Sportscasting: The Pittsburgh Connection
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Sunday, March 18, 2007
By Matt Savrock
Steelers Fever Columnist
Another season, another farewell tour for a Steelers Hall of Famer. And now, as everyone expected, another familiar face in the studio.
After 15 seasons on the Steelers sideline, The Chin has moved on to semi-retirement as a studio analyst for CBS. But Bill Cowher is far from the only black-and-gold great to embark on a second career in broadcasting. In fact, there are so many Pittsburgh sportscasters that Pittsburgh can claim to be the true center of the football media world.
In addition to Cowher, we have Jerome Bettis on NBC and Merrill Hoge on ESPN. Terry Bradshaw is a member of the Fox studio crew. Fellow Super Steeler Lynn Swann was a sideline reporter for many years on the Disney networks. Even Mark Malone and Neil O’Donnell have turned up on television, offering Sunday morning reports from game sites. In addition to the Steelers, there are hometown boys who made good with other teams, such as Dan Marino, Mike Ditka, along with non-athlete Len Pasquarelli. Even Jimmy Johnson, neither a Pittsburgher nor a Steeler, has some local flavor, having made a stop at Pitt during his coaching career.
Why does Pittsburgh have such a dominant presence in the football media? There are several factors.
1. Everybody loves a winner. The Steelers are the most successful franchise since the merger. The team boasts five Super Bowls, six Super Bowl appearances, 13 trips to the AFC Championship game, and 16 division titles, with only a handful of losing seasons.
2. National recognition. This is somewhat an extension of #1. The best-known players in the NFL are usually the stars from the best teams. The best teams get the most national exposure. They’re featured in the national telecasts instead of being relegated to regional coverage. They score guaranteed Monday night matchups (by making the playoffs the previous year) as well as Sunday night appearances (based on flex scheduling in the later part of the season). And the best exposure of all comes in the postseason, when every game has the national audience to itself. If you’re a good player for a good franchise, fans will become very familiar with you over the years.
3. The Steelers Nation. The networks want players with a broad-based geographic appeal, and Steelers fit the bill thanks to the team’s nationwide fan base. The mediocre Western Pennsylvania economy has led to a Pittsburgh diaspora that remains true to its Steelers loyalties. As a winning franchise, the Steelers have also built a following among fans that enjoy seeing local players make good. One of the best examples is Louisiana, where fans have been able to enjoy watching the pro careers of Steelers stars from Bradshaw to Louis Lipps to Kordell Stewart (when he was on) to LSU product Alan Faneca.
4. Blue-collar values. The NFL has seen the popularity of baseball and basketball decline due to a number of factors. Baseball has been harmed by the mercenary nature of the players (even by pro sports standards), the lack of competitive balance, and the tainting of the sport’s sacred numbers by cheaters. Basketball has been harmed by a somewhat exaggerated reputation for criminality and self-promotion at the expense of the team, as well as poor fundamentals.
In the NFL, both the owners and the players are concerned about the league’s image, which is why it cracks down on touchdown celebrations and trash talking. The union has been the driving force behind the steroids ban and now a proposed three-strikes rule for arrests.
The media takes more of a split approach, putting notorious trash talkers like Shannon Sharpe and Deion Sanders in the booth. But the networks also want to be all things to all people, so they balance those players with blue-collar, team-first, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust footballers. The Steelers are best known for their punishing defense and run-first offense. Thus they offer the perfect representation of that image, along with greats like Marino and Ditka, who are products of the local football culture.