Raiders Las Vegas Move Proves that Fan Loyalty will Never Matter in the NFL

As a Steelers fan for the past 37 years, the idea of them moving to another city seems like a work of fiction akin to someone building a time machine.

After all, is there a fan base more passionate about and loyal to its favorite football team than the one that has supported the Steelers since 1972, when the winning tradition first started, as did the streak of sell-outs that has now reached 45 years?

It doesn’t seem that way, but then again, you could probably have said the same thing about the Cleveland Browns in the mid-80’s, when they reigned supreme in the old AFC Central, and the Dawg Pound, the nickname for the late Cleveland Municipal Stadium, was maybe the most intimidating home field advantage in the NFL.

Unfortunately, by the mid-’90’s, Art Modell, the now deceased former owner of the Browns, was clamoring  for a new Pound, complete with luxury boxes and other such amenities familiar to modern sports facilities. Modell didn’t get his wishes (like every other professional sports owner, he wanted the city to pick up most of the tab in the form of public funding), so he uprooted the Browns, moved them to Baltimore in 1996 and re-christened them the Ravens.

[Editor’s Note: An fact often forgotten, thanks to Modell’s PR spin machine, is that the city of Cleveland was working aggressively on a stadium package to keep the Browns in Cleveland during 1994 and 1995. During the early summer months, Modell broke off negotiations saying he felt he had a Super Bowl team on his hands. Instead, Modell had actually begun secretly negotiating with the Maryland Stadium Authority to move the team to Baltimore. The city of Cleveland continued with its plans, and put in place the package that built the stadium that houses the Browns today.]

Speaking of Baltimore, just 12 years earlier, that city, home to one of the most storied franchises in the NFL–the Colts–lost its professional football team, when then owner Robert Irsay moved it to Indianapolis. 

  • I can go on and on listing the number of teams that have relocated to other cities over the years, but the point is, when it comes to history, loyalty and passion, they all lose out to money.

You see, despite their statuses as billionaires, most sports owners–in this case, NFL owners–simply refuse to do the bulk of the funding when it comes to building brand new stadiums.

  • In most cases, if they don’t get their way, they move their team to a city willing and able to give them what they want.

Such was the case for Raiders owner Mark Davis, who won NFL approval last week for the right to move his team to Las Vegas starting in 2020. By then, the Raiders (or whatever they’ll be called) will have a sparkling new home thanks to $750 million in tax funds. 

For years, the Raiders couldn’t get their current home city–Oakland, California–to fork over public funding for Oakland Coliseum (nicknamed The Black Hole for its intimidating look and intimidating and passionate fans).

The Coliseum opened in 1966 and became home of the then AFL Raiders. After a decade and a half of almost uninterrupted success–including two world championships–Al Davis, Mark’s late father and legendary former owner of the Raiders, clamored for upgrades to the Coliseum and ultimately agreed to move to Los Angeles.

  • After a lengthy and furious battle with other NFL owners and then commissioner Pete Rozelle, Davis got his way and moved his team to L.A. in 1982.

But Los Angeles, for all its glitz and glamour, didn’t possess the passion, love and loyalty for the Raiders that Oakland did.

According to the Raiders wikipedia page, Davis moved his team back to Oakland for the 1995 season, after the city agreed to upgrade the Coliseum to the tune of $220 million.

However, by modern NFL standard’s the Coliseum just didn’t cut it in the long run, and a new facility was the only thing that would appease the Raiders.

But to the city’s credit, the demands to build a new stadium were met with resistance by local politicians, and now the Raiders find themselves as lame-duck residents in a city filled with fans who have always loved them.

Will Vegas, with all of its diversions that include gambling, nightlife and endless entertainment options, even notice that it has an NFL franchise in its backyard?

Oakland will surely notice that the Raiders are missing, and if the city follows the same path as Cleveland in the late ’90’s and Houston in the early 00’s (let’s not forget about the Oilers relocation to Tennessee in 1997), those same local politicians will have to relent and agree to fund a brand new stadium in-order to get another team (possibly one of the expansion variety) to come to town.

