Steelers fans: Why we’re hated


Steelers fans are not the most hated fans in professional sports. That title tends to go to teams in the northeast on the Atlantic Ocean. I don’t what it is about cold weather and salty water but fans from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia are typically the most hated across all sports. Eagles fans hold the title in the NFL. That being said, in the NFL, Steelers fans are up there, at least for some especially.

Especially if you grew up in Steeler country, Western Pennsylvania or a radius of a couple hundred miles around it you get an earful from those who aren’t on board. Personally, I could not imagine watching a full 3 hour football game because I wanted one of the teams to lose. That’s just about the saddest thing I can think of. But it happens around these parts.

As far as I’m concerned, and most Steelers fans I know, there is one team for whom winning or losing is of any interest and that’s the Steelers. No other team matters. Sure, nobody likes the Ravens around here, but I’m not going to watch the Ravens play some other team and get excited about them losing. That’s just sad.

Look, Browns fans are die hard. They’re not fair weather fans, whatever that means. I’ll tip my cap to them on that. But for a lot of Browns fans, if the Browns win on Sunday and the Steelers lose, their Facebook status or latest tweet is going to be about the Steelers losing.

Now, it’s got to be tough, lonely to be in the heart of Steeler country if you’re not a Steeler fan. But like I said, we don’t care about their team, and that’s no excuse to lash out. There are a lot of Steelers out in remote locations. I can’t speak for what they have to deal with but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest this wild Steeler hatred isn’t isolated to just western PA. Let’s look at some evidence.

First, the Ravens. Now, fans can hate fans. Teams can hate teams. But for a team to hate an opposing fan base is just about the lowest of the low. Ravens players often taunt Steelers fans over towels and other things. They stomp on towels and look into the stands and shout. It’s gross.

Not to mention, they’re from Baltimore and their team color is purple and their team is named after a poem. A poem from a guy who was neither born nor raised in Baltimore but merely died there. Edgar Allan Poe is as much from Baltimore as Lawrence of Arabia is from Syria or Yemen.

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Second, op-eds from various sports writers will occasionally bring up the Steelers. Now, polls of hated fan bases never have the Steelers on top. It’s not necessarily a widespread phenomenon. Polls often have the Eagles, maybe the Patriots or Cowboys fans on top. But some people just have a passion for it.

Cover32’s Seahawks site did a piece about the 5 most annoying NFL fanbases. The Steelers came in at number 5. The big complaint there was some fans living in the past, talking about the old 70s Steel Curtain team.

Now take ForTheWin, they did a piece just this February about the most “defensive” fans in sports. The Steelers came in at 2. The explanation there didn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s kind of like someone threw a grenade into a pile of random Pittsburgh shots.

Take another article from Deadspin called “Why Your Team Sucks 2014: Pittsburgh Steelers.” The author says, and I quote, “DURRRR” twice. Two times. That’s right, all caps, F words, all of it. The author is passionate about hating Steelers fans. It may explain how profoundly incorrect he turned out to be about the Steelers fortunes in 2014.

First rule of trash talk, you don’t try for a knockout punch until the deal is sealed, particularly in the internet age where something like this lives forever. You really don’t want to be dead wrong while saying “DURRRR.”

Another article from ESPN in 2013 after the Steelers 0-4 start broke the above mentioned rule. The author spends a great deal of time passive aggressively telling the Steelers fanbase what is in their own brains and how to cope with losing. Then the Steelers went 8-4 and nearly made the playoffs. He was dancing on a grave, turned out to have a vampire inside.

But what is this passive aggressive attacking of fans? What did Steelers fans ever do to anyone? Some fan bases are extremely obnoxious. You hear about visiting fans being attacked or assaulted. You have fan bases that boo draft picks. You have those with ignorant signs.

Of course Steelers fans are passionate. And maybe I’m in the bubble but I don’t see us attacking other fanbases or showing up in the news for bad sportsmanship.

So why the hate? Why such passion? People attack the Terrible Towel like we have our souls inside the things. It just looks cool to wave around. But people have a fiery hatred of a towel that is a little irrational.

Let’s consider a few of the typical reasons given and then I’ll give my own somewhat self-serving explanation.


Supposedly Steelers fans are bandwagon jumpers. The Steelers go to a Super Bowl and a whole new group of Steelers fans show up. Here’s why I don’t buy that.

Jan 3, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison (92) high fives fans in the stands after the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field. The Ravens won 30-17. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

First, it confuses correlation with causation. The Steelers are a legendary team with a huge fanbase. A lot of people inherit their teams, so every decade a new group of fans join fanhood. It just so happens that the Steelers are regularly good. You don’t see new Steelers fans crop up during bad periods because there are no extended bad periods.

