Steelers Rock (and You Don’t)

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So, in the glory of my team winning the Super Bowl, I have been reflecting again on how sports teams operate in the modern era. It really is approved warfare — with war paint, team colors, and adrenaline all included. Sports allow you to be part of a group — and scream loudly about your superiority — in a way that is socially appropriate. And both your own and others’ responses encourage all of this.  First, your own personal reaction. I don’t know about you, but I was completely hoarse on Monday having screamed (pretty incessantly according to my kids) at the television for hours. What is it about sports that permits, encourages, and even demands that we act in relatively nutty ways?

 The adrenaline rush — just from watching — is all too real. And then there is the pride. I am very very proud of my Steelers. I am eating Steeler M&M’s as I write this, I have hung my Steeler banner on my door, and I dressed in black & gold at work on Monday. Do I really have anything to do with their success? Of course not. So why is it that I get to be proud — actually feel superior to others — for actions for which I have no responsibility or contribution?

Second, everyone else seems to approve and encourage this pride that I don’t really deserve. I have received emails and phone calls from plenty of friends and colleagues congratulating me on the game. Is sports glory really transferable to those who are lucky enough to have grown up in that town? And yet we all know that affiliation matters — in negotiation and in life.

So, until baseball season, when the Pirates will likely remind me that superiority in one sport does not seem to transfer to the stadium next door, I will bask in my undeserved glory and enjoy being part of a winning team.

Cross posted at Indisputably.

10 thoughts on “Steelers Rock (and You Don’t)”

  1. I think it’s because sports is the only truly elective passion that you carry with you your entire life. Unlike family (no choice in the matter) and religion (at least when you’re young, no choice in the matter), you grow up with this passion but you can always turn it off. Team is down by three touchdowns? See what’s on CBS. Pitcher can’t throw a strike? Throw on a videogame. But despite the torture, the passion still carries with you. Despite the fact every team has a 1 in 30-something chance to win it all (or, in college sports, a 1 in 100-something chance), hope still springs eternal every training camp/draft day/spring training, etc. And you still get the same gut feeling – whether you are 8 or 80 – when the opposing team drains a three as the buzzer goes off. Whereas as you carry family and religion your entire life, there is no real stigma if you drop your local sports team after a decade of failure (or in Philadelphia’s case — see 1981 to 2007).

    Yet, so many of us continue to live vicariously through our teams despite the effect of how another crushing loss leads to days of frustration in our real-world lives. We don’t celebrate a modest five game winning streak as often as we call for the heads of our managers and head coaches after a weekend sweep to the cross-town rival. We masochistically embrace our team’s failures as a punching bag to let off steam. We challenge friends in a battle of whose team is worse as often as a battle of whose team is best. We fail to seek enjoyment in the mere event of spending time with the family at a local game if the home team loses. Yet, we keep coming back. And it is this iteration that makes sports so unique and special.

    I don’t think we congratulate people because the team they just happened to be born in won a championship. I think we congratulate people because our society embraces die-hard, true-grit loyalty. So for that, Andrea, congratulations. You stuck with your team and they delivered. Even though my Eagles would have destroyed your Steelers…

  2. I like to think that I do rock.

    Not everyone gets it. My mother could not understand the attraction to sports and thought it some relic of our primieval tribal existence. One of my earlier childhood memories is of watching a playoff game between the Packers and Baltimore Colts. The game ened in a 10-10 tie, requiring overtime. This was fairly unusual at the time. Regular season games that ended in a tie remained ties and only one previous postseason game had ever required overtime.

    So – the network flashed “SUDDEN DEATH” on the screen. Mom came in and shouted “Oh, my God!! They’ve killed one !!!” That she thought this was how a network would react to the death of a player always fascinated me.

  3. Rick’s comment made me laugh out loud, because I am just like his mother in this respect. I like to watch great athletes, so I have some appreciation for sports in that way. But I don’t understand why people root for sports teams. When Andrea asked, “Do I really have anything to do with their success? Of course not. So why is it that I get to be proud — actually feel superior to others — for actions for which I have no responsibility or contribution?” I was sort of hoping for an answer, which I guess is just nonexistent. I lack some internal bit that would allow me to care about who wins in team sports.

    Unless one of my sons is playing, then his team is superior and should definitely win.

  4. I agree with Nick – my Eagles would have crushed the Steelers – if they hadn’t forgot to show and play in the first half against the Cardinals.

    And who cares about football – clearly baseball if the much more important and impressive sport, all you Pirates fans out there!

  5. The emotion we invest in our beloved Steelers is indeed nutty. But neither I nor any of my Pittsburgh buddies (nor you and the entire Steelers nation apparently) can detach ourselves from the drama of their games. I literally lose all control. Watching the Super Bowl, I could only be described as an absolute wreck. I was so spent afterwards that the fact they had actually won almost didn’t sink in. I really couldn’t savor the victory because of how deeply depressed I became when it looked like they were going to lose. It was only two days later that I did the official dance of absolute bliss. Thankfully I had the good sense to wear a black shirt and gold tie on Monday, and actually wore my #43 Troy Polamolu official team jersey to work on Tuesday (with a black sports coat over it no less!) And like you, I got congratulatory calls from all over the country from other lunatics who were reacting as if they had played the game. Anyway, to understand more fully the depth of my pathology, I still haven’t recovered from the Steelers loss to Dallas in the Super Bowl, and I’m not kidding.

    There was a great article in Sports Illustrated last week about the Steelers and what they mean to the city. It talked about the sociological phenomena that took place when the steel mills were closing, and the people turned to their tough-minded and ascending football team as a source of inspiration and pride. It also pointed out emphatically what a class organization the Steelers run, beginning with Dan Rooney.

    You know, as far as being a Steelers fan, I wouldn’t have it any other way, but then again, I don’t know any other way either!

  6. I would have let this matter go if it had been “merely” my colleague, Professor Andrea Schneider, holding forth on the purported importance of the recent Super Bowl. Now that a fellow dean—Bill Henk, of the College of Education—has elected to make common cause with Professor Schneider, I must comment: the risk of creating a misimpression among our students concerning the truth is simply too great. To be sure, the reader may discount my comment because I was rooting for the Cardinals—formerly of Chicago, and, more specifically, the South Side. But I bear no animus towards the Steelers, and, again, my interest is only the truth. And here is the truth: there is something, well, sad about grown men and women getting so excited about a football game. Now, if the matter had concerned baseball and the World Series and had thus been truly important, my view would be—because the truth would be—different. Have I mentioned recently how the White Sox won the World Series in 2005? – JDK

  7. As someone who also lacks whatever gene is necessary to be a fan, I long was simply baffled by people who could care about sports. I agree with Dean Henk that there is something in the drama of sports that is irresistible–maybe that the outcome is not known. I did not get that until, finding myself in the role of soccer mom, I watched my kids play in hundreds of soccer games. At some point along the way, I understood many things that all sports fans understand (e.g., the best team does not necessarily win, athletic performances can be thrilling and beautiful to watch, 95% of the game is half mental, coaching matters). As ridiculous as it may sound to someone who follows professional sports, I understood the thrill and drama, the fascinating psychology of athletic performance and teamwork only after watching 10-year-olds play mostly terrible soccer. I am still utterly incapable of contributing to a conversation about professional sports (this is a serious professional liability), but at least now I think I get why they matter to people.

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