The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 season kicks off tonight against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football. Thanks to COVID-19, this will already be the most unique Steelers opener in history.
- Yet, even putting aside the specter of the pandemic, there’s something missing in the Steelers Nation.
Sure, professionals and bloggers alike have penned their Steelers pre-season previews, this site included. But this year the collective conversation is poorer for its effort, due to the absence of the voice of Ivan Cole.
Every year for at least a decade, Ivan Cole would pen his column “The Case for the Pittsburgh Steelers in XXXX” where he’d lay out the most compelling case possible for the Steelers to win the Super Bowl during coming season.
Today, Steel Curtain Rising takes time out to honor and remember a man who was a loving father and grandfather, a friend to many, and a scribe who can rightly be called conscience of Steelers Nation.
Getting to Know Ivan Cole
“Pleased to ‘meet’ you too. Thank you for sending such a long and detailed email. What a pleasant surprise for a Monday morning!”
That’s how my first interaction with Ivan Cole began sometime in the spring of 2011. Ivan had written something thought-provoking on Behind the Steel Curtain that prompted me to reach out. Even in those days, before communication was so thoroughly Twitterized, getting “thanked” for a long email was exceedingly rare.
- Yet, that was Ivan Cole in a nutshell.
An Ivan Cole observation would get you thinking. You’d share your reaction with Ivan. A deeper conversation would evolve, almost always taking unexpected twists, and by the time it was over, you’d both be better for it. That was Ivan.
- Love for the Pittsburgh Steelers might have brought Ivan and I together, but our friendship quickly grew beyond the Black and Gold.
Today it is all too common to find people talking at each other, rather than to each other. But you always talked with Ivan. If you’d pointed this out to Ivan, it is easy to imagine offering a non-sarcastic response along the lines of “I consider myself a practitioner of the dying art of discourse.”
Measured in material terms, Ivan Cole was a person of fairly modest material means, but his desire to understand the world in which he lived gave his personality a richness that everyone he touched could appreciate.
Ivan had a passion for advancing civil rights and social justice, and his natural curiosity led him to explore the social and political issues tied to those twin core values.
While never shy about arguing for what he believed in, Ivan was always ready to consider new information on its own merits. In the same vein, Ivan had an ability to identify and connect with people whose viewpoints differed from his – a quality that is in increasingly short supply in our world.
And Ivan’s interest was hardly limited to his immediate surroundings, so he would often question me about Argentina’s perpetual political-economic crisis. He not only volunteered to serve as a guinea pig for my “Argentine Political History for Dummies” PPT, but his insights helped sharpen the final version I used with my exhcange students at Universidad Austral.
Later in life, Ivan took an interest in combating Human Trafficking, and issue which he explained, “Found him.” I don’t know many details about his efforts there, but I can assure you with his passion and his energy, he undoubted helped make the world a more jut place with his work at LATO, Life After Trauma Organizaiton.
But Ivan was hardly an “All work and no play” type person. Quite to the contrary, Ivan was rather gregarious. I can still remember the Saturday morning when Ivan emailed telling me that the owner of the local café he frequented had told him that Jerome Bettis had stopped in earlier in the morning.
To read the email, you’d have thought that Ivan had seen The Bus himself. But that shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Ivan Cole, Steelers Scribe and Conscience of Steelers Nation
And of course, if you knew of Ivan’s passion for the Pittsburgh Steelers, you’d understand why Ivan would be so giddy about almost crossing paths with Jerome Bettis (who apparently was very friendly with everyone in the establishment.)
Ivan was a Steelers scribe, writing first for Behind the Steel Curtain, during the site’s golden age under Michael Bean and later Neal Coolong, and then for Rebecca Rollet’s Going Deep: An Introspective Steelers Site.
- Ivan Cole wrote on a wide range of topics for both sites.
In doing so he never passed up an opportunity to expand the conversation beyond the Steelers, whether that meant taking aim at the NCAA or discussing the role that the Pittsburgh diaspora plays in the team’s national fan base.
Ivan was as well versed in the team’s history as any professional beat writer, a knowledge which impressed Art Rooney Jr. enough to facilitat an interview between Ivan and the legendary Bill Nunn Jr.
For a long time, Ivan Cole worte, among other items, the “Weekly Checkdown” which summarized all of the relevant Steelers news from the preceding week. If anyone wants to see just how thorough Ivan was, take a look at this article from June of 2012.
In his farewell column as editor of the site, Neal Coolong offered this:
…the Weekend Checkdown, the longest-running column on BTSC. I can count on two fingers the amount of weeks Ivan did not submit his column. Editors love that kind of thing, but only slightly less is how much they love the conversation Ivan creates.
As Coolong concludes, Ivan didn’t just offer Steelers nation consistency and quantity, but most importantly quality.
- And when it came to analyzing the Steelers, Ivan suffered no fools.