Yes, while Baltimore got the old Browns and ultimately two more NFL titles (the Colts won two NFL Championships and a Super Bowl before they relocated to Baltimore), Cleveland was awarded a new Browns team in the form of an expansion franchise in 1999.

Of course, this deal could not be finalized until a new facility (today its corporate name is FirstEnergy Stadium) was built–at the taxpayers expense, of course.

Same held true for the City of Houston, who was awarded an expansion franchise–the Texans–in 2002 along with, of course, a brand new home in the form of NRG Stadium (its sponsor name at the moment).

  • As for the Oilers, they’re now the Titans and play in NissanStadium (current sponsor), home of the team since 1999.

It is worth noting that the late Bud Adams, former owner of the Oilers/Titans, moved his team out of Houston when the Astrodome, once called the Eighth Wonder of the World, didn’t receive the financial upgrades that would have put it back on par with the more modern stadiums of the day.

So what does this have to do with the Steelers? Nothing, other than to point out that if teams like the Browns, Colts, Oilers and Raiders can all leave their respective cities filled with very passionate and loyal fan bases, perhaps the same could happen to the Steelers one day.

Sure, Heinz Field is a rather modern stadium, but it doesn’t take long for a sports facility to either begin to show its age or seem out-dated, when compared to even newer places.

Heinz Field opened in 2001, so in terms of buildings, it’s practically a baby. But in terms of newer revenue streams? Don’t be so sure.

The old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, home of both the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings, opened in 1982 and hosted several big time events–including the Super Bowl, two World Series and two Final Fours. By the early 00’s, however, the stadium was seen as antiquated, and the Vikings then owner, Red McCombs, petitioned then governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura for a new stadium.

The Body refused to back down, and as recently as 2012, there was talk that the Vikings could relocate to Los Angeles.

That never happened, as both the Twins and Vikings received new facilities with the help of public funding.

The Vikings now call U.S. Bank Stadium (current sponsor) home; with its modern look and valuable revenue streams, it should keep the Vikings owners happy…for at least a decade or two.

NFL owners are always looking for new revenue streams; such was the case for the  Steelers owners a few years ago, when the Rooney family engaged in a very public battle with  the city of Pittsburgh over the cost of adding 3,000 extra seats to Heinz Field. 

  • What happens in another five, 10 or 15 years, when Heinz Field is perhaps seen as out-of-date and all new revenue streams have been bled dry?

Would the city and state be willing to publicly fund yet another NFL stadium in order to keep the Steelers happy…and in town?

You might say so now, but who knows what the financial climate will look like in the future.

History has shown us that relocation can happen to just about any team, and the Pittsburgh Steelers may be no exception.

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Deflategate Fallout: Tom Brady Out vs Steelers in 2015 Season Opener

The odds will be even Mr. Savik” – Mr. Spock in The Wrath of Khan

OK, starting off a Steelers blog post with a Star Trek quote is exactly normal…. But it works here.

Admit it Steelers Nation. Raise your hands if you automatically chalked up the Steelers season opener at New England as a “L” when you factored in that Pittsburgh would be without Le’Veon Bell.

  • That’s right, keep your hand up, there’s no shame in admitting the truth here.

Even with Le’Veon Bell the Steelers would have had a tough time vs. the Patriots, as the defending Super Bowl Champions are 1-10 since 2004 in the Thursday night National Football League kickoff game. Worse yet, the Steelers are 2-7 vs. Tom Brady and Patriots.

  • But the Steelers opening night odds just got better as Roger Goodell has suspended Tom Brady for 4 games for his role in Deflategate.

Of course suspension of Brady does not guarantee victory. Foxboro remains an incredibly difficult place to play, and the Patriots have given the Steelers their share of bloody noses there.

Assuming Brady’s suspension doesn’t get overturned on appeal – and the NFL’s last several suspensions have in fact been overturned, the Steelers will face Patriots back up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who has thrown all of 27 passes.

