Sunday, January 30, 2011

Steelers Fans in Jets Country

“Fan” is a special title that has to be earned. You don’t watch one or two games and call yourself a fan—“fan” comes after die-hard observation of game after game after game, throes of passion upon victory, stunning heartbreak upon defeat. That being said, I am not a Pittsburgh Steelers “fan” and I know only a smidge about football, but there's a special place in my heart for the team from the city where I went to school, the place known as “a drinking town with a football problem.”

Pittsburgh Steelers fans, especially those from Pittsburgh, are delightfully rabid supporters of their home team. I’m sure there are innumerable cities out there whose support for their home team is similar, but I’ve never personally experienced it. Coming from a state where pro sports teams have mostly fair-weather fans if any (Florida), being in Pittsburgh was a completely different experience. Inflammatory remarks toward the Steelers caused violent fights to erupt, while a kind word endured you to a Steelers fan for life. As any Pittsburgher will tell you, Pittsburgh is the Steelers. That’s just the way it is.

So now, with this special place for the Steelers in my heart, a roommate who is a die-hard fan and has threatened to disown her little brother for liking another team, and a bunch of people I went to school with all now living in New York, Steelers love is the only love to have. We are certainly not Jets fans.

Last Sunday, with a herd of other New Yorkers who are certainly not Jets fans, we crowded into Public House, a Steelers bar just outside of Grand Central Station. The patrons were a sea of black and yellow, proudly wearing jerseys of players like Troy Polamalu and Heinz Ward. That day the Steelers were to play the Jets in a game which would give one team entry to the Super Bowl, the other team a sad end to their season.

Steelers fans lined up four-deep at the bar and filled every table, except one table of Jets fans there just to cause trouble. Every “J-E-T-S” cheer was thwarted or booed by the Steelers crowd with a hearty “Here we go, Steelers, here we go! Pittsburgh’s goin’ to the Super Bowl!” Every happy pro-Steelers interception, every amount of yardage gained, every touchdown was cause for similar celebration. It was that same sense of community I missed from college that isn’t so easy to find in New York. But people like these Steelers fans had made their own community here in this bar, all watching the multiple screens with rapt attention.

In the first half of the game, the Steelers were on fire, but in the second half the Jets began catching up. Shouts of happiness from that lone Jets table began to increase, much to our dismay and annoyance. Would our precious Steelers not make it to the Super Bowl, and would those Jets fans finally shut up?

But, of course, they did. Bartenders stood on the bar and poured champagne into patrons’ empty beer glasses and mouths, celebratory dance music filled the bar as fans who didn’t know each other when the game began hugged, took pictures, and even exchanged phone numbers. Yes, they would be back to this Steelers bar once again to see their team go for yet another Super Bowl victory.

After the game, my friends and I headed for a pizza nearby, surrounded by post-game Jets fans. My friends in Steelers jerseys got sneers and Jets towels waved in their faces, but they smiled on through. I wonder if being a Steelers fan in New York is like being a Jets fan in Pittsburgh—it’s just not something you do unless you want to have your head handed to you. We fared just fine since we weren’t too up in anyone’s faces about our oh-so-recent victory, though. However, I think it’s a lot more acceptable to be a Steelers fan in Jets country than a Red Sox fan on Yankee turf. I won’t even bother testing the waters with that one.

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