As Steeler fans everywhere anticipate upcoming Superbowl XLV, my mind can’t help but wander to football seasons past, when “Stairway to Seven” held an entirely different meaning.
It was a typical Western Pennsylvania winter weekend in 1976, and my family was nestled inside our little house on the dead end of North Seventh Street in my hometown. My pork-chop-side-burned father was glued to the console television from his pea green lounge chair, a Salem 100 burning in the adjacent stand-alone ashtray.
My aproned mother bopped in and out of the room from the kitchen, where she was cooking up football food with beef, pork or venison, and enough onions, garlic and beans to guarantee a prolonged case of gas and bad breath.
From the scratchy olive carpeting, I propped my head upon my hands, stared into the television and sighed. The single earphone from my groovy yellow Panasonic Toot-A-Loop transistor radio emanated Myron Cope’s characteristic caw. Turning the dial in search of soft sets of Barry Manilow or Captain & Tennille, I could only find Jimmy Pol’s Steeler’s Polka.
With all the talk of Bradshaw, Greene and Bleier, my brother and I would eventually get bored, and often whined and begged until our parents to let us walk “Downtown” by ourselves.
Peeking out from under our stocking Steeler hats with gold pom-poms, and wrapped tightly in our Franco’s Italian Army scarves, my brother and I set off up North 7th Street to town.
We looked like the spawn of a rail yard hobo and a bag lady in our mismatched getups, but in Steeler country, our outfits were the norm. It seemed like everyone had a Steeler stocking hat in those days, except women who did not want to mess up their shag, and even those ladies wore a miniature crocheted replica, pinned to their wide lapels or on their sweater vests.
Crossing the crooked part of Chestnut, Seventh Street rose up before us, and the houses on either side got bigger and fancier. At the summit, the street came to a graceful end atop Vinegar Hill, and offered a municipal staircase for pedestrians to descend the steep cliff leading down to the center of town. My brother and I paused at the top of the long cement steps and silently contemplated our escapade.
To us, “Downtown” might as well have been the Las Vegas Strip. There were so many lights and sounds, so much trouble to get into.
As we descended the long staircase, I was eager to see the pretty pink and green neon emblazoned One Hour Martinizing. My mouth watered at the thought of the penny candy counter at G.C. Murphy & Company, with its bins of sugary drops wrapped in cellophane. I wondered how long it would take my brother to pick a comic book at The News Stand, from the display of Sad Sack, Richie Rich, Casper and Archie. I hoped we’d sip a hot cocoa or some birch beer at The Capitol, its tables caked underneath with colorful blobs of chewed gum.
Reaching the bottom of the staircase, we dashed across Water Street and approached the main thoroughfare of town. Hearing the clanging bell of the cross walk, we ran to beat the traffic light.
Safely across, my brother huffed white clouds and strained to see the courthouse clock. Although I was happy to stroll and glance at the glitzy storefronts, my brother had an agenda, and he didn’t want to be late.
Of the two movie theaters in town, The Manos was my favorite. The marquis seemed encrusted in blinking crystalline lights, and the metal sheathed ticket booth gleamed in reflected glow. The afternoon matinee was a double feature – “All Monsters Attack” and “Godzilla Versus The Smog Monster.”
Tickets in hand, we followed the isle lights along the rows of velvety seats down toward the old orchestra pit. The matinee crowd, consisting mainly of adolescent boys and their younger siblings, was noisy, sticky and generally unruly. Ensconced in the cozy warmth of the red seats, we still left our Steeler hats on to guard against spit balls and flying Jujubes.
The crowd hushed as the lights went down and the screen came to life with The Road Runner. Our faces glowed vibrantly with ambient light as we watched Wyle Coyote foil another plot to blow up his nemesis with Acme dynamite.
Much to my dismay, the cartoon was over in a flash, and I was soon cowering behind the seat while Godzilla’s son, Minya, and tiny Ichiro Miki with his yellow ball cap ran in terror from Ebirah the mutant shrimp. Unable to look at the screen, I clamped my eyeslids shut and pulled my hat down over my nose.
Two hours later, my brother jabbed me in the shoulder to wake me up.
In a rare act of kindness, my brother used the rest of his allowance to buy us square Tom’s Pizza slices. We sat at a turquoise Formica table and gazed at the Greek mural on the wall.
Taking the shortcut through G.C. Murphy’s, we stopped at the candy counter, where I bought four Pixie Sticks, three root beer barrels and some Wax Lips with the two dimes I dug from the pocket of my hand-me-down Garanimals twill pants.
Our adventure complete, we headed back to the Vinegar Hill stairway to North Seventh Street, and to the warmth of our comfy little house, with its console television blaring the latest news about Bradshaw and Swan.
The Steelers went on to beat the Cowboys in Superbowl X that winter, and our parents were thrilled. But my brother and I always knew that, right out side our front door, we could find the same thrill and excitement. No matter who was winning the football game, our “Stairway to Seventh” would lead us high and low, to bright lights and big adventures.