Pittsburgh’s never been an easy place to play, but Ben Roethlisberger wants his city and his home field to channel its immediate history and become the most feared stadium in the league.
“I expect it and hope it’ll be sold out, loud, crazy. You know, we need to bring back that home-field, Heinz Field mystique, if you will,” Roethsliberger told reporters of his expectations for the Steelers‘ upcoming home opener against the Vikings, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. “It was always that way when I first got here, the first few years when I was here and not saying we’ve lost it, but teams need to fear coming into Heinz Field. One, because of the fans and the craziness and two, because of our play.”
This is a fine call to arms, or yellow handtowels, from the Steelers‘ figurehead, but asking Pittsburgh fans to recapture the “mystique” of a stadium less than two decades old is an odd request at face value.
After all, Heinz Field only just opened in 2001, replacing Three Rivers Stadium, a cookie-cutter monstrosity home to revered Steelers and Pittsburgh Pirates championship teams. Since Heinz’s debut, the Steelers have made the postseason 11 times and hosted 12 playoff games, including three conference championship games. Just last year, Pittsburgh put an absolute beatdown on the South Beach Dolphins in the wild-card game, getting out to a 20-3 lead within 20 minutes of gameplay in 17 degree weather and 16 mph winds.
Pittsburgh’s dominance at home isn’t just a postseason phenomenon. Since Roethlisberger’s assumption of the starting QB position in 2004, he is 70-22 at home. That’s a home-field advantage in that span only bested by the likes of Tom Brady‘s Patriots and Peyton Manning’s Colts and Broncos.
If there is a mystique to Heinz Field, a 17-year-old venue that, compared to its predecessor, barely feels lived in and has continuously hosted high-stakes contests, did it ever leave? But we’re getting sidetracked by semantics here.
What Big Ben likely means is that the Steelers, and the fans to some intangible extent, have to protect their house better. Pittsburgh hasn’t won more than six regular-season home games in a season since 2011, which to some organizations, like their Week 1 victims in Cleveland — whose stadium Roethlisberger already “owns” — might sound like crying over spilled condiments. But for a franchise like the Steelers, which has annual playoff and first-round bye aspirations, taking care of business at home is a necessity if the team is to avoid heading to Foxborough, Kansas City or the Black Hole this January.