Saluting, Remembering Scott Paulsen’s Steeler Nation on July 4th

As we celebrate July 4th its appropriate for Steelers fans to reflect Scott Paulsen’s Steeler Nation, something highly relevant to our nation. To put Paulsen’s seminal work into context, we must first take a step back:

January 2006Bill Cowher’s Pittsburgh Steelers, left for playoff dead in early December, defied the NFL by squeaking into the playoffs by winning their final four games. Pittsburgh opened with a playoff road win vs. Cincinnati. They followed by upsetting the Indianapolis Colts.

  • Victory over the Colts arrived with a special twist.

The 2005 Colts juggernaut had been anointed  as “The Team of Destiny.” Then, before Christmas, the son of Colt’s coach Tony Dungy, tragically took his own life.

Dungy, who defines the concept of “Class Act,” found the entire NFL rallying around him, making the Colts the sentimental NFL favorite. And yet, leading up to their AFC Divisional playoff game vs. the Steelers, the Indianapolis Colts ticket office made a peculiar announcement:

  • They would refuse all calls originating from a 412 area code.

That’s right, Colts were set to play the biggest game in the franchise’s Indianapolis history, and yet they still struggled to keep Steelers fans out of their stadium. The sight of Steelers fans invading opposing NFL venues had been common since the mid 1990’s – Dan Rooney traces it a 1994 road game in Arizona – but the movement was clearly gaining momentum.

  • But it lacked one thing:  a name.

WDVE’s Scott Paulsen changed it all in just over 900 words with his seminal “Nation Building” essay released shortly before the Steelers AFC Championship Game vs. Denver.

Steelers Nation; Scott Paulsen's Steeler Nation, Nation building, steelers fans

Steelers Nation; Photo credit: Fabus, Getty Images/New York Daily News

Paulsen’s piece spread like wildfire in cyberspace, yet was not to be found in a Google search nor did it turn up on WDVE’s site. Fortunately, an Inbox cleaning effort turned up a copy Paulson’s “Nation Building,” and Steel Curtain Rising now offers it here, for everyone in Steelers Nation to enjoy.

Scott Paulsen Gives Us Steeler Nation

Nation Building By WDVE‘s Scott Paulsen – January 18, 2006

Think about this the next time someone begins to argue with you that a professional sports franchise is not important to a city’s identity:

In the 1980’s, as the steel mills and their supporting factories shut down from Homestead to Midland, Pittsburghers, faced for the first time in their lives with the specter of unemployment, were forced to pick up their families, leave their home towns and move to more profitable parts of the country. The steel workers were not ready for this. They had planned to stay in the ‘burgh their entire lives. It was home.

pittsburgh, sun rise, dave dicello, steeler nation

Breath taking Pittsburgh sunrise by Dave DiCello

Everyone I know can tell the same story about how Dad, Uncle Bob or their brother-in-law packed a U-Haul and headed down to Tampa to build houses or up to Boston for an office job or out to California to star in p_rn vide_s.

  • All right. Maybe that last one just happened in my family.

At this same time, during the early to mid-eighties, the Pittsburgh Steelers were at the peak of their popularity. Following the dynasty years, the power of the Steelers was strong. Every man, woman, boy and girl from parts of four states were Pittsburgh faithful, living and breathing day to day on the news of their favorite team. Then, as now, it seemed to be all anyone talked about.

  • Who do you think the Steelers will take in the draft this year?
  • Is Terry Bradshaw done?
  • Can you believe they won’t give Franco the money – what’s he doing going to Seattle?

The last memories most unemployed steel workers had of their towns had a black and gold tinge. The good times remembered all seemed to revolve, somehow, around a football game. Sneaking away from your sister’s wedding reception to go downstairs to the bar and watch the game against Earl Campbell and the Oilers – going to midnight mass, still half in the bag after Pittsburgh beat Oakland – you and your grandfather, both crying at the sight of The Chief, finally holding his Vince Lombardi Trophy. Good times baby …. good times.

