Super Bowl Sunday has arrived and the Pittsburgh Steelers are not playing in it. And while that’s a disappointment, it hardly qualifies as an injustice.
- Lombardi Trophies are an achievement not an entitlement.
This should be obvious, but certain segments of Steelers Nation seem to have lost sight of the fact. Many bemoan the fact that Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger have only gone 1-1 in Super Bowls and haven’t sniffed the big game since 2010.
Dan Rooney sitting in front of the Steelers 5 Lombardi Trophies. Photo Credit: Steelers.com
Yes, It IS Hard to Feel Good about the Steelers Right Now
Before proceeding, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room:
- It is very hard to feel good about the Pittsburgh Steelers these days.
Heck, yours truly started in article musing about the potential for a Steelers rebound in 2019 that Tony Defeo finished while on I vacation. During that time even MORE negative news surfaced about the Antonio Brown AND Morgan Burnett publicly asked for his release.
Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward have sounded off on the situation. Who knows? Before this is over, we might expect to hear from Preston Gothard. OK, we won’t, but you get the point.
All of this provides a poignant backdrop to the harsh reality that since losing the 2016 AFC Championship game to the Patriots, the Steelers have taken two successive steps backwards.
- Why have the Steelers regressed?
There are many reasons. The hand of fate has been felt acutely. Think Ryan Shazier’s injury or even the injuries that ruined Senquez Golson’s NFL career before it began.
Mike Tomlin after the Steelers 21-21 tie against the Browns. Photo Credit: Scott R. Galvin, USA TODAY, via ActionNetwork.com
Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have all made mistakes. None of what follows absolves them of their errors. But it should remind us of just how hard their job is.
Winning a Super Bowl Is Hard
The Pittsburgh Steelers have appeared in 8 of 53 Super Bowls. You’ll find no better example of institutional excellence, but spoils Steelers fans into forgetting just how hard it is to bring home a Lombardi.
Just how hard is it to win a Super Bowl?
Well, let’s begin with the fact that the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions have never appeared in a Super Bowl. While the Jaguars and Texans joined the league as expansion teams in the ‘90’s and 00’s, Lions and Browns fans are waiting ½ century and counting for their first shot at a Lombardi.
- The Pittsburgh Pirates 1971 and 1979 World Series wins practically qualify Bucos as a dynasty by comparison.
Super Bowl appearances are nice, but it is the wins that really count. Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills fans can attest. Those two franchises lead the league in lost Super Bowls with 4 apiece. In total, there are 12 teams that have never won a Super Bowl in the 53 year history of the event.
- In other words, 37.5% of NFL teams have never hoisted a Lombardi.
And that percentage does not control for timeliness.
The Jets, Chiefs and Dolphins all have Lombardi’s to display. New York’s arrived as to product of one of the greatest upsets in the history of North American sports.
- That upset also happened 8 days before Richard Nixon put his hand on the Bible to be sworn in as President.
Hank Stram and the Kansas City Chiefs also pulled off an upset of their own in Super Bowl IV, a victory which came three months before the Beatles officially broke up.
The Miami Dolphins won their last Super Bowl in January 1974, back when Star Trek seemed condemned to be forgotten as a cult series relegated to perpetual re-run status on UHF channels.
Going 1-1 in Super Bowls over an 11 year period doesn’t sound quite has bad, does it? (Special nod to Ivan Cole who pointed many of these stats out via email.)
Building Back-to-Back Super Bowl Eras Is Harder Yet
If winning a Super Bowl is difficult, then stitching together back-to-back Super Bowl eras is harder yet. Think of the franchises fortunate enough to field successive franchise quarterbacks.
George Seifert replaced Joe Montana with Steve Young. He also had Jerry Rice, arguably giving him a better quarterback, wide receiver combos than Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. He only won one Super Bowl with Joe Montana and one with Steve Young.
The Green Bay Packers had Brett Farve for 16 years and went 1-1 in Super Bowls. succeeded him with Aaron Rodgers, yet have only added 1 more Lombardi to the case under his watch.
- The Colts of course followed Peyton Manning with Andrew Luck but are still waiting on their latest Lombardi.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have indeed authored a Super Bowl era that has lasted 18 years an counting, an incredible achievement which they very well might add to this evening.
But even the vaunted Patriots went 10 years between Lombardi Trophies. And while we’re at it, just how many trophies did Pete Carroll’s Legion of Boom bag?
Hum, going 1-1 in Super Bowls and never dropping below .500 seems a little more appealing now, doesn’t it?
Yeah, But the Steelers Have Had a Franchise Quarterback….
True. And, given what was discussed above, the familiar refrain that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert are squandering Ben Roethlisberger’s prime years certainly rings true.
- But how does sentiment stand up to logic?
Let’s see. Don Shula had Dan Marino and only managed one Super Bowl appearance and zero wins. Dan Reeves lost 3 Super Bowls with John Elway. Marv Levy lost 4 Super Bowls with Jim Kelly. Sean Payton and Drew Brees only have one Lombardi to their credit, and have endured 4 losing seasons since winning a Super Bowl.
- Franchise quarterbacks come with a sort of Catch 22.
Today, a franchise quarterback is (almost) essential to winning a Super Bowl. Yet a franchise quarterback sucks up salary cap space and all but ensures that his team will draft late in every round. That means a franchise quarterback can take you to the Mountain Top, maybe more than once, but his presence also makes it hard to mount a serious comeback should you get knocked off the top.
Steelers Still Have a Shot at a Third Ring
To repeat: It is hard to feel good about the direction the Pittsburgh Steelers are heading in. As I have said before and will again, it is entirely possible that the window to Lombardi Number Three for the Ben Roethlisberger era closed the moment Ryan Shazier suffered his spinal contusion.
But the emergence of T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Vance McDonald and James Conner alongside stalwarts like Cam Heyward and Joe Haden at least give the Steelers a chance to keep the window open.
- Will the Steelers walk through the window before Ben Roethlisberger begins his “Life’s Work?”
Time will tell. But let’s enjoy the ride that might still take us back to the Mountain Top while we still can.