The NFL couldn’t have picked a better primetime opponent for the Patriots to unveil their sixth Super Bowl banner against than the Steelers.
Up until the conclusion of Super Bowl 53, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the only NFL franchise that could claim six Lombardi Trophies… the most in history.
With the New England Patriots‘ victory over the Los Angeles Rams last February, the Patriots now can also claim six Lombardi Trophies… the most in history.
The Steelers and the Patriots open the 2019 regular season against one another on Sunday Night Football.
Maybe… but most likely not. In a league as savvy and financially-motivated as the NFL, there rarely are coincidences when it comes to scheduling games for TV audiences. Consider just how many primetime games popular squads like the Patriots, Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, and other classic teams seem to get scheduled year after year.
On the opposite end of the equation, how many times have you seen newer, less-competitive, or smaller-market teams, such as those from the two South divisions, “featured” on Thursday Night Football (Jaguars/Titans, Colts/Texans, Buccaneers/Panthers, etc)?
There could also be more to Patriots/Steelers than just the financial repercussions and the national popularity of both teams. What better opening opponent for a team that has come to symbolize dynastic winning and league-wide supremacy this century than the team that represented those very same ideals last century?
To top it all off, these two franchises do not like each other. Ever since the Patriots’ improbable road victory in the 2001 AFC Championship Game against the Steelers – sans Tom Brady – there has been bad blood between these conference juggernauts. It just feels like the Steelers have been the Patriots’ most frequent opponent outside their own division-mates these past 20 years, which has spawned a new and unique rivalry between the two clubs.
That said, the “rivalry” has been fairly one-sided in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. Including postseason matchups, New England owns a remarkable 11-4 record against Pittsburgh, per ProFootballReference. Though the Steelers did get the upper-hand on the Patriots last year at Heinz Field, New England ultimately got the last laugh by winning the Super Bowl… whereas Pittsburgh didn’t even make the playoffs.
Could all of this history, plus sharing the title of “winningest team in the Super Bowl era,” provide any influence in the Patriots’ creative plans when it comes to their pregame ceremony and banner unveiling?
Let’s hope so.
New England president Jonathan Kraft seemed to allude to the possibility of a particularly special event, given the identity of the Patriots’ opponent on the opposite side of the field come September 8. Here’s what he had to say about the ceremony, taken from a radio interview with WEEI on Wednesday per Ryan Hannable:
"“It will be a fun night. We look forward to a lot of energy. It’s nice to open up with the Steelers, too, because obviously between our two clubs over the last couple decades that’s been a real rivalry. The banner ceremony should be great and it should be a great football game to kickoff the season.”"
Of course, the Patriots could very well choose to take the high road and ignore all the juicy possibilities that lie before them in such a matchup.
But here’s hoping that even if they don’t choose to rub the Steelers’ noses in their record-tying achievement through the pregame banner ceremony, they at least do it through the actual game itself by thoroughly pulverizing their competition… as has become tradition.