There are parts of my life that I define by Steelers games. In January of 2006, I remember watching the divisional playoff game in my first apartment, just a few miles from downtown Pittsburgh. I had just moved there a week prior and did not own any furniture except two folding lawn chairs. I did, however, have a television and was able to watch the game. I remember hearing the yells of elation from the neighboring apartments when the Indianapolis Colts missed their last attempt at a field goal and the Steelers went on to victory.
The year after the Steelers won Super Bowl in 2006, I moved away from Pittsburgh and my fandom grew even deeper. I had moved to Maryland, which was the territory of the Steelers fiercest competitors, the Baltimore Ravens. In a sea of purple, I often stood out, proudly wearing my black and gold. Venturing out in public, wearing those colors, often meant that I would have to defend my fandom at any given moment.
At my new place of employment, we had tailgates after work to support local charities. We were encouraged to wear the jersey of our favorite team. Of course, I was fully adorned in Steelers attire including my jersey, hat and jacket with a terrible towel hanging out of the pocket. One of my coworkers commented about how easily I had put together the outfit. I replied, “These are just my normal clothes.”
My new friends and coworkers also quickly discovered that I was unwilling to make any plans during a Steelers game or even entertain phone calls during a game. This seemed perfectly normal to me, but often left them perplexed. Where I grew up, you only called during a Steelers game if it was an emergency or to rejoice about a big play that had just occurred on the field. Anything else could wait until after the game.
Because I lived in Ravens territory, this meant that the Steelers games were not shown on television unless they played the Ravens or it happened to be a Sunday, Monday or Thursday night game. This meant I often headed to the nearest bar to watch the game. A few times I went by myself, but was quickly adopted by others wearing black and gold, who asked me to join them at their table. We would introduce ourselves, say what part of Pittsburgh we came from and mention what brought us here.
When non Steelers fans asked how I became a Steelers fan I often felt confused. I had a hard time giving them a distinct answer. I didn’t ever recall having a distinct moment in my life when I decided to become a Steelers fan. It had always been a part of my life as much as going to school and church had been. The Pittsburgh steel mills had brought my family to Southwestern Pennsylvania and my parents had met in the steel mill. Growing up and watching the Steelers was just an extension of the life that my family had built in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Perhaps, the deepest connection I felt to the Steelers occurred in September of 2009 when I lost my job. The recession that began in 2008 had finally touched me. Coming off a Super Bowl victory the previous season, the Steelers were awarded the first game of the 2009 season. This occurred on Thursday, September 10th, which ended up being the day after I was laid off. Losing my job made me feel like I could relate to those who had experienced hard times during the 1980’s when the mills were purging workers.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay my rent or buy my groceries, but I knew that I had a Steelers game to watch the next day. In the moment of turmoil, knowing that I had a game to watch was enough to keep me looking ahead. It gave me some sense of normalcy and a feeling that everything was going to be okay. I still have vivid memories of the game from that evening. It was ugly and brutal, but the Steelers managed to grunt out a victory. It reminded me that even though I had been knocked down I could get back up again.
In the beginning of 2012 my husband and I moved back to Pittsburgh and we were reminded of the region’s devotion to the Steelers. I have to admit, at times, I have rolled my eyes at the fandom, but I have also found so many reasons that I am thankful to be a Steelers fan. A stranger clad in black and gold can quickly become a friend. Newborns at the local hospitals are wrapped in terrible towels. The question, “How about that game yesterday?” is a sure way to start up a conversation.
But, perhaps, my favorite part of being a Steelers fan is that on Sundays, for a few hours, life in Pittsburgh and in homes and Steelers bars across the country, slows down a bit. The shopping malls are empty. The customers in grocery stores are scarce. The to-do-lists wait until after the game. Families and friends gather together to watch our beloved Steelers. More and more, watching the Steelers for a few hours seems like a welcome reprieve from our ever-connected lives. They unite us. They bring us together. Now, I finally have an answer to how I became a Steelers fan. I didn’t pick them. They picked me.
Author: Sarah Warman
I like to run, take pictures and write. I've combined all three in this blog.