Sunday, November 14, 2010

Patriot Games

My Steelers are playing one of their archenemies today, the New England Patriots.

Both teams are 6-2 and are fighting for domination in the AFC this year.  The Patriots come in having won the last 5 of 6 against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.  I was at a two of them, although one was before that run started.

In January of 1998, I had just moved to Baltimore and was living with my brother Ed and his wife.  Ed and his friend Walt had a pair of tickets for the Steelers and Patriots in the first round of the playoffs.  I’d never been to a playoff game before, so they weren’t going to leave me behind.  We figured we’d pick one up for me “on the street”.  Obviously this was before StubHub, E-Bay and the rest of the “secondary market” for tickets came to be.

The game was Saturday so we drove out to Pittsburgh on Friday night.  Once we checked into our hotel in Greentree, we set out for a hotel bar downtown.  Walt found a guy selling tickets almost immediately for $140.  That was a lot for me at the time, (what with being unemployed and all), but I was just happy not to have to worry about getting shut out.

One the way home from the bar, we decided to buzz by Three Rivers Stadium and have a look.  Honest to God, it was 12:30 am and there was already a line of cars about half way around the stadium, waiting to be admitted to the parking lots.

Ed and Walt decided we should come back to the stadium about 5:30 the next morning.  Naturally, I questioned their sanity, parentage and legitimacy. 

Ed said “Trust me, when the time comes and you’re there, there will be no place else in the world you’d rather be.”

So there we were; up by 4:45, in transit by 5:30 and in line by 5:45.  The line started moving almost immediately and by 6:00 we were parked under one of the overpasses over the parking lot and firing up the grill.  I think we waited until at least 6:30 before cracking open the beer, as Walt grilled the sausage and peppers.
Ed, Walt and the grill.

With beer in hand, watching the sun come up over the city, surrounded a sea of Black and Gold, I realized my brother was exactly right.  At that moment, there was no place in the world I’d rather be.  I actually felt sorry for the poor slobs that were still in bed.  We were the privileged few and that sunrise was our prize.
Ed and I hitting our first beers, in front of Three Rivers Stadium, which you can’t see there.

Now mind you, we still had another 6 hour of tailgate yet to go.  It was crazy-town out there.  I saw shit that still boggles my mind.
This guy drove around the parking lot, with his cat in the back seat on his special Steelers cat-bed.

These guys were burning a shirt that said “Fuck the Patriots.”  Other people had that slogan carved into a burning barrel.  Somehow, I don’t think they let you build fires right there on the parking lot surface any more.

We also took time to honor our boyhood hero, the great Roberto Clemente.  Arriba Roberto!

What I didn’t see were Patriots fans… no more than 12 throughout the entire day.  There was nothing there but a black and gold frenzy.  The Steelers won the game 7-6, on a 40-yard TD run by Kordell Stewart.  It was a euphoric experience for my first playoff game.  From the parking lot, I borrowed my brother’s new-fangled cell phone and called all my friends from Albany, going “Guess where I am right now?

In 1998, we lucked out with the weather.  That afternoon it was a balmy 50 degrees most of the time.  In 2005 at the AFC Championship game, we had no such luck.  This was a late game and the temperature at kickoff was a most UN-balmy 13 degrees.  (And falling.)

We totally lucked into these tickets.  Ed was on the Steelers season ticket waiting list and his name came up in a drawing for playoff tickets.  He got 4 tickets to each of the first 2 playoff games.  He couldn’t make it to the first one, against the Jets, so my mom and dad flew in from Green Bay and met me there.  It was cold that time too… my poor mom was woefully underdressed and froze her tiny butt off… even to the point where she was rooting for the Jets kicker to make a game-winning kick, just so we could get the hell out of there.  Remember, this was the game where the Jets kicker hit the post on a field goal with under 2 minutes left, and missed wide in overtime.  The Steelers eventually pulled it out.

Mom wanted no part of this game so she sat it out.  Unfortunately her sons had no such good sense.

But this was the magic season.  We had a rookie QB that hadn’t lost a game yet.  The Steelers went 15-1 that year; Big Ben was 13-0.  This was also the year we saw the “Hurricane game” in Miami, in which our plans were scrambled by Hurricane Jeanne.  There was no way we were going to miss seeing the Steelers get into their first Super Bowl since 1995.

We made a token attempt at tailgating, but it was just raw outside.  We hung out at our friend Bob’s tailgate for a while but headed into the stadium pretty quickly.  The cool thing about Heinz Field is that they have band playing before the game and all kinds of exhibits in the Great Hall, so there’s always shit to do before the game.

We do know how to dress for the misery though.  I was totally layered up for maximum warmth AND mojo effect.
That’s 4 layers of pants/sweat pants and 6 layers up top: T-shirt, Turtleneck, long-sleeve tee, sweatshirt, insulated windbreaker and game jersey.  This was all under my winter coat.  Everything I wore had Steelers on it.

I also had my Steelers gloves and socks; both stuffed with those gel-pack warmers.  Worked pretty well too!  I had my big waterproof boots, and cardboard to sit on and put under my feet.  Add a Steeler ski cap, and skiing face-wrap thing and my bling and I’m good to go.
My dad and I, up high in the upper deck of the closed end zone.  Yes, that’s snow packed under the aluminum seats.

