When you come to visit Pittsburgh, PA don't forget to wear your black and gold.
Pittsburgh, my new hometown, is completely caught up in pre-Super Bowl Steeler craziness. Actually, I don't know why I limit it to pre-Super Bowl. Pittsburgh displays its love affair with its NFL team all year long.
But passion is at a peak right now—just days before the big game in Tampa Bay.
If you live in Pittsburgh and root for another NFL team, I advise you to keep it to yourself.
Last Friday, the family went to a Steeler pep rally where nearly 25,000 fans gathered at Heinz Stadium to see the team off.[Rousing Rally Sends the Steelers Off to Tampa In Quest of Sixth Title, by Sadie Gurman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 24, 2009]
That involved driving through downtown traffic, circling around looking for parking and sitting in the cold watching videos of earlier games on the Jumbotron (and cheering as though each play was unfolding at that exact minute).
We waited without complaint for over an hour for a dozen players and coach Mike Tomlin to appear for less than ten minutes to tell us how much they love us. How sweet those words sounded!
Then, to even wilder cheering, the players vanished into the tunnel from whence they had just emerged.
Pittsburgh's romance with the Steelers is a thing of beauty.
In November 2007, a sports analysis organization ranked the Steelers as the most popular local sports franchise out of all 122 teams in professional hockey, basketball, baseball and football.
Another study found that the Steelers have the highest percentage of female fans of any football team, more than twice as many as in other cities.
And that's a fact. Good luck getting an appointment with a manicurist this week. They've been booked for two weeks filling requests from their female clients for black and gold nails.
No self-respecting Steeler fan would be caught dead without his "Terrible Towel" Invented by Pittsburgh's legendary broadcaster Myron Cope, the towel is widely considered professional sports' most easily identifiable symbol.
The towel is nice but true fans needs more. So after I deliberated only briefly, I purchased a black baseball cap with "STEELERS" emblazoned in yellow capital letters across the front.
After I forked over my $10, the street vendor said: "You're lucky. That's the last one we have."
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl offered the greatest evidence of devotion when he officially (but temporarily) changed his name to "Steelerstahl" just before the play off game against the hated Baltimore Ravens. The mayor wanted nothing to do with the "Ravens"—especially as part of his name.[Mayor Changes Name to Steelerstahl, KDKA, January 14, 2009]
Fans' Steeler adoration is understandable.
On its way to its seventh Super Bowl, the Steeler franchise is the oldest and most winning in the AFC. The Steelers have hosted more conference championship games than any other NFL franchise.
From 1974 to 1979 the Steelers became the first NFL franchise to win four Super Bowl titles in six seasons, a feat which is yet to be matched. In all, the Steelers have won five Super Bowls.
In getting the Steelers into the Super Bowl, 36-year-old Tomlin has done the impossible by not only being the youngest coach to field a championship team but also in successfully filling the shoes of the his two beloved predecessors, Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll.[Secret to Steelers Coach Tomlin's Success:Take Notes, by Judy Battista, New York Times, January 26, 2009]
Now I'll offer my prediction.
The Steelers' Super Bowl record is an impressive 5-1. And although quarterback Ben Roethlisberger isn't pretty to watch and he's sacked a lot, when it counts the most, he gets the job done. Roethlisberger's third-down completion rate is among the highest of all active quarterbacks.
On the other hand, the Arizona Cardinals are this year's Cinderella team. And midnight for Cinderella teams always comes around.
On offense, I see the Steelers playing a conservative running game to keep the ball away from the explosive Cardinal duo Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald.
And on defense, the Steelers will rely on a heavy inside pass rush—and blitz only infrequently— to contain Warner and to create turnovers.
Super Bowl XLIII will see a high scoring game with the Steelers coasting to a comfortable win.
My call: take the Steelers minus 7 and go over the total of 47 points. The final score will be Steelers 38-Cardinals 17.
Before putting your money down, you may want to keep in mind that over the last decade my selections have been an uninspiring 4-6.
More importantly, I have been subjected to non-stop Steeler brainwashing since I arrived here six months ago. I've lost all objectivity.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.