Do Two Premier Franchises a Rivalry Make?

When you guys and gals are reading this on Friday, I will be fortunate enough to be on my way to London. So, if you have all these pent up comments to write about me or wish to lambast my idiocy, now's the time. Comment away!

International travel (and man of mystery!) aside, I wanted to do a quasi preview of Monday's game and a quasi rivalry post. Ever since the Cowboys game, I have gotten really into writing these rivalry posts. They are a lot of fun and I get to indulge in childhood memories as I search for universal truth about sports, family, and life.

So, essentially writing one is like getting in an inflatable jump house with Socrates and Descartes that's filled with Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering cards. Oh yeah, and Linkin Park is blaring from my CD player.

So, when the esteemed Mr. Fooch suggested that I write up a rivalry style post for this week, I was pretty excited. A rivalry post about two teams that aren't really rivals!, I thought, how will I ever accomplish this? Well, as it turns about, there are a couple of ways to do it: one is personal and one is motivated by jealousy (so also personal). Stay tuned to find out.

The first time the 49ers and the Steelers ever player was in 1951. The Steelers beat the 49ers 28-24. I'm not going to look up anything else about that game because I don't want to see how many times the 49ers scored a Touchdown while they were in the Redzone. Also, I want to pretend that Tim Tebow was the QB and that when he threw the ball 15 times in the game, it was groundbreaking.

This first game between the two teams is a pretty good indication of what was to come between these two teams: not much. According to The Football Database, the 49ers have a 10-9 series lead over the Steelers, even though the Steelers have outscored the Niners 401-371.

This isn't unreasonable. I mean, the two franchises have storied histories, but they are in different conferences and on opposite ends of the country. Rather, where this rivalry comes into play is a tension between the similarities of their histories. Both teams achieved Super Bowl landmarks.

***

My Great-Great-Grandfather on my mother's side was an Italian immigrant who moved to America and worked in a coal mine. Naturally he gravitated to Pennsylvania. My family has strong ties to Pittsburg and the Steelers.

In fact, my entire mother's side of the family is made up of Steelers fans. My grandmother has like a billion terrible towels. I don't think I have ever seen her as boisterous as she is during a Pittsburg Super Bowl. The recent loss to the Packers? They lost only because she wasn't cheering loud enough. My eardrums disagree.

The first time I realized my mom's side of the family was such Steelers fans was when I was six years old. Pittsburg was playing the Cowboys for all the marbles. It's one of my earliest Super Bowl memories. My mom made what she calls "Super Bowl Sandwiches." They are Super Bowl delicious!

I was ready to cheer for the Steelers. At this point in time, my dad had already had me rooting against the Cowboys. Moreover, at the time, my aunt (on my mom's side, of course) was dating a Cowboy fan. I remember liking the guy, but thinking his football persuasion was ... obnoxious.

A part of me was conflicted, however. In my family, there had developed a sort of East vs. West / AFC vs. NFC rivalry. At the root of it all were the Steelers vs. the Niners.

It may not be a big rivalry for most sports fans, but in my family there was always a playful tension. Maybe it fed off of the whole in-law tension in all families (though we have assimilated into one big, happy family quite well) or maybe it is just the natural and nondescript thing that sports bring out in people. Either way, I am glad it did. I have always enjoyed it and it has brought my grandparents and me closer.

***

The game of the largest importance for the 49ers directly is probably the 1984 game against the Steelers.

In case you guys don't know, the 49ers have won lots and lots of Super Bowls. In 1984, they were en route to winning one. In fact, they were en route to going completely undefeated. And they would have to, if it weren't for those meddling kids and their pesky dog!

But seriously, they would have if it weren't for the Steelers.

Joe Montana had a horrible day, granted, going 24-34 for 241 yards and a pick. Okay, so he had an average Alex Smith day, but that's horrible for Joe. He did rush for a TD. I would like to imagine that he did so by mind controlling all of his opponents so that they missed numerous tackles as he purposefully ran in slow motion, golden locks peeking out from under his helmet. Oh yeah, the football is on fire, but it's blue colored fire. And, a lone woman sings an epic, yet understated, song in the background.

All pro-football-reference says is that he rushed for a seven yard TD. So, yeah...

On the other side of the ball, the Steelers put together a nice game. Their back up QB (yeah, a back up is what put the perfect season out of reach) Mark Malone when 11-18 for 156 with a TD and an INT.

More importantly, Frank Pollard, the Steelers RB, ran for 105 yards on 24 attempts. His long was only 14 yards too, so that shows how well the Steelers were controlling the ball. This rushing attack was supplemented by the famous and totally worth losing to duo of Rich Erenberg and Walter Abercrombie. They combined for 67 yards on 19 attempts and a TD for Mr. Richie Rich.

In looking back at this game, I find two aspects of it to be just absolutely frustrating. First, the Niners should have killed the Steelers. Murder, even. Bloody and icky murder of old West proportions. Red Dead Redemption style. The Steelers were en route to a 9-7 limp into the playoffs, where Miami would slaughter them 45-28 (albeit in the AFC Championship game).

Secondly, the Steelers handed over the ball to Joe with 1:42 remaining. Oh yeah, they led 20-17. Joe wins this game in his sleep and he did his job, marching the 49ers down to the 20 yard line. But, because David Akers was only ten years old, the 49ers had to rely upon Ray Wersching to miss the 37 yard field goal.

Bummer.

***

What really makes the 49ers and Steelers a possible rivalry? Again, I don't think they are a rivalry in the truest sense, but to be frank, I am still jealous of them a bit. It's not that they beat the Niners in 1984. I mean, I wasn't even alive for that. It's not that my family has a bit of a back and forth going on. Usually, I even root for the Steelers because of it.

No, I'm jealous because the 49ers were the first to five Super Bowl titles while the Steelers were the first to six.

Petty? Absolutely. Am I going to ever stop being jealous until the 49ers have seven titles? Hell no. Pettiness suits me as a sports fan. I would like to define my fandom by what my team does on the field, and I do for sure, but sometimes I define it by what I don't want other teams to do.

I surely didn't want the Steelers to beat the Cardinals. And to be honest, I didn't want the Cardinals to win either. I really dislike them.

But, at the end of the day, I was able to swallow my pettiness with a bite of Super Bowl Sandwiches and be happy for and with my Grandparents. They have been able to watch the Steelers their entire lives and having their team meet a measure of success in their old age is heartwarming. It was fun to celebrate with them.

In retrospect, that was a good Super Bowl for them. My grandmother almost disowned the Steelers after Big Ben's ... extracurricular activities. She has grudgingly come back to the team now, I think because she really does love football.

So yeah, I'm jealous. And yes, there is a family rivalry for me this Monday, but I don't think any of us should ignore the strong history these two teams share, even if it never brought us into direct rivalry-hood.

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