I left Pennsylvania 17 years ago to marry a Navy man, and my life as a die-hard Steeler fan has never been the same.
First, in Washington, D.C., we weren’t accustomed to foo-foo tailgate foods like smoked salmon canapés, baked brie, and wine spritzers. We longed for our beloved Steeler fare of hot sausages (made of venison if someone in the family got a buck that season,) pierogies, wing dings, pickled eggs, and Pennsylvania beer.
In California, we watched east coast games sipping coffee in our pajamas, while fans back home donned the usual Steeler garb — boots, jerseys and jackets embellished with hunter’s fluorescent orange.
While stationed in England, we were not able to watch one football game for three straight years. Our loved ones back home where waving their Terrible Towels, but we were relegated to watching snooker and cricket on The BBC.
In Virginia Beach, we viewed football in air conditioned comfort and cut the grass during half time, instead of settling down to the game after raking leaves or snow plowing the driveway.
Now that we live in Germany, we’re lucky if we get to see a game at all, with or without pickled eggs.
Every once in a while, Armed Forces Network mercifully airs a live Steeler game, and long lost fans like me whip our selves into a frenzy. We layer our bodies in black and gold. We call every Steeler fan on base to chat excitedly about the upcoming game. We plop ourselves in front of the tube at kick off and stuff ourselves with pork products, gooey dips and copious amounts of corn chips.
But due to the six hour time difference between Germany and the U.S. East Coast, the live games start quite late if not in the middle of the night. Despite our best intentions, we often don’t make it to the fourth quarter.
This year, we thought streaming the games on the internet would be the perfect solution to our fan frustrations. However, this required our family of five to cram into our small base housing bedroom (the only internet connection) and squeeze our substantial frames onto a full-sized bed, only to strain our eyes to see the pixilated game footage on our computer screen. Add bowls of chili, beverages and corn chips, and our bed was more like a Salad Shooter.
Misery loves company, they say, and strangely, we’ve always had company. There are Steeler fans all over the world.
We’ve spotted them in Yosemite, Las Vegas, Virginia Beach, the Outer Banks, Amsterdam, Venice, Paris and Prague.
When we find each other, it’s like meeting an old friend, slipping into a favorite pair of jeans, having a taste of Grandma’s Golumpki. It is familiar, comforting, nostalgic, and gives you that warm feeling inside. You are not alone.
Every time, we offer a knowing smile and murmur, “Go Stillers” in hopes of making their acquaintance. And every time, our fellow Steeler fans respond with a friendly Pittsburgheese chat.
Last fall in Paris, we were ogling one of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral paintings in Musee D’Orsay, when we spotted another couple donning Steeler shirts over by Whistler’s Mother. We couldn’t just let them go by without saying hello. That would be like leaving the frat party while your roommate is in the bathroom, like retreating when a fellow soldier is behind enemy lines, like spotting the lifeboat but flying on by.
“Go Stillers!” we whispered, hoping to leave the rest of the stuffy museum crowd undisturbed. The couple, who were looking rather confused at the infamous painting, turned their heads and smiled, glad to hear their mantra spoken in American English 7,000 miles from home.
We struck up an instant conversation, no awkward pauses, no idle chitchat, no pretenses. It was easy, like we knew them from somewhere before.
They were headed to dinner at a sports bar in Paris that was airing the Steeler game later that evening. We were impressed. Those were true fans. They invited us to come along, but we had to catch the train back to Germany. We bid our fellow fans adieu, and cheered quietly in unison “Here we go Steelers, here we go!”
No matter where we go in this great big world, Steeler fans are there, with their hats, t-shirts, and Terrible Towels. They might be strangers, but we know them. They wear black and gold no matter how unattractive. They make chili even when they need a transformer to plug in their Crock Pot. They watch the games at inconvenient times, in uncomfortable places. They speak our language. They are our family.