PITTSBURGH — This is football country. It’s the home of Mean Joe Greene, the Steel Curtain, the Terrible Towel and the Immaculate Reception. It’s where thick-fingered fans belly up to the bar for a shot-and-a-beer after an overnight shift. It’s the birthplace of Johnny Unitas and Dan Marino. It’s where folks speak in reverent tones about the Rooney family, Chuck Noll, and six Super Bowl championships — more than any NFL franchise.
So how in the name of Terry Bradshaw did quaint Olde New England become a football region capable of mocking the vaunted gridiron culture of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania?
The Patriots are at Heinz Field on Sunday and no one in Greater Boston is worried about the outcome. The 2018 Steelers probably have more talent than this year’s Patriots. The Steelers are playing at home and have much on the line. The Steelers will have 68,000 black-and-gold clad fans making it difficult for Tom Brady to hear when the Patriots offense goes to work in the enclosed end of the stadium.
And none of it will matter. The Patriots will beat the Steelers because they always beat the Steelers. In this century, the gridiron glory and tradition belongs to Bill Belichick, Brady, and Patriot Nation. Pats fans laugh at the Steelers and make fun of them as if they are the Tampa Bay Rays or the Orlando Magic.
This hit home last December on a Boston-bound JetBlue flight out of Pittsburgh the day after yet another Patriot defeat of the Steelers. After settling into my seat, I noticed that a cocky/baiting New England fan had placed a sacred terrible towel on the floor of the aircraft aisle for everyone to tred upon (let the record show that this columnist and the Boston Globe do not endorse such sacrilegious behavior).
Yeesh. The towel desecration best demonstrates this bizarro inversion of 20th century traditions. Boston having the upper hand over Pittsburgh as a football market is like Jacksonville or Sacramento besting Boston’s medical or academic institutions. It would be like Greek hoop stars ridiculing USA Basketball.
Amazing, but true. New England football owns Pittsburgh at this hour. And we have come to believe that history will be enough. Even on a Sunday when the Steelers should win.
Belichick was asked about the proud Steeler legacy Friday and said, “It’s been incredible. Three coaches in 50 years, one ownership. They’ve had tremendous continuity.’’
Sure, Bill. But when it comes to playing against the Patriots, the Steelers might as well be the Buffalo Bills. Sorry to say this, but the Steelers are just another Tomato Can. We’re not in the 1970s anymore. Brady is 11-2 as a starting quarterback in games against the mighty Steelers. Brady is 6-2 at Heinz Field. The Patriots have beaten them five straight times, including a playoff game. Brady is 3-0 against the Steelers in AFC Championship games. Belichick and Brady own space deep inside the heads of the Steelers and their fans. And they know it.
The Steelers lose to New England even when they seem to have won. Remember last year’s Game Of The Century in December at Heinz Field? The Steelers appeared to win on a Jesse James touchdown catch with 34 seconds remaining, but upon further review (always the Patriots best friend), the play was ruled “no catch” and the points came off the board. Then the Steelers lost their minds and failed to kick a game-tying field goal even though they were on New England’s 10-yard line in the closing seconds. Ben Roethlisberger wound up getting picked at the goal line on a tipped pass and there was a ton of finger-pointing in the Pittsburgh locker room after the game. The Patriots went from being a No. 3 seed to a No. 1 seed. And it took them to the Super Bowl. As usual.
The controversial non-catch resulted in an NFL rule change during the offseason, but, of course, it was too late to help the Steelers. Ask the 2001 Oakland Raiders about this. Those Raiders were knocked out of the playoffs by the Patriots thanks to the bogus Tuck Rule, which has since been erased.
No team has taken advantage of horrible rules that were later amended more than your New England Patriots. That is why so much of America hates the Pats. That is why there was so much joy across the nation last Sunday when the Patriots were the ones who looked like stooges at the end of a game.
Not this week. Not against the Steelers. The Patriots are going to do what they always do to the Steelers. They are going to steal Pittsburgh’s lunch money. “Cheers” beats “This Is Us.’’ Every time.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin is 2-7 vs. Belichick, 1-7 vs. Brady. Brady’s 113.0 career passer rating vs. the Steelers is the highest of any quarterback against any team since the 1970 merger. He has 30 touchdown passes and only four interceptions against Pittsburgh.
Belichick Friday was asked if the Patriots’ success in recent years would help Sunday and answered, “Nope.’’
Any carryover from all this recent dominance?
“Zero,’’ said the Hoodie.
We know better. When it comes to the Patriots, the history always matters.
It’s comical in a way. The proud and time-honored Steeler fans have become obsessed with New England’s dynasty. There is no region more jealous. No other fan base still comes to games vs. New England armed with signs about Spygate and Deflategate. These folks simply can’t get over it. They can’t accept the fact that nouveau riche New England has a football team that beats the Steelers every time.
So sit back and wait for it. Wait for the Steelers to flex their muscles and take a lead, then panic at the mere thought of Belichick and Brady doing it to them again. It reminds me a little of what it was like when Red and Russell would beat the talent-laden Los Angeles Lakers. Year after year.
In 1981, Steeler coach Chuck Noll told author Gary Pomerantz, “People want us beaten. Our team has become a cliche, a truism. We are always there. We have always won.’’
That is the New England Patriots in 2018. And the Steelers are just another team that is beaten before the game starts. Even here in the heartland of professional football.