  • And then, the mills closed.

Damn the mills.

One of the unseen benefits of the collapse of the value systems our families believed in – that the mill would look after you through thick and thin – was that now, decades later, there is not a town in America where a Pittsburgher cannot feel at home.

Pour House, Steelers Bars, Washington DC Steelers Bars, Steelers Nation

Pour House, a now defunct DC Area Steelers Bar. Photo Credit: SteelersBars.com

Nearly every city in the United States has a designated “Black and Gold” establishment. From Bangor, Maine to Honolulu, Hawaii, and every town in between can be found an oasis of Iron City, chipped ham, perogies, kilbosa, and yinzers. It’s great to know that no matter what happened in the lives of our Steel City refugees, they never forgot the things that held us together as a city – families, food, and Steelers football.

  • It’s what we call the Steeler Nation.

You see it every football season. And when the Steelers have a great year, as they have had this season, the power of the Steeler Nation rises to show itself stronger than ever. This week, as the Pittsburgh team of Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Jerome Bettis and Joey Porter head to Denver, the fans of L.C. Greenwood, Jack Lambert, Rocky Bleier and Mel Blount, the generation who followed Greg Lloyd, Yancey Thigpen, Rod Woodson and Levon Kirkland will be watching from Dallas to Chicago, from an Air Force base in Minot, North Dakota, to a tent stuck in the sand near Fallujah, Iraq.

I have received more email from displaced Pittsburgh Steelers fans this week than Christmas cards this holiday season.

  • They’re everywhere.
  • We’re everywhere.
  • We are the Steeler Nation.

And now, it’s passing from one generation to the next. The children of displaced Pittsburghers, who have never lived in the Steel City, are growing up Steelers fans. When they come back to their parents’ hometowns to visit the grandparents, they hope, above all, to be blessed enough to get to see the Steelers in person.

  • Heinz Field is their football Mecca.

And if a ticket isn’t available, that’s okay, too. There’s nothing better than sitting in Grandpa’s living room, just like Dad did, eating Grandma’s cooking and watching the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Just like Dad did.

So, to you, Steeler Nation, I send best wishes and a fond wave of the Terrible Towel. To Tom, who emailed from Massachusetts to say how great it was to watch the Patriots lose and the Steelers win in one glorious weekend. To Michelle, from Milwaukee, who wrote to let me know it was she who hexed Mike Vanderjagt last Sunday by chanting “boogity, boogity, boogity” and giving him the “maloik”. To Jack, who will somehow pull himself away from the beach bar he tends in Hilo, Hawaii, to once again root for the black and gold in the middle of the night (his time), I say, thanks for giving power to the great Steeler Nation.

All around the NFL, the word is out that the Pittsburgh Steeler fans “travel well”, meaning they will fly or drive from Pittsburgh to anywhere the Steelers play, just to see their team. The one aspect about that situation the rest of the NFL fails to grasp is that, sometimes, the Steeler Nation does not have to travel. Sometimes, we’re already there.

  • Yes, the short sighted steel mills screwed our families over.

But they did, in a completely unintended way, create something new and perhaps more powerful than an industry.

They helped created a nation. A Steeler Nation.

From Steeler Nation to Steelers Nation

Nearly ten years later, reading Scott Paulsen’s epistle still raises the hair on the back of my neck.

His term “Steeler Nation” took on a life of its own, morphing into “Steelers Nation” and has been the subject of books and documentaries since then. The movement continues, with the sight of Steelers fans dominating opposing stadiums becoming more and more common.

And as the nation celebrates July 4th, as Steelers fans let’s give thanks to Scott Paulsen and WDVE for giving our nation its name.

