How I became a citizen

Some people are born citizens. I was naturalized.

It all started back in the ’70s. I was a diehard Bucco’s fan, complete with pictures of my favorite players on my bedroom wall. (José Pagan was up there — I think because his picture was really cute.) I remember the ’71 World Series, although, ahem, I was a mere child. Also the shock and sadness when Roberto Clemente died. And being outside on a summer night, hearing the voice of Bob Prince on the radio, wafting through the air from all the open windows — Chicken on the Hill with Will.

But suddenly, all that changed. The Steelers started winning. And winning. And winning. Down came the Pirates pinups and up went the Steelers — Lynn Swann was (and forever will be) “my” Steeler. Conveniently, my close friend Colleen loved Terry Bradshaw. Our walls were covered with photos cut from the newspaper and magazines. Somewhere, I have the “official” team photos from those years, along with the commemorative Iron City beer cans.

A highlight was at age 16, when Colleen, Sharon, and I went downtown to Kaufmann’s (Sharon drove, at night!) to get Lynn Swann’s autograph at a book signing. Colleen snapped this picture, among others, and that’s the autograph — and memory — I’ll always treasure. (And, he would have made a great governor, too!) You’ll notice Franco’s signature under Lynn’s…we stood in line at the Hill’s store (remember them? Like K-Mart.) in the North Hills to get that. He was handing out those pictures, and I asked him to sign my book, too. When he saw that Swann had signed with his number, he added #32 to his signature as well…




I used to while away the hours in class listing all the players by number in the margins of my notebook. So forgive me if I still think of Mike Wagner as #23 instead of Tyrone Carter, or 89 as Benny Cunningham instead of Matt Spaeth, or 78 Dwight White instead of Max Starks, or 68 L.C. Greenwood instead of Chris Kemoeatu. (Looking up roster numbers just now [for the new folks, ha ha] made me realize they aren’t even using a lot of the Steel Curtain numbers, like 58, 59, 75, or my beloved 88 and 82 and of course, 12. I hope that’s intentional!)

Over the years, I also collected my share of Steelers kitsch. My favorite — the classic tossle cap I crocheted in high school, complete with glued-on, hand-drawn paper emblem — who said I wasn’t crafty? I can’t take credit (thank god) for the frilly, pom-pom creation — it’s a pin! And the little “Think Superbowl” fuzzy guy still has the faintest writing on the back: “Chris, Happy 16th Birthday! Luv ya, Colleen.” (“luv ya” — isn’t that so 16? I love it!)


So, by virtue of all these things, I became a naturalized citizen of Steelers Nation. I can’t say I was born to it — my parents couldn’t have cared less about sports. But I, with the help of 3 brothers, became a Steelerite just the same.

People wonder why we’re so obnoxious devoted. That’s easy. My story is not unique. All over Western Pennsylvania, and now the world, grown-ups who were once little girls and boys have their own memories of their own inductions into the Steeler Nation. Many of them were lucky to be born citizens, a legacy from mum, dad, grandma, and grandpap. Many, many more are like me, naturalized…some never having set foot on the “hallowed ground” of Western PA.

I said once I think Steelermania is in the water. I’ll stand by that. But even more, it’s in our blood. (Which is mostly water…so it all fits.)

But now, I better go. I need to turn up the national anthem for a minute before getting back to work. Here’s to a six-pack kind of weekend. This one’s for you, Myron!

‘Twas the Night Before the Super Bowl

     ‘Twas the night before the Super Bowl, when along the gulf shore,
              Steelers fans were praying for “just one more;”

               The players were nestled all snug in the sack,
                  With visions of the first NFL Six-Pack;

              Coach Tomlin was young, but wise for his years,
                So I drifted off to sleep without any fears;

           When at the stadium there arose some strange chatter,
                 The Cardinals feared, what was the matter;

               We heard “Okel Dokel”, we heard “Double Yoi,”
            We jumped from our beds, our hearts jumped for joy;

               He stood at the fifty with a grin ear to ear,
                 Steelers fans everywhere started to cheer;

                    Then in an instant to our surprise,
                 This little old man had tears in his eyes;

               He went to the booth and there took his chair,
                  While Terrible Towels waved in the air;

               Then over the airwaves came his shrill voice,
                   The Steelers Nation began to rejoice;

              He said, “I am back, but you know I can’t stay,
                    I just had to see my Steelers play;

                From my home up above, I have a great view,
                  But I wanted to celebrate here with you;

              So bring on the Birds, we’ll send them a flyin’,
             On the way back to Phoenix , they will be cryin’;

                Ben, Hines, Troy, Jeff and all of the rest,
               No matter the outcome, to me you’re the best;”

                The airwaves went silent, the stadium still,
                 Was this just a dream, it seemed so real;

            In our team we have faith, in our team we have hope,
              But the game’s not the same without Myron Cope.

                                              ~ Written by A.K. Young, 01-23-09

It must be in the water.

I’m still a Pittsburgher, even though technically I live too far east these days, just 20 minutes or so from Latrobe, PA — home of St. Vincent College, which is better known as the home of Steelers training camp. You can’t live in the ’Burgh and not know about this annual ritual: The swallows flock to Capistrano; the Steelers — and their minions — flock to Latrobe.

I’ve never been there to watch training camp practices and scrimmages, snag an autograph, or see the boys up close. But I’ve been to the campus a couple of times to see a play (just last Saturday in fact) — that would be a stage play not a hut-one, hut-two play. It doesn’t take long to understand the attraction of the place. It’s beautiful (even without the Steelers in view), and the revamped field is a dream (is that Lambert coming out of the corn?). You can picture hanging out there and looking down on the field, talking ball with the guy (or gal) sitting next to you, with the Laurel Mountains as the backdrop.

The campus is also home to the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media — yes Mister Rogers. Oh yeah, there’s a magnificent Basilica as well — stunning at night. The Steelers and Mr. Rogers and God — an embarrassment of riches.

Before the play, we ate at a nearby restaurant, Sharky’s, popular with the locals and the players. Of course, it’s decorated to the hilt with black & gold (including the waitresses) and has TVs all over the dining room showing current Steelers news coverage as well as highlights of past events — games, Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions, ceremonies at Three Rivers & Heinz Field, player interviews, etc.

It’s amazing what a magnet those screens are. Show any highlight from any game in the golden years and it’s hard to keep your eyes off the sets. Show any aging player and it’s sure to spark a memory of some game, play, or event. It’s 30 years later, for goodness sake, but people are mesmerized. How can you explain such devotion?

I’m guessing it’s something in the water. I drank it 30 years ago and was hooked. Me and about a bazillion other Steelers fans — at home in Pittsburgh or wherever their lives led them.

But that doesn’t quite explain the many, many fans who have never set foot in the ’Burgh at all, let alone in the sleepy little town of Latrobe (that’s LAYtrobe). 

OK, how about this: It’s the water if you ever lived here; it’s the thirst for it — the thirst to be part of that big-awesome-love-hate-black-n-gold-towel-waving-Steeler-nation-madness — if you haven’t.

And, yes, there are those of you who live here and don’t give a hoot about the Steelers — those of you rolling your eyes all “What’s wrong with these people?” I’m afraid you’re on your own. Find your own magic potion. Wave a towel for whatever it is “you people” root for. Look down on us black & gold crazies. Whatever. Just don’t stand in front of the TV. And pass the water pitcher.

I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man.
                                             ~ Henry David Thoreau