Le’Veon Bell accounted for 33.6% of the Steelers offensive yardage in 2014, and his value to the team became bitterly apparent in the Steelers playoff loss to the Ravens. Now with Tom Brady suspended too, the Pittsburgh Steelers have fighting chance.

Roger Goodell Forced to Offer a Measure of Justice

Roger Goodell’s uneven administration of justice in the NFL has been an oft discussed topic here. Unless you’re name is Peter King, there is no sense in trying to present it otherwise: As the NFL’s judge, jury and executioner Roger Goodell has favored his friends and savaged his enemies.

Steelers Nation likes to forget, but sometimes this has favored the Steelers, such as when Goodell ensured that Stanley Druckenmiller knew he was not going to be allowed by buy out the Rooney Brothers.

But since then the Steelers have been on the short side of Goodell’s justice scale, as James Harrison and Ryan Clark were unfairly targeted in Goodell’s crack down on hard hits, while he and his officials turned a blind eye towards late hits on Ben Roethlisberger.

  • Goodell is close with Patriots owner Bob Kraft, and essentially gave the Patriots a pass on Spygate.

Yes the Patriots were fined and docked a draft pick, but no player, team employee or coach was suspended for a single game. Goodell also fined the Patriots and Bill Belichick for Spygate, but those fines were akin to a $5 dollar parking ticket. Contrast this with the four game suspension that Cowboys quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson got when he tested positive for a banned substance.

But after giving Baltimore’s Ray Rice a mere 2 game suspension for cold cocking his girlfriend in an Atlantic City elevator, Goodell was forced to act in Deflategate. The Patriots Deflategate punishment includes:

  • The Patriots are fined 1 million dollars
  • The Patriots will lose their 1st round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft
  • The Patriots will lose their 4th round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft
    Tom Brady is suspended for 4 games

Unlike Spygate, this is a punishment with some teeth, one that will have some impact on the Patriots ability to compete.

However, Patriots coach Bill Belichick once again emerged from this scandal unscathed, which stands in sharp contrast to the precedent sent when Roger Goodell suspended New Orleans head coach Sean Peyton for the season over BountyGate.

The Deflategate punishment indicates that Roger Goodell’s discipline policy is moving in the right direction, however the fact that Bill Belichick escaped any sanction shows it still has a ways to go.

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Steelers Post-Thanksgiving Experience Reveals Roger Goodell’s Hypocrisy, Endangerment of NFL’s Integrity

Thanksgiving marks a critical juncture in the NFL schedule.

The 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers began Thanksgiving weekend with a 6-4 record, not world beating but something to be built upon, and finished the season at 8-8. In contrast, the ’05 Steelers and ’08 brethern put the pedal to the metal between Thanksgiving and New Years.

While it remains to be seen if the Steelers can right their ship to 8-8 once again at Heinz Field vs. the Browns the Steelers post-Thanksgiving experience has made one thing abundantly clear:

  • The NFL’s hypocrisy and Kangroo Court nature of justice under Roger Goodell are plain for the world to see.

Before continuing, let’s make one thing clear. Steel Curtain Rising does not subscribe to the idea that Goodell has a vendetta vs. the Steelers. In 2008 Goodell made it abundantly clear to Tim, John, Pat and Art Rooney, Jr. that he would do everything in his power to ensure that Dan Rooney and not Stanley Druckenmiller, owned the Steelers.

  • But the Steelers, like the rest of the NFL, are victims of his mercurial whims and rules that defy logic.

Let’s review the evidence.

Helmet Gate

In front of a national TV audience Le’Veon Bell scored a touchdown vs. the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night. Four officials signaled it.

  • Except he didn’t score.

In the ensuring helmet-to-helmet collision, Bell’s helmet came off. He and the defender left the game concussed. Yet, because the helmet came off before he crossed the goal, the touchdown was void.

The officials were sticking to the letter of the law. Declaring a play over when a helmet comes off makes sense. To allow helmetless playing to continue would open players to serious injury.

