How is that possible? How does a town that doubles as the last rest stop on your way to Ohio keep ending up in this position? How, when it comes to football, does Pittsburgh triumph where Philly fails?
In a just and less-bizarre world, Pittsburgh would resemble some postapocalyptic horror show - and not the cool one recently cast by AMC, either. More like one of those horrible (and horribly expensive) mistakes dreamed up by Kevin Costner. By rights, whenever someone mentions the town and football in the same sentence, we ought to hang our heads low and whisper something sad.
What's that? Pittsburgh, you say? . . . Those poor people.
We should pity Pittsburgh. Instead, when football is the topic, it's the other way around. Steelers fans are blessed. They luxuriate in pigskin paradise while their cross-state kin are imprisoned in NFL purgatory. It's obscene.
Somehow, the Steelers always make the right moves. They zig where others might zag, and their fans are invariably rewarded as a result. The Steelers kept Bill Cowher around for more than a decade and won a championship. Then he left for a gig in a climate-controlled television studio and the team hired Mike Tomlin - and they won another championship. Keep the coach, change the coach - doesn't much matter in Pittsburgh. The biggest problems out there involve making more room in the trophy case and figuring out where to vacation in West Virginia. (Morgantown is lovely; they have running water and everything.)
The Steelers' sickening accomplishments are owed in large part to the ownership. The Rooney family has run the franchise for decades. They clearly care about the team and the sport. Recently, Dan Rooney was asked about the league's desire to expand to 18 regular-season games, something most owners are in favor of because of the obvious financial benefits. Rooney said the sport is fine the way it is and added, "I would rather not get the money."
He actually said that out loud. That couldn't have made the other NFL oligarchs too happy. Rooney must not realize that success as an owner is best measured by the annual Forbes franchise rankings or, failing that, Academy Award nominations.
Despite Rooney's disdain for money and Hollywood, the media can't stop fawning over the Steelers. In the last week, CBSSports.com posted a piece about Pittsburgh's "unmatched success," USA Today did a story on the "gritty Steelers" and why they're "Super," and ESPN wondered aloud whether they're the greatest franchise in pro sports. Even devoted cheeseheads are praising Pittsburgh. In advance of the Super Bowl, Packersnews.com tipped its electronic hat with a headline that read "Steelers find patience doesn't preclude success."
In an equally odd development, those ubiquitous towels with the terrible reputation are becoming quite popular. After Pittsburgh won the AFC championship, the mustard yellow dish rags that Steelers fans wave around shot to No. 1 on Amazon's bedding and bath list.
It's all so disconcerting - especially the support the Steelers are receiving from people outside of Pittsburgh. The other day, I received a schmaltzy message complete with a picture of Troy Polamalu giving chocolates to a little girl wearing Steelers gear. The e-mail and photo were sent by an Eagles fan. She gushed about the safety's charitable works and freely admitted she'd root for Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.
Perhaps you've been subjected to something similarly appalling. It's hard to avoid these days. Our region seems gripped by a growing and alarming epidemic. People wearing Steelers jerseys are suddenly everywhere - at the gas station, the supermarket, the local bar. Before you go to sleep tonight, you should check under the bed just to make sure one of their kind isn't hiding in your house.
It's like we're in a real-world football version of the old whack-a-mole arcade game - Pittsburgh fans are popping up all over, and without warning. Where's one of those giant padded mallets when you need one?
Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gonzophilly.