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Madden: Steelers' fans panic much too quickly

Saturday, September 21, 2002

LAS VEGAS -- Panic has yet to grip Sin City when it comes to the Steelers' 0-2 start. The Flamingo sports book has the Steelers at 7-1 to win the Super Bowl after they opened the season at 5-1. The Steelers now rank third among Super Bowl favorites, trailing St. Louis (9-2) and New England (6-1). Maybe that's how it should have been all along.

Panic certainly has gripped the City of (cough) Champions, however, where talk-show callers complain about "spending my hard-earned money to go to Heinz Field and watch those guys get killed." No wonder I left town for a week.

If you feel you're getting cheated, don't buy the tickets. Don't renew next season. Better yet, turn your tickets in now.

The Steelers' waiting list for season tickets has tens of thousands on it. Believe me, someone will go to the games. Clearing out some of the jaded old-timers might be the best thing that could happen. You'd get some enthusiastic fans at Heinz Field instead of discerning consumers who boo as soon as Kordell Stewart throws his first incompletion.

Don't tell me the Steelers don't care. I ran into Hines Ward the day after the Oakland loss, and he was so depressed I wanted to frisk him for razor blades, sleeping pills and rope. With few exceptions -- hi, Plaxico -- the Steelers give themselves body and soul, 60 minutes per game, for the sake of your entertainment. (OK, so they get paid, too.)

Truth is, the Steelers try harder than the fans.

Anyone who still clings to the notion that Steelers fans are the best in the NFL has different standards than me. My definition of a great fan is someone who stands up and supports instead of sitting in judgment. True to the colors no matter what.

That's not the case at Heinz Field. Things get quiet when the Steelers trail by a little. Things get nasty when they trail by a lot.

Of course, the Heinz Field, er, faithful go absolutely nuts whenever the Steelers are ahead. Terrific. Nothing says "loyalty" like gratuitous front-running.

Now is the time to prove your mettle as a Steelers fan. Call the talk shows and, if you can get a word in edgewise, tell the world that 0-2 is just a mere pothole on a road that will lead to glory. Go to Heinz Field for what is suddenly a must-win game against Cleveland and, if the Browns score first, yell even louder for the Steelers.

And for God's sake, keep your 14-year-old away from the booze.

What has to happen before the local police and magistrates take an active interest in the whisky-soaked Sodom and Gomorrah that is Heinz Field tailgating? Does anyone believe that underage drinking is confined to the one reported exception? What about the visiting fans who get harassed, often physically, on their way in and out of the stadium?

Security constantly turns a blind eye to ugly behavior inside and outside Heinz Field. It seems like none of it is considered cause for alarm as long as no one dies.

Don't worry. Someone will. Then we'll see what happens to Pittsburgh's grand tradition of public drunkenness at Steelers games.

Steelers Nation likely feels that a 14-year-old boy going on a pregame bender with his father is no big deal. It's a rite of passage. An initiation. Which goes to show how deeply rooted -- and how big -- the pregame problems at Heinz Field really are.

Maybe it's merely a symptom of a greater national problem.

In Pittsburgh, you have a teen-ager drinking with his dad. In Washington, a brawl in the stands is quelled by pepper spray -- which then wafts onto the field, delaying the Monday night game between the Eagles and Redskins. In Chicago, a tattooed dirtbag and his underage son run onto the field at Comiskey Park to attack Tom Gamboa, the Kansas City Royals' first-base coach.

Gamboa not only has to watch every Royals game, he actually has to pay attention. Hasn't the poor guy suffered enough?

Memo to tattooed dirtbag: Actually join Motley Crue before you get all the ink. You look ridiculous, and you punch like a girl, too.

By the way, does anyone believe that the 14-year-old at Heinz Field got plastered merely by sneaking drinks when his father wasn't looking? Last we looked, that was his dad's alibi.

That seems rather far-fetched ... until you remember that Judge Smails' nephew, Spaulding, tried that exact method of getting drunk in the movie "Caddyshack." Spaulding happened to guzzle a drink that had a cigarette butt in it, and the result was him vomiting in rather violent and explicit fashion through the sun roof of a car.

So maybe that really is what happened with this kid at Heinz Field.

And maybe, for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows.

At any rate, Steelers tailgaters would do well to remember the immortal words of Judge Smails himself: "How about a Fresca?"

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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