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In Heart of “Redskins Territory,” Shadow of Ravens Roost, Steelers Nation Stands Strong!

dinos aspen hill barber shopping center

Our story starts at Dinos Barber Shop in the Aspen Hill Shopping Center. Aspen Hill, Maryland is about ten miles from the DC border, and the shopping center is so thoroughly suburbanly non-descript that the KGB used it as a rendezvous during the Cold War. (Seriously, the Washington Post documented it 1999.)

  • But in the late 70’s, as the Cold War was heating up again, there were no Soviet spies in Dino’s, just Steelers fans.

At least there was one. His name was George. He had the front seat on the left hand side, closest to the front of the store.  Along either side of his mirror, he had the Iron City cans that featured the Super Steelers. If memory serves, he also had a framed copy of the Sports Illustrated cover of Terry Bradshaw and Willie Stargell’s joint sportsman of the year award.

  • At age 6, even though I was well acquainted with the 4 hour drive to Pittsburgh, this seemed “normal” to me.

After all, when my folks had taken me to Sears to get me a winter jacket, there’d been a rack divided in equal proportions of Redskins, Cowboys, and Steelers jackets. Coming at the end of the Super Steelers Dynasty, this would change quickly.

  • Just as I reached double digits, Joe Gibbs was working his magic in Washington.

And that meant that I spent the rest of my schooling being asked, “Are you a Redskins fan?” “No.” “Then you’re a Cowboy stuck in Redskins territory.”

Or “Are you a Redskins fan?” “No” “Dallas sucks!”

…Yes, even though suburban Maryland of the 80’s was very much a land of transplants, if you weren’t a Redskins fan, in most people’s minds it automatically made you a Cowboys fan.

But I digress.

Although George the barber remained faithful to his Steelers roots, visual evidence of the nascent phenomenon that we now know as Steelers Nation became sparse. Yes, you could find Steelers stuff, but only in equal proportions with the other 27 NFL teams.

Fans didn’t give up on the Black and Gold in the ‘80’s, but there was no internet, no Sunday Ticket, no Redzone, and mediocre teams don’t draw that much coverage.

Fast Forward, from Mid-80’s to 2014… 

aspen hill shopping center dinos 2014 suburban strip mall

A recent trip back to my old stomping grounds in Aspen Hill showed the Aspen Hill Shopping Center alive and well although changed. Dino’s is still there, although George is long gone – having been upset when Dino expanded but declined to delegate management of his new stores to the old hands. Peering through the window I saw that Italo, my dad’s old barber, was still there.

He, like Dino’s itself, is a survivor of a strip mall that has seen incredible turnover. But alas, peering inside, no evidence of Steelers Nation was apparent in Dinos.

A few doors down, it was a different story.

Heading into “5 Below” with my brother’s kids in tow, my wife called out “Hey, you need to see this.” Here is what she was taking about:

steelers nation redskins ravens aspen hill maryland

I smiled.

Redskins stuff was obvious. Although Daniel Snyder seems intent on discovering just where their goodwill reaches the breaking point, the truth is the Washington Redskins have a loyal fan base. To outsiders, the Ravens might seem an obvious choice, and perhaps it is, but it caused a raised eyebrow nonetheless.

The last NFL season in which I lived in the US (and Aspen Hill) was 2000, the year the Redskins won hands down the off season Lombardi, and the Ravens won their first real Lombardi. As the two franchises were crossing their respective thresholds to fantasy and reality, you could pick up a subtle undercurrent of support for the Ravens among life-long Redskins fans.

  • So perhaps the beach head that the Ravens roost laid has grown roots since then.

That seems logical enough given that the DC and Baltimore suburbs have grown into each other, the Ravens have contended while the Redskins have pretended, and given the fact that Washingtonians shift sports loyalties easily (before the Nationals arrived, I only knew one native Washingtonian who refused to root for the Baltimore Orioles as the “home team” — this bud’s for you M. W.)

Of course there is no such easy explanation to “justify” the Black and Gold robust representation in this retail sector. And it wasn’t just with the backpacks.

