Last night my daughters and I stayed up and watched the Steelers beat the Titans in overtime. I don’t think they’ve really had a choice about being Steeler fans, but I’m so happy they’ve embraced it. Last year we watched the Super Bowl at the house of a friend who is also a Pittsburgh native and he had FedEx’d Mineo’s pizza (our favorite Pittsburgh delicacy) for the occasion. The girls and I were in heaven. They held my hand and my “Terrible Towel” the entire fourth quarter because I thought I was going to lose my mind in the excitement of the game.
When I was a kid, my Uncle Jack used to always come up with extra Steeler tickets for me and my dad. My brothers were already out of the house by then and it was such a huge and exciting moment on a Sunday morning when Jack would call inviting us. Pittsburgh winters are harsh, and Jack often wore this thick old tweed suit that I referred to as “The Terrible Tweed.” Those Sundays were magical. Just me and a bunch of old guys—the regulars who sat in our section— screaming for our team. They thought I was adorable and were tickled by my presence. I felt exactly the same way about them. Jack, Dad and I would walk about a mile from our parking lot on the North Side of Pittsburgh to Three Rivers Stadium. I remember this one time when I was in college and we were walking with thousands of other Steeler fans and my dad put his arm around me and told me he was happy to have me home. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but my dad was not a guy to discuss his emotions. I always, always knew he loved me but that day I realized how much he LIKED me. My favorite pitcture of him hangs in the entryway of my house and he’s all bundled up at a Steeler game.
The team is a through line of our lives— watching the games together when we can is a bond that goes way beyond sport. The Sunday after my father died in 1996, I remember us all sitting in my parents’ apartment watching the game. It was the one thing that made the world feel normal. When I watch the Steelers from my home in Colorado (I don’t get all of the games because for some strange reason they often show Bronco games here) I always call my brothers on game day and often, if a game is tight I’ll call during the action just to hear a reaffirming voice.
Last night I missed the first half of the game because it was Parent Night at my daughter Emmy’s middle school. And then after that I was on soccer pick-up duty so I had to drive four girls home from practice. We checked in with my brother Muzz twice during the first half. But I knew we could be home for the second half. I didn’t have any interest in cooking the salmon that I had marinated earlier in the day. Emmy suggested a stop at Chipotle (a mixed motive as Emmy is ALWAYS suggesting a stop at Chipotle) to eliminate any time spent cooking. I succumbed. So we watched and ate our various burrito incarnations. Em told a great football-related story during commercials. “Mom, you know how we think of football players as so tough and macho?” I nodded in the affirmative and then she told me how she was walking behind these huge football players at her middle school when she heard the following conversation: Football player 1: “Dude, guess what? I just got a new kitten.” Football player 2 : “Dude, I am SO coming over to your house tonight.”
A perfect middle school moment.
We continued to watch. I was frustrated by the Steelers inability to convert on 3rd and short and I was waiting for an offensive display. It came in the final minutes with the game tied and culminated when Big Ben connected with a wide-open Hines Ward, one of my favorite Steelers of all-time. I love Hines Ward because he is almost always smiling, always looking like he is having fun out there even when he has just gotten creamed on a play. It helps that he has the world’s most beautiful smile. Truly, I mean that. It also helps that he’s an amazing wide receiver. So as Hines made a wide open catch and started running, I was thinking that this is it, game over. But suddenly the ball got stripped. I felt bad for Hines as this is not a usual thing. I can’t even remember the last time I saw him lose a ball. They showed him on the sidelines and it was clear how mad he was at himself. And then the camera panned in for a close up of his face and I could barely take it. Not only was Hines Ward NOT smiling, he looked like he was about to cry. I said to the girls, “Okay now they have to win it in overtime so Hines can smile again.” And of course, they did and of course he made a catch in the process. There was a moment earlier, during the third quarter, while Annie was watching and doing homework when she asked me what the word “prevail” meant and I said, “ win out, emerge victorious. As in the Steelers will prevail.” And we are all so glad they did.