Watching the Steelers with Brad

Every now and then, I like to write about sports. Usually, it’s soccer, because… I’m a huge fan of watching soccer (does one really need an explanation for this sort of thing?). But I decided to take on a new project this semester: the Steelers. You see, I teach creative writing at a large university in town, and one of the classes I am teaching this semester is Nonfiction II: the Writer Immersed, but not Drowned, which is, get this, an immersion nonfiction class.

So, I’ve decided to participate with my students in this semester long project. To become a writer immersed in an experience, to let myself go into foreign territory. And we’re going to call that territory “Steeler Country.” You see, even though I’ve lived here for three full years (summers and holidays excluded), I’ve never really been a huge Steeler’s fan. I’ve liked them well enough. I’ve seen signs advertising Roethlis-burgers and even a Roethlisbrisket. I’ve heard “Polamalu” sung to the tune of the muppet’sMah Nà Mah Nà” on the radio, which is brilliant.

los-esteelersI figured that becoming a Steeler’s fan wouldn’t be too difficult – in other words, I’m already half-way there, so why not take the leap? It’s not quite a full immersion project (I’m not shadowing Troy Polamalu, althoughI would love to, or becoming the admin of the Steeler’s fansite, nor did I move here just for football à la Buzz Bissinger), but I am going to be listening to radio shows about the Stillers (correct yinzer pronunciation), I will purchase a Terrible Towel, and, most importantly, I will watch every single game this season. Which for me, given my hectic schedule and that whole “having a life” thing, is difficult. But I will do it.

Reader, I forewarn you, AskAdri may become a blog about the Pittsburgh Steelers for a bit this semester. I’m going to try to be a better blogger, but part of my challenge is also to make this whole experience entertaining to read about, even if you’re not in Pittsburgh or a Steelers fan. So we’ll see what happens.

Watching The Steelers with Brad

#1: Vs the Titans at Home

Every time I look at Jeff Fisher’s face, I remember how much I loved him. When Jack Pardee left the Oilers in 1994, Fisher took over as head coach until the team’s move to Tennessee in 1997. Then he stayed on as the Oilers slowly morphed into the Titans (I still hate you, Bud Adams, for moving them), taking up residence in playoff territory and fulfilling the fantasies of Houston fans everywhere, except with a bitter and ironic twist to the old jugular: the Oilers could only win as the Titans. But some of us, including my father and I, did a good job of pretending for years that the Titans were the Oilers, until the Texans emerged as Houston’s team and I stopped paying attention to football. I hated the Dallas Cowboys, and resigned myself to being an Oilers fan – a fan without a team.

And there he was, last night, a man I once believed in, standing on the opposite side of the field from my new team. I secretly wouldn’t have been displeased if the Titans had won last night: it all came down to that excruciating coin-toss in overtime.  Although, I like to think that even if Tennessee had won the flip, the Steelers’ defense would have shut them down like they did the Titans’ last drive. (That defense is sick, with or without Polamalu.)

But Jeff Fisher’s stoic face remained preternaturally calm as his boys got wailed on all night. And he was dishing it right back. Crushing bodies and chasing down the quarterback. And as Fisher coordinated his soldiers into action against Tomlin, Brad and I debated whether or not the Steelers were the greatest team of all time (his answer: yes! mine: possibly.), about whether or not football is greatest sport to watch, about whether or not an Oilers fan is betraying her roots by cheering for the Steelers (conference rivals and notorious usurpers of playoff spots). Our conclusions?

Football is chess, is war. Soccer is ballet. Football is an opera, episodic and narrative – underneath it all, football is about storyline.  About whether or not a general can march his army down the field and quell the enemy. (I believe at one point in the evening, I started shouting “quell the enemy!” at the screen.) Soccer is about coordination and grace, scoring is a feat, as opposed to an expectation. But who cares about expectation: this is war.

And there’s Ben Roethlisberger, inconsistent and atypical, an Ohio-boy nicknamed Big Ben, and to the people of this town, far grander than any clock-tower in London, that’s for sure. And to quote Brad, “he’s only good under pressure.” And to quote me, “that’s better than if he were only good when not under pressure.” The game is adrenaline, and Ben Roethlisberger knows how to tease a game of football. You have no idea if he’s going to blow it at any minute, and that shit is compelling as hell to watch. I was sweating. I was nervous. I was high-fiving Brad way too much. I yelled at the TV. Shit got crazy.

When I called my father, hater of the Steelers, to boast and brag about my new team’s success throughout the game, he called me a traitor and repeated “I hate those guys. Don’t talk to me about them” over and over again, even though I heard the game playing in the background. And when I called after, after that delicious field goal sealed an auspicious beginning to the season, my mother promptly told me that my “father says he’s asleep and that you should leave him alone.” This morning, a quick sound bite from the man, calling me a Benedict Arnold to the cause, telling me that I was worse than an Argentine discussing soccer.

And that’s when I knew it was bad. In my father’s eyes, I am already a Steelers fan. No immersion necessary. But the euphoria of winning, and I’m not just talking about the whole “defending superbowl champs” thing, is something I share with my neighbors and with the people of this town – they joy of seeing your army emerge triumphant belongs to the people, to the citizenry, to the yinzers.

This morning, at the Giant Eagle, everyone had a little smile in their step. And everyone looked happier than the day before. Though my smile was big, I couldn’t help but think of Jeff Fisher, and  remember the hope I’d felt during the Oilers’ last season. A hope not unlike the hope of the Steelers repeating last year’s performance.

As Brad and I finished our beers on his porch, we knew one thing: this is going to be a great season.