There was an interesting piece in ESPN magazine where fans in all of the cities with teams that didn't make the Super Bowl were asked which team they were rooting for in the game. Not surprisingly, fans in these cities were overwhelmingly rooting for the Cardinals. This is as would be expected when the game involves an underdog in their first Super Bowl.
The only cities in which fans preferred the Steelers over the Cardinals were the AFC North cities plus Tampa Bay (not sure why it bucked the trend...maybe something to do with Steelers Nation showing up there in force generating extra excitement), and the numbers weren't that close. The city with the highest number of fans pulling against the Steelers was San Francisco at a whopping 73%, not surprising considering a Steelers' win pulled them one ahead of the 49ers for overall Lombardi trophies. The highest city on the Steelers side was Cincinnati, where 73% of the fans were pulling for the Steelers, again easily explainable considering the proximity of the cities and the Bengals last couple decades of football futility. It is sometimes hard to tell who the home team is when the two teams play in Cincinnati based upon crowd noise and fan apparel. The big surprise to me was that the Steelers registered support from 66% of fans in Baltimore. How is that possible?
Baltimore fans, as a general rule, despise the Steelers and their fans. And Steelers fans more than return the favor. It's a truly glorious thing. Talk of bounties, bone-rattling hits, and a host of subplots surround every game. The only thing I don't like about these matchups is the injury list that usually follows. Heck, one of the games this year even featured a scuffle involving the Steelers punter with an assist from the kicker. You gotta love a rivalry where even the kicker and punter don't want to be left out of the fun.
If the Bengals or Browns advanced to the big game, I'd be pulling for them to win it. But the Ravens? Tough call. This year is an anomaly. With the Cardinals, a team with so many Pittsburgh ties, in the Super Bowl, I would have pulled for the Cardinals. Against most other NFC teams, I'd probably pull for the Ravens, although it would hurt like heck doing it. Then again, I'm not entirely sure of that. I don't remember exactly embracing them in 2000. Nor have I exactly jumped on the Patriots bandwagon in the last few years (although I did root for them against the Rams when the were the still viewed as the unthreatening underdogs.) If I were to judge Pittsburgh's biggest rivalries today, the Ravens are alone at the top of the pack with the Patriots a ways back at number two.
I am curious how other fans respond when their biggest rivals play in the playoffs and Super Bowl once their team has been eliminated. Do you pull for the rival squad out of a sense of respect and divisional/conference loyalty or do you root for whoever they are playing, wishing them nothing but mayhem and ill fortune?