 You could see it with balls…

steelers nation fans redskins maryland washington dc suburban md

Key chains….

steelers fans aspen hill maryland nation

And even with sandals.

steelers nation ravens maryland fans pittsburgh aspen hill maryland

Yes, ladies and gentleman, in the heart of “Redskins Territory,” in the shadow of the Ravens Roost, the footprints of Steelers Nation leave their indelible mark.

Parting Shot

The really cool thing about this is that a chain like 5 Below almost certainly manages its stock based on a supply and distribution business intelligence algorithm. In other words, they have a computer program that directs merchandise to where it sells.

  • That means there are plenty of Steelers fans in Aspen Hill Maryland.

Like all good vacations, ours came to an end. The first leg of our trek back to Buenos Aires began at Washington National Airport, located in Virginia just across the river. As we waited to board, my wife again called my attention to something in in the distance.

What a beautiful sight it was:

steelers team plan washington national airport 2014
Steelers US Airways Jet

As, as yours truly observed in 2008 on the night when Ben Roethlisberger got injured and Byron Leftwich led Pittsburgh over Washington as Steelers fans took over FedEx Field, DC might be “Redskins Territory…”

But it’s still part of Steelers Nation!

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Chuck Noll Gaining on Bill Belicheat in ESPN Poll – Thanks to Steelers Nation

Ladies and Gentlemen. Steelers Nation is opening its mouth and raising the pitch of its voice to the sound of a roar.

Two weeks ago ESPN kicked off a poll in anticipation of a series profiling the NFL’s greatest 20 coaches. Over 50 coaches were listed, from No Brainers like Vince Lombardi and Paul Brown, to head scratchers like Dennis Green and Jeff Fisher.

At the time Chuck Noll wasn’t doing as well as he should have, coming in fifth place:

espn-poll-chuck-noll-week-1
Before Steelers Nation sprung into action, Chuck Noll was only coming in 5th Place in ESPN’s Poll on May 11th

Now fifth place is no dishonor in such a broad sweeping poll, but it was the company that Noll was behind which was at issue. Namely Bill Belichick and Bill Walsh.

Steel Curtain Rising not only implored the faithful to rally for Chuck Noll but we enlisted the aid other sites securing entries in Pittsburgh’s Best Sports Blog and Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, write for BTSC, and wrote one of their articles calling on people to vote.)

With just a little effort, look at what we have accomplished:

espn-poll-chuck-noll-greatest-coach
Steelers Nation is rallying behind Chuck Noll, Pushing him to 4th Place as of May 27th

Not only has Chuck Noll increased his share of the vote, from 58.8% to 66.4% he has also passed Don Shula for four place and now is within striking distance of Bill Belichick!

Vote Early, Vote Often

Now is the time for Steelers Nation to redouble your efforts. You must vote early, and vote often. That’s right, you need to vote often.

ESPN is trying to limit multiple voting, but you can get around this by:

  • Voting from multiple browsers (Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc…)
  • Voting from multiple devices (iPad, desktop, laptop, iPhone)
  • Voting from the office (as long as you won’t get into trouble)

The even better news is that ESPN’s cookie-control seems to be time sensitive, so if you voted two weeks ago, you can probably vote again.

  • Its also important that you don’t vote for either Bill Belichick and Bill Walsh

If you’re looking for objective reasons to not vote for Belichick and/or Walsh to promote Chuck Noll, then you can click here for our original article or see BTSC’s article.

Click here now to vote for Chuck Noll in ESPN’s poll.

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250 Reasons to Be Proud of Pittsburgh

Steel Curtain Rising has an (almost) strict policy of “Steelers Only” when it comes to content.

And, this video commemorating the 250th Anniversary of Pittsburgh does mention the Steelers, so I guess that counts. Its about 7 minutes long, but worth the watch.

The Steelers and Steelers Nation have brought the city of Pittsburgh fame and notoriety far beyond what the city’s population or size would imply. And the Steelers are a rightful source of civic pride.

