Within ten miles of crossing from Maryland into Pennsylvania the weekend before the 2008 Steelers season culminated in a Superbowl win, the songs had started playing through the patchy radio reception.
Steelers polka. Here we go Steelers. Old songs, new songs, often repeated songs, until we reached Butler and I knew them nearly as well as the western Pennsylvania natives who hung their flags and waved their towels and seemed to universally be wearing Steelers hoodies or jerseys all weekend long.
And I marveled.
Maybe, growing up in a family that cared much more for Roman and Grecian history than sports (and who moved frequently), I just didn’t see that kind of geographic love-bordering-on-worship for a football team.
Maybe the teams in the areas I lived just never were good enough to be playing far into January.
But that was my first introduction to just how seriously people here take their football.
This year? I’m living in it.
We’ve had a potluck at work the Friday before every Steelers playoff game, jerseys and sweatshirts and hoodies and all.
A new version of old Pittsburgh songs came on during a time-out at an IUP basketball game Saturday night, and the floor echoed back the voices of nearly ever person filling those bleachers singing along to the oft-repeated “Here we go” refrain.
We slipped in late to church Sunday morning, sitting in the back row of blue-padded chairs in the full auditorium, looking across rows and rows of black-and-gold backs, the occasional white Steelers jersey standing out here and there. Babies wore turtle-necks with helmets and Steelers logs emblazoned on them; toddlers and teens and men and women – everyone seemed to have got the memo and I felt out of place in regular church clothes.
We’re printing posters lined with advertising and ‘players to watch’ pages and I hung one in our front window to show my allegiance to the paper as much as the team.
We leave a birthday party early Sunday to get home in time and he’s stretched the bunny-ear antennas across the room as soon as we step in and we’re nervous going into the second half 24-3 because we can’t have two good halves and we’re right and he gives up studying and sits nervous, silent until he’s yelling as if they can hear him while they try to give up all that lead.
I watch him and marvel, again, because the man is never angry and the few times he is he doesn’t yell but his Steelers are on and I’m pretty sure he’s about to break out the ‘y’inz’ that drives me so crazy here.
A first down pass seals the victory and I realize I was holding my breath.
And for the next two weeks I’ll hear those songs time after time until I can’t stand them a second longer but they’ll be playing still.
Here, there’s no way anybody could not know: It’s Steelers country before anything else and they’d salute the Terrible Towel as soon as the flag and get ready for two weeks of black and gold on every corner because, well, ‘Pittsburgh’s goin’ to the Superbowl.’