Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has declared today “Black and Gold Day” in the city of Pittsburgh, It might as well be for the entire region for southwestern Pennsylvania is Steeler country and this Sunday resumes one of this nation’s great love affairs: the relationship between the Steelers and their fans.
I have been a sports fan all my life and rarely have I seen an entire region, or for that matter an entire “nation”, be so passionate about a team. Maybe only baseball’s Boston Red Sox can claim such similar loyalty, but the Steelers and their fans have such a unique relationship and this country has always been a “football first” nation.
Get ready to waive those “Terrible Towels”! Another season of Steeler football is here. ( Courtesy AP Photo )
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. For the franchise’s first four decades, the Steelers were the worst team in pro football. They rarely won anything and played a second-class role to the more popular Pirates. That all changed, as you know, during the 1970’s when Pittsburgh piled up Super Bowl championships and became the “team of the decacde”. In the succeeding three decades, Pittsburgh’s fan base grew outside its western Pennsylvania borders due in large part to the exodus of residents who left the region because the collapse of the Steel industry.
The exodus did have one benefit: it allowed the Steeler gospel to spread to an entire nation and thus create “Steeler Nation”. That world-wide pride is exhibited at various Steeler bars nationwide. From Flagstaff to Fort Lauderdale and from Seattle to South Florida, Steeler fans are everywhere and they are rabid. Pittsburgh is ground zero for Steeler Nation, where the Terrible Towel waves the highest.
So the question is why are we so passionate about our pro football team? I think the answer is simple, though the explanation is complex. The Steelers represent our region’s blue-collar past and the team plays the sport which that demographic most identifies with – football. The Steelers also allow us to celebrate our city and our region. Western Pennsylvania is not the largest area of the country, nor are we the richest. However, we know that there is one thing we do better than anyplace in this country …. and that is support our team. We are the only city in America where those who visit think about our football team first.
I’m not making any predictions for the season ahead, but I will promise you this: no matter the final record, we will cheer for our team louder than anyone else in the nation and win or lose, we will love our Black and Gold. A love affair that will continue this season and for seasons to come.