But there are so many reasons for Pittsburghers to be proud, even those of us such as yours truly who never actually lived there, and this video serves as a pleasant reminder.

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Carolina Cowher

William Laird Cowher stepped down as Steelers head coach over two years ago, but that hasn’t stopped him from making headlines.

Steel Curtain Rising has been late in responding to this. And for good reason.

Twice I sat down to begin writing something with the idea that I would make sense of it only to stop. The more I thought of it, and the more I wrote, one thing became clear — I can’t make sense of this.

There are any number of easy explanations, but all of them are wanting, at least to this writer’s eyes.

Bill Cowher is just too difficult to pin down.

Consider:

He arrived in Pittsburgh carrying the moniker of Marty Schottenhiemer’s disciple. Translation: run on first, run on second and, if at all possible, run on third…

  • …Yet in his first trip to the Super Bowl the five wide receiver set and the phenomenon known as “Slash” characterized his offense.

Beginning with his first game as coach, Cowher succeeded in making the Steelers a contender again. Yet, during those early years, over confidence was his Achilles Heel…

  • …But by the time he left, his team’s had mastered the “one game at a time” approach.

By the end of both losing seasons of 1998 and 1999 large contingents of his players had quit on him, and quit badly…

  • …During the 6-10 2003 campaign, Cowher had his players fighting for every blade of grass, down to the final gun in overtime during a meaningless final game.

Cowher broke into the league as a special teams coach, and he was quite proud of that fact…

  • …Special teams foul ups led directly to playoff losses against Kansas City in 1993 and of course New England in 2001.

During his tenure in Pittsburgh, Cowher came across as the darling of the national media…

  • …His relationship with the Pittsburgh media was generally tense and often contentious.

Cowher was almost universally loved by his players, and he gave off a giant Teddy Bear aura in the rare glimpses he gave into his relationship with his wife and daughters…

  • …Non-football players who crossed his path got frosty receptions at best; according to Jim Wexell’s book Steelers Nation, Cowher refused to even acknowledge James Harrison’s parents during a chance encounter in an elevator prior to Super Bowl XL.

The day Cowher stepped down as coach, he reaffirmed his connections to Pittsburgh, reminding everyone that his brothers and parent’s still lived in the city…

  • …Press reports indicate that the Cowhers couldn’t be bothered to have furniture moved from their Fox Chapel House, instead they had it auctioned off.

Although in the late 1990’s he openly mused how nice it would be to have the Browns job, early this year Cowher reportedly asked not to be considered for the coaching vacency in Cleveland out of respect for Dan Rooney…

Returning once again to the day Cowher stepped away from the helm, he stated “you can take the boy from Pittsburgh, but you can’t take Pittsburgh from the boy…. Yinz understand what I mean…”

We thought we did.

  • …Rather than root for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Bill Cowher was front and center during game four of the NHL Eastern Conference Semi-finals revving up the Carolina Hurricanes faithful by setting off their Hurricane siren.

Will We Ever Understand Bill Cowher?

Outside of Steelers Nation, The idea of someone shifting sports loyalties is not a foreign concept. Growing up in the Washington DC area, you ran into loads of people who would say stuff like “I grew as a die hard Buffalo Bills fan, but I root for the Redskins now because, well, you know, I can see their game every week.”

Never made sense to me.

I am the only person in my immediate or extended family who wasn’t born nor ever lived in Pittsburgh, and yet my loyalty to the Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins has never wavered. (OK, confession the O’s are my American League team, but I would firmly back the Bucos should the two ever meet in the World Series again…. Yeah, like that’s gonna happen….)

Pittsburghers, transplanted or otherwise, are loyal to Pittsburgh teams. It’s as much part of the collective DNA as yinz, pop, jumbo, Iron City, and gum bands.

Not surprisingly, much of Steelers Nation is up in arms over Cowher.