Our vantage point at the beginning of the game, while we were too optimistic to be cold.

Still, despite my best efforts, the Steelers lost… badly.  They were down 23-3 after the first half.  Ben looked terrible and of course, this was before the Pats were busted for illegally filming their opponents.  So they had our intel too.

I felt bad for poor Lee Greenwood who came out at halftime to try to engage a cold and severely pissed off crowd.  He was aggressively ignored.

We started making some progress at making a big comeback, but for every gain, the Pats would make a big play of their own to maintain their big lead. 

With all my stuff on, I really was never that cold, until the reality of the 4th quarter set in and I realized that there would be no more miracles this season.  Stupid Pats…

Still, I mostly blame myself for the loss and the evidence is right in the last picture.  See the 3 strings of black and gold beads?  There were supposed to be 4.  I left the room without them at all… D’oh!  Then when Dad had to go back for something else, I asked him to grab my bling from my bag.  He didn’t know how many there were and just brought down as many has he grabbed, which was 3.  It could have been that one missing strand that changed everything.

Realistically, I don’t really think so though.  I’m sure they lost because I was wearing a PURPLE ski-thing.  Purple is the Ravens’ color; therefore I never wear it.  I wouldn’t even let Pinky get purple towels for the powder room here.  But Ed had 2 ski-things… his was a black one, and his wife had a purple one.  That’s the one I had to wear.  So I blame myself.  If I’d manned up sufficiently and just faced having a cold face, the Steelers could have went to the Super Bowl that year.  Such is the responsibility that I bear.

So with that in mind, we come to the game gear mojo for today’s game.

The Steelers are wearing their throwback jerseys and so will I.  Last year we were 2-0 when I wore my Harrison throwback when the Steelers wore theirs.  Once I wore my white Steelers sweat pants and the other, my plaid Steelers sweats.  I wore the white when they beat the Ratbirds, another member of the Unholy Trinity, so I’m going with the white again today.

I am ready for some football.


Oilfield Trash said...

I am from Latrobe and live in Houston and I have not had a chance to get to Heinz Field for a game. I went to tons of games as a kid at Three Rivers.

One of these summers I am going to take my kids home for the summer and take them training camp as it is walking distance from my aunt's house.

bluzdude said...

Dude, you totally have to do that. It will make your kids fans for life.

Heinz is such a great place for a game... Very fan-friendly. Lots of stuff to seen and do.

Oilfield Trash said...

They are wanting to go and my kids are fans for life. My son loves Troy. We are waiting for 7pm to come so we can watch the game.

Here is a good post from my blog you should read.

bluzdude said...

I did. Well done. Everyone else should too.

klahanie said...

Hey bluzdude,
I have a question about the Pittsburgh Steelers that maybe you can answer. Why do they only have their symbol on one side of their helmets?
I'm about ready to watch the British Columbia Lions play the Saskatchewan Roughriders in a CFL play off game. Do you recall when the Baltimore Stallions won the Grey Cup? Fascinating eh:-)
All the best against the New England Patriots.
Take care, Gary.

bluzdude said...

Way, way back in the day, the Steelers received permission to use the 3 hypocycloids that made up the logo of US Steel. They weren't sure how it was going to look on the helmets, (they were yellow at the time, like they'll be wearing tonight with their throwback unis) so the equipment manager decided to only put them on 1 side, in case they decided to scrap the logo and he's have to remove them all. The Steelers won that first game with the logo, and went on to have a winning season, which was rare for them back then, so they decided to stay with the single logo.

See, it was the mojo, rearing it's head to guide the destiny of a franchise.

As for the Baltimore Stallions, they were gone before I ever moved here. I was aware of them, but no more than that.


klahanie said...

Thanks for the info. Much appreciated. Incidentally, the Steelers vs Patriots is live on Channel 4, here, right now, in Britain.
Take care and thanks again.
Kind wishes, Gary.

Cassie said...

I love the older photos! That car is freaking amazing. I can't even remember what the North Shore looked like when Three Rivers Stadium was there. Isn't that sad? It's a much better view, though, with PNC and Heinz field. From what I do remember, three rivers was a huge cement bowl. I was in there once, for a DMB concert about 2 weeks before they imploded it.

I hate the Patriots. I'm not a big Steelers fan, but I do know when to cheer them on. Beli-dick is an ass and I have no respect for him as a coach.

(Matt gave me the spelling on his name, FYI.)

Jessica R. said...

First, I am so glad I live somewhere we never see crazy temps like "13." 50 is enough to send me shivering inside. Second, I am continually impressed with your head wear. Especially that purple thing. Looks very warm. Third, I still haven't ever made it to an NFL game, but I'm hoping a Saints game is in my future next year!

bluzdude said...

I found the draw to 3 Rivers was the outside atmosphere. The tailgaters were just insane. The stadium itself was pretty antiseptic... just another of the big "ashtray" stadiums. Heinz Field is a huge upgrade.

(Fucking Patriots... Gah!)

