End Zone: Are the Steelers the Greatest NFL Franchise?

Yinz had better believe it. It's not just the hardware (a half-dozen Vince Lombardi trophies) - it's the hearts of Steelers Nation they've won over and over and over.



Illustration By Patrick Neil

So as he concludes our interview, the radio guy in San Diego says to me, "I've never been to Pittsburgh. And people here love the Chargers. But just observing from way out here on the West Coast, it seems that it's a bit more special back there in Pittsburgh when it comes to the Steelers."

BINGO! He got it. They got it. Finally, they ALL got it. They - meaning all who don't understand french fries on sandwiches - "get" what the Steelers mean to Western Pennsylvania.I'm supposed to be writing an analysis as to whether the Steelers are the greatest NFL franchise. I suppose the half-dozen Vince Lombardi trophies residing on the South Side are testament to the assertion, but it's more than that.

What makes the Steelers the best franchise is not judged by the hardware they've won, but rather by the hearts they've won. That's the first requisite to me to be considered for the mythical title. After all, when all is said and done, professional football is a business. And despite the competitive aspects, it is part of the entertainment business.

But the difference between following the Steelers and going to a movie or a musical is that no one roots for the guy playing the Phantom or Brad Pitt, despite his last name. People may root for a character or a good performance in order to get their money's worth, but no one ever called in sick the next day if his favorite actor stunk out the joint.

If football is the fabric of Western Pennsylvania, then the Steelers are the sutures that bind it together. The Hatfield Tigers may hate their neighboring McCoy Lions on Friday nights, but on Sundays, even they lay down their arms to form the common bond in rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Clearly, any franchise winning four Super Bowls in six years, then another two in four years this decade, would be incredibly popular. But there's more to it here. Here, we like our football tough, because life here has often been tough. The people have been hardened to the vagaries of life and require their heroes to be at least as tough as they are. And so while 60-yard touchdown passes are nice, pulverizing hits are nicer. While winning is great, winning by punishing the other team is greater.

And franchise owners, general managers and coaches have unilaterally come to recognize that if it's not just success you seek, but enduring success and stability, then the Steelers' way is how it must be done. That is the measure of the greatest franchise, not merely the number of championships won.

It didn't take coach Mike Tomlin long to figure it out. He had a vague understanding of Steelers Nation when he took the job. But he admitted his understanding indeed was vague. It was the morning after his victory in Super Bowl XLIII when he made this observation:

"You know, when you're in other organizations, you recognize that it's different and you respect it. But until you're part of it, you have no idea the depths of it. I mean, it's generational. It's passed down from father to son. It's unbelievable. I don't know if I can use words to eloquently describe the relationship that this organization has with Steeler Nation. I know the more I get to understand, the more Steeler Nation drives me. I want to give them something exciting. I want to perform for them. I want to win for them because they're that special."

That's what makes the Steelers the best franchise in the NFL. The trophies are window-dressing. It's the fact that the rest of the country and the rest of the league finally get what we have always known.

That ought to make you feel good. It ought to make you feel proud to be part of something so grand. I know I am.

 

 

One of the most respected sportscasters in Pittsburgh, Stan Savran has served as host of FSN Pittsburgh's "SPORTSBEAT" since February of 1992. During football season, Savran hosts "The Mike Tomlin Show" and "The Mike Tomlin Press Conference." Honored in the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, Savran brings more than 30 years of experience in the Pittsburgh market to thousands of sports fans every day.

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