Ivan Cole had no time for what he labeled the “Fire everyone crowd,” the segment of fans who wished that Dan Rooney would run his team more like Daniel Snyder. If a fan argued that the locker room was “tuning Mike Tomlin out” Ivan would recount how he’d heard the same criticism leveled at Chuck Noll – just after the 1977 season and just before Noll next two Super Bowls.
To fans who complained about misfires on draft picks such as Jarvis Jones, Ivan would counter with stats on how Google was often disappointed with the results of its own recruiting efforts. When fans wanted to flail Mike Tomlin for the 2011 opening day Debacle in Baltimore, Ivan reminded everyone that it was Mike Tomlin who cautioned that the Raven’s late week roster shuffling had made them so dangerous.
For those who wanted to go to town on Mike Tomiln and the Steelers for the ugly 2-6 start in 2013, Ivan argued that the fact that the Steelers had finished 8-8 and were a blown call away from the playoffs spoke to “the awesomeness of the organization.”
After Ryan Shazier’s game-changing play turned the Steelers win over Cincinnati in the 2015 playoffs, Ivan quickly used it as an example to admonish fans who’d written Shazier off as a “Bust” just weeks before.
Ivan never shied away from taking on members of the professional press, such as his aggressive (and accurate) refutation of Colin Cowherd in early 2016.
While it is fair to say that Ivan did border into homerism at times, but to the extent that was occasionally true it was simply because Ivan had been around long enough to appreciate just how special the Rooneys were and how special that made the Steelers culture.
- And in that respect, it isn’t too far of a stretch to say that Ivan Cole was, in many ways, the conscience of Steelers Nation.
That, in and of itself, is a reason to honor Ivan. But there are two life lessons Ivan left me that should give us all, even those who didn’t know him, to cherish his memory.
Life Lessons Left to Us by Ivan Cole
Although Ivan passed away in late April, his health troubles began before the words “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” entered our vernacular. I don’t know many details beyond Ivan suffering an accident late in 2020 which required hospitalization, followed by surgery, followed by post-op complications, which led to infections, more surgeries and ultimately more infections and other health complications.
In April, as Rebecca Rollett so poignantly observed, “… his body couldn’t support his great soul any more.”
- The first lesson Ivan’s passing offers is personal and very bittersweet.
During Ivan’s final months, his daughter offered regular updates. At one point, she asked for friends and family to call her father to help keep his spirits up. I reached out to a few friends who might not have gotten the message from his daughter and a few of them connected with him.
- Yet, I, myself, never made the call.
I’ve never been squeamish about reaching out to friends in those circumstances, but “…I was too busy with work at this very moment, there will be time later,” I told myself. To be both 100% truthful and 100% fair to myself, I honestly didn’t realize his condition was so critical or I would have made time.
Fortunately I was able to leave him a long voice mail, a positive upbeat message talking about how great it was that two people who lived 6,000 miles away could become such great friends. His daughter played that for him, and apparently this message, along with others, helped ease Ivan’s transition form this world to the next.
- Still, I wish I’d had that one last conversation with him.
The lesson here is simple: Always take advantages of chances to connect with people important to you. Work to do and bills to pay will always be there, but time with wives, spouses, kids, parents, siblings and friends can be fleeting.
- The second, and final lesson Ivan offered isn’t bittersweet, but simply sweet.
Although I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Ivan Cole lived in Reston, Virginia, I got to meet him in person several times. First at my parents house during a visit in 2014. After that I got to see him at various Steelers bars in Virginia, where on one occasion I was fortunate enough to meet his daughter, grand daugherters, brother and other friends from the BTSC and Going Deep blogging communities.
- Those meetings were great, but unfortunately on those days the Steelers weren’t.
The first time we met was the first 2015 Bengals game, the first game of the season when all four Killer Bees, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant would take the field together. That was also the game when Le’Veon Bell was injured and lost for the season.
The next time we met was in the fall of 2017, when the Steeler played the Jaguars and Ben Roethlisberger threw 5 interceptions.
A year later, I reached out to Ivan before making a trip back to the States, asking, “Dare we tempt fate” and try to watch the game together again?” We debated the question with Clark, Bill, Mike and the rest of the gang.
There was a lot of back and forth, until Ivan settled the question definitively by insisting, “Let’s live in our hopes, instead of our fears.” The Steelers of course won that game against the Bengals, but even if they hadn’t, I can’t think of a better life lesson left to us by Ivan Cole.
Click Below to read tributes to Ivan Cole by:
Rebecca Rollett (on Going Deep: An Introspective Steelers Site)
Michael Bean (on Going Deep: An Introspective Steelers Site)
Mike Silverstein aka “Homer J” (on Going Deep: An Introspective Steelers Site)
Mike Silverstein aka “Homer J” (on Medium)
Here are also links to Ivan’s best work on Going Deep: An Introspective Steelers Site.