Thursday, December 20, 2007

Steel Crazy (after all these years)

Jerusalem – Yesterday began Eid al-Adha and Tuesday is Christmas. Rather than slaughtering a sheep or attending Midnight Mass, the ritual I’m most focused on will take place at around 4:30 tomorrow morning. That’s the time that I’ll be waking up for the second half of the Steelers-Rams game.

There are two weeks left in the regular season and the Steelers basically need to win out to win their division. When I started this blog, I intended for it to be about Live from Jordan, travel, culture, people, and my little obsessions – Mexican food, Big Hair, and the Steelers. “Living on the Seam” in Jerusalem has yielded some colorful posts, but I’ve fallen down on the Steeler front.

I thought there would be posts about new coach Mike Tomlin and his separated-at-birth resemblance to Omar Epps, the heroism of Hines Ward, and a petition drive to get rid of Steely McBean, the embarrassing mascot introduced at the start of this season. But I haven’t written a single post dedicated solely to the Steelers, and the season is slipping away. So this week’s blog is devoted to my favorite team and my love for them from thousands of miles away.

When I lived in Jordan, I listened to the games free on or Yahoo. I have memories of Myron Cope screaming “Yoi and double yoi” while the call to prayer echoed outside. 1:00 games were the best. With a seven-hour time difference, it was my own primetime Sunday night football. Night games that started at 11:15 or 4AM were problematic, however. You gotta support the team, though, the next day in Arabic class be damned.

Besides Myron Cope’s retirement, things have changed in the last four years -- it is no longer free to listen to the game. I bought NFL Game Pass from Yahoo for about $200, which allows me and other fans outside of the country to watch a game a week on the Internet. Because Yahoo’s service is inconsistent, I’ve also subscribed to radio broadcasts with NFL Field Pass ($9.95/month) as a backup.

Silly you say?

Well, this last week, despite selecting the Steelers-Jaguars game on my menu, Yahoo broadcast the Miami-Baltimore game. I had a full meltdown. The only people who wanted to see the Dolphins-Ravens were the top five picks of next year’s NFL draft. I spent much of the first half of the game IM-ing with the Yahoo help team (who were helpless) and refreshing my screen. For the second half, I listened to the streaming voices of Bill Hillgrove and Tunch Ilkin while I wrote an angry email to customer service. The bitter loss to Jacksonville didn’t make it any better.

Still, in a few hours, I’ll be getting up to see what the Steelers have left in the tank after two awful losses. Why go through work on Friday in a stupor just to see the Steelers play the Rams you ask? Well, there is something special about football and the Steelers for Pittsburghers.

The Steelers transcend sports in Pittsburgh; they represent the heart of the city. I think it goes back to the 70s when mills were closing and unemployment numbers were skyrocketing. The Steelers won four Super Bowls and gave people a diversion that swept them away. The Steelers were America’s best, better than the glamor-boy Cowboys. They won with a style of toughness and grit that embodied the city. The Steel Curtain defense and guys like Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene represented the qualities of Pittsburgh’s everyday – and in many cases, unemployed – heroes.

The tradition continued in the 80s and 90s, as the mantle was passed to Carnell Lake, Greg Lloyd, and Rod Woodson. They didn’t win the Super Bowl, but the Blitzburgh defense made us proud. And then, along came Jerome Bettis, the Bus, who just kept hitting defenders again and again until he ran them over. Pittsburgh has never had the “Run and Gun,” “West Coast Offense,” or Sharpie moments (which I admit are creative and funny). Instead, the Steelers have won consistently over the years by being tougher than their opponents.

For a working class city like Pittsburgh, success with that style of play has generated a love affair that has few comparisons in all of sports. I read a story the other day about a widow who brought her husband’s ashes to the game last week. It was his dying request to see a game at Heinz field and the family couldn’t afford tickets or the trip from New Hampshire. Donors helped out. In the realm of things Steeler, such stories aren’t out of the ordinary.

When you arrive at Pittsburgh International Airport, a statue of Franco Harris making the “immaculate reception,” greets travelers (click for video). Next week will be the 25th anniversary of the play that launched the Steel Curtain’s dynasty. What other city celebrates the anniversary of a play?

The Steeler Nation lives in Pittsburgh, across the country, and around the world. With the demise of Pittsburgh’s economy in the 70s, many Pittsburghers took their terrible towels to the road. As a result, there is a Steeler bar in every major American city and road games in some cities take on a home-game feel because of the number of Steeler fans in attendance.

When I lived in D.C., I followed the Steelers run to the 2006 Super Bowl at the Pour House in Capitol Hill. The Pour House is three stories of Steeler Bar packed with the Black and Gold faithful. It was the next best thing to watching at home. I drove home for the big game, though. My buddy Joe flew in from Boston and we watched the Super Bowl in a bar downtown. When Hines Ward caught the winning touchdown, it was the realization of a childhood dream. We danced in Pittsburgh’s snowy streets with people we didn’t know. Our generation had a championship too.

I’ve been a part of the Steeler Diaspora for 14 years. I imagine there is something great about a Pittsburgh Monday morning after a win. In Jerusalem, as I set the alarm to get up for the game this week, there is something equally great about tuning in from afar. While I didn’t lose a job in the mill and I am too young to have first-hand recollections of Lambert and Mean Joe, following the Steelers is being part of a storied tradition that is associated with all the good things of home.


goinghard said...

Thanks for showing love. I was very proud and surprised to have yours be the first comment on my blog. As a Pittsburgher, Jew and a hopeful person (despite what my blog may convey) I really enjoyed Live From Jordan, which I got as a birthday gift. The blog is great as well and I'll be looking forward to new posts. Keep up the good work.
Good luck, Luke

Anonymous said...


I happened to find your blog as I was following up on a lead for a place to watch Steeler Games in Jerusalem. I am here 10 days and have been pouring over the website all week in advance of the Steelers home game this week against Dallas. We are having an excellent season and the cohesive presence that I feel both when in Pgh and across the miles, be it L.A. or Jerusalem, is excellent.

Wishing you the best and hope we can celebrate another victory this Monday morning.

Best from Yerushalayim,

Ira Caplan