Thursday, February 09, 2006

Looking Back on Steeler Mania

Pittsburgh lives for the Steelers. Not every 'burgher is Steeler-crazed, but the feeling certainly emanates from a large majority. And based on this past weekend's experience, I believe it's quite possible the people of this city are the most dedicated sports fans in the world (well, at least this side of the Atlantic). So, getting to spend the past several months as the Steelers ran, threw, kicked, punched, and trash-talked to sweet sweet glory was an experience unlike any I have ever participated in.

To give some insight - Sara and I try to spend our Saturday mornings at the Strip District, where we can get fresh groceries from a wide range of ethnic grocers, from Italian to Greek to Asian to Spanish to well you get the picture. Then there's some great art and design stores. And the best part is the excellent sit-down or stand-up places for brunch, coffee, and people watching. Oh, I could go on for days about the Strip on a Saturday morning, but this is about the Steelers. Isn't it always? So back to the story at hand, the other main component of the Strip is that it is known for the place to buy your Steelers gear; shirts, hats, pennants, socks, buttons, underwear (not kidding) - you name it. And as the weeks went by the number of people descending upon the Strip to purchase, sell, barter, and show off their Steelers paraphernalia multiplied, where finally come the day before the AFC championship game the streets became so crowded that the Pittsburgh police actually shut down Penn Avenue (the main drag) to all vehicular traffic!

AFC championship weekend was sunny and warm and the people came out in droves. Two weeks later, for super bowl weekend it was bitter cold and cloudy, but the people still came and the businesses became a buzz with all things Steelers. The following picture is of Sara and me trying to purchase a hat for my shorn noggin. Um... yeah... it was that crazy.

As you can see the Steelers breathe life into a city in dire need of it.

Anyway, the Pittsburgh super bowl experience continued Saturday night at Fuel and Fuddle. "Fuel" as it is affectionately known by its patrons is a good bar and grill in Oakland (smack in the middle of the University of Pittsburgh). In order to pump up for the game, there was a pep rally at 1am, with much "Here We Go" and polkaing to be found. Now, it's not place to call people dumb or stupid - and I'm not going to do that here. However, I am going to say, if you are in a Pittsburgh bar, in one of the craziest Steeler-loving areas of Pittsburgh, that is holding a pep rally at 1am, (where there is alcohol to fuel the fire), do you really want to wear a hat of the team that the Steelers are playing come tomorrow in the big game? I'd have to say either a) no, or b) only if you're looking for trouble. Yet, this is precisely what happened at Fuel, and oh my, did the festivities begin. The taunting! The booing! The waving the Terrible Towels! And yet, this is what makes Pittsburgh so great. There were no fights, no physical threats, nothing. Rather, the Steeler fans razzed the guy, made him wear some Steelers gear, do some polkas, and then bought him a drink for being a good sport. Now, if that's not brotherly love (Philly take note) I don't know what is.

After polkaing the night away, the following night we headed on over to Oakmont to watch the game at the Oakmont Tavern (OT) with some friends. Talk about your Steeler loving town, just about every single person in the bar was wearing Steelers gear - and it was this way all over the city. However, what makes the OT so interesting, is that most people wear a Steelers jersey! Unreal! Now that's dedication. Watching the game in such an environment was excellent. The agony of the interceptions was intensified. The glory of the touchdowns turned the bar into New Year's celebrations times 100. And when they finally one, pandemonium was in the air and love was shared by all. It truly makes you love this town.

After the win, the city took to the streets, cars were overturned (go Pitt!), couches were burned (go CMU!), PAN DE MO NI UM - well that evening's zaniness is best told in another story. On Tuesday, the team returned home for their parade, and in subfreezing weather with light snow there were on the order of 250,000 people in the downtown streets. Lucky for us, Sara works downtown and was able to capture some of the jubilation with some pictures.

Want to see more of my pictures from the Steeler experience? Go here.

Whew, it's Thursday and the city is starting to return to normal. The local news is no longer dedicating all 30 minutes to the Steelers. People are returning to work. Schools are no longer on two hour delays or cancellations. And yet, something makes me think the Strip District this weekend will be one hell of a fun place to be. Truth be told - I was never a big football or Steelers fan before this year. But if a town's atmosphere, economy, and spirits can be lifted up by a sports team, then count me in. Oh yeah, and somewhere along the way I became a supporter of the Black and Gold.


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