Second, Pittsburgh used to be one of the largest cities in the country. It has shrunk significantly. The wide spread of Steelers fans is as much due to people from Pittsburgh leaving the area as it is from random people from elsewhere jumping on the bandwagon.

Heck, speaking as a member of Steeler Nation, if you want to jump on our bandwagon I welcome you. We don’t discriminate based on anything, including who you liked last season or whether you liked anyone at all.

Third, everyone is a bandwagon jumper based on the way some people describe it. You become a fan either by being born into it or by finding your own team. A bandwagon jumper is someone who jumps from team to team. Finding your own team is not jumping on the bandwagon.

Take people my age range, mid 20s to early 30s. What teams do they like, or at least my group of immediate friends? The Steelers, the Cowboys, the Packers, the Broncos, maybe the 49ers. The Dolphins have a lot fans too but my theory is because of Marino and Ace Ventura. So what do those teams have in common? They were great in the 90s. They had great players.

Fans of those teams didn’t jump on the bandwagon in elementary school. You don’t stay on a bandwagon for two decades. That’s ridiculous. People become aware of football at a certain point in their lives. At that point, you either like who your parents like or you like a team that’s good, with larger than life legendary players who are in commercials.

It’s that simple. So the bandwagon thing just doesn’t play under further analysis. So what else could it be?

Living in the past

Oh geeze, this one. Let me get this out of the way first. 49ers fans remember Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Jerry Rice fondly. Bears fans remember Walter Payton and Mike Ditka. Packers fans talk about Vince Lombardi. Browns fans love to bring up the pre-Super Bowl days when they were winning. Yankees fans love Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. Celtics fans love Bill Russell and Larry Byrd.

You get the idea. Fans remember the past fondly when there teams had a fond past. We’re all just supposed to never talk about the greatest team that ever played the game? We’re supposed to pretend it never happened? People who accuse certain fans of living in the past just aren’t fans of teams that were ever good.

Here’s the other thing. The Steelers fan base is not exactly shrinking. The average age of an American is 36.8 years old. That means the average American birthdate is 1978. That means the average American never saw Mean Joe Greene play, never saw Franco Harris make that catch, never saw Lynn Swann fly through the air, none of it.

Speaking anecdotally, the large majority of my friends, if not all of them, were born after any of the previously mentioned players were playing. A lot of them are Steelers fans. I don’t want to say we don’t care about it but it’s not a factor in the fanhood of the majority of Steelers fans.

When we think about the good old days we think of Jerome Bettis. That’s about as far back as it goes. So if anyone is living in the past, it’s people who hate Steelers fans.

I’ve even heard some people speak of the recent Super Bowls as the past. Ya, remember back when Ben Roethlisberger was throwing the ball to Heath Miller? When James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons were playing linebacker? Ramon Foster and Matt Spaeth were blocking and William Gay playing nickel? Way back when Mike Tomlin was the coach?

Ya, that was like a million years ago. Even still, I hear a lot more about Antonio Brown than Hines Ward, and more about Le’Veon Bell than Jerome Bettis.

For Steelers fans, we remember the past fondly because there are a lot of good things to remember, but we don’t live there. There’s no need to. There’s always something good on the horizon. So that one doesn’t jive. What’s next?

Fair Weather Fans

Fairweather fan, what does this even mean? Everyone is a fairweather fan. This is to some degree just a word people universally use to attack a fan base they don’t like. It’s meaningless. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few fans like that but those are typically the ones who don’t know anything about the game.

When your team is doing well, you celebrate it. When your team is not doing well, you are not celebrating. That doesn’t mean you are not a fan. It just means you react like a rational person to good and bad situations. I’ve never, even in the darkest days of the late 90s/early 00s, heard anyone deny being a Steelers fan.

Bottom line, the Steelers have sold out every game since 1972. Numbers don’t lie. Up, down, doesn’t matter. Sold out. If fair weather fan is even a real thing, it’s not in Pittsburgh. Next?


Do I even need to dignify this with a response? They’re towels. We spin them. It’s fun. Get over it.

Jan 3, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Lt. Colonel Scot Morgan of the 911th Airlift Wing waves a Terrible Towel as part of a veterans salute before the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Baltimore Ravens in the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A thousand years ago Myron Cope slayed a dragon and took from him his towel. He came down Mt. Washington in one giant leap. He swam across the Monongahela River. Then he punched the troll living under the bridge, guessed Rumpelstiltskin’s name, and took Snow White on a date and never called her again. He presented the city of Pittsburgh with his bounty, a towel. We told him that story was terrible.

Henceforth we would wave the Terrible Towel to honor his deeds. Or, maybe, it’s just fun. Atlanta chops, LA thundersticks, and Detroit throws an octopus. Come up with your own thing. It’s really not that big of a deal.

