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The Steelers are still a hard football team to watch in 2023

The Steelers put on a horrible show in front of the home folks when they were dismantled by the 49ers in their 2023 regular-season debut at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Actually, it wasn’t just a home crowd that witnessed the 30-7 blowout loss to the 2022 NFC runners-up. A lot of the crowd was made up of supporters of the 2022 NFC runners-up; that reality has spurred an ongoing debate between real Steelers fans and the so-called casual fans in the days since.

What is a real Steelers fan? Apparently, a real fan is someone who won’t sell his or her season tickets. This fan bleeds black and gold. This fan will sit and watch an entire game no matter the score. As for a casual fan, that person will sell his or her season tickets. This fan doesn’t bleed black and gold. Even if this fan does attend a home game at Acrisure Stadium, he or she will get up and leave well before a blowout loss becomes a final.

Why are people having this debate? Because the real fans are angry that thousands of casual fans (season-ticket holders) put their tickets up for sale on the secondary market and exposed them to thousands of red-and-gold-clad miners who dug them up online and struck gold by enjoying a mighty entertaining weekend in Pittsburgh that included some pillaging and plundering on Sunday afternoon.

Actually, pillaging and plundering sounds like something Vikings fans would do. When does Minnesota come to Pittsburgh?

I’d hate to see the stands at Acrisure Stadium flooded by a wave of purple and gold, but I sure won’t be surprised when and if that happens. Lots of tickets for a future home game vs. Minnesota will likely wind up on the secondary market if the Steelers don’t soon begin to sell quality football to their so-called casual fans (season-ticket holders).

It’s funny that so many have used “casual” to describe the fans who either sold their tickets to Sunday’s game or left it early; it’s hard to imagine a season-ticket holder being a casual fan because that’s a huge financial investment to make for a product you’re only “meh” about.

I believe it’s more accurate to describe season-ticket holders as die-hard fans. Not all die-hard Steelers fans are X’s and O’s experts. Many probably can’t break down film. They may not be able to tell you about footwork or hip fluidity. They may not even give that much of a darn about the draft or its prospects.

But they know a good product when they see it. They know when they’re being entertained at the stadium. Most importantly, if you’re a die-hard football fan with season tickets, that likely means you’ve been watching the sport and your favorite team for many years. You know when your squad has the goods to compete. You know when your guys measure up with the best franchises the league currently has to offer. You know when your team is a true contender.

The Steelers haven’t been a contender for quite some time.

The numbers  for the offense are now infamous: The Steelers haven’t produced a 400-yard performance in 36 straight games, and they’re the only team that can make such a claim over that time frame. Of those 36 games, Pittsburgh has scored 20 points or less 27 times. Matt Canada has been the offensive coordinator over that aforementioned 36-game sample size, but if you remember 2019 and 2020, you know the offense was no great shakes during those seasons, either.

What about this so-called elite defense the team and the fans think the Steelers have? Elite would mean top five, but this unit has ranged from mediocre to pretty bad over the past few seasons. Dominant defenses at least show up and slug it out against explosive offenses, but all Teryl Austin’s crew does is get blown to bits whenever it faces one as talented and capable as the 49ers fielded on Sunday afternoon. Instead of elite, let’s call the Steelers’ defense what it really is: A few stars–T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cam Heyward and maybe Alex Highsmith–and a bunch of dudes.

Not only are the Steelers trying to win with old-school football that consists of ugly offense and dominant defense, but they’re very bad at it.

To tell you the truth, I can’t believe the Steelers have managed to win more than they’ve lost over the past few seasons–Pittsburgh is 38-28-1 since Week 1 of 2019–because, when it comes to the caliber of offense they’ve been throwing out there and how the NFL is played in the modern era, they really should be well below .500.

But to his credit, Mike Tomlin has kept his guys together through some really trying times. The team has been forced to move on from old stars and has replenished the roster with a lot of youth.

That’s great and all, but there’s still a difference between having a winning record and playing winning football. The Steelers aren’t playing winning football, and the fans can see and feel that.

Turn off a Steelers game and go watch one involving the Chiefs and Bills. Heck, go watch a contest involving the Dolphins and Chargers.

What the Steelers are offering by comparison isn’t even close. In fact, it looks like they’re trying to sell their fans checkers, while the true contenders are selling chess.

If you’re being honest with yourself, you know what I’m saying is right. If you’re a huge fan of television like I am, not only do you have an archive of favorite shows that you’ve enjoyed throughout your life, but you were well aware of when those shows started to decline in real-time.

The reality is this: The Steelers have been stuck in a post-jump-the-shark mode for quite some time, and they can’t seem to escape it.

Most TV fans realize when their favorite shows have jumped the shark. They may watch those later years out of loyalty, but they don’t enjoy what they see. Eventually, they don’t need to rush to their recliners in time to see this show and, instead, wait a day or two to catch the latest episode on Hulu or Paramount+. Even then, they’re likely only sort of paying attention while they scroll through their phones.

To quote a former president: There’s been a general malaise in the Steelers fan base the past four-plus seasons, complete with a crisis of confidence.

My brother called me at halftime of Sunday’s game and soon began to give me grief when I said I was already fed up with what I was seeing. “It’s only Week 1,” he insisted. “Yeah, but it’s pretty much the same thing we’ve been witnessing the past few years,” I retorted.

That’s right, despite the massive roster turnover the Steelers have experienced recently, what you saw on Sunday sure looked familiar, didn’t it? That’s why it was a bit delusional to think that a few exciting preseason games in August would be enough to convince thousands of fans that a new era had already arrived by Week 1.

It’s going to take more than three weeks of exhibition football to bring that old excitement back.

Fans are going to need to start seeing it in September, October, November, etc.

Someone posted a video on Twitter of Steelers fans leaving Sunday’s game early and added that they were “keeping receipts.”

Good for you. I’ll bet you don’t have any receipts for melatonin because the Steelers have been the perfect sleep aid since 2019.

I wasn’t at the Week 1 clash, but I did turn my TV off midway through the fourth quarter so I could get a yoga workout in before my bowling match.

Does that make me a casual fan?

Does it make you a real fan because you watched the whole thing, all the way down to the postgame handshake?

Cool, but to paraphrase Frank Costello in The Departed: “It don’t add inches….” I can’t complete that sentence, but that’s fitting since Pittsburgh hasn’t played a complete game for quite some time.

Anyway, the Steelers don’t hand out “Real Fan” awards for sitting through bad football.

The Steelers do sell season tickets, however, and their customers have been not-to-subtly telling them what they think of their product for the past few years–noticeable no-shows, selling their tickets to out-of-town “guests,” leaving early, etc.

To repeat, the Steelers jumped the shark a while ago, and they haven’t been able to provide anything fresh and new to be excited about.

If the start of 2023 was any indication, not even a new cast of characters–including a bunch of cute kids–will be enough to make the Steelers a ratings winner with the fans.

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