The Steelers will be out of sight until October 13. Given the rest of the sports landscape in Pittsburgh, they’ll also be out of mind.
After the first 0-4 start since 1968, the year before Chuck Noll became the team’s head coach (the franchise has had only two others since then), the Steelers face the rare reality of being irrelevant in their home city.
In recent years, the Pirates had been the local oddity. With the Steelers and Penguins consistently contending, folks in Pittsburgh tolerated the long-struggling Pirates, often viewing their games as simply part of the ambiance at one of the best stadiums in any sport.
But now that the Pirates are back to the postseason for the first time since Bill Cowher’s first year as Steelers coach and have won the wild-card game against the Reds with a raucous record crowd, the Pirates take center stage during the Steelers’ bye week.
It culminates, coincidentally, on Sunday in Pittsburgh, when Game Three of the best-of-five with the Cardinals will be played at PNC Park. If the Pirates can win the first two games in St. Louis, it could end up being the biggest non-Steelers Sunday in Pittsburgh since May 26, 1991, when the city welcomed the Penguins back to town after winning their first Stanley Cup in Minnesota.
The Steelers have now returned from London after losing to Minnesota in a rematch of the first Super Bowl the Steelers ever won. This time, the Steelers lost, plunging to 0-4.
The situation surely is contributing to the pressure the Steelers are facing, even as they try to downplay it. Owner Art Rooney II, who is dealing with first real crisis of his tenure as the man in charge of the team, declined a request to be interviewed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Instead, Rooney issued a statement through the team.
“In a football season you can’t worry about your last game, or your last four games,” Rooney said. “The team has to focus on the next opponent and do what is necessary to improve each week of the season. If we continue to work hard and play with intensity, good things will come.”
Plenty of folks in Pittsburgh don’t believe it. Even more troubling is the reality that plenty of folks in Pittsburgh currently don’t care.