Famous comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said that cheering for sports teams was essentially like cheering for laundry.
Seinfeld, a huge baseball fan and a diehard supporter of the New York Mets, was talking about the changing landscape of sports in the 1980s and 1990s due to the realities brought about by free agency. To Seinfeld, it boiled down to “Cheering Clothes.” Don’t remember? Here’s a refresher:
That’s why comedians are comedians, while the rest of us are mere mortals: they have a way of seeing things differently.
- I can tell you that I’ve become a bit hardened as a sports fan over the years.
I’ve grown a bit jaded. When a player is drafted by the Steelers, for example, I immediately start the clock and begin counting down the time until he becomes a free agent. The closer the Steelers and the player get to that contract year, the more I start to prepare myself for his departure.
A lot of fans have taken a more clinical and almost business-like approach to sports fandom in the free-agent and salary cap era we’ve been living in for decades. “What can they get for him?” is a question only general managers used to ask when discussing players headed into their contract years. If the player was deemed too expensive, past his prime or simply not worth keeping around, a gm may have strongly considered flipping said player for either another player or a draft choice.
- Now it’s common for most fans to be concerned about such things.
- They’ve been trained to think that way, to have a more business-like mindset.
Occasionally, however, you’ll see a fan base and city truly embrace a star player and give him nothing but love. There is just something about seeing that player in that uniform and doing the things that make him so great.
Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis used to be that for me.
There was just something about watching The Bus score a touchdown; it had more weight to it than when anyone else did it (no pun intended). It gave you that special feeling, like an iconic character from a famous movie franchise. Bettis just had a special way about him, an aura that made you root for him harder than other Steelers’ players. That’s what made Bettis the face of the franchise.
It’s rare to have that feeling, but I got it during the Steelers’ dress rehearsal preseason game while watching quarterback Ben Roethlisberger make his preseason debut against the Lions at Heinz Field and subsequently do his thing like only he could. Much like with the running back position after Bettis, it’s going to take me a long time to “trust” another Steelers quarterback once Roethlisberger retires.
I still don’t have the same faith in Minkah Fitzpatrick that I once had in Troy Polamalu at the safety position. True, Fitzpatrick is a free safety, while Polamalu played strong safety.
But you know what I mean. Fitzpatrick is now THAT guy in Pittsburgh’s secondary; he’s the defensive chess piece that Steelers’ coaches use to make life a living heck for opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators. Fitzpatrick is also world-class and a First-Team All-Pro.
- But he’s not Troy Polamalu — at least not yet in my eyes.
I’m glad that Polamalu played his entire career in Pittsburgh. I’m glad that he received such a heartwarming outpouring of love from Steelers fans when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in early August.
It gave me butterflies.
- Watching Ben Roethlisberger do his thing in his lone preseason action gave me that same warm and fuzzy feeling.
To repeat: there’s just something about certain Steelers players doing their thing on the football field.
It’s not just about rooting for laundry, even as I approach my 50s. It’s not just about contract stuff, analytics and the salary cap.
- There’s still room to be a fan of individual players.
They say no player is ever bigger than a team. While that might be true in theory, it’s really not when it comes to certain ones.
- Some players transcend their teams because of their importance and their aura.
Players like Jerome Bettis, Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu are the kinds of Steelers legends who make you root harder for them than others. You want them to succeed because of who and what they are and what they represent.
Laundry isn’t capable of giving you that.