As the Steelers prepare to play in Super Bowl XLV, intrigue already has arisen regarding the possibility that the team will be playing a neutral-site game during the 2011 season.
From the Irish Echo comes word that the Steelers could be heading to Ireland to play a regular-season game next season.
A spokesperson from Ireland’s Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, told the Echo that discussions have been held “at the official level” regarding the possibility of a game to be played at the Croke Park in Dublin, which has a capacity in excess of 80,000.
The Echo connects the obvious dots back to the Steelers, since chairman Dan Rooney is the current U.S. ambassador to Ireland.
We were prepared to dismiss the report, in part because we’ve yet to find any U.K. publication that generally is regarded as accurate and reliable. But then we noticed something, thanks to a Twitter message from a reader. Under the league’s current scheduling formula, which ostensibly takes each team into every stadium at least once every eight years, the Steelers are due to play “at Arizona” in 2011, even though they played “at Arizona” in 2007.
The Cardinals, who are in a down cycle and who could be destined for a blackout or two in 2011, could be a prime candidate to sacrifice a home game in exchange for the pay day that would come from playing in Europe.
Then we noticed that the games between the AFC West teams and the NFC North teams also feature some repeat locations from 2007, with for example the Bears playing at Oakland for a second straight time. This could mean that Bears-Raiders will be exported, given the recent problems the Raiders have experienced when it comes to selling out their home stadium.
This is all speculation at this point. Though it’s likely that at least one game will be played in the United Kingdom in 2011, the league has not said whether two games will be staged there — and none of the teams who’ll potentially play there have been identified.
UPDATE: A reader has made a good point about the change to the rotation possibly arising from a plan to better manage the cross-country trips made by teams playing in interconference games. That said, if the Steelers will be playing in Ireland they surely won’t be giving up a home game at Heinz Field, and the Cardinals would be the most logical candidate on the Steelers’ slate of road games to sacrifice one of theirs.