“We’re from the town with that great football team,
We cheer the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Chuck Noll and all his friends are all on the field.
Go out and get them Steelers.
Bradshaw, and Rocky, and Franco and Lynn,
We love you Pittsburgh Steelers.
It’s been many years in coming,
just keep that Steelers machinery humming…”
It was the first time I’d heard the song, it was the first time I’d been the place, and I was hooked on both.
The date was December 19th, 1993. The song is of course the Western Pennsylvania Polka, and the place was the Purple Goose Saloon, then home of the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Baltimore. In Spanish they say, Me encontre con mi lugar en el mundo, — roughly translated, I’ve found my place in the world. That was how I felt.
Life can be ironic sometimes. I’d spent my college years in Baltimore, only to learn in the last week of the fall semester of my senior year that there was indeed a place where I could see Steelers games every Sunday.
Fast forward to 2008. I am about to witness my first Steelers game on US soil in five and a half years…. I eagerly anticipated going up to the Goose….
….Only to get Steelers Fan Club of Maryland newsletter and learn that the Purple Goose is now a Ravens Roost!
This is of course not news to the faithful of Steelers Nation in Maryland. The Goose apparently got bought out a year ago, its new owners changed the name immediately, but waited a year to kick out the Steelers fans. For me, if the news wasn’t entirely unanticipated, but it surely was disappointing.
“Chew tobacco, Chew tobacco, spit, spit, spit, if you ain’t a Steelers fan you ain’t sh-t, Go Steelers!”
If you never experienced a Steelers game that Purple Goose, you missed something special.
In the early 1990’s, long before the advent of the Direct TV’s Sunday Ticket, a Pittsburgh transplant by the name of Jim D. (I’ll avoid last names for the sake of preserving privacy) decided he wanted to see Steelers games. There was no web in those days, so Jim starting putting up little three by five cards in super market bulletin boards and spreading the news by word of mouth.
The Purple Goose Saloon: Pittsburgh’s Perfect Home Away from Home
The Colts had long ago left Baltimore, and the Ravens arrival was still years off. There as many Pittsburgh expats in Baltimore as there are anywhere else, and the Purple Goose was the perfect location.
The Goose was a medium sized shot-and-a-beer joint down tucked off of Caton avenue in one of South Baltimore’s last working-class enclaves. I never made it into one of those bars that used to sit across from J&L’s on Carson street, but I’ll wager that this place could have held its own against any one of them.
The Goose was dark, it was rough-edged, and there was always a haze, at least in those days.
- You couldn’t ask for a better environment.
Fans from all over the region, and from all walks of life flocked to the Goose on Steelers Sunday. Plumbers, hair stylists, people who worked for the NSA, nutritionists, private investigators, school teachers, you name it and you could find it at the Goose. Steelers garb adorned the walls, waitresses wore Steelers Fan Club of Baltimore t-shirts, special black and gold colored menus featuring pastrami brothers sandwiches were on every table.
And perhaps most importantly, Iron City and IC Light was available, and always freely flowing.
Sundays at the Purple Goose Saloon
The routine was pretty simple, starting with – Get There Early. If you had any hope of getting a seat, at least when the Steelers were playing well, you had to get their 2 hours or so before game time. There was plenty to do, tailgates in the parking lot were a common occurrence, and it all revolved around the Steelers.
As game time approached, Steve would take the podium, announce the weeks raffle prices, say a few words to get the fans fired up (as if we needed it) and we’d lead into kick off with the Western Pennsylvania Polka, followed of course by Steelers Nation’s rallying cry: “Chew tobacco, Chew tobacco, spit, spit, spit, if you ain’t a Steelers fan you ain’t sh-t, Go Steelers!”
Luck of the Draw
Volunteers would circulate at half time selling raffle tickets, “1 for a dollar, 6 for five, 12 for ten, and you do the math after that.” I always bought a raffle ticket. One raffle ticket. No more, no less. I have NEVER had any luck at winning raffles or drawings, but I won the raffle at the Goose at least a half dozen times…..
The Steelers lost my first game at the Goose, getting smashed 26-17 (don’t be deceived by the score) by the then Houston Oilers. In fact they’d lose their next game 16-6 to Seattle, but it didn’t take long to understand that this place was something out of the ordinary.
I remember the final game of the 1993 season vividly. I showed up an hour early, thinking I was going to find a place to sit, only to discover that I was very, very wrong. The Steelers had an 8-7 record, and needed a win plus help to make the playoffs. This day marked one of the times that Greg Lloyd altered the course of a game with the sheer force of his will.
- While I cherish that memory, what happened after the game sticks out.
With a victory in the bag, the Steelers playoff spot depended on the outcomes of several other games. The bar immediately switched to those games, and 90% of the fans stuck around. If memory serves, the easiest route to the playoffs would be for the New England Patriots to beat the Miami Dolphins, which would put Pittsburgh in the playoffs against the Kansas City Chiefs.
I can remember one fan speaking out against this. He wanted things to break another way, a way that would allow us to play Houston in the playoffs again – “I want one more shot at Buddy Ryan,” he declared. You gotta love the attitude.
The Steelers did not get one more shot at Buddy Ryan. Drew Bledsoe led the Patriots from behind to beat the Dolphins, and at Western Pennsylvania Polka played at the Purple Goose again.
Following the 1993 season, life would take me to Boston and then Cincinnati, but when ever I was home during the Steelers season, I always made my pilgrimage to the Goose. Between 1997 and 2000 I was back in Maryland, and I only missed two games.
The Josh Miller Fan Club
That stretch included the dark days of the 1998 and 1999 seasons, where the Goose served as a refuge. Numbers might have been down, but the spirit was still the same. Ray Sherman’s offense was so bad, a group of buddies would sit there, call the play before the snap, and usually get it right. And usually it meant that the Steelers offense got stuffed. After a time, first downs were punctuated with the caveat, “Josh Miller is warming up to kick!”
Awards, Honors, Accolades, and Memorable Games at the Goose
The Goose was bar none, one of the best places to see a game. Iron City beer honored the Bar naming it one of the top ten out of town Steelers bars. KDKA sent a television crew to do a story on the bar and its fans back in 2001 – I was already living in Argentina then, but one of my friends was featured.
The game time environment at the Goose was something special. The January 1995 playoff victory over the Browns? – Time Square in New York on V-E day could not have been more festive. I missed Super Bowl XXX at the Goose, but the T-shirts said it all “I survived Super Bowl XXX at the Purple Goose.”
“Life is a journey in which you never arrive.” – Chuck Noll.
After the 2000 season, my journey would again take away, this time outside of the United States. I made my travel plans so that I’d be back in time for the 2001 playoffs, and got to see the Steelers playoff games against the Ravens and Patriots.
I am glad that one of my last games at the Goose featured Amos Zereoue running over Rod Woodson to score a touchdown. I really wish that I could have been there for Super Bowl XL. My first thought when the Steelers finally got One for the Thumb was “My God, the Goose must be crazy.”
- While it is saddening to know that the Goose is no more, change is simply a part of life. And change is not always for the bad.
The Steelers Fan Club of Baltimore has grown. In fact, it has grown so much that its now the Steelers Fan Club of Maryland. And while the Goose is no longer on their roster of Sunday Watering holes, the club counts four or five other locations. I have never been to any of them, but I can imagine that they will be the place to watch the Steelers play the Ravens this coming Sunday.
Win or lose, a good time will be had by all. But as good as those places might be, however much the might thrive, they’ll never be another Purple Goose.
Thanks for reading Steel Curtain Rising. Take time to leave one of your memories of the Goose.