By Jason Keidel
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Like most of you I eschew the NFL until I see a signed contract and some action, a touchdown or tackle or snot-splashing block. Yes, I’m unafraid to admit that pro football’s appeal is in its barbarism, the symphony of violence orchestrated by perfectly conditioned beasts, carnivores whose goal is to render the running back unconscious.

But I like to think I have a soft side, which was singed by something Mike Francesa said yesterday. Say what you like about Mike, the man knows football. And he was right. My Pittsburgh Steelers – yes, I refer to them in the collective – are interested in Tiki Barber. Worse, it seems my coach Mike Tomlin talked Tiki out of retirement.

My fingers pounded the keyboard to verify. Yes, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King reported in June that Pittsburgh was Barber’s likely destination. And other, hard-wired Steelers Web sites confirmed that Barber was indeed Tomlin’s boy.

I held the Steelers in high regard because they won and did so without the pomp so prevalent in society. The NFL diversified under the Rooney Rule (named after the patriarch of my team), and walked the walk by hiring a highly qualified black man to coach the black and gold. The six Super Bowls don’t hurt, either. Thankfully, all reports indicate that the Rooney family is ardently against taking Tiki into the fold, which means Coach Tomlin has some hard selling to do.

I brand myself a Bradshaw Baby, weaned on Mean Joe Green. While your walls were lathered with Thurman or Seaver, my 1970s man (or kid) cave was covered with Steelers, from the aforementioned legends to Franco Harris and Lynn Swann. Pick a position and you found a Hall of Famer on those teams.

And my first dose of sporting reality was watching Harris in a Seahawks uniform. Life wasn’t the same after that.

But as you cling to your Derek Jeter Dementia, I too held to a delusion, buried in the folds of my small brain…that I can still bleed black and gold because, even though Chuck Noll held onto the old, cold salt for too long, the Steelers wore the crown of nobility. No matter what our record was, I could still hold the moral high ground. We were a team of character.

Simply, we were not the Cincinnati Bengals – the NFL’s de fact halfway house. (The Raiders once wore that crown down the decades, when Al Davis was lucid and his Member’s Only jumpsuit was warranted.)

I still try to deny it, that my team covets Tiki Barber, the aging pimp who pulled off an improbable exacta: lost the love of all Giants fans and got himself fired from a job specifically created for him at NBC. Yes, my cherished Pittsburgh Steelers want to sign the backbiting, coach and quarterback killing Barber, who, at 36, is a third-down back at best.

Before you bring up Big Ben, we all know there’s a longstanding exemption for star quarterbacks, no matter how myopic it is. Any stud under center gets a pass on all perpetrations short of a felony conviction. And Ben wasn’t even arrested for either transgression, from his Nevada fiasco to his turn of spin the bottle in a Georgia bathroom with a 20-year-old girl. His trysts and turns are inelegant, not illegal. He’s a creep, but he’s my creep.

Sure, I’d prefer Charlie Batch to QB my team to a title. But Batch, who has ten-times Ben’s character, has one-tenth of Ben’s talent. And hence I understand Pittsburgh’s reticence to jettison their star player. And they were smart enough to whack Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes before something disastrous derailed the franchise.

But for Mike Tomlin, a man who clearly gets it, to covet a man who clearly doesn’t, is baffling beyond words.

Writers are a romantic bunch, glued to silly notions like karma and loyalty and the good old days. I lost New York City sometime in the 1990s, this gentrified garbage they call Manhattan, under the guise of good business. They’ve jackhammered neighborhoods into extinction, with bodegas replaced by Rite-Aids and local taverns and blues bars replaced by Whole Foods. New York City is now just a glorified cadre of condos and pharmacies. I don’t know exactly when Times Square became Disneyland. But I do know when I lost my Steelers, when I will suffer – to quote Don Henley – the end of the innocence. The moment my team signs Tiki.

Maybe this is karma. Maybe this completes the catharsis. Maybe your Derek Dementia was so disturbing because it reminded me of, well, me.

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What would you tell Keidel if the Steelers sign Barber? Sound off below…

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