One Sunday in Steeler Nation
On Sundays in the fall, the owners of the Pour House, a bar at the edge of downtown Greensboro, run a pair of Pittsburgh Steelers flags up the pole. People, most of them dressed in Steelers jerseys, start showing up about an hour before kickoff, which is when the Iron City beer really starts to flow.
On Sunday Pittsburgh is playing the early game, and by 1 p.m. all the stools are taken. Steelers fans – dozens of them – spread plastic tablecloths over the pool and air hockey surfaces and turn their chairs toward any of the five or so big-screen TVs broadcasting the game. My boyfriend Mark and I are running late; several seconds have run off the clock by the time we arrive. I stop at the bar to get a beer, and when I turn around, Mark is standing at a table with a white-haired woman and another man who is fingering a slip of paper.
“None of the money goes to me,” the woman explains. “Last week we had food, cabbage rolls, pierogies, kielbasa and kraut.”
She’s explaining the inner workings of Greensboro’s Steelers Fan Club, an organization which Mark and I are considering joining. The woman handling admissions turns her attention to the other man standing at the table.
As it turns out, he is from Ghana. He moved to western Pennsylvania, befriended a bunch of Steelers fans and adopted the team as his own.
“Well, I’m glad that when you moved to America, you decided to become a Steelers fan,” she says.
The Steeler Nation thrives in Greensboro, if this crowd is any indication. And it keeps its home in this single-story structure adorned with Pittsburgh Steelers curtains and mounted hunting trophies.
This is the second Sunday in a row I’ve spent at the Pour House among the Roethlisberger besotted and the Polamalu obsessed. The fans here react to every first down with an enthusiasm most would reserve for a winning Super Bowl touchdown. They regularly kick up an impressive breeze with their flock of Terrible Towels and erupt in the occasional “Seahawks Suck!”
My membership in the Steeler Nation comes by way of birthright. Although I grew up in central Texas, my father came from Pittsburgh, and the Steelers were his team. The man actually named the family cat after Franco Harris.
I never paid much mind to football – or my dad – when I was younger. But after he died I began noticing football scores and registering things like conference standings. As the years have passed, and with them my memory of him, my affection for the Steelers has grown, which is my way, I guess, of maintaining some sort of spiritual connection.
I know he’d approve of the way the Steelers are playing today. At the end of the half, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger connects with tight end Heath Miller for a touchdown, inspiring a round of hollering. Mark, nursing a hangover, orders a Bloody Mary that he pronounces one of the best in Greensboro. Soon he’s chatting up some woman who noticed his West Virginia T-shirt. Turns out she’s from Elkins and he’s from Buckhannon, both towns within spitting distance of Pittsburgh.
There are dozens of Steelers fans here, almost all of them dispatching mounds of fried bar food. Mark and I order what turns out to be a basket of fried jalapeno slices. In the second half Willie Parker breaks off a couple good runs and Najeh Davenport finishes them with a couple touchdowns. The Steelers put up seven points in each of the last three quarters.
Meanwhile the Seattle Seahawks are struggling. They can’t get their ground game going and the closest they come to the goal line is the Pittsburgh 14, where cornerback Ike Taylor makes an interception. By the fourth quarter, we’re only sticking around to see if the Steelers get the shutout.
The guy from Ghana is still hanging out when the Steelers get the ball for the last time. The rowdy crowd in the back corner is winding down, and the two of us are beginning to suffer the deep-fried bloat. By tomorrow the Pour House will have put away the Steelers flags and become just another downtown beer hall. And this satisfied corner of the Steeler Nation won’t be back for another week.
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