In addition to my regular column, Thinking Out Loud, I also had an online exclusive piece posted on the Duquesne Duke website. On Sunday, I attended my first professional football regular season game, which is startling considering how huge a football fan I am. Though I am not a Steeler fan, I was thrilled for the opportunity to attend the Steelers-Vikings game with my dad and uncle on Sunday, and I wrote a brief recap of the day’s events. Here’s my piece…
A Steeler Fan for a Day
It’s been printed numerous times within these pages that football ranks highest on my hierarchy of sports. A good, exciting football game will tie me down for hours, whether it’s played at the college level, in the NFL or even a high school game. Surprisingly, though, I had never attended a regular season NFL game in my entire life; something about the old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia having a courtroom for unruly fans made my dad decide not to take me there as a young’n.
So when my uncle, who has lived here in Pittsburgh for the last twenty years, offered my dad and I tickets to see the Steelers play the Minnesota Vikings this past Sunday, my father and I jumped at the chance like Santonio Holmes jumps at a dimebag. Seeing as my dad and I were rookies to the live Steelers experience, my uncle accompanied us on our journey.
However, as a diehard Eagles fan, I owned no Steelers gear. I knew the uniform of the black-and-gold nation well, and arriving in my Kevin Curtis jersey simply wouldn’t do. I grabbed the closest thing I had to Steeler colors-my old black CKY shirt with gold and red text on it-and headed out.
My uncle drove my dad, who had come in from Philly the previous afternoon, and I to a parking garage downtown and we hoofed it the rest of the way to the tailgate outside the stadium. A man named Bruce, good friends with my uncle, assumed the role of “fan leader” as he leapt onto the back of his car and delivered a rallying speech that would have made President Obama cry. All right, maybe not. But it certainly elicited a reaction from his fellow Steeler fans akin to that which the President received on inauguration day.
We wandered about the tailgates, sampled food from caterers trying to make a name for themselves, and talked to a few more of my uncle’s friends. One of them, a quieter, older man, spoke with us at length about his love for the city and its sports fans, particularly for hockey. But when he mentioned the depiction of himself in the movie “Miracle,” I perked up. Turns out I had been speaking to Craig Patrick the entire time. No big deal, just a member of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team and former Penguins GM. Happens all the time, right?
Finally, it was time to enter Pittsburgh’s coliseum of football: Heinz Field. I had attended an Eagles pre-season game at Lincoln Financial Field before, but the electricity in the crowd for this game was incomparable. I was swept up in an ocean of black and gold…that is, except for the brave soul in our section donning an Adrian Peterson jersey. The entire game, she cheered after every positive Viking play, then apologized to the Steeler fans surrounding her. I decided to cheer for Pittsburgh today-besides, a Vikings loss would be good for my Eagles.
The Steelers PA announcer struggled from the start, announcing 9 yard runs that had really only been 3 yards and routinely missing down and distance by miles. Was he hanging out with Jeff Reed the night before the game? I wouldn’t rule it out.
We had great seats near the end zone, so we got to see goal line plays up close. It was an incredibly entertaining game. Brett Favre vs. Ben Roethlisberger. Adrian Peterson vs. the stout Pittsburgh defense. Terrible Towels vs. Viking helmets. The battle was fierce.
At halftime, I downed a bucket of Quaker Steak wings as two games of Pop Warner-type football were played between four teams of players ages 10 to 13. Since quarterbacks at that age aren’t reliable passers, the teams traded runs, reverse plays, and fumbles. One player finished off an impressive, juke-filled run by diving over the pylon into the end zone. Shortly afterwards, Browns coach Eric Mangini offered the player a long-term contract.
Even though I’d never attended a Steeler game before, I knew all too well the significance of the song “Renegade” by Styx to the fans. The song was played twice in the fourth quarter, and both times, the crowd got louder than it had been the entire game.
Midway through the fourth quarter, my uncle decided that the position of his hat directly impacted the result of the game. Following the Steelers’ first defensive touchdown, he turned his hat to the “Let’s lock this baby down” position. After Minnesota returned a kickoff for a touchdown, he returned his hat to the “Alright, things just got serious” position. A few minutes later, Pittsburgh returned its second defensive touchdown of the game to ice the victory, proving my uncle right…sort of.
I left the game with a few lasting images: Adrian Peterson steamrolling a Steelers defender, the crowd’s reaction to Jeff Reed’s first appearance in the game, the two Pittsburgh defensive touchdowns that took the wind out of Minnesota’s sails and the sight of the largest crowd in Heinz Field history going absolutely bonkers both times. It was a fabulous game from start to finish, and the experiences surrounding the game were as entertaining as the product on the field. Moments like these had me wondering if I should denounce my home team Eagles and convert to Black and Gold nation.
Nah, just kidding. You thought you would get me that easily? E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!