I finally pulled the trigger on something that needed to have been done several years ago and sold my Steelers tickets. And no, it’s not because the NFL has fallen so far out of favor with so many people, me included. I won’t say that wasn’t a contributing factor though. The fact remains that owning season tickets was just a remnant of what seems like another lifetime. It couldn’t possibly have been more important to me in the 90’s, and it couldn’t be much less now. I’ll always be a Steelers fan. That’s in my blood and won’t ever change. But their priority in my life and contribution to, if not definition of, my identity have reached the point of no return.
It’s been a long time coming. A real long time since the Browns and Bengals games at the end of 1991 where my Dad and I saw Chuck Noll coach his final games. That was as close as I got to the legendary Steelers of the 70’s. Three Rivers still housed the same magic though, and I was so grateful to experience it first hand with my Dad for many years.
That coming offseason we were officially given the opportunity to buy in and become Pittsburgh Steelers Season Ticket Holders, a label I proudly held for many years afterward. Of the handful available, we chose aisle seats on the 50yd line in the next to the top row of the stadium. We grew to love that location because regardless of the height, the view was out of the ordinary and the play never compromised by angles.
Our first official game as season ticket holders was Bill Cowher’s first as the coach. We saw so many greats through the 90’s. Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Rod Woodson, Joey Porter, Dermontti Dawson, the list goes on forever. The early days when Kordell was still humble enough to be Slash. When we yelled “Norm!” on kicking plays. I even loved Mike Tomczak and Neil O’Donnel! And especially number 73 who turned out to be a man after my own heart, Justin Strylczk. The 90’s will always be my favorite Steelers era. Legendary, if only to me.
I knew their stories. I read the papers. I soaked up anything and everything about them. And on those now-treasured Sundays, I’d hash it all out during long days spent with my Dad. We’d make early morning treks up I-79, eat good food, drink beer, kick our feet up on the cooler saying, “this is the life.”
But that was a long time ago, in another life. A common sentiment as a person ages, I suppose, that they’ve lived different lifetimes. Alcohol about got the best of me by the last of the 90’s and early 2000’s. The trap was set and my defenses were long gone by the time my Dad died at Mountaineer Field in 2001.
Survival the priority at that point, I still did my best to be a rare sober regular at Heinz Field with my wife. Games were fewer by the mid-00’s when Colton was born and quite rare by 2010. Unfortunately I still made the Championships in those early years at Heinz Field, as soul crushing as they were. (Note that, to this day I practically run screaming from the room if Soak up the Sun plays within earshot.) And even a win against the Ravens in 2009 didn’t negate the obvious to me, that the end was closing in. It would never be what it had been, what with me sober, my Dad gone, and no one else readily available with the passion or willingness to endure the grind of a hardcore season ticket holder.
My final attempt at a Championship game in January 2011 was the last nail in the coffin. The kind of day that confirms the suspicion that you just don’t belong any more. Several years sober and seemingly relatively stable, an out of nowhere tailgating binge of epic proportions saw me wake up in the middle of the night in the ER at AGH having not even made the game and on the verge of alcohol poisoning. My wife and son picked up my empty shell the next morning. The quiet drive down I-79 confirmed the magic of many things once held dear had long since departed.
The fact that I’ve clung to my tickets for the more than 8yrs since then is testimony to the place the Steelers used to hold in my life. And while I’ll always be clad in the black and gold in most childhood photos, much of the old me is necessarily gone. Hopefully I’ve made good decisions regarding what made the cut. It’s no secret that priorities change as you grow older. Still, carefully removing that last piece of the puzzle, the one that was in the fabric of all the rest, is more than a little painful.
So it’s one of those countless situations in life where you can’t be sad it’s over, just be happy it happened. The football years with my Dad were some of the best of my life and a chapter for which I am forever grateful and think of often. But, like a lot of things, it’s over now. Farewell Pittsburgh Steelers and thank you.