  • But in this case it creates a perverse incentive.

Defenders in goal line situations now have an reason to try to remove a ball carrier’s helmet. Sure, that would involve a penalty, but similar to intentional use of the hands by a non-goalie in soccer (see Uruguay’s team in the 2010 World Cup) some players might decide its worth the risk.

This is a hard case to legislate, and wouldn’t be a “Big Deal” if it were the worst. But its not….

Tomlin Sideline Shuffle Squared

That same Thanksgiving game saw Mike Tomlin step out on the field illegally. No flag was thrown, but Tomlin was fined, as he should have.

  • But of course in Goodell’s NFL, justice neither fair nor or consistent.

But the NFL made it clear, well no it didn’t actually, that they weren’t going to stop at a fine. No, the Steelers might lose draft picks. Why? Well, that was nebulous. Reporters gathered from NFL sources that the loss of picks would be determined if the Raven’s playoff chances were impacted by the 4 points they potentially lost on Jacoby Jones return (Cortez Allen was going to get him anyway.)

  • At least that was the early word.

A week later, the reports indicated that the Steelers would in fact lose draft picks. Of course there was nothing official about this, all news came via leak. Steel Curtain Rising has already called Goodell out for the Kangaroo Court nature of this incident, but the NFL’s hypocrisy has gotten worse since then.

See for yourself:

Darren Rizzi is illegally on the field vs. Steelers

That’s a Miami special teams coach Darren Rizzi clearly standing on the field of play during the Dolphin’s last second field goal attempt at the end of the first half. You know, the one where the Steelers almost scored on the return?

As the photo reveals, the official collided with Rizzi. Yet no flag was thrown. The NFL did announce a 10k fine.

  • So a head coach almost bumping into someone on the field is worth 100k, but a special teams coach actually bumping into an official is only worth 10k?

The difference in fines is defensible, but yhe worst part of this is that the NFL refuses to apply its own logic. Miami should have been penalized for the coach-official collision. It wasn’t. A half cannot end on a defensive penalty. So the Steelers should have gotten the ball on Miami’s 26 yard line with a free play.

  • That means the Steelers were denied a shot at a 43 field goal – not a gimmie in the snow, but makeable

Or Tomlin might have decided to let Ben Roethlisberger see if he could hook up in the end zone with Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, or Heath Miller. Although Miami beat Pittsburgh by 6, 3 points could have changed the dynamic dramatically of the second half.

  • This doesn’t excuse the Steelers poor play which led the loss.

But given that Miami’s fine is less than the Steelers and they’re not losing draft picks, it does expose the horrendous hypocrisy behind Roger Goodell’s administration of NFL justice.

Charging Defenders Are Defenseless Players Too…

As everyone knows, the Steelers first return for a touchdown in eons, thanks to Antonio Brown, was made possible by an illegal hit by Terence Garvin on the Bengals punter. Garvin made contact with the helmet, but that wasn’t his only infraction.

  • Kickers and punters are considered to be defenseless players, and hence cannot be hit above the shoulders.

That’s  right. Even though Kevin Huber was trying to tackle Brown, even though Shaun Suisham has the same number of tackles as Curtis Brown, kickers are defenseless.

This is totally inane. There’s no way kick return teams can be expected to stop and check to see if a would-be tackler is a kicker or not. That’s not even good science fiction.

The rule defies logic. Don’t expect it to change soon. This is Goodell’s NFL.

What? Change of Possession Not Reviewable?

Then of course there was a blocked field goal vs. Green Bay. You know the sequence of events:

Steelers get hit with an illegal batting penalty – you’re not allowed to bat a loose ball to your own end zone. But wait, Clark had possession and was down by contact, Mike Tomlin protested.

  • No, argued the ref, possession on this play is not reviewable. What?

That’s right, you can review whether a quarterback’s arm moved a millimeter forward, you can challenge an inch or two on the spot of the ball, but you apparently can’t review change of possession on a blocked kick?

Sadly that’s the case.

