Fair-Weather Nation

They bailed just after halftime at Heinz Field, giving up on any hope of victory once they trailed by 15 points. Afterwards they did nothing but make excuses – poor excuses – for a losing effort.

I’m not talking about the Steelers. I’m talking about a rather large group of their fans.

After covering the team for over a decade, I think I am more than qualified to talk about Steeler fans .. and how embarrassed I was by some of them on Sunday. Pittsburgh trailed Jacksonville by 15 points with more than 15 minutes to play on Sunday, but shortly after that go-ahead score there was a steady stream of Steeler fans who made their way to the exits. I found that smelling of fair-weather football fandom. Folks, remember these Steelers also trailed Cleveland by 15 points this season …. and came back to win. I know it was cold and I know it was windy (believe me, I’ve been to enough games and froze my butt off over the years), but still you have to wonder what some people are thinking.

I’m not sure what has happened, but there is now a seismic shift in the way Steelers fans support their team … a manner that has changed since I started covering the team back in 1995. I’m not sure if it’s because when they moved to Heinz Field and fans started congregating during games on the South End Zone plaza, moving them closer to the exits. It also moved many out of their bright yellow seats, giving Heinz Field that semi-empty look all game long. I guess since we have gone from Steel town to white-collar city, we should expect a change in attitude and fanaticism.

Maybe it’s that desire on the part of some fans to have to be the first ones out, no matter the score, so they can beat parkway traffic and get home early … early enough to see the conclusion of the game at home. I know when I was a sportscaster, a group of media guys would have a pool picking the time in the game when the first fan would leave. Each year, that time has become earlier and earlier.

Even worse, some of the “knowledgeable” football fans of Pittsburgh show just how much they don’t know when they call into these post-game shows. I was watching one of these shows (on another network) and watched the host’s pained expression as someone called in to insist Ben Roethlisberger should have been benched in favor of Charlie Batch because Ben missed two days of practice during the week … and Ben had thrown three touchdown passes in helping the Steelers tie the game.

I’m not indicting all fans. Most are passionate about their team and, given the amount of money they spend on tickets, tend to stick it out for all four quarters regardless of the weather to support the Steelers. It’s the other fans who show up late, leave early and then complain that this team — which just won the Super Bowl two years ago — doesn’t do anything.

We demand a lot of our football team — and rightly so. I just think the team should expect the same level of commitment from all its fans.
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