|Pennsy at "The Confluence"|
This evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, two teams will meet at the confluence of the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio rivers in a battle for AFC supremacy as the Baltimore Ravens visit the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football!We called it "The Point. I doubt if any of those sportscasters even know what a confluence is. They certainly never know how to pronounce "Monongahela," but they are right about one thing... This is a place where giants meet. And last Sunday, I got a chance to walk among them.
The alarm went off at 5:00 AM. For a 1:00 kickoff. And I was already awake. Mrs P groaned softly, mumbling something about driving carefully and having a good time. I pulled on my black and gold turtleneck and hooded sweatshirt, then made my way down the steep steps of Mum's house to the kitchen. Coffee. Poppy seed cake. English muffin. I looked up at the clock over the sink and tried to do the math. If I left now, I could be at Skip's house by 7:00 AM. For a 1:00 kickoff. What the heck. I had nothing else to do.
|The road to Gramma's house|
Unless the Steelers were on TV.
If they were playing, We would settle down in the living room, Grampa in his big vinyl recliner with the little round burns in the arms and a pack of Camel cigarettes. Dad sat on the couch with his Bel-Airs. My sister and I rolled on the floor, usually arguing about something, while the little men on the black and white console TV ran around losing football games to teams led by players like Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, and Joe Namath. Grampa would joke about how bad we were. The Pirates were the only decent team in town. Gramma and Mum would sit in the dining room with Aunt Grace or Aunt Marylin playing cards or gossiping. After the game, which the Steelers always lost, we said our goodbyes and Dad steered the big Pontiac Tempest wagon down state route 66 toward home.
So, yeah. I knew the way.
|Skip playing college ball at Davidson... not too shabby|
|"It's in your blood..."|
So it was not really surprising when I got the message on Facebook. He had Steeler season tickets. If I agreed to beat cancer, he would take me to a game. I called cancer and let him know that the deal was done. I had better things to do than die this year.
I arrived at Skip's front door around 7:45 AM. For a 1:00 kick-off. After a decent interval, I called and Karen answered the phone. Skip was in the shower. I told them I was about half an hour away, and drove off for a little tour around the neighborhood. The South Hills of Pittsburgh are like nowhere else I've ever been. Houses aren't built on these hills, they are carved into them. Here, you might have to climb 10 steps to get from the street to the ground floor. My dad grew up in a five room shot-gun house on the South Side and none of the rooms was on the same level. He knew people with coal mines in their basements. In their basements! As I drove the perennial lousy pavement of Pittsburgh, I fell in love with my hometown all over again. It is not a pretty town, not by a long shot. But it is a beautiful one. This city makes you tough. You learn to climb up the mountains and to enjoy sliding down the other side in the snow that never seems to go away. The city was built by entrepreneurs and union workers and robber barons and immigrants who were willing to dig in and make a life for themselves in a place where a lot of sensible people would stop, enjoy the view, and then move on to flatter, friendlier places. In my heart, Pittsburgh is the capital of Pennsyltucky. Coal and steel. That's who we are.
|Pennsy and the Chief... No, I don't mind if you smoke...|
|All the way from Mexico City...|
Steeler Nation knows no boundaries.
|Canton? Go north and turn left.|
The first glimpse I got of the field took my breath away. Heinz field is supposed to be the worst surface in the NFL for visiting players. Just like the streets of Pittsburgh, you have to live here to love it. I looked out from the North end zone, the open side of the stadium, the side that cost Jeff Reed his job, and felt my eyes mist over. Heath Miller and Heinz Ward ran routes toward the end zone as Charlie Batch lofted rainbows to them, one after another. Lawrence Timmons and Lamarr Woodley ran sprints toward us under the cool gray sky. If you want to know the truth, I could have left right then and been happy.
Skip's seats are ridiculous. 25 yard line. Behind the Steeler bench. 10 rows back. to get much closer, you'd have to put on a helmet. Everybody seems to know him. That's because Skip treats everybody like an old friend. He knows their names and their kids names. He always introduces me. Everyone is glad to meet me and knows I'm going to have a great time. We stand and I sing the national anthem, our black and gold caps over our hearts. This is not the kind of stadium where people mill around chatting during the anthem. When the young woman finishes, my neighbor says admiringly, "That was a great job. She didn't junk it up." We know steel in Pittsburgh, and we know scrap. The came begins, and it becomes obvious to me that there's going to be a problem. When I raise my arm and twirl my towel, it is just about level with Skip's head. I whack him in the back of the noggin with nearly every wave. He never says a word.
|Skip knocking the lid off of Pennsy's bucket list...|
And yes, we are both standing...
And I will.
By the way, We beat the Jacksonville Jag-offs 17-13. Icing on the cake.