I don’t blame them.

But I do not completely share in their ire.

I have long been a Cowher apologist, defending him through those AFC Championship losses. (although initially I thought Rooneys erred in choosing him over Donahue after the 1999 season.)
But how ever much his latest escapade may rub me the wrong way, I am not ready to condemn the man who won 149 games, clinched two wild card berths, bagged 8 division titles, snagged a Lamar Hunt trophy along the way, and brought home One for the Thumb.

But if that’s true, then it’s also true that I cannot take the part of those who dismiss this whole debate as pointless. Because, as I have depicted above, there’s a lot more to Cowher than meets the eye. There’s a complexity to Bill Cowher that too frequently gets lost in all of the fire and brimstone, Chin Out, Spit in Your Face bluster.

Sometimes that’s been for good and sometimes its been for ill, but it has always been one of the things that’s made him so interesting.

Or at least that is as close to explaining this as I can get. If you’ve got your own take, by all means, please leave a comment.

So, what do you think? Leave a comment. All views are welcome, but please, as this is sparking intense debate in Steelers Nation, we only ask that you be respectful of others who have different opinions.

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Beware of Alamo Rental Car Buenos Aires: Road Warriors of Steelers Nation

I struggled over whether or not to include this, as Steel Curtain Rising’s has a hard and fast rule of focusing exclusively on Steelers football. But I found myself a loophole in the fact that Steelers Nation is by definition made up of a group of travelers.

So here goes our warning:

To all of you road warriors of Steelers Nation, be very wary of renting from Alamo National Car Rental.

As regular readers of this site know, yours truly is located in Buenos Aires, Argentina. My folks were in town for Christmas, and we needed transport to get us to where we’d be celebrating on the 24th and 25th.

No problem. We reserved a car with Alamo one month in advance.

Everything was in order.

We had our reservation for 4:30 on the 23rd. Now, did they tell you when you reserved that you had a 1 hour time limit to pick up your car? Did they mention that once that hour was up you lost your reservation?

Well, if they told you they didn’t tell us.

In fact, they didn’t even mention that we were ½ hour into this mystical one hour grace period when my wife called at 5:00 pm to mention that we were running late. In fact, they told us not to worry.

So when we got there, our car was gone. Not only did we lose the reservation, but the person there made it quite clear that he was not going to lift a finger to help us. There was another couple there that also was having problems getting their car, even though they’d prepaid and were on time.

It was clear that Alamo had overbooked, and had no compunction about screwing their customers.

So fellow members of Steelers Nation, if you’re traveling and need to rent a car, be careful with Alamo; or better yet, just rent a car from one of Alamo’s competitors.

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Shanghai Kelly’s: The Place to See the Steelers Play in San Francisco

I’ve now seen two Steelers games on US soil in one season, a feat I have not matched in 8 years. And the irony of the fact is that both of them involved the Ravens.

I watched the first Ravens game with friends of mine (Ravens fans) back in Maryland. I’d been longing to see a game at my beloved Purple Goose, but that was not to be, as the Goose is no longer the Goose — its now a Raven’s roost.

The return bout against the Ravens saw me in San Francisco. Thank God for the Internet, as finding a place to see the game was not hard. The Post-Gazette’s website listed a number of places in San Francisco, and three within walking distance. I cannot say anything about the others, but for those who find themselves in a similar situation, I whole heartedly recommend Shanghai Kellys.

Shanghai Kelly’s is a small corner bar on Polk and Broadway in San Francisco’s Nob Hill. If you go purely on image, San Francisco and Steelers fans would not seem to mix, so I must admit I was a tad bit skeptical as to what I would find.

I must admit, that I am pleased to announce that my skepticism was missed placed.

“Release the Hounds! Release the Hounds!”

The place is small, but its packed. When I found it, I saw a crowd overflowing out the door. Although part of that was because people were indulging their nicotine habits, the simple fact is that the place was packed.

