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Starkey: Steelers finale against Browns a fan's conundrum

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Among the Steelers who are in their waning days with the team are, clockwise from upper left, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Brett Keisel and Ryan Clark.

About Joe Starkey
Picture Joe Starkey 412-320-7848
Freelance Columnist
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Joe is a freelance sports columnist for the Tribune-Review.

By Joe Starkey

Published: Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, 9:10 p.m.

You must feel torn. Maybe neurotic by this point.

It's been that kind of season from Day 1, when fans fled the opener with a quarter left and their team trailing the Tennessee Titans by … well, by one whole score.

The Steelers enter their finale staring hard at a second straight 8-8 and a third straight no-playoff-win season.

On the other hand, they have won seven of 11 and improbably remain alive for the postseason.

On the other, other hand, no matter what happens Sunday, this might be your only chance to say goodbye to any number of decorated veterans. Those include Troy Polamalu (guessing he'll be back), Ryan Clark (not so much), Brett Keisel (doubtful), Ike Taylor (yes) and even LaMarr Woodley (don't let the door hit you in the calf).

So yes, I'd imagine the feelings — be they excitement, anger, apathy, reverence or sadness — will be swirling like some 55,000 Terrible Towels at Heinz Field (at least until halftime, when everybody leaves).

Let's analyze some of those feelings by peering into the minds of the beholders …

Angry fan

Like Bill Parcells said, you are what your record says you are, and the Steelers are 7-8. Why shouldn't I be angry?

Credit them, I guess, for turning a humiliating season into merely a bad one, with the possibility Sunday of nudging it all the way up to mediocre, which will get you a playoff spot these days.

But barring a minor miracle — which is to say, a winning performance from the Kansas City Chiefs' split-squad to complement wins from the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and, oh yeah, the Steelers — this team will get what any team that loses to Oakland, Tennessee and Minnesota deserves: a football-free January.

Nobody will remember the late run, including last Sunday's lucky win over a mindless Green Bay team that was missing its two best players by the start of the second half (but was bolstered by a full stadium till the end). It won't matter. The NFL doesn't give trophies for trying, or for digging yourself out of embarrassingly deep, self-made craters.

Tampa Bay is 4-3 since it started 0-8. The St. Louis Rams started 1-3 and 3-6 and have battled their way to 7-8. The New York Giants are 6-3 since starting 0-6.

Who cares?

I hope we're not doing the Steelers limbo here. I hope we haven't lowered the bar to the point where not being the Buffalo Bills or Cleveland Browns merits a ticker-tape parade. I hope 8-8 — no matter how it's achieved — is never regarded as satisfactory or even admirable.

It is neither.

Excited fan

Wow, that guy's angry. I wonder how he'll feel if the Steelers actually make the playoffs.

Can you imagine if the Steelers, Jets and Bengals win their early games and it comes down to Chiefs-Chargers, knowing the Chargers never met a big game they couldn't screw up? The city will be crazed.

Hey, only one other team that started 0-4 (the '92 Chargers) made the playoffs. Just getting in position to finish .500 after a start like that is rare. These players have displayed uncommon heart.

Mike Tomlin could have lost the team. He did the opposite.

He found it — and he might have found a legitimate offense in the process. This finish could prove to be a springboard into next season.

If Antonio Brown doesn't scrape the line against Miami, we're talking about a team of destiny here. We still might be.

Even if the Steelers fall short, 8-8 isn't so bad in a transitional year. It's a big difference from 7-9 because it'll mean the quarterback and coach can still say, “I've never had a losing season.”

There's nothing wrong with being excited about the day ahead.

It could be one you'll remember for a long time.

Sentimental fan

Wow, that guy's delusional.

I'm mostly focused on the possibility that some franchise favorites could be playing their final game here.

Polamalu? I doubt he goes, but if he does, we're talking about a player whose legendary visage not only belongs in Canton but also next to Jack Lambert's toothless scowl, Mean Joe Greene's angry glare, Chuck Noll's pensive stare, Art Rooney's stogie-in-mouth and Hines Ward's smile in the pantheon of all-time faces of the franchise.

Keisel's beard, Clark's maniacal hits (have they peeled Willis McGahee off the turf yet?), and Woodley's big-game pass-rush (have they peeled up Philip Rivers yet?) will always live in my mind's eye. I'm showing up to pay my respects, just in case.

I might even stay past halftime.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at




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