The Cowboys face longtime rival Pittsburgh Steelers this afternoon at the vaunted … Heinz Field. And by vaunted, I mean, “wha?” (The legendary Three Rivers Stadium has apparently been torn down and replaced by Ketchup Stadium. Who knew?)
The bad blood with the Steelers dates back to the earliest days of the Cowboys history.
In the 1950s, the NFL considered putting a team in Dallas, but Steelers owner Art Rooney (pictured above) said hell to the no. Texas redneck crackers are too racist to support a football team with black athletes, he told fellow owners.
A decade would pass before Texas rich guy Lamar Hunt introduced the Cowboys to Dallas in 1960. And wouldn’t you know it – the team’s first game was against Rooney’s Steelers. The Cowboys lost 35-28 and went winless that inaugural season.
But the next year, the Cowboys faced the Steelers in the season opener and prevailed 27-24. The Cowboys would go on to wonderful things in the 1960s, including playing in two championship games. The Steelers went on a decade-long slide that culminated with a 1-13 record in 1969.
The seeds of jealousy were planted in a city that was being turned upside down. Pittsburgh residents were beginning their long winter of inconsequential existence that still casts its pallid shadow over that apocalyptic burgh. The United States led the world in steel production beginning in the mid-1800s, with Pittsburgh ground zero for mills. That changed in the 1970s as China took over, followed by Europe and Japan. Domestic production fell off. Pittsburgh lost mills and jobs. The townspeople suffered.
Decades earlier, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie had insisted that the city be built entirely of steel. Even the trees. Cutting firewood required a welder, which most residents could no longer afford. People froze to death. Cannibalism became commonplace. Only the strongest, most crazed people survived, spawning the evolution of a fierce, half-human, half-creature species known as Pittroglodytes. Jack Lambert was the poster boy.
Pittroglodytes became the most obsessed and insane football fans in the world. The object of their frothing hatred? The thing they most despised and wanted to kill and eat even more than their next door neighbors’ children? The Dallas Cowboys.
A recent essay by Pittroglodyte turned Fort Worth Weekly Editor Anthony Mariani explains how Dallas represented everything that his Blade Runner city could never be: cosmopolitan, thriving, warm, wealthy, and with trees made of wood.
Pittroglodytes envied our pretty women. Pittsburgh’s “scale of looks” only goes to 5, while most bathroom scales sold in the city go to 500 or more. The NFL forbids the Steelers from having cheerleaders.
They envied our tans. Our accents. Our white teeth. Or really just our teeth.
They envied our education. The smartest guy on their team was Terry Bradshaw. The Steelers QB was once asked to spell “cat” and couldn’t, meaning he was immediately embraced by Nashville and signed to a record deal.
Pittroglodytes envied our global adulation. Aaron Spelling tried to create a TV series about Pittsburgh in the 1970s but the smog was so thick, every scene had to be written as if a fire was burning nearby. Gave the scriptwriters fits. Worse, the residents kept eating crew members. The production moved to North Texas, and Dallas became the most popular TV show of the 1970s.
The Cowboys became America’s Team while going to Super Bowls in 1970 and 1971.
The Steelers began playing better against weaker competition after being moved to the patsy AFL. Finally, the Steelers bumbled into a Super Bowl appearance in 1975 against the heroic Cowboys.
Naturally, Cowboys players didn’t take the Steelers seriously. Why would they? The Cowboys didn’t even bother changing out of their street clothes before the game. Roger Staubach, wearing penny loafers, slipped on the turf and threw an interception in the end zone on what should have been the game-winning touchdown. Steelers won 21-17.
The nation mourned.
The Cowboys bounced back and won the Super Bowl in 1977, beating the Denver Broncos 27-10. Statisticians didn’t bother to record Steelers wins and losses that season.
In 1978, the Steelers clung to their near-relevance even as their hometown continued its freefall into economic, social, and cultural hell. The team limped into the Super Bowl, facing – who else? – America’s Team. Pittsburgh’s petty jealousies had escalated into a full-scale Pittroglodyte fury by game time.
The cultured Cowboys had trouble playing against what amounted to man-beasts forged on a steady diet of pig iron, steroids, Iron City Beer, and hate. The Steelers won 35-31.
Again, a nation wept.
Well, except for people in Pittsburgh: “Super Bowls X and XIII weren’t just games,” Mariani wrote in his essay. “They were battles between good and evil, between all that was right about America (hard work, humility, commitment, devotion, community) and all that was going terribly wrong (glitz, glamour, fashion, easy money, fast living).”
Justice always triumphs, Mariani. The Cowboys would become the Team of 1990s. The Steelers would become the iron ore of precious gemstones.
Mariani claims that the Cowboys have been stuck in mediocrity for the past 20 years. He theorizes that the Steelers have won more Super Bowls. But he offers no credible evidence to support his hypotheses. Even if his claims could be substantiated, it’s all ancient history.
Off Asides lives in the here and now, a beautiful place where the Cowboys are entrenched atop the NFC East with a 7-1 record, while the Steelers tread water at 4-4. Still, the Steel Curtain is a tough bunch, and they are better than their record. Starting QB Ben Roethslisberger missed a few games due to injury but is back and will provide tough competition today.
The game is being played in Pittsburgh. Television cameras show thousands of hunched-back Pittroglodytes shuffling into Heinz Field, snarling at the ushers. The fans drool so much they are issued yellow towels to wipe their mouths during games. It’s like a National Geographic special on mutants. I pray that the Cowboys can grab a win and get out of there without being bitten or otherwise infected.
The Cowboys get the opening kickoff and drive to midfield before QB Dak Prescott fumbles. The Steelers recover. Their yellow and black uniforms make them look like bumblebees. Roethlisberger uses long snap counts to give him time to pollinate his center’s sphincter before each play. It works. The Steelers score a touchdown (but miss the extra point) to take a 6-0 lead.
The Cowboys, however, rank third in the league in defending against pollination. They battle back. The first half ends with the Steelers clinging to a 15-13 lead.
The second half is the most exciting I’ve seen the Cowboys play in two years. After seven lead changes, the Cowboys clinch the game with a Zeke Elliott sprint up the middle for the winning TD. Cowboys 35, Steelers 30.
As the Cowboys team plane heads home, the players take one last look out their windows at poor Pittsburgh and see a large orange glow. The Pittroglodytes are burning down Ketchup Stadium and eating each other. Looks like this jealousy thing is only going to get worse.