I arrived just in time to see the Raven’s final field goal, and stayed through the entire second half.

The place is adorned with all kinds of Steelers and Pittsburgh memorabilia, from Iron City bottles, to a Blitzbergh sign.

Most importantly, the fans were first class. As you’d expect, they were friendly, totally were totally committed the the Black and Gold, and understood the game and the team (which is to say, Bruce Arians is not popular in that bar.)

They didn’t play the Western Pennsylvania polka, which my soul longed to hear, and I failed to the “Chew tobacco, Chew tobacco, spit, spit, spit, if you ain’t a Steelers fan you and sh_t” going.

But let me tell you, these people have come up with something new, at least for me.

As soon as the defense got into position, a cry would sally forth from the bar, and resonate back through the rest of the place. Its quite simple:

“Release the Hounds! Release the Hounds.”

It was infectious. I loved it.

It perfectly describes what the the Steelers defense does to opposing quarterbacks. Its seeks them, it finds, them, it destroys them.

So if you find yourselves in San Francisco and need to see the Steelers game. Shanghai Kelly’s is the place to go. One bit of advice.

Get there early.

Thanks for reading Steel Curtain Rising

 

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Paying Tribute to the Purple Goose Saloon: A Pioneer Outpost of Steelers Nation

“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. 

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Steelers-Redskins “Rivalry” Sweetens Win @ FedEx Field for DC Area Steelers Fans

The Pittsburgh Steelers last visited Washington in 1988, making the Steelers romp over the Redskins in their own home all the more special. The Steelers and Redskins are not rivals, in the traditional sense, but in a lot of ways they should be natural rivals. Consider:

  • Blue collar vs. White collar
  • Art Rooney Sr. vs. George Preston Marshall – Let’s just say their attitudes on “social issues” were… distinct
  • Jack Kent Cooke vs. Art Rooney Sr. – The former’s flair for flamboyance stood in stark contrast to the later’s disdain for “putting on the dog.”
  • Joe Gibbs vs. Chuck Noll – Two of the greatest coaches of all time: One built his reputation on offense. He took very good talent and did great things with it. The other’s team defined dominating defense. He found exceptional talent and established standards of excellence.
  • The draft vs. free agency – No team, since 1969, has been more committed to the draft than the Steelers. Even before the days of free agency Jack Kent Cooke spent lavishly to bring in back ups cast off from other teams.
  • Dan Rooney vs. Daniel Snyder — Need we explain?

Special for Steelers Fans Living in the DC Area

That game is significant for me, and most probably to other Steelers fans living in the DC area. Although I grew up in the DC area, never having lived in Pittsburgh, I’ve been a Steelers fan all my life. My formative football years were spent there during the height of the Joe Gibbs era, but I was not to be swayed. As my father used to say:

  • “my son has no divided loyalties whatsoever, he bleeds Black and Gold.”

I really wasn’t old enough to follow the team until about 1987 or so, and the Steelers didn’t make national TV much in those days. So in effect, the Steelers 1988 visit to Washington was one of the few games I got to see at an age when I was really old enough to understand.

It was the second game of the season and the Redskins were coming off of their second Super Bowl and the Steelers were coming off an 8-7 season, and the hope was that with Bubby Brister replacing Mark Malone under center, the Steelers would improve in 1988.

For a time it looked like those hopes would be realized. Brister hooked up with Dwight Stone and Louis Lipps for long touchdown plays and the Steelers were leading up until the last moments of the game.

Alas, the Doug Williams burned the Steelers secondary for 400 plus yards, and led them to score in the final moments as the Steelers lost 30-29. (Interestingly enough, a bobbled snap caused Gary Anderson to miss an extra point that day. I remember telling my father that would be the difference in the game, only to be chided for being too pessimistic….)

  • 20 years later the memory remains fresh, which makes the Steel Curtain’s dominate performance on Monday night something to cherish.

Redskin Territory….?

