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Reversing the Field

Fans reveal sports heroes on the other side of the ball

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John Lennon said all you need is love, which proves he was never a football fan. American football is a grave matter. It is a serious game played with rage and attention to minutiae. The object is not merely to win, but to impose one's will on the opponent, to punch him in the mouth, put a hat on and hit somebody, for crying out loud. Football's very essence breeds blood feuds and ill will. As Tina Turner might have said to Lennon, what's love got to do with it?

Of course, we here in the confines of the confluence "love" our guys: Ben and Hines, Troy and Casey. Heck, we love them so much that surnames are superfluous.

Which got me to thinking: Are we all so partisan as to have knee-jerk animosity for the rest of the NFL? Are there any players in the NFL that Steelers fans actually like or admire even if they don't suit up in the black and gold? Is there anybody we kind of root for, despite their franchise affiliations?

I turned to a panel of handpicked experts, folks who probably spend too much time thinking about football -- bloggers. And as it turns out, the answer is yes: We support players who most resemble, well, the Steelers.

As "Still Mill," one of the posters at Stillers.com, writes in an e-mail, "We generally have a grudging admiration for any player that consistently exhibits toughness, hustle, effort, teamwork, and clutch performance that we expect from our very own Stillers."

Some NFL stalwarts turned up on multiple blogger lists. Safeties were popular. The Colts' diminutive, game-changing, human tackle-clinic Bob Sanders is universally respected.

So is Brian Dawkins, the heart and soul of his team, who epitomizes the aggressive, attacking defense of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher showed up on a couple of lists, including mine. (I don't often look around the league and think, "Yeah, I wouldn't mind if that guy coached my team," as I do with Fisher.) No doubt, longevity in Tennessee -- he's been there since 1994 -- appeals to Steelers fans, as does the fact that he was a contemporary of Bill Cowher's in their playing days. Fisher is a steady hand, his players show up ready every week and, when the Titans front office badly mismanaged the cap, he kept the team together. Not everybody admires Fisher, though. The proprietor of Pittsburgh Sports and Mini Ponies (psamp.blogspot.com) can't quite give up his animus toward the Titans from their years as AFC Central rival to the Steelers.

Despite his affiliation with the despicable Bengals, Chad Johnson showed up on just about everybody's list. "In the Trenches" of Stillers.com has more reason to despise the Bengals than most: His wife is a huge fan. Despite that, he, like most of us, respects Johnson's playing style and joie de vivre. "He's tremendously talented and has shown great toughness as a receiver," he concedes. "In addition, despite his propensity for the limelight, he is entertaining and fun-loving, not pompous or annoying."

Blogger Bernard McCrory is often enamored of players with great names -- not surprising, considering the whimsical name of his site: joeyporterspitbulls.blogspot.com. Players like New York Giant tackle Guy Whimper or Richie Incognito, guard for the Rams, dot his list, along with players with outstanding nicknames, such as Seattle's Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack or Flozel "The Hotel" Adams, of the Cowboys.

A player I've always respected is Troy Brown, of the malignant New England Patriots. Brown's got a small-school pedigree (Marshall), where he helped lead his team to a 1-AA championship in 1992. And more to the heart of the matter, he is "one of the most admirable NFL players in the past decade," agrees Still Mill. "The guy unselfishly played two ways, which is unheard of in the past 30 years, and he's been a total team player."

Fantasy-league superstar LaDanian Tomlinson made the list, partially for his candor at his pressers and his palpable disappointment and bitterness after losses. Also, as Nick of psamp.com pointed out, "He went to TCU. He wasn't a Longhorn or a Gator or a Trojan or a member of the Crimson Tide. He was [a] Horned Frog. Enough said."

At the end of the day, a stream of characteristics runs through all of these guys -- they are all team guys first, excelling in a desire to win and lacking the instinct to whine. They seem to simply love playing, and that makes them a joy for us to watch. Except when they're playing Pittsburgh.

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