Big Ben Roethlisberger’s Return Inspires Testament to Fandom

I used to be a Dallas Cowboys fan. I know. Believe me, I know. In my defense, I spent my early childhood in Texas, and found it really hard not to cheer for a team that was so stacked at every position and virtually unbeatable. Besides, all of the adults were cheering for them, and as a kid, I just wanted to be an adult (oh, how I miss being a child).

The fan in me didn’t just care about Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin; I cared about Larry Allen, Erik Williams, Tony Casillas, Leon Lett, Kevin Smith, Brock Marion, Charles Haley (minus the San Francisco 49er days), Mark Stepnoski, Daryl “Moose” Johnston, and Jay Novacek, too.

The Cowboys-49ers rivalry in those days was tantalizing and intense. I was so nervous the night before every Cowboys-49ers matchup that I would dream about the game in great detail. If the Cowboys lost, I would wake up as if from a horrifying nightmare.

My love for Big D carried me until college. I had never been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but it’s tough to not get sucked in when you’re living in Pittsburgh amongst rabid, die-hard fans who use alcohol as their space heater when tailgating in the dead of winter. That kind of passion (insanity?) is infectious.

By the time Super Bowl XL came around, I was hooked, addicted, obsessed, whatever you want to call it. The entire playoffs were a rush. The Steelers had to win their last four regular season games to claim the sixth seed in the playoffs.

In doing so, they had to beat the three best teams in the AFC consecutively and then beat the top-seeded NFC Champion, Seattle. It was improbable in so many ways; I didn’t expect the Steelers to win the first postseason game against Cincinnati, much less every game thereafter.

I was at Shootz in the South Side of Pittsburgh for the Super Bowl. When the game was over, rioting began in the streets. Not only were the streets blocked off, there was a snowstorm. My friends and I walked home that night through a foot of snow. I probably could’ve gotten hypothermia, but like I said above, alcohol is a space heater in the dead of winter.

It took an hour to walk home, and I was cold and I was wet, but it was one of the best nights of my life. All of my experiences as a Cowboys fan had never culminated in anything like what I had just experienced as a Steelers fan. The shifting of allegiances was as seamless and easy as water flowing down a river.

Tony Romo’s mishandled field goal snap and subsequent “Jessica Simpson is bad for on-field performances” controversy just seemed so silly and made the entire Cowboys organization look utterly ridiculous. I wanted no part of that circus.

But, the Steelers weren’t without their own circus. Life as a Steelers fan wasn’t easy for most of 2010. As a result, I had tempered expectations coming into the season. As in, no expectations at all. The quarterback carousel was laughable.

And then, Troy Polamalu came flying in with his hair and James Harrison decided to revert back to his 2008 Defensive Player of the Year form. All of a sudden, the Steelers were 3-0 behind a defense that the Steel Curtain would’ve been proud of.

The 17-14 loss to Baltimore in Week 4 was a game the Steelers had until the very end. Still, a 3-1 record with no quarterback is an impressive feat. And, that no quarterback part just changed.

Big Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension is over. If a team can go 3-1 with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch alternating at quarterback, it’s almost scary to think about how good that team is with Big Ben under center.

I’m excited. I’m really, really excited. The 2010 Steelers remind me of the 2006 Steelers. Winning behind an outstanding defense and a power running game is an age-old formula in football. There was nothing sexy about the 2006 Steelers, and there’s nothing sexy about the 2010 Steelers. Strip away the fat, and you’re left with pure, hard-nosed football.

In the current NFL climate where explosive offenses ooh and ah the crowd, what the Steelers embody is almost refreshing. Have people forgotten that defense wins games? What’s the use of having Peyton Manning when your defense is 24th in total defense and 29th in rush defense? The biggest thing the 2010 Colts defense can claim is that they limited Laurence Maroney to 24 yards. Laurence Maroney.

The Steelers have an identity, which is difficult to obtain. Some people go through entire lives without finding theirs. Mike Tomlin has made this team believe, and now, I believe.

To all the Steelers fans who kept the faith when things got tough, I commend you. This season is about to get really fun.

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