Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II’s recent request that the NFL schedule the Steelers 2015 road games vs. the Chargers and Seahawks back to back so that the team can minimize travel by staying on the West Coast might seem strange, at first.
After all, whenever the Steelers play away from Heinz Field network commentators never tire of reminding audiences “the Steelers travel well” as the cameras pan across legions of Black and Gold faithful who’ve occupied opposing stadiums.
- If only the “Steelers travel well” argument was accurate about the fans… or true about the team itself.
Steelers fans might do some traveling, but the truth is that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a national following, fueled in part by the Pittsburgh diaspora and in part by their legacy of excellence forged by their Six Super Bowl Championships.
As for the Steelers squad itself, during the Tomlin era their mantra might as well be “There’s no place like home.” Or at least, “There’s no place like the Eastern time zone.” Mike Tomlin’s teams are tough at home, and haven’t show much difficulty winning games in Ohio, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Carolina, Florida, Indiana or Georgia.
- Tennessee’s been troublesome, but Tomlin tossed that monkey off his back last year.
New England remains a demon, but those days stretch back to Bill Cowher’s tenure and have nothing to do with geography.
Ah yes, geography. If you plot some of the Steelers most egregious losses during the Mike Tomlin era on a map, you’ll see that crossing, or going anywhere near, the banks of the Mississippi River is almost like kryptonite. You can call it the Steelers Mississippi Jinx.
Seem like some surreptitiously sounding Steelers superstition? Check it out, numbers don’t lie:
|@ Kansas City*||L||24-27|
|2010||@ New Orleans||L||10-20|
|@ Kansas City||W||13-9|
|@ San Francisco||L||3-20|
|2013||@ Vikings (London)||L||27-34|
|* Overtime game|
Since Mike Tomlin became head coach, the Steelers are 3-13 when playing on or west of the banks of the Mississippi and that record worsens to 3-14 if you include their loss vs. London.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette commentators Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette have mentioned this trend before, but Steel Curtain Rising is unaware of any attempt to question Mike Tomlin about it. Which probably makes not difference, if asked about it Tomlin would likely respond with something like:
Winning in a hostile environment always presents and extra a challenge, and those games come down to protecting the ball, controling the line of scrimmage, creating turnovers, and exceling in situational football. If you look back at the games in question, you’ll find that we failed in some form or fashion in those phases of the game and obviously those were determining factors those outcomes. Others might try to make excuses based on how many air miles we flew, but at the end of the day, we stand behind what we put on tape.
And of course Tomlin would be right.
But only to a point. Tomlin has coached the Steelers long enough to more than a season’s worth of games on or across the confines of the Mississippi. He’s done so in years where he’s coached division champions, Wild Card teams, and 8-8 squads. And one fact sticks out:
When playing on or West of the banks of the Mississippi, the Steelers turnover the ball, get dominated on the line of scrimmage, and lose at situational football a lot more often than when they’re close to home.
- Why is this? Who knows? But the Steelers Mississippi Jinx is real.
Tomlin was once asked if jet lag impacted the Steelers performance in London, and he rejected the possibility. But there’s an indisputable pattern here – the Pittsburgh Steelers play a heck of a lot better east of the Mississippi.
Art Rooney II’s plea to have the Steelers play Seattle and San Diego in back-to-back weeks while the Steelers remain on the West Coast is a recognition of that. Rooney freely admits it’s a long-shot that the NFL will grant his request. Steelers Nation should hope he does.