Thursday, October 12, 2006

on success

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I guess it's a rebuilding year.

Mondesi's House doles out blame by the handful, and he's pretty much right with his assessment. We somehow lost while holding one of the best runners (pure runners?) in football to under 40 yards, and did so even with Polomalu nursing a serious shoulder injury. And while Deshea Townsend has his share of problems, that first touchdown was strictly a height issue. But Ben's clearly not himself, and our receivers are young and apparently are from the Koren Robinson school of receiving. (That was a dropped ball joke, not a drinking joke. Just sayin.) We got issues, but these problems have solutions; we are lucky to be dealing with a Mazerati that needs some expensive but routine repairs, where other cities are stuck with hoopties.

Frankly, I don't think it's the team. It's the city.

This morning, Ray Wert wrote about the Tigers on Deadspin, and he mentioned the fervor with which Detroit supports its teams. Ray's blurb doesn't explicitly mention Ford's rapid decline, but one has to assume the Tigers' incredible year is keeping spirits high in a city whose trademark industry is falling apart. The relationship between rust belt cities and their sports is no stranger to Pittsburghers. Hell, the Steelers and their ubiquitous fans are practically the archetype. For the last few years, it's hard to say we've played a true away game with all the Terrible Towels. And that ubiquity is a symptom of the city's problems. The struggling economy drives away families and an old, reactionary mentality drives away youth; Steelers fans are everywhere because they either can't or don't want to be in Pittsburgh. But that's changing.

Pittsburgh is experiencing a renaissance. It seems our fair city has turned a corner, given the rosy pictures painted by the Post-Gazette and The Trib. In a city as notoriously pessimistic as Pittsburgh, those are very good signs. But this isn't just a local opinion. Expansion Magazine rated the area 9th out of 10 in a list of locations for business expansion. Last month, The Economist had a short article about economic revival in the 412, calling the city "a pleasant and affordable region with an improving mix of industries and enviable demographics--which is as much as many parts of the country can hope for." (no subscription = no citation) Even the British like us. And why shouldn't they? We have more trees per capita than any city the country, and are the 17th cleanest city in the world. Our crime rate is absurdly low (but they still tote that steel in Pistolvania). And though I don't have quantitative data, the brain drain seems to be slowing, as at least three-quarters of my friends either never left Pittsburgh, left and came back, or have definite plans to move back. The Economist article does mention the increasing return rate, and makes the point that much of our old elderly will die off soon, leaving a very young population in charge of an up-and-coming city. So where it was once a blackened industrial hell-hole, then a depressed post-industrial city looking for an identity, it appears Pittsburgh has successfully reinvented itself for the new economy. Where there once was rust, there is now candy paint.

Last year gave Steeler Nation the much-vaunted One for the Thumb, the fifth Superbowl victory that was some kind of destiny. A prophecy fulfilled. Jerome Bettis could finally leave the NFL in peace and retire to a heavenly life of bowling, football analysis and giving Burt Reynolds wet willies. Between The Bus and Myron Cope both retiring, and rumors of an eminent departure by Coach Cowher, it's hard not to feel like this is the end of an era. After all, the new face of the Steelers, Bettis's replacement, is a fresh-faced kid from the suburbs. The suburbs of Ohio.

I don't really think there's some kind of lack of psychic energy that is the team's big problem this year, but the difference between the Superbowl XL champions and this year's gang is bigger than a few different players. This isn't a Superbowl hangover, it's an existential crisis.