James Harrison lifting his hands up to get the crowd cheering while the Redskins were in the red zone was a sight to behold, for me and for any Steelers fan who has ever lived in the DC area.

I’ll limit my comments about Redskins fans (they have their quirks, but so do all of us) to this: Redskins fans are loyal. But they would certainly be the NFL’s most loyal fans if they were as devoted as they think they are. (I’ve talked to several DC natives who’ve moved out of the area who’ve all told me variations on: “You know, I followed them with a passion for a while, but after Gibbs left I just gradually lost interest….”)

Fortunately Steelers fans are more loyal, and that was on display Monday night. On Tuesday the Washington Post ran an article titled “Steelers Make Themselves At Home.” Wednesday Michael Wilbon followed up with another column titled “Fan Deprecation at FedEx.” Wilbon’s critique is telling:

I got a text message during the first few plays from a friend in Chicago asking me when the NFL started staging neutral-field games. I assured him we were at FedEx Filed. They like an infestation of cicadas, the Steelers fans, so loud they effectively drowned out Redskins fans. They were like a storm of pirates who satisfied themselves at the expense of home folks who just sat and watched. That the Redskins had to use a silent count because they couldn’t hear signals through all of the Steelers nose is, well, alarming. It remains the lasting impression of Monday night’s Redskins-Steelers game….

….The Redskins like to say the have the best fans in the league. Please, they’re not even in the game for consideration of that distinction. You think Steelers fans, no matter how late the game time or how much they hate the stadium, would sell their tickets and let Redskins fans gobble them up?

Wilbon’s actually wrong, because the lasting impression of the game is of the Steelers linebackers repeatedly planting Jason Campbell on the turf.

Nonetheless, the sight of the Terrible Towel waving in FedEx field did exorcise one lasting impression from my youth.

One of the things that kids did throughout elementary school (and into Jr. High, if the truth is to be told) would be to ask:

“Are you a Redskins fan?”

“No.”

“Well then you’re a Cowboy* trapped in Redskins territory.”

Pithy wasn’t it?

20 years later we have a retort:

FedEx Field might be Redskin territory, but its still part of Steelers Nation!

*That’s right, at least in the 1980’s it was taken as an article of faith that if you didn’t root for the Redskins, you HAD to be a Dallas fan.

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Watch Tower: Errors in the Steelers Digest?

Steelers Digest is an excellent publication. It provided Steelers Nation a vital lifeline in the pre-internet days, and today it continues to serve as the source of some of the best Steelers analysis available. It also serves as a pleasant counter-weight to some of the knee-jerkism that tends to inflict the Pittsburgh media from time to time.

  • I have been a proud subscriber since 1990, only succumbing to the on-line version in 2007 when Correo Central simply refused to stop losing my issues.

Suffice to say it caught my attention when I found not one, but two glaring factual errors in its pre-draft edition. On page 15, the “Fast Fact” under running back states that the Steelers have drafted more Tight Ends in the first round than running backs, listing Eric Green in 1990 and Heath Miller in 2005. True. It also leaves our Mark Bruener, our first round pick in 1995.

  • They add to the mistake on page 16, stating that Matt Spaeth was highest pick the team spent on a tight end since their number two pick in 1984. Again, this leaves out Mark Bruener and Eric Green.

The errors continue on page 17. Again, in the fast fact section, it states that the Steelers have only drafted three offensive tackles (Jarmain Stephens, 1996; Leon Searcy, 1992; Mike Taylor, 1969) in the first round during the last 40 years. Opps! This leaves out 1989’s second first round pick Tom Ricketts. (Ok, we all might want to forget that one, and he did play a few games at guard during his rookie year. Still, he was drafted and played as a tackle.)

Steelers Digest is normally a rock-solid publication, so I am quite surprised by these mistakes, especially since first rounders have such a high-profile. I plan to send a letter to the editor, and we’ll see if it gets printed.

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