Saturday, February 5, 2011

I think you're gonna finally understand

The problem with a blog like The Fritz Blitz is that there is just so much sports news out there that is available from much better sources. By the time Jamie and I get wind of something we’d like to write about, hundreds of people have beaten us to it, and they have access to much greater information on the topic than we do. By the time we gain insight on Troy Polamalu’s Achilles tendon or Ben Roethlisberger’s choice in karaoke songs, those stories have been across cyberspace and back again.

That’s why we often need to go beyond statistics or the results of any one game and get into what sports mean to us. So while other sports outlets are dissecting the many matchups in Super Bowl XLV—Roethlisberger vs. Aaron Rodgers, Polamalu vs. Clay Matthews, The Black Eyed Peas vs. music—I’m going to make this Super Bowl column more personal.

This is about how I became a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

When I was young, I was interested in the NFL in general, but I never had an allegiance to any one team. (The first pro football game I remember seeing on TV was an AFL game! Yeah, I’m old.) I think this was because I grew up in the middle of Buckeye country—where the most professional football team wears scarlet and gray. I remember wearing a Kansas City Chiefs windbreaker when I was a kid—not because I really cared about the Chiefs, but because I liked the colors.

NFL fandom in Columbus is split between the Browns and the Bengals, with a considerable number of Steelers fans. I went to a Bengals game with my brother when I was in college, and I thought it was cool that they made a couple of Super Bowls, but watching the NFL was mainly something I did when I had nothing else to do on Sunday.

This changed when I met Jamie.

When I visited her house before I moved to Pittsburgh, one of the things we did was watch the Steelers. We turned the TV volume down and listened to Myron Cope on the radio. I knew right then that I was watching much more than a football game. From Cope’s expressions like “yoi” and “um-hah” to the many years of lore behind the team, it was easy to be caught up in the Steelers phenomenon.

It’s no accident that I remember the day I moved to Pittsburgh—Nov. 10, 2002—as the day that the Steelers tied the Falcons, 34-34. Jamie and I saw our first game in person the next year. Not only was the game against the Chargers meaningless to the playoffs, the weather was quite cold (although Wikipedia says it was 38 degrees)—but you wouldn’t have known that judging from the crowd.

A Steelers game is something to see. It appears as if the whole town turns out for it—all devoted to their team and cheering on their favorites. And when there’s something important on the line—as there was in the 2005 playoff game we saw against the Jets—the upper deck of Heinz Field shakes. I have never seen such devotion to a team anywhere (and, yes, that includes the Buckeyes).

It has been fun watching the team build over the years, as each year brought with it new prospects that have become the team that’s playing in the Super Bowl now. There will be more than a team playing in the game tomorrow—there will be an entire city, and a great, big Steeler Nation, playing for a seventh Super Bowl ring.