Justice in Goodell’s NFL Not about Fairness

Justice should be blind and impartial. Yet, justice in Roger Goodell’s NFL, vision is selective and it is very partial, partial to Goodell’s whim of the moment.

There’s an ugly fact that NFL fans might we wise to accept:

  • Roger Goodell wants it that way

This observation was made by Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain who declared:

Goodell is not concerned with “fair.” He’s never said he doles out “fair” punishment. He doles out punishment intended to make headlines and deter players/teams from repeating similar behavior.

But as the above incidents highlight, Goodell’s not having that effect. These Steelers-centric examples of illogical rules, uneven punishment, and blown calls have plagued the rest of the NFL this entire season.

Goodell would do well to begin focusing on being fair, because his arbitrary administration of justice combined with illogical rules have reached a point where even the most avid NFL fans are questioning the integrity of the game.

Does Roger Goodell really want that as his legacy? Because right now this is the direction he is heading in.

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Harrison Blasts Owners; Litna Offers to Mediate

The NFL is stepping up its war against the Steelers defense, er um, hard hits, by further clarifying and clamping down on helmet-to-helmet hits, expanding the definition of defenseless players, and expanding the players covered under defenseless concept.

Harrison Reacts Harshly

Steelers stand out outside linebacker James Harrison wasted no time and minced on words, offering on Twitter:

I’m absolutely sure now after this last rule change that the people making the rules at the NFL are idiots.

Harrison’s frustration is more than understandable.

For the past several years the a good portion of the NFL’s officials have implicitly (or explicitly) turned a blind eye as offensive lineman have routinely held, horse collared, and often wrestled James Harrison to the ground with nary a flag thrown.

In 2010, James Harrison found himself as the focal point of the leagues new “no hard hits policy” as he was routinely fined and penalized for hits on quarterbacks.
Harrison’s fines also equaled or exceeded those levied on players who commited far worse offenses, such as attempting to cold cock Ben Roethlisberger with a sucker punch in between plays.

Balance Anyone?

While Steel Curtain Rising obviously supports James Harrison, I also recognize the need to protect against head trauma.

The NFL is indeed wise to take this issue very seriously, lest the sport’s popularity plummet the way boxing’s has since the late 1970’s.

But where’s the balance?

Ever since the imposition of the Mel Blount rule the NFL has done more and more to promote the passing game.

Defensive coordinators have reacted by ratcheting up the pressure in the backfield, and hitting hard in the secondary.

Rules changes like these would be easier to support if the league were to say, modify the pass interference rules. No one is talking about repealing the Mel Blount rule, but too often defenders get flagged for even the most minor occasions of incidental contact.

This was not always the case, and if the NFL is going make even difficult for defenders to use force to limit the offense’s ability to move the ball, why not also make corresponding rules changes that enhance the defense’s ability to stop offense using technique?

Litna Offers to Mediate

Joe Litna, a Pittsburgh native and long time NFL agent, made an interesting offer, as reported by Ed Bouchette in PG Plus.

In essence, Litna, who by representing 45-50 NFL players, is asking to see a copy of the latest offer from the NFL owners so that he can present it to his players.

He further clarified that he thinks there’s a good chance his players would be ready to accept it.

Finally, Litna offered to help mediate the dispute.

The idea of accepting mediation from an agent might seem like allowing the fox to guard the chickens, given that agent-driven bonus increases are a big part of the problem.

But Litna has always seemed reasonable. After re-negotiating Jim Miller’s contract prior to the start of the 1996 season, Litna reportedly told his client, “You don’t deserve a contract like this. Now go out and earn it.”

If nothing else, Litna’s comments perhaps provide a clue that the NFL rank and file are getting frustrated with the stalemate that the lockout is locked in (pun intended.)

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Ryan Clark, Steelers to Return to Work?

The NFL owners lost a ruling in federal court that resulted in an injunction against the lockout they’d imposed when the current CBA expired.

