Those of you who might only be familiar with him from his work with Tony Kornheiser on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” can rest assured that Michael Wilbon is one of the best sports writers of his age. He does his homework, he sticks to the facts, his opinions (agree or disagree with them) are always well formed, and his writing rarely fails to captivate.
Michael Wilbon is one of the few writers that I read simply for the sake of wanting to know what he has to say. (Having lived the bulk of my life in the Maryland suburbs, I cannot count the number of times I have read his columns thinking, “If only the Pittsburgh press corps had someone of his caliber…” although Gene Collier is an excellent writer in his own right.)
Defining the NFL's "Ruling Class" of the 21st Century
Which makes Wilbon’s column in Tuesday’s Washington Post all the more grating.
It’s titled, “NFL’s Upper Curst is a Shell of Itself,” and as you might expect, Wilbon devotes his attention to the woes that have befallen the NFL’s “Ruling Class,” or the Patriots, Cowboys, Colts, and Chargers to be specific.
Wilbon delves into the details of how the Patriots are faltering, the Cowboys are self-destructing, and the Colts and Chargers are thus far underachieving. No argument there.
What Steel Curtin Rising takes issue with is contention that: “The best two teams of the decade, the Patriots and Colts, appear ready to be overtaken.”
How did the Colts and Patriots ascend to the status of being the best two teams of the first decade of the millennium?
It is not too early to crown the Patriots as the team of the decade. They’ve appeared in four Super Bowls, won three of them and repeated once. Given the difficulty of consistently fielding a competitive team in this era of free agency, you can make a strong argument that the Patriots should stake the sole claim to the “team of the decade” title.
But if you are going to add to the list, why stop at the Colts?
Aren’t We Forgetting Someone?
What about the Steelers?
Led by Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy, the Colts have represented themselves well by winning:
- 89 regular season games
- Five division titles and making two other playoff appearances
In postseason play, they’ve netted 7 wins and six losses, appeared in two conference championships, and of course bagged the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLI.
How do the Steelers Stack Up?
During the first decade of the 21st Century, the Steelers have:
- Won 82 games
- Four division titles, supplemented by one other wild card playoff appearance.
If the the Steelers have made fewer playoff apperances than Indy, the postseason is also the place where the Steelers begin to get separation from the Colts. In the playoffs they’ve succeded in:
- Matching the Colts’ postseason win total of seven,
- Losing two fewer games
- Appearing in three conference championship games
And of course in 2005 the Steelers became the only team to vanquish four straight teams on the road was they were in route to winning their fifth Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl XL.
What About Head to Head?
The teams have only played three times in this decade.
- The Steelers won the regular season match up in 2002,
- Lost in the regular season in 2005
However, the Steelers returned to the Hooiser Dome in the 2005 playoffs, during the year when the Colts were annointed as "the team of destiny," and upset the Colts, knocking them out of the playoffs.
Unintentional Most Certainly, but A Slight Just the Same
Was Wilbon’s slight of the Steelers intentional? Most likely it was completely unintentional, as he has written a lot of good things about the Steelers through the years.
But that’s the point.
For so long the national media’s discussion of “who is on top” has centered around “Colts vs. Patriots,” “Manning vs. Brady,” and, to a lesser extent “Belichick vs. Dungy,” so its not a surprise when the press corps gets caught up in its own hype.
But any discussion of decade dominance that extends beyond the Patriots clearly must include the Steelers.
And someone of Michael Wilbon's caliber should not need to be reminded of that.