Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pittsburgh on Super Sunday

On a normal Sunday in football season, business in the Pittsburgh area is slow, especially during the game. It's a favorite time for non-fans to go to the mostly empty supermarket, though the game will be blaring from the p.a.

On this Super Bowl Sunday, come six pm eastern time, the city will just stop. The malls will actually close. It's not just that fewer customers are likely. Too many employees want to be watching the game.

The Pittsburgh Public Theatre has cancelled its Sunday night performance of "The Importance of Being Earnest." The Importance of Being Steelers takes precedence. The city's science and art museums, and even the zoo, are running programs and contests related to the Steelers. The game is the cultural event. The Super Bowl is the city's theatre.

By the time the game ends, portions of downtown Pittsburgh will be closed to motorized traffic. A big safe space is being created for the hoped-for celebration. There hasn't been one for a Super Bowl victory since 1980.

City of Champions

The Steelers grabbed the heart of Pittsburgh with its great teams of the 70s, at precisely the same time that the steel mills, the source of the city's identity, were shutting down.

The mills were failing, the Steelers were succeeding, preaching the blue collar ethic. Steel City became Steelers City.

From then until about 1990, the city of Pittsburgh lost half of its population. But people who left in this industrial diaspora retained close connections, if not also to family and the area itself, then certainly to the Steelers. That's why the Steelers can go to any NFL city in North America and play to Steelers fans in the stands.

The Steelers were and are part of everything else that is and was Pittsburgh.

Family: you see it in the photos in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette online Steelers Nation collection: seven young cousins in Big Ben No. 7 jerseys, a father and his infant daughter in Steelers shirts, etc.

Community: you see it in the joyful faces in other P-G photos of the rally downtown last week. The Steelers organization and individuals within it, including the players, are out in the community and doing for the community.

Tradition: Pittsburgh doesn't much like people who put on airs, but they do appreciate special individuals. Sports heroes and TV news personalities, once Pittsburgh takes them into their hearts, they are royalty forever. Wherever they came from, many of them stay. Pittsburgh respects loyalty and commitment to the city, and they give loyalty back.

Football is itself a tradition there. Western Pennsylvania was once ruled by King Coal, but in recent decades by King Football. Friday nights are high school football, and everyone in town goes to the games. Why not? They've seen Danny Marino, Jim Kelly, Joe Montana, Bill Cowher, and many more later NFL stars. Saturday is college football, Pitt and Penn State and smaller colleges. Since the 70s, Sunday is Steelers time. It doesn't matter what church you go to or don't go to. Sunday at 1, everyone worships at the same shrine.

All of these, and more, come together in the Steelers. They are important to this city and its people as a symbol of winning with their values, but also of persevering in adversity.

The Steelers represent the heart of Pittsburgh, the will to keep on going in tough times, a celebration of its unique character, and the moments of victory that come into almost every life, at least once in awhile. It's very important to know how to celebrate them. This year, Pittsburgh and the Steelers did pretty well on all counts.

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