Well, here we are, Christmas 2013. For the first 21 years of my life, Christmas meant one thing with almost complete certainty – a trip to Pittsburgh. No, we never spent Christmas day itself in the ‘Burgh, (except perhaps for once, when I was very little), but we always drove up there the day after Christmas.
When I was young, Steelers gear, and Steelers posters were frequent presents from my grandparents, and aunt and uncle. My grandparents were not big sports fans, but this was the end of the first Super Bowl era, and support for the Steelers was a natural part of civic pride. I can remember going up to my grandpa Bill one year, him sitting in his green chair, wearing a Steelers sweatshirt and him asking “Who are you, Rocky Bleier?” I said yes, having no idea about Rocky’s incredible story.
One year it snowed, and there are pictures of my cousin David towing me around my aunt and uncle’s first house in Monroeville with a Steelers jacket on – a jacket I’d later inherit and proudly wear in future winters down inside “Redskins Territory” despite the plunge the franchise took in the 80’s.
When I got older, and had made a conscious decision that the Steelers were “My team” and began following the club long distance from Maryland (mind you, no internet on those days, although the Washington Post did have good national NFL coverage) those trips to Pittsburgh gave me a window into some key moments of the club’s history.
1987 brought my introduction to Myron Cope, as the Steelers eliminated themselves from the playoff’s vs. the Browns at Three Rivers Stadium in Mark Malone’s final game as a Steeler. More significantly, the game was also John Stallworth and Donnie Shell’s finale with the franchise, leaving only Mike Webster and Dwayne Woodruff as the last holdovers of the Super Steelers.
1988’s entrance to Grandma’s house on Ceadercove was met by a KDKA news anchor leading off with this:
- “Rumors are flying around faster than a quarterback can throw them. Is Chuck Noll out a Steelers head coach?”
The Steelers had just finished 5-11, and Noll buckled when Dan Rooney asked him to fire some coaches. It was the intervention of Joe Greene that got both men to step back from the ledge.
1991’s arrival coincided with Chuck Noll’s retirement. We didn’t make it into the city in time for the press conference, but I remember my Grandmother telling me that Noll had been visibly ready to cry.
1992’s trip brought us there in time for the regular season finale vs. Cleveland. This was the game where Barry Foster broke the franchise’s rushing record, which in spite of everything that Jerome Bettis accomplished, stands today.
It also marked Bubby Brister’s final game with the Steelers. A week early the fans at Three Rivers Stadium had been booing him, but they were chanting “Bubby, Bubby, Bubby” before he was done. After the game, he made his famous declaration that he was glad to answer his critics, saying “I won’t mention any names, just initials, O.J. Simpson.”
Merry Christmas, Steelers Nation
Whether this Christmas finds you in Pittsburgh, as a product of the Diaspora celebrating in parts elsewhere, or simply as a citizen of Steelers Nation without any familial or geographic tie to the City of Pittsburgh, everyone here at Steel Curtain Rising wishes you a very Merry Christmas.