A few weeks back when the Steelers voted against the NFL’s decision to flex Thursday night games during weeks 13-17, I wondered, “Maybe Franco told Art Rooney about Mateo?”
Mateo Labriola (no relation to Bob, or so he insists) is an Argentine Steelers fan who was fortunate enough to meet Franco Harris on a while visiting the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I shared their story in my eulogy for Franco. Here’s the digest version:
But Mateo’s journey wasn’t making a one-act show.
He had tickets to see the Steelers vs the Ravens at Heinz Field the following week. In between, he stopped in Canton to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where fortune brought him together with Franco Harris. It’s a good thing for Mateo that there was no flexing of Thursday night games back in December 2017, or otherwise their encounter may never have happened.
Had the NFL, in their infinite greed, been able to flex either of those games, Mateo would have been forced reprogram his entire trip. Fate could have easily forced him to sacrifice his trip to Canton.
And truthfully, that would have been the least of his problems. In December 2017 the Argentine peso US Dollar exchange rate was 17.4 to 1 (today it is 250.5 to 1 – the black market rate is nearly twice that, but that’s another story.) Rebooking hotel rooms and travel could have easily been cost prohibitive.
- He even might have been forced to miss one of the games.
Mateo is hardly the only international Steelers fan to scrimp and save to make pilgrimage to see the Steelers. Shortly after news of the decision to flex Thursday night games broke, I got this in a WhatsApp feed hosted by Mexican Steelers fans.
For those who don’t speak Spanish, this is a flyer advertising a trip to see the Steelers December 3rd and December 7th games against the Cardinals and the Patriots, with a return flight to Mexico on December the 8th.
This seems like a petty good deal, but those games fall on weeks 13 and 14, inside the NFL’s Thursday night flex window. That means if both the Cardinals and Steelers are hot late in the season, the NFL could decide to pull that game to Thursday night.
Conversely, if either the Steelers or that Patriots are struggling come December, the NFL could simply decide to push their Thursday night game to Sunday.
I asked friend who knows organizers of the trip and he replied, “…No tienen plan B” – they don’t have a plan B. So if the NFL decides to flex either of those games, then I guess those Mexican fans will simply be SOL.
Sure, they’ll be 28 days advanced notice before a game is flexed to Thursday night, but changing international flight plans will still be an expensive nightmare.
- I opened this article with a bit of a while lie.
Yes, I did think of Mateo when I heard about flexing Thursday night games. But no, I don’t really think that Franco Harris mentioned anything about meeting Mateo to Art Rooney II. He didn’t need to.
Like his father Dan Rooney and his grandfather Art Rooney Sr. before him, Art Rooney II understand that the fans who bust their asses day in and day out, the ones who revel in tailgating, the ones who wouldn’t dream of trading in an Iron City and seat in Section 188 for chardonnay and a spot in the luxury box are what make the NFL the power house it is.
That’s the same sentiment that led Dan Rooney to buy hundreds of delivery pizzas for fans waiting in the snow to buy tickets to the 1995 Steelers AFC Championship game.
In that light, it is fitting that the New York Giants, New York Jets, Chicago Bears, Las Vegas Raiders, Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals joined Pittsburgh Steelers in opposing Thursday Night flexing.
With the exception of the Jets, those teams make up what’s left of the league’s “old guard owners” – owners of teams who have enough institutional memory to recall a time when the NFL didn’t dominate popular culture, when the NFL had to fight for the attention, loyalty and and yes, the money of the “average fan.”
That’s something the other 25 NFL owners now take for granted.
They should not.