3 Lessons from My Second Steelers Sabbatical

As regular readers probably noticed, I recently took my second “Steelers Sabbatical.” Like the first one, this one yielded 3 important lessons which I’ll share

1. Ivan Cole Was Right. Again.

“Ivan was right. Again” That was my first thought after getting re-plugged into the comings and goings of Steelers Nation in early May. I’m talking about the late, great Ivan Cole, former Steelers blogger at Behind the Steel Curtain and then later the now dark Going Deep with the Steelers site.

  • Later in life Ivan got heavily involved in supporting efforts to combat human trafficking.

Those efforts took him away from writing and even following the Steelers in much detail for much of the 2016 off season. This was a drastic change for Ivan, who for years spent off seasons penning the weekly “Weekend Check Down” where he recapped the previous week’s Steelers news.

Acrisure Stadium

Acrisure Stadium, Photo Credit: AP via Post-Gazette

When Ivan got back into the swing of things closer to training camp he said something along the lines of “…And I was surprised to learn that very little had happened that I couldn’t quickly get back up to speed on.”

  • That’s exactly how I felt.

The Steelers started the off season with a bang, as Mitch Trubisky, Mason Cole, Chukwuma Okorafor and Patrick Peterson all got cut. They of course signed Russell Wilson for the league minimum, traded a song for Justin Fields and sent Kenny Pickett down the turnpike for the NFL equivalent of couch cushion change.

  • All of that had happened by the time my sabbatical started.

In the ensuring five weeks or so very little of substance happened. The oft anticipated trade or big ticket free agent signing never occurred. The 2024 NFL Draft came, and while the early reviews are positive, it featured none of the “Khan Artist” wheeling and dealing that so many expected.

2. Unable to Write = Unintended Consequences

Although I wasn’t able to write about the Steelers, I was able to follow.

The “Sabbatical” actually started during February. I had fully intended to do a full Free Agent Focus series that I’d done for several years past.

Mason Rudolph, Steelers vs. Seahawks, Najee Harris

Mason Rudoph and Najee Harris during the Steelers 2023 win over the Seahawks. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.come

I did get articles up on Mason Rudolph and Miles Killebrew, but Kwon Alexander wasn’t so lucky. His got written, but never published. Not only did he not get a whiff of interest form the Steelers, he also never got his final 15 seconds of fame that this website has bestowed upon so many souls (L.T. Walton, this Bud’s for YOU.)

While the proverbial “Work to do and bills to pay” was one reason for why the no other Free Agent Focus pieces got written, the other is that, guys like Blake Martinez, Chandon Sullivan and Elijah Riley didn’t lend themselves to compelling stories.

By the time the Omar Khan and the Steelers got into action on the free agent front the volume of work had risen to the point where writing pieces on the arrives of the likes of Patrick Queen, DeShon Elliott or say Dean Lowry was out of the question.

And that fact has left me far less invested in their success, than I was for, say, Mewelde Moore back in 2008.

3. The NFL is Eroding Itself with Over Exposure

Mewelde Moore’s arrival as a Steelers free agent in 2008 offers a revealing contrast for how the media landscape has changed since then. As he happened to sign on the same day Ben Roethlisberger inked his first 100-million-dollar contract, the press took little note.

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger at at press conference. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Both the Post-Gazette and the Tribune Review documented his signing with small stubs and then left it at that. None of the other major outlets paid much attention either.

And Steelers Nation basically forgot about him until injuries to Willie Parker and then Rashard Mendenhall led to his first start, where Moore exploded for just under 100 yards in the 2008 Steelers pivotal win at  Jacksonville.

  • It is metaphysically impossible to even imagine that happening today.

The Steelers closed spring practices by cutting Denzel Mims and Trenton Thompson. Google their Steelers Cut Denzel Mims and you’ll can scroll through 3 if not 4 full pages of Google results on his waiver before you find articles about his signing.

And that doesn’t count all of the WhatsApp messages, Facebook posts and Podcasts dissecting how this move either enhances or dooms Mike Tomlin’s ability to win Lombardi Number Seven with Russell Wilson at the helm.

  • If all of this quantity resulted in a true diversity of analysis that would be one thing.

But most it is just “Content Aggregation.” In one sense the NFL’s digital eco system reminds me of commercial radio. As a commentator asked about Classic Rock stations back in the early 00’s, “Why is it that Classic Rock stations with decades worth of music to draw upon, still end up playing the same Pink Floyd songs over and over again.”

Translated into 2024 terms, how many articles, WhatsApp alerts or Tweets do we REALLY need to read about hypothetical scenarios about the Steelers trading for Brandon Aiyuk?

  • It doesn’t take long to lose interest.
  • In fact, it is easy to lose interest. Fast.

To be sure, this phenomena isn’t unique to the NFL or even pro sports. Nor did the NFL owners and their infinite greed create this digital dynamic.

  • But it also seems clear that they either don’t see it, don’t understand it or just don’t care about it.

The NFL just doesn’t seem dead set on going to an 18 game season (oh, but player safety is paramount). The NFL not only wants the season to extend into President’s Day weekend, but it also wants to stretch out free agency and the draft during the off season to make the sport into a true, 12 month a year sport.

Yancey Thigpen, Yancey Thigpen Terrible Towel, Steelers vs Browns

Yancey Thigpen twirls the Terrible Towel.

  • The law of diminishing returns is real. The NFL is not immune.

During my second sabbatical there have been times when I’ve had ideas that I wished I had time to write about. And it did feel good to get back on the saddle while wondering if the Steelers had the next Yancey Thigpen on their roster.

  • But part of the reason is precisely because time to write about the Steelers was scarce.

The first thing I learned about economics on the first day of class at Loyola’s famed Sellinger School was that scarcity creates demand.

It is a principle the NFL would be wise to remember. But I doubt they will.

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