The first time I met someone from Pittsburgh was about 15 years ago. When I heard where she was from I grimaced in the typical fashion that people do when hearing that name. I was very sternly rebuffed with "I love Pittsburgh." I backpedaled quickly to other topics trying to salvage my chances at a date.
At the time with no real sense of pride of where I was from, I was surprised by the response. I understand it a lot better now. Everyone you meet from Pittsburgh is a historian of some sort. I'll never have been brought up in Pittsburgh and have the same ties to the city that brings, but the history, traditions, and love have seeped in slowly. This is the story as I've picked it up...so far.
The steelers were playing in the 1930s, but not too many people cared. In the 1940s football went on, but there were other things on the nation's mind. Almost everyone who could went to fight in world war II, and almost everyone who could not stayed home to work in the factories. During the war Pittsburgh turned its industrial might away from everything it was doing and made war materiel, and they were incredibly good at it earning the nickname "arsenal of the world." Pittsburgh produced a large quantity of the steel used in building the machines that would allow us to win the war, while its men went away to use them with the rest of the nation.
"The mighty industries that nightly light her skies have surpassed themselves in their vast outpouring of the products that lie at the very foundation of the nation's whole war effort." - President of the National Association of Manufacturers during WW2
The steelers were playing in the 1970s. It was easier to pay attention to them after Vietnam ended, and easier because they started playing very well. There was a time when a majority of people listened to the games through the radio. The eyes and voice of the steelers broadcast was Myron Cope (sorry Jack Flemming). During the playoffs in the middle of this century he created a gimmick to get people riled up. People began to link him inextricably to the steelers.
"I said, what we need is something that everybody already has, so it doesn't cost a dime. So I says, 'We'll urge people to bring out to the game gold or black towels,' then I'll tell people if you don't have a yellow, black or gold towel, buy one. And if you don't want to buy one, dye one. We'll call this the Terrible Towel." - Myron Cope
The steelers were playing in the 1980s. People in western pennsylvania were losing their jobs as the steel industry shifted overseas and declined. Entire towns closed down and unemployment rates make modern-day Detroit seem bustling. Hundreds of thousands of those around Pittsburgh moved away looking for jobs. Wherever they went they followed the steelers, along with those that stayed behind. The steelers became a metaphor for many, representing the city and going through hardships and attempting to overcome them. The steelers embodied the city of Pittsburgh and gave people with nothing to smile for joy once a week. People began to link them inextricably to the city.
In the 2000s, the steelers still play. Pittsburgh is making robotics and high tech equipment for the gulf. Myron Cope has passed away. The population continues to decline.
Since the 1970s we've been using the 'terrible towel' to cheer for our team. Pittsburgh has a city flag just like most, but no one recognizes it. Instead this towel has come to symbolize the steelers and the city for many of us, as the two are so closely bound together.
To us our city flag represents our team that has helped us through hard times. It represents our city that helps us define who we are. It represents our part in the country America we love so much. Our deep respect for history. Our respect for those that have passed on. Our respect for those that have overcome difficult times. Our respect for respect.
I see the grimace on your face, but I love Pittsburgh.