over this one. I hope that they’re replaying it in their minds and figuring what they could have done differently, done better, how they could have finished the job (I know some fans who are). And as a result, more so than at any time that I can ever remember, I can’t wait to see what that answer is. This football season isn’t even officially over yet, and I for one, can’t wait for the start of the next one. I hope that the coaches and players will soon be feeling the same.


As I started by saying that this has been a most peculiar feeling for me as a fan, I’ll admit that last weekend’s conference title games were tough to take, and the prospect of the Steelers in the Super Bowl, even tougher. As a Ravens fan, it’s maddening. But maybe that’s the point, or at least the opportunity.


As fans around town unite behind the Packers and their cause in the upcoming Super Bowl, that feels like the right thing to do, if not the easiest. Since at least the day that the Ravens came to town, rooting against the Steelers has been second nature, and as a fan of the Ravens, seeing the Steelers end the season by hoisting a 7th Lombardi trophy seems like a worst case scenario. But I’ll take the opposite stance anyway, for the betterment of the team I’d hope.


Count me amongst the minority of local fans, real Ravens fans that is, that will be fighting every ounce of Steelers hatred that I have inside of me, and rooting for them to win it all. (Damn it hurts to even type that)


If the sting of the end of their season is something that should serve to motivate the Ravens going forward, if that becomes one more thing that they can rally around in trying to get over the top, then let’s hope to see a little more salt rubbed in that wound. Let’s hope that the Ravens will have to watch the Steelers hoist the Lombardi trophy, their Lombardi trophy, and feel the resultant sting. Let’s hope that when next season begins, it will do so at Heinz Field with the Ravens on the opposing sideline, watching them raise the banner, watching them parade the trophy and kiss the rings. If there’s any chance that by the start of next season the pain of unfulfilled expectations will have dulled or worn off, then let’s hope for insurance policy against it.


A Steelers win in the Super Bowl would likely provide that insurance. There’s little chance of forgetting the fortune that they took from you if they’re constantly being introduced as the 7-time and defending world champs. It’ll be tough for Ray Lewis or anyone else to call scoreboard on the Jets or any other team touting themselves as pre-season champs if they have to evoke the name of the Steelers in doing it. If the fire’s burning inside them now, let’s see it stoked a little more…in the Super Bowl and throughout next season. That’s the type of impact I’m hoping for.


For what it’s worth, that’s my hope for the outcome…all of it. Is there really any greater magnitude to the bragging rights that come with 7 trophies as opposed to 6 anyway? And given the outcome for the team that I was pulling for to begin with, would the Steelers really even want me pulling for them to win now?


For the betterment of the Ravens, a Steelers win sounds counter intuitively like an ideal outcome, and if I hope for that it would still be tough to be disappointed in watching them lose on the big stage. On Super Bowl Sunday, I’ll be taking one for the team and will hopefully will be sitting quietly, angrily, arms crossed brewing over a Steelers win and hoping that the players and coaches are doing the same.