When news broke that Ben Roethlisberger was under investigation for sexual assault in Milledgeville, Georgia, the reaction among many, if not most, Steelers' fans that I know was that it was time for the Steelers and Roethlisberger to part ways. This was the obvious initial reaction for many reasons: 1) it reaffirmed that he was a bad guy, something most of us suspected anyway; 2) it would be difficult to root for the Steelers while simultaneously hating their best player; and 3) the image (whether deserved or not) that the Steelers were somehow above having "bad guys" on their team meant something to most Pittsburghers. We assumed that the Rooneys felt the same way and even though it would hurt the team in the short-run, it would send a reassuring message to the fans and the rest of the NFL that the Steelers were, in fact, different.
a funny thing happened on the way to the refrigerator."
Read on to learn why the Roethlisberger situation is galvanizing for Steelers' fans...
As it became apparent that the Steelers were going to keep Roethlisberger, other fan bases started to take shots at the Steelers and it became clear that the jabs would only get worse throughout the season. Even if it is just in someone's Facebook status or on some random message board somewhere, other fans started to pick at this new hole in the Steelers' otherwise bulletproof armor. And yes, it is very annoying.
We are a sensitive bunch. We are protectionist. We like our city. We defend our city against any slights. (How many of us have quoted the Forbes "Most Livable" award or pointed to the G20 summit to counter some idiot from Long Island rolling his eyes when you say you are from Pittsburgh?) When someone denigrates Pittsburgh, we look for anything to fight back with and the easiest way to do that is often through the football team. What does this mean for Roethlisberger?
The sense that I'm getting is that the Roethlisberger situation is going to make the fans talk more smack. It's going to make the fans louder in opposing stadiums. It's going to make the fans laugh harder when we beat Cleveland. It's going to make the fans spend more time at Michael's buying papier mache to make fake Carson Palmer ACL's to wave around in front of Bengals fans. Essentially, if it is at all possible, it is going to make a lot of Pittsburghers root harder than ever for the Steelers.
Remember how Patriots' fans took the "us against the world" mentality during Spygate? I think Steelers' fans will do the same thing. [DISCLAIMER: I'm obviously not comparing what Roethlisberger did to what Belichik did. The allegations against Roethlisberger are way more serious, of course. Although, I am wondering why no cops asked Belichik if he had tape of the incident]. We treat Roethlisberger as "our" problem - we can hate him and criticize him, but you can't.
Let me be clear - this is not to say that people will be rooting for Roethlisberger. For me personally, it's actually quite the opposite. I wanted him gone and I still do. He's a bad guy who did bad things. If the Steelers cut him tomorrow, I'd be happy. I think this goes for many Steelers' fans - we will, at least in our own minds, be able to separate rooting for the team from rooting for the player.
But the fact is that he is that the Steelers aren't going to cut him and he will be under center for the 5th game this season. And taunts from opposing fans are only going to get louder. And some idiot morning radio guy in Baltimore is going to do an unfunny skit involving Roethlisberger in a bathroom. And national media people are only going to get more brazen in openly taking jabs at the city or its fan base.
I initially thought that this would be a season where Steelers' fans took their lumps, sucked it up, and hoped that it would die down by next year. But now...I sense the opposite. When you're at a bar and someone yells out when Roethlisberger is on the screen, part of you will understand. But part of you will take it as a shot at the city as a whole. And you won't respond by taking your lumps. Instead, you'll be more excited than ever when the Steelers win, because, after all, we are the City of Champions.
How will it change the way you root for the Steelers?