I played college baseball at Barry University in Miami, FL. Barry is a D2 school and is a part of the Sunshine State Conference, one of the best D2 conferences in the country. The University of Tampa was the top-dog in that conference while I was there, as they often were before and after my time at Barry.
Tampa was loaded. Good pitching, defense, lineup, everything. That wasn’t what stood out to me, though, especially in 2013, a season in which we had a very promising team. What stood out was how damn good they were at unimpressively winning baseball games.
It was maddening. Every loss left you with the same feeling; you could have beaten them. Except you rarely ever did. You put up a three-run inning? They put up a four-spot. Your starter pitched seven innings of two-run ball? Theirs went eight and gave up one. Everything you did, they did it just a little better. And in the end, they won.
Like I said, maddening.
What’s this got to do with anything? Well, there’s a specific NFL team that reminds me of the 2013 Tampa Spartans: the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers.
It’s the NFL
This ain’t college football, folks. College is full of undefeated teams who are pretenders. The talent gap is enormous in college; some teams can survive the majority of the season without really being tested. That’s not the NFL.
Anybody can beat anybody in the NFL. Yes, even the Jets, who would have beaten a likely playoff team in the Raiders today if not for a minor miracle. NFL rosters are filled with elite talent. Even if a team’s record does not suggest it, these guys are studs, make no mistake about it.
At 11-0, the Pittsburgh Steelers have beaten a roster full of professional talent 11 times in a row. They’ve done it on offense, defense, or both in various weeks. They have talent on both sides of the ball and on the sidelines. Why? Because they’re a damn good football team.
We care. They don’t.
Do Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin strike you as the type of men who care about anything but results? They don’t to me. The Steelers want to win; that’s their only mission week in and week out.
Plenty of teams pay lip service to being solely focused on winning, but we all know there are different forces at play. Some are developing a QB or trying to ensure a high draft position. Others really do want to win, but there is a sort of quota they have to hit in order to make it a satisfying victory. This is usually related to a star player getting the proper amount of attention, which can become a distraction (see: Brown, Antonio).
The Steelers’ offense has plenty of weapons, but you’d hardly call any of them stars other than Roethlisberger. His hand has not been forced. He’s delivering the ball where he feels it needs to go in the moment. Style points be damned.
This is a good thing.
Us fans often care about how they win. A five-point victory against a depleted Cowboys team might as well be a loss in our eyes. We want an undefeated team to be squashing their opponents week after week, like the ’07 Patriots did. Anything less makes that team “lucky” or “fake.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers are neither “lucky” or “fake.” They just don’t care how they look, as long as the scoreboard reads in their favor once the final whistle blows.
Can it last?
Fuck if I know. Sorry. Predicting sports in 2020 is a fool’s game. What I do know is that the Steelers have an elite defense and a good-enough and ego-less offense led by a Hall of Fame quarterback who doesn’t care what anyone thinks. That’s dangerous.
I’m sure a lot of the Steelers’ opponents this season can sympathize with what I felt after playing Tampa back in my college days. They are just better than their opponents in multiple facets of the game, week in and week out. I think this team has more than enough talent to make a deep playoff run. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up as champions in 2020.
Just like the Tampa Spartans did in 2013.
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