It was the 1994 preseason. The Steelers were playing some team at old Three Rivers Stadium—it doesn’t matter who.
Any who, I didn’t see this particular game live. Nope, I was enjoying life as a 22-year-old and missed the whole thing. I did catch the highlights on the news the next day and was struck by something I had witnessed—a familiar sight from the recent past.
Mike Tomczak, a veteran backup quarterback who the Steelers had acquired prior to the 1993 campaign, made a hardnosed run that gained a lot of yards. Just about everyone in attendance at TRS stood up and cheered wildly for Tomczak as he was being helped to his feet. But it was more than just applause, you see. It “felt” like a repudiation of all things Neil O’Donnell, the Steelers' primary quarterback over the previous three seasons. I can’t remember what I muttered to myself at that moment, but it was something along the lines of, “You jerks! Here we go again with this crap!”
That’s right, long before Super Bowl XXX and Larry Brown, Steelers fans had decided that O’Donnell simply didn’t have what it took to be a quarterback in the NFL; much like with Mark Malone a half-decade earlier, once the fans formed this opinion, they refused to ever allow O’Donnell back into their good graces.
Fast forward to Saturday night and the Steelers 2022 preseason opener against the Seahawks at Acrisure Stadium. Mason Rudolph entered the game in place of Mitch Trubisky, the veteran quarterback who piloted the first two offensive series in his Steelers’ debut—including one that resulted in a touchdown on the opening possession—before calling it a night.
How was Rudolph greeted by those in attendance, a fanbase that has always insisted that hatred has nothing to do with the criticisms of the fifth-year quarterback out of Oklahoma State? By booing him rather loudly, so loudly that it was obvious to everyone—including Rudolph, who was asked about it after the game.