Tim Benz: Some Steelers actually enjoy playing in New England
The 2016 AFC Championship Game.
Giving up 55 points in 2013.
Anthony Smith’s guarantee in 2007.
Getting smoked the night the building opened its doors in September 2002.
Yeah. Gillette Stadium has pretty much been a house of horrors for the Steelers. The franchise is just 1-5 there and 0-5 when Tom Brady has been at quarterback.
And those losses have come at an average score of 37-19.
Aside from that, the Steelers have a lovely time in Foxborough whenever they visit, I’m sure.
Ben Roethlisberger is the only player on the squad that can boast of getting a win there. That was back when his eventual Super Bowl Championship team beat the Matt Cassel-led Patriots, 33-14, on an ugly, rain-soaked afternoon in 2008.
See? There. There’s proof. It can happen. The Steelers can win in Massachusetts.
Well, at least if Brady doesn’t play. If he does — as he will Sunday night when the Steelers visit again — well, we’ll find out.
But, surprisingly enough, I found a few veteran Steelers who said they genuinely enjoy playing games at Gillette Stadium.
“It’s a great atmosphere, man,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “Bon Jovi starts off the game. If guys don’t get pumped up and into it, something’s not right. You don’t love football enough.”
Actually, it was Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” that started the contest the last time the Steelers played up there in the 2016 AFC Championship Game.
Bon Jovi’s “This Is Our House” is the Patriots touchdown song. Which, unfortunately for the Steelers, was played four times that day as New England won 36-17.
At least Pouncey is feeling the jumbotron playlist, though. Fellow offensive lineman Ramon Foster also praised the vibe in New England.
“I think the last time we were there, they had T-Pain or Rick Ross, too,” Foster recalled. “You go into that stadium, or that city, you feel like it’s y’all against the world. Every team there. They are so dedicated to the Patriots, the Red Sox, the Bruins and Celtics. If you have the right type of team, you are able to handle that. We haven’t been recently. That’s a challenge for us.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” guard David DeCastro said. “Having people scream at you. The guys reenacting the Revolutionary War. The lighthouse. All that stuff. Stuff you read about in middle school history. It’s pretty funny to see. It’s a great environment.”
Well, maybe DeCastro and company can fire a shot heard ‘round the AFC and break away from the tyrannical oppression the Patriots have wielded over the conference the last three years.
That’ll take more than just one win Sunday night, but it would be a good start. It would be especially impressive given that it’s a banner-raising night for the Patriots for winning their sixth Super Bowl at the end of last year. New England dusted the Steelers in banner-raising season openers in Foxborough in 2002 (30-14) and 2015 (28-21).
Given that, the ability to embrace the hate will come in handy for the Steelers.
“Cooks like to be in the kitchen,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “These guys are competitors. And that’s a competitive environment up there. I’m not surprised by that (response) at all.”
All these quotes are a far cry from storylines surrounding the Steelers’ responses to leaving Gillette Stadium in the wake of defeats over the past 17 years. Complaints about Spygate, headset interference and pulled fire alarms at the hotel, along with having to worry about bugged locker rooms, have dominated the conversation surrounding this rivalry as much as the box scores have.
So, maybe to Foster’s point, all this happy talk surrounding a visit to the NFL’s Death Star is a conscious effort. Maybe it’s an intentional continuation of the Steelers’ offseason theme of becoming a less easily distracted, more cohesive unit.
One that looks at the lighthouse at Gillette Stadium and says, “That’s kinda cool.” Instead of one that says, “I bet they are spying on our coaches’ booth from there.”
It could be a mind game the Steelers are playing with themselves. If winning that one early in the week helps them win the bigger game Sunday night, it’ll be worth it.
Even if it means pretending to like that awful Bon Jovi song.