While most sides expect the owners to appeal and get the lock out reinstated (at least temporarily), Ryan Clark hopes to beat them to the punch.
As reported by the Post-Gazette yesterday, Clark, who is the NFLPA union rep. in Pittsburgh, began calling teammates encouraging them to return to work this morning. It remains to see how this will work out, but it does represent one unexpected twist.

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Just Say NO to the 18 Game Season!, Part I

They say that from age arises wisdom. If that is true then there is probably no wiser of a veteran than the Steelers James Farrior.

Which makes Farrior’s comments about the owners impending 18 game season nothing short of jaw-dropping. In an article with the Tribune Review’s Scott Brown, Farrior recently conceded that the 18 game season is inevitable (click here to read the full article.)

He may be right. Nonetheless, that fails to make an 18 game season a good idea, and it does not mean that the NFL Players Association should not fight this tooth and nail.

Immediate Impact on the Steelers

I do not make the above statement lightly. A decision by the NFLPA to put its foot down on the 18 game season would likely elevate the probability of a lock out from highly probably to something near metaphysical certitude.

Judged solely from a “how does it affect the Steelers” view point, a protracted lockout leading to a canceled 2011 season would be a disaster.

No football in 2011 could easily mean the end to the careers of Aaron Smith, Hines Ward, and perhaps Farrior himself. It would mean that the next time Casey Hampton set foot on a football field he’d be 35. Brett Keisel would be 34 and so would James Harrison. Troy Polamlau would be 32.

Much has been made of the age of this group of Steelers. Nonetheless it is perfectly plausible that this core of men could make another run at a Lombardi in 2011, regardless of how the current season concludes.

But what about 2012? Add another year to a couple of key players, and you’re much, much more dependant on rookie contributions.

But the game is bigger than the Steelers, which is why the 18 game season must be fought.

The “Problem” of Preseason Football

To listen to Roger Goodell, fans are really demanding the 18 game season, because they’re fed up with preseason football.

Personally, I like preseason and missing not being able to see the games down here in Buenos Aires. Preseason offers fans two things they otherwise do not get:

  • An extended look at new players
  • A chance to see a bunch of guys give everything they’ve got in purist of a dream

Nonetheless, I understand and respect the argument of season ticket holders who object to being forced to buy preseason tickets, and of other fans who are forced to pay full price for something that is less than the NFL’s top product.

On top of that, preseason has changed. Those over 30 or so might remember the Sports Illustrated commercials that began shortly after the 4th of July, hyping “the time that helmets are strapped and hands are tapped and protected.” As SI told the story, the dawning of NFL training camps was a time to them to spring into action.

Those spots ran in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Back then, preseason was a beacon of hope for a populace that had been starved of football in 5 or 6 months. There was no internet then, and even if there was, free agency did not exist and OTA’s were just blurb to fill out unused space in Sports sections.

How to Scale the Preseason Mole Hill

Goodell and other 18 game apologists are not even fooling themselves by insisting that extending the season is the only way to go. Several solutions exist, many of which have been suggested first by others, some are my own. Here they go:

  • Simply drop one game from the preseason –

Coaches play starters sparingly in the 1st and 4th games anyway. A three game preseason might give their reps in and rookies could still get a decent look.

  • Convert one preseason game into an all rookie or all youth scrimmage

Similar to the first proposal, but this one would give rookies, undrafted free agents, and guys who simply hang on practice squads year-in and year-out a bigger shot a prime time.

  • Make preseason an optional part of season ticket packages

Owners could roll the costs into the regular season and/or provide incentives (such as greater chances to buy additional playoff tickets, points that you can accmulate to get better seats) to purchase preseason tickets. This would also allow non-season ticket holders a better shot at games.

  • Move games to neutral sites

Having teams play 1-2 preseason games at a site outside of either team’s home field would help expand the NFL’s fan bases by giving other communities a chance to see NFL football.

The fallacy of the “need” for an 18 game season because of problems with the NFL Preseason is self-evident.

But that says nothing of the why going to an 18 game season would be fundamentally bad for the game. Stay tuned for Part II where we’ll bring that out in detail.

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