The Real Reason

The real reason Steelers fans are hated is because the people who don’t like the Steelers never truly have their day. They never truly get to be on top. They don’t get to have their moment in the sun, when they’re up there and we’re down there and we as Steelers fans congratulate them for being so awesome.

First, because that’s ridiculous.

Second, because the Steelers are never truly bad. If they are, it doesn’t last very long. The Steelers have at least been to one Super Bowl in 4 of the last 5 decades. So as soon as people who don’t like the Steelers start dancing on their graves, for example a few of the articles cited above, they turn around and go 8-4 or win their division.

Third, and this is really what I’m getting at, because Steelers fans have a combination of traits that make them difficult to pin down. One trait is that the Steelers fans, contrary to popular belief, actually have a very short memory. Sure, we love to throw out a “Six!” to make people mad, but Steelers fans take little comfort following a loss and little joy following a win from those six Super Bowl wins.

We’ll be quick to say Sixburgh to annoy some gloating Steeler hater, but we take no comfort from it, far less than we do from annoying an annoying person. Steelers fans just don’t dwell on last week’s loss or last week’s win. It’s a very what have you done for me lately culture.

Now, this isn’t always a good thing. The calls to fire Mike Tomlin, a coach who has been to two Super Bowls, won one, and never had a losing season were straight up and down insanity to me. You show me that resume and you can have 4 8-8 seasons before you’re even on the hot seat. It’s good to have high standards but let’s get a grip here. There’s a lot of teams for whom 8-8 is there dream not their nightmare.

Hey, I love democracy. I’m American after all. I could care less about the royal baby. But things like that make me grateful the Steelers are run by the Rooney dynasty. I’m patient for a Steeler fan but even I started to wonder about Todd Haley. I didn’t go Snoop Dogg on him but I was getting there. But this trait does not impact other fans, what does is this trait combined with the next one.

The second trait is realistic assessments. Steelers fans tend be just a hair pessimistic. They expect just less than what is probably objectively reasonable. Better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed. Steelers fans on average do not give credit where it is not due, and do where it is. Steelers fans are fairly avid. We often live and die with this little team. So we know all the details, all the stats.

The combination of these two traits, a short memory and realism, result in the following type of situation, which is the core of why some people are so annoyed with Steeler fans:

When the Steelers are good, when they’re rolling, Steelers fans know how, why, who, and they will argue with you about it until the very end. So naturally, Steeler haters are ready to pounce when the Steelers aren’t doing well.

But then when the Steelers are not doing well, Steelers fans are the first ones to point out how, why, and who. They are the first ones to trash the team. They know more about what sucks than the people who hate the Steelers.

CBS recently had Steelers fans as the third least optimistic according to data from Facebook following the week 1 loss. It’s odd data and an odd interpretation of it. Bottom line, Steelers fans are going to be negative after a loss. There’s no rubbing our noses in what we smelled first, we dealt it after all.

This goes for on and off the field. When Ben had his issues, polls said 61% of Steelers fans supported a trade. When Michael Vick was signed, Steelers fans were the first ones to be upset. When Santonio Holmes was let go for his issues, I don’t recall anyone making a fuss.

There’s just no satisfaction to be had from disliking the Steelers. When the Steelers are good we will tell you about it all day long. We will swing our towels and rattle off stats. When the Steelers suck, we’re the first to say it. But don’t think that will stop us from talking mess on your team, at the same time throwing a “Six Pack!” at you too.

This obviously leaves people who hate Steelers fans in this unending cycle of disappointment. Round and round they go. It is valley and ground level. There’s never a peak. Often they see a peak, and it turns out to be another valley.

People who hate Steelers fans are a bit like Wile E. Coyote. They’re mad and they want to get us. They’re waiting, scheming for the perfect opportunity. When it comes, they just wind up falling off a cliff or running into a painting of a tunnel. We just meep meep by without even realizing they are there. Because we just don’t care that they hate us. They’re just hurting themselves and we’re just darting around in our own little world.

So that’s my answer. You’ll never win with us. You’re never truly satisfied. We’re either invincible, or you’re trying to beat up a guy who is punching his own face. You lose or you draw. The Steelers are usually up, and we’ll tell you about it. When we’re down, we’re saying it before you get a chance. Then when you do, we’re already on the upswing again. It’s got to be frustrating.

But if you hate any team or any fan base, even Steelers fans if you’re in this group, do yourself a favor and get over it. Watching your team emerge from a dark time to be great is just about the funnest thing in sports. And rooting for a team to lose? That’s just sad. Watch sports, live life even, for love and not for hate. You’ll have a lot more fun that way.

Oh ya, one more thing…


Meep meep

Next: Can the Steelers win without Le'Veon Bell

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