I'll say that the purple thing was incredibly warm. I just hate that it was purple.

That particular game in Pittsburgh was definitely cold, but it was really an anomaly. My folks used to live in Green Bay WI, and temps like that were common. They'd been to games where their beers froze solid.

That said, there's nothing like being at a football game, especially a "home" game, surrounded by 60 thousand screaming maniacs. The energy is incredible.

Mary Ann said...

The 'purple thing' is from Green Bay, oddly, since it's a Viking color. As soon as football season begins, a funny little guy brings a bunch of those warmers to the Mall and sets up shop in a kiosk. He usually sells out by noon.
As we always say, "There's no sunshine in footall! Football is sleet and mud and ice and freezing one's butt."
And that's why I have a fruitcrate for a butt and I poop pears.

bluzdude said...

I'm going to have to find one of those myself, in addition to some rain pants, for the next time I find myself having paid several hundred bucks for the right to sit out in the rain, sleet and snow, to watch a football game.

Nothing is worthwhile if you have a wet bum.

Cher Duncombe said...

Great post, Bluz and the photos were awesome! Rich quit watching yesterday's game with he Pats in the 3rd quarter. He has a brother who lives in Boston whom we are seeing this week, and we have to hang our heads in shame. Plus---we owe him a tee shirt. :(

bluzdude said...

They were freshly scanned for the occasion. The only downside is that I have some that were better, but I can't find them. These are what was left in the photo booklet after I sent the others around.

Truth be told, I picked the Patriots to win in my weekly picks. They just have our number.

Game was still upsetting to watch though. I stuck with it to the end, but I admit I was getting the head-bobs in the 4th. If I hadn't taken today off, I probably would have went to bed too.

Facie said...

Before the game I was saying to hubby that I don't know if I hate the Pats more than I hate the Ravens. I guess I SHOULD hate the Birdies more since they are in the Steelers' division, but, no, after last night's game, I am quite convinced it is the Pats.

I was at the '02 playoff game at Heinz Field. B/c it was January, I dressed the part, but ended up almost passing out from heat as it was around 70 degrees and I had long underwear on. That game probably was where my hate for the Patsies started. Fortunately, I missed the '05 freezeout b/c of bronchitis. (Family has season tickets, FYI.)

bluzdude said...

I have to hate the Ratties more just because I live here. Plus, they used to be the Browns. That's 2 strikes right there. Lastly, they have the league's dumbest fans. The upper deck is like Darwin's waiting room.

Mrs. Bachelor Girl said...

I'm so impressed by all your Steelers gear. My grandfather would be too, if he were still alive - his two favorite football teams were the Steelers and the Saints.

Papa would declare you "a hell of a nice fella."

DG said...

Tom F-ing Brady. Dude simply has our number. Betcha they're still taking video.

Here's hoping we can actually beat the Raiders this year.

Anonymous said...

See, in Chicago the Patriots have no mojo or power. We see them as tragic victims of Super Bowl Dos Equis. They are that poor team with the little league red jerseys and a hiking patriot playing center on their helmets. Adorable. Or we think of Darryl Stingley being paralyzed by Jack Tatum.

To lose to Tom Brady like that. This must be how all of Baltimore felt in losing to a mink-coat wearing Joe Namath.

The Karma train is coming.

bluzdude said...

Mrs Bachelor Girl,
We have so much Steelers (and Penguins) gear in our family we could start our own Outlet Store. Even way back in the 70s and we’d have a playoffs-related Barn Party, we’d outfit all our friends in Steelers jerseys from our own personal stock. It’s only gotten worse since…

And I’m sure I’d dig your Papa too. Can’t fault a guy for liking the Black and Gold in each conference.

The Raiders need to be our “get well” game. If we go out and lose to those clowns again, we are in serious trouble for this season.

There’s no reason we can’t battle it out with the Ratbirds for the Division, but we must win the games we’re supposed to. We’ve got the Raiders, Bills, Bengals, Panthers and Browns ahead of us and all are very winnable games. Only tough games should be the Rats and the Jets. Even if we only win that first set, we’re 11-5, which should be good for the Division or at least a Wild Card. But we have to TCB! The Rats still have to play the Saints and Houston in addition to 5 other teams they should beat.

I remember that Super Bowl as being one of the all time great ass whippings in a Championship Game, right along with the Niners over the Chargers in SB39.

The Pats didn’t really become our boogeymen until this decade, I believe, and they’ve pretty much had their way with us since, save for 2 games. (One was without Brady.)

I think Belichick has it bad for the Steelers because they used to clobber the heck out of his Browns.

Unapologetically Mundane said...

You ignored LEE GREENWOOD?

Also, this is the first time I've ever understood that people tailgate before the game and then go in. I thought tailgaters were just poor saps without tickets. Informative!

bluzdude said...

Yeah, no one was in the mood for his "I'm Proud To Be an American" bullshit. We were drunk, pissed and cold.

Also, I'm glad I could help bring you this moment of clarity. And maybe suggest you get off that island a bit more often.

Tailgating also serves the economy! Someone's got to buy those team-colored beads and non-licensed shirts...