Last week I took questions from students in a high school mass media class. I was there to talk about my career in sports media. During the Q&A session, one student asked if I had any experience as a color commentator.
I had to explain to the young lad that they tend to give that job to ex-ballplayers or ex-coaches. I decided to give him an example.
"Do you know who Austin Carr is?"
"Well, are you a Cavs fan?"
"I used to be."
I finished explaining who Austin Carr is and who actually gets jobs as color commentators. But his comment stuck with me.
"I used to be."
I realized I just interacted with a fair-weather fan. This time last year, those types of fans infected Cleveland and Quicken Loans Arena. He was one of them. The Cavs were the hot team, with the game's hottest player and everyone was a fan of the wine and gold. They came out of the woodwork.
Why is this relevant? The AFC Championship game happened last Sunday. The Steelers earned their third Super Bowl berth in six years. If you thought it was bad before, brace yourself Browns fans. Steelers fans will be everywhere and that can be credited to those aforementioned fair-weather fans, who are typically the loudest and most obnoxious. I'd be willing to bet a good number of the Cavs fans from the last few years also root for the Steelers.
That's too bad because if you break down the Steelers — sans the fair-weather fans — there is a lot to like.
I like the Rooney family. What's not to like? They have owned the Steelers since the franchise was founded in 1933. Patience and consistency have been their hallmark. Whether you like to admit it or not, they have become a model NFL franchise. It is easy to be envious of the ownership stability the Steelers have shown for almost 80 years.
But what I love most about the Rooney family happened on Feb. 10, 1996. That day, 25 owners voted to approve Art Modell's request to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore.
Pittsburgh and Buffalo voted against the move.
I like Mike Tomlin. What's not to like? Since he became the Steelers third head coach since 1969 he is 47-22 overall, won a Super Bowl and now he is making his second appearance in four years. Cameras catch his passionate antics on the sidelines during each game and it appears he exudes the right mix of a player's coach and a disciplinarian. It is easy to be envious of his head coaching style and successes, considering the Browns are on their fifth head coach in 12 season.
I like (some) Steelers fans. But be careful. Since the team has had so much recent success, those fair-weather fans are everywhere. They are the cocky ones. They are the ones that foster Browns fans hate of everything black and gold. Any team that has sustained periods of success will see an influx of fair-weather fans. The Cavs saw that surge. The Steelers are experiencing it now.
But if you get a true Steelers fan alone, away from his peers and in a one-on-one situation, you'll find the similarities are quite abundant. He (or she) became a fan because of stories told by family elders. Their early memories are full of family and friends getting together on Sundays to watch and root on the Steelers. As they get older, the Steelers bring together those same family and friends and when there is nothing else to talk about, they share in the commonality that is Steelers football.
Why are the Browns so popular even though the team's last great era was in the mid-80s? Since they returned in 1999 it has been one losing season after another. Yet the Cleveland is and always will be a Browns town just like Pittsburgh is and always will be a Steelers town.
Despite the losing, Browns fans have fond memories of yesteryear, of family and friends gathering to watch or heading to the stadium with those family and friends. Browns fans root for the team today because their fathers did it and their fathers' fathers did it. Finally, talking Browns is something that bonds the people and families of northeast Ohio.
In other words, true Cleveland and true Pittsburgh fans are very similar.
The older I get, I encounter and interact with more true Steelers fans. I've come to realize they aren't much different than Browns fans. Well, except for the fact they have experienced Super Bowls.
I truly respect what the Steelers franchise has accomplished. I hope one day the Browns can mirror their success.
Congrats to the true Steelers fans on another Super Bowl berth.
And GO PACKERS!