Tuck's Takes: Steelers fans are unquestionably best in the NFL
Jaguars game most recent example of Steeler Nation's excellence
It's not news when a player tells his wife he might retire
The Plaxico Burress-Giants saga is heading nowhere good
The news out of Jacksonville Monday morning that approximately 25 percent of the fans for Sunday night's Steelers-Jags contest were waving yellow Terrible Towels came as no surprise to me. The Steelers have the most dominant fan base in the National Football League and their ability to consistently travel, en masse, and infest other team's stadiums gives the Steelers a competitive advantage that no other franchise can claim.
For the record, I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania, was an Eagles fan during my youth and subsequently played for five NFL squads that were not located in Pittsburgh, so I have no allegiance whatsoever to the Steelers or their fans. I just call it like I see it.
Seemingly minutes within signing with a new team, a player will be told by someone within the organization that, unequivocally, they have the best fans in the world. And though there are thousands of die-hard fans in Green Bay, Washington, Dallas, Buffalo, Cleveland, New England, and every other NFL city, the simple truth is very evident to every player in the NFL: Steelers fans are the best in the business.
My thoughts on NFL fans were confirmed in a recent straw poll of a couple active players who said the Steelers fans far and away do the best job of taking away a home team's advantage. None of the players wanted to state their feelings publicly and disenchant their own fans, and for good reason, but the fact remains there is nothing quite as powerful in the NFL as Steeler Nation.
I realized this for the first time in 2004, while playing for a resurgent Bills team that was one win away from a playoff berth. Running out of the home tunnel and seeing the smattering of Terrible Towels and black and yellow in the stands was disheartening. The Steelers had already clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, so this final regular season game was meaningless to them, yet their fans had made the trip in droves.
Though playing at home doesn't assure a team a victory, there are typically four significant advantages to playing in the friendly confines. There is no travel involved. The field and facility are familiar. The players can certainly feed off the energy of the home crowd. The noise can make it difficult for the opposing team's offense to call audibles or utilize the snap count to their advantage. Ask any offensive tackle how much fun it is blocking elite rushers on a silent cadence. They flat-out detest it.
The significant presence of Steelers fans in opposing stadiums, whether they are Steel City transplants or folks who traveled in for the game, effectively eliminates the last two advantages. It is difficult to feed off the energy of the home crowd when you look up in the stands and see that a significant portion of the crowd is actually cheering for the other team. Plus, the noise is not nearly as deafening when less than 80 percent of the fans in the stands are screaming in unison.
All of this adds up to the Steelers having a significant competitive advantage based upon their fans' ability to partially, if not completely, eliminate some of the basic reasons teams are so happy to play at home in the first place.
I know exactly what everyone is going to write in their e-mails to me. First, people are going to comment on the Jags having arguably the worst fans in the NFL, and I will not dispute that in the slightest. People in Jacksonville would probably be more excited to watch an SEC clash between Kentucky and Vanderbilt. But it is not just Jacksonville. Seemingly, no stadium is truly immune to the Steelers culture.
Secondly, I am well aware that the Packers, Raiders, Cowboys and Redskins, just to name a few, have great fans who pop up in away stadiums every time their team is on the road. Trust me, it does not compare to Steelers fans. I have played for some of those teams and it is not even close. The Steelers have the best fans in the NFL.
(Have a beef with Tuck's Take on Steeler Nation? Share your thoughts here.)
Time to retire retirement talk
Am I the only one who doesn't understand the buzz about Kurt Warner and an impending retirement? On a number of levels, the hoopla surrounding what apparently started as an innocent text message to his wife, Brenda, is disconcerting. So Kurt got a little scared after Anquan Boldin got nailed by the Jets' Eric Smith and relayed those concerns to his wife. Big deal. I have no problem with that, but then things got a little carried away.
Warner told the story to a national columnist, who relayed the anecdote in a story that all of a sudden got picked up as national news. If it became breaking news every time a guy told his wife that he was going to quit football, or told a brother that he wanted to play for a different team, or told a friend that he was unhappy about his playing time, there would be no other news to report. The point is NFL players are human and they say things in the heat of the moment or in passing all the time, and it does not necessarily mean that it is breaking news.
I don't think Warner was wrong in telling the story, though I certainly think his contention that he would have retired had Boldin suffered a more serious injury was a bit melodramatic. Would he have really let down the other 52 guys on the roster and all of the coaches? I highly doubt it.
Warner knows this is a rough sport, and I think the combination of his poor performance and Boldin's hit was too much for him on that day. That is understandable. I am perplexed, however, that Kurt can talk about retirement so freely when it wasn't very long ago that he was clamoring for a new contract. The timing is peculiar, at a minimum.
I smell trouble brewing in the near future with the New York Giants. The Giants have shown a tremendous resiliency over the last 10 months, but I fear their fortitude will be tested again by Plaxico Burress.
The recently suspended wideout has shown no remorse for missing practice and has repeatedly said he has no regrets for his actions, citing that family comes first. Nobody in the Giants organization has a problem with Burress' family coming first, but they really need some accountability from him. A phone call, heck, even a text message, would have sufficed.
Burress has reportedly been fined 40 or 50 times during his tenure with the Giants, which suggests this is a serious problem. Burress himself admitted to having an issue with time. He also correctly stated it is not and has not been an issue for him on the field, and his production the last season and a half has been exceptional.
The good news for the Giants is that the team rallied without him and supported coach Tom Coughlin's move 100 percent. The bad news is this kind of divisiveness can eat away at a team and become a constant distraction. That would be tough for any team to overcome, but even more so for the Giants in the media capital of the world.