Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Thank you, Pittsburgh

by Kathryn Miller Haines

I’ve never been a sports person. I like to play them, I just don’t like to watch them, especially on TV. Part of this probably stemmed from my upbringing. I grew up in San Antonio, TX, where we didn’t have any professional sports teams until the Spurs came along. So when I moved to Pittsburgh I was in for a rude awakening. Suddenly, everywhere I went, people were talking about sports, rearranging their lives to watch televised events, planning their wardrobe to show team support. When the Steelers lost, the mood shift was palpable. When they won, the city became electric.

Frankly, I found the whole thing maddening. What was wrong with people? It was only a stupid game. My husband tried to sway my thinking. He appealed to the historian in me by trying to explain the cultural significance of sports in an economically depressed region – how the 1970's Steelers gave hope to a city that desperately needed it. It was a great story, but it still didn’t keep me from looking forward to going to Target at 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon.

Well something in me changed. I caught, what I believe the experts refer to, as "Steeler fever."

It started late. AFC playoff game late. We were invited to a friend’s house to watch the game and I only agreed to go because said friend can cook. Oh, can she cook. I toted my laptop and some reading material along, anticipating a long, bored night that would be supplemented by a little writing. But as I sat in the living room enjoying the amazing delicacies manufactured by Frito Lay, I found myself getting into the game. Paying attention. Asking questions. Making jokes. Shouting at the television (I mean seriously – what was Limus Swede thinking?!). The laptop went untouched (though, let’s be frank, I’ll do anything to avoid work). At the end of the evening my husband, a tear in his eye, remarked that he was proud of me for sticking it out and actually enjoying myself.

I assumed it was a one time thing, and that by Superbowl Sunday I would be over it.

And then something bad happened (the details aren't important). Our friends invited us to return to their house for the Superbowl, and despite the fact that I wanted to mope and dwell in my pit of despair, I said we should go. And coming off a uniquely terrible week, I threw myself into that game with everything I had. I cheered. I danced. I screamed. I challenged referee calls. I forgot everything but the game in front of me. I began to believe that if they could win this game, anything could happen. And I suddenly got it. This was why sports had become so important to Pittsburgh. Because when things are going bad, you need that little glimmer of hope that comes from a team that, let’s be honest, was sucking hard but still managed to pull it off at the last second.

They made me an optimist again, and for that I thank them.

So what about you? Did you watch? Did you care? Or are you upset that you have to wait until September to once again enjoy that free window of time to get your grocery shopping done?


Anonymous said...

I went to grad. school at University of Michigan for 7 years and never watched a football game.

The last 23 years me and my friends have held an annual "Ignore the Superbowl" party where we turn on the game, turn the sound down, and go about playing games, singing, and otherwise ignoring it for the rest of the evening.

But this year, the unprecedented happened . . . Tenish of our party participants (myself included) sat in the basement, watching the game. And, well . . . What can I say? I enjoyed it!

Not only that, but this year I found the anti-football rants as annoying as the pro-football ones.

The group I was with for the Superbowl was sort of self-help Steeler fan support group. One person brought terrible towels and clackers, and we had to remind each other to use them at important points in the game.
We had a couple people there to explain to us what was going on when we didn't understand.

One of the things I liked about the group, was it wasn't about football or no football. It was about having fun. Together. I'm into that.

And I'm I'm trying to get into this "black and gold food" thing. I made black-bean chili with goldfish. We'll see how that works at our departmental post-Superbowl potluck today.

After 20 years of living in Pittsburgh, I think I'm finally getting socialized!

Annette said...

Welcome to the Steeler Nation, Kathy.

Oh, did I watch. I screamed, I scared the cat, I chewed my nails. I nearly passed out after running that 100 yard touchdown run with James Harrison (my new hero). Yesterday I was exhausted.

However, I for one am very glad it's over. I need the next six months to recover. And to prepare for another season of Steeler football. Go STEELERS.

Joyce Tremel said...

I'm not a football fan at all, but I did watch and enjoy the game. I stop short at wearing a combination of black and gold, though. And I have to say I'm ecstatic that I don't have to hear any Steeler fight songs on the radio for several months. That "Here We Go" song is the most annoying thing I've ever heard. Get a new song already!

Joyce Tremel said...

Oh, and I'm another one who usually goes shopping when the game is on!

Annette said...

Joyce, I agree about that song being annoying, but I doubt that it's going to go away. Anyone can "sing" it, no talent (or sobriety) required. Which is part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

Kathy, I love your post. It actually brought tears to my eyes.

I’m a late bloomer as a Steelers/ football/ sports of any sort fan. My first husband was such a sports fanatic that I wanted to bribe the cable company to black out our ESPN. One of the many appealing traits of my second husband was that he wasn't any more interested in watching sports than I was. And then -- irony of all ironies -- he and I managed to produce a little mutant who cares about absolutely nothing but sports. Go figure. So now all I do in my leisure time is watch him and his little brother play baseball, football and basketball. He even got me interested in watching football on TV. So yes, although I do love those empty aisles and checkout lines in the Giant Eagle on Sunday afternoons during football season, I watched the playoff games and the Super Bowl and got as excited and nervous and ecstatic as anybody else.

I, too, think about the historical aspects of our city’s passion for its football team. I also think our steel mills are probably responsible for Western Pennsylvania producing so many professional football players. For blue-collar families who couldn’t afford to send their children to college, a football scholarship was your son’s ticket out of a life in the mill, so it’s no wonder high school and even youth football was treated like a life or death matter here and fathers drove their sons hard to excel at it. Our economy has changed, but we’re still only one generation out of the mills, so I don’t think our outlook on football has!

Kathryn Lilley said...

I forgot to watch it (that pretty much says it all about me and sports) but was happy for everyone who was rooting for the teams! Watched the highlights and agreed that it seemed like thebest Superbowl ever!

Anonymous said...


It really is fascinating the role sports have played in this region. And it's certainly not unique to Pittsburgh. If you look at how we latched onto sports during the great depression, it's clear it's a phenomena that's been around for a while.