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Second to the Saints: Are the Steelers an Acceptable Alternate?

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On a global scale, countries often develop alliances with each other based on such mutual interests as national security, trade and commerce, cultural ties and humanitarian projects. Businesses form partnerships as they work together to meet the market demand of the goods and services they are offering. As various shared circumstances lead to international and business relationships, can the same be said for NFL fan bases?

If so, do Saints fans have a consensus second favorite team, and what factors determine who that second favorite team is? It is routine for fans to cheer hard for opposing teams late in the regular season if it positively affects their own team's playoff chances or seeding, but the incentive behind that is always about the benefit of your own team, and not because of a genuine appreciation for a competitor. Betting and fantasy football are also a big reason to pull for opposing teams in other games they play, but in reality you are actually cheering for your "wallet" and not a sometimes opponent.

Regionalism plays a big a factor how college football fans cheer for and follow teams other than their own, but can the same be true in the NFL? During the Southeastern Conference regular season, fans adopt a take-no-prisoners approach towards destroying their rivals. However, when the regular season concludes and the bowl season begins, showing conference pride becomes a compliment to cheering for your own team, as the cries of "SEC! SEC!" can be heard loud and clear over the television at the moment victory becomes assured for Southeastern Conference teams against their bowl game opponents.

This strong sense of regional pride doesn't seem to translate as well into the NFL though. Maybe its because the players aren't actually from the areas they represent as they generally are in college football I just can't see Saints fans offering best wishes for postseason success to the other NFC South teams. Even if God forbid the Saints did not make the playoffs and would not be affected then by what the Falcons, Buccaneers and Panthers do in the postseason.

If Saints fans did a survey on who their second favorite team is, my guess is it would be the Pittsburgh Steelers. With its blue collar image, black and gold jerseys, and highly passionate fan base, it is easy to identify similarities between the Steelers and Saints-and the towns they represent. There are obviously great differences between Pittsburgh and New Orleans, but from a football fan comparison scale you can just about say that Pittsburgh is New Orleans North, even though the Steelers have won six Lombardi Trophies to the Saints one.

Another common denominator between the Steelers and Saints is they have each found themselves in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's doghouse for not exactly following the rules of good sportmanship that the NFL wants to show it projects. Goodell has fined Steelers bad boy linebacker James Harrison heavily fines multiple times for leading with the helmet, while the giving the Saints more severe individual and team and individual penalties for the alleged intent to injure opposing players and the cover up that followed it. Different consequences, but the Saints and Steelers have each felt Goodell's heavy hand of discipline for getting a "D" in conduct.

The Steelers have also historically had a strong Louisiana presence on their roster. Shreveport native and four time Super Bowl winning quarterback Terry Bradshaw is probably the most well known, but the Steelers current roster includes wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Ike Taylor and hard-hitting free safety Ryan Clark, all originally from New Orleans. Recent history of native New Orleanians playing for the Steelers include offensive guard and likely future Hall-of-Famer Alan Faneca as well as quarterback Kordell Stewart. In addition, the Steelers also signed former Saint and LSU defensive end Al Woods in the offseason.

Of course it is easy for the Saints fans to wish the Steelers well when they are in different conferences and only play each other once every four years - unless that rotation is interrupted by an additional match up slated for February 3, 2013 in New Orleans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for a certain trophy named Lombardi.