Bar Day

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 12: Fans cheer during the Pittsburgh Steelers NFL season opener game against the Atlanta Falcons on September 12 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

As we are about to move on to week 2, one more glance back at week 1.- RickVa

Sunday was a bar day.

Not having satellite television and the attached NFL game day packages, the first order of business when a football weekend approaches is to determine if the Steelers game is going to be broadcast locally (I don't live in the Pittsburgh market).  Falcons vs. Steelers, particularly without Ben was not considered a big game outside of western Pennsylvania and Georgia. Time to head for a bar.

Living in the Potomac Valley, it is no big deal finding a bar that has the game. Fans from literally every portion of the country live in this area. Consider also that the Steelers Nation contingent is huge. Finding a place that is either totally devoted to Steelers football or dominated by Steelers fans is not hard. The only question is which bar? I could go to the Pour House, the flagship Steelers bar in the DC Metro area. It is three floors of black and gold mania just blocks from U.S. Capitol building.  But I'm not feeling the Pour House this particular Sunday. Maybe it's the 30 minute commute and opening day, so I'd have to get an early start if I wanted a seat.  How about the Buffalo Wing Factory in Reston? Technically not a Steelers bar, but the manager grew up on the Northside and is a Penn State Alum. He loves the MSP Annual. The place is steps from where I work and I'm considered a regular. The food and especially the beer is cheap on game days. But I'm not feeling BWF this Sunday either. I settle on Glory Days, also in Reston.

The issue for me is that I am as uncertain entering a season as I have felt in some time. I feel good, real good about the team in general, the coaching staff and so forth. But what the hell is Dixon going to do? And how good is Atlanta? I'm expecting a close, tense game. What I was seeking was an environment that was stable and comfortable. Glory Days isn't a Steelers bar, but has a large group of Steelers regulars that I know and are familiar with. With the Redskins not playing until the night, Steelers/Falcons is assigned to the best viewing screens, including the main TV over the bar. I stake out a prime location about 50 minutes before game time. Ten minutes later Sarah plops down beside me. This is the first time we have seen or spoken to each other since last year's Oakland game. Its as if that happened last week. Sarah grew up in Washington, Pa. Her family is now residing in northern Virginia. In the 30 minutes or so leading to kickoff we catch up.  Her boss is also a big Steelers fan. Together they went to a big autograph event and met Hines Ward over the off season. This was a very big deal for Sarah, not just because meeting Hines would be a big deal for any Steelers fan, but she is also Korean.  In addition her boss has season tickets for the Steelers and let her have those for the Jets game in December. She was pumped in anticipation of that. I had a couple copies of the Annual with me intending to talk it up a little with the other regulars.  She read the Randy Grossman interview. We talked about Ben and Pouncey and Ziggy and Dennis.

We were soon joined by Frank who is originally from Mckeesport. More speculation about the season as other Steelers regulars trickle in before kick off. The game begins reasonably well as Dixon leads the offense to a field goal on the opening drive. But the big noise is from a couple of tables right behind us. These are Pats fans, and they are killing the Bengals early in the game. Can't stand Patriots fans, but humiliating Cincinnati is a good thing right? No. These guys are just obnoxious. Sarah, a black Steelers cap set low over her eyes gives them a side long glance and sneers "Cheaters."

What I usually like about Glory Days, even when the hometown Redskins are playing is that it becomes functionally neutral ground. Every game being played is on display somewhere. As the afternoon wears on you can tell how fortunes wax and wane simply by listening to the rhythm of the crowd. There is little in the way of real hostility, or perhaps I should say, open hostility. Few people take on the Steelers fans at the beginning of a game day. We usually congregate in groups of two or more in various locations throughout the restaurant. We watch the game quietly for the most part, cheering and applauding for first downs, sacks and pass completions. We even get into Tomlin calling a time out in slow motion.  Things aren't going badly. The ball is being moved on the ground, Redman is converting short yardage situations, the defense is stout, though Troy seemed a little off in his anticipation. Dixon is struggling, not a surprise.

About midway through the second quarter I turn to Sarah and say "This is feeling like last year." "Yeah, like -", "Kansas City". "Yeah." Well, it  wasn't exactly like Kansas City, but too close for comfort. That was a bonding experience for the two of us. While others curse, fret, throw things and have cows, Sarah and I watched stoically, as if we had been given VIP seating to a slow train wreck, and it would have been impolite to not take the whole thing in stride. Every so often one of us would look at the other and say something to the effect of "Do you believe this shit?" In the present, Pittsburgh was ahead, but the Falcons weren't going anywhere. The potential for things to end badly was there.

Halftime. And I'm sorry that I brought up the subject of Kansas City. Another Steelers regular walks up. This guy would find something to criticize if we were ahead by 30 (‘Why aren't we ahead by 40'?). He asks/suggests that we lift Dixon for Batch or Randle El. I check out what's going on with the other games. Are the Bengals that bad, or the Pats that good. Cleveland is winning. The Bucs must really suck! The Texans seem to be getting their act together. The Titans are killing the Raiders. Crap, We've got to play those guys next week and we might be 0-1 when we do. Jags v. Broncos, Panthers v. Giants, Lions v. Bears, Dolphins v. Bills; who cares.

Second half: Falcons take the kickoff and drive for a field goal. Uh oh. First big moment. Dixon hits Mike Wallace on the money on a second down pass play. For the first time all day the Steelers fans erupt. We are treated to a great half of football that we didn't appreciate because things were just a bit too tense. Second big moment. Almost a forgotten man, Troy jumps out of nowhere and picks off a pass. An even bigger, longer, louder eruption; even the most cynical of Steelers supporters think that we got these guys now. Sarah, usually an optimist turns to me and says "We're going into overtime." I brush the comment off. "You're just inoculating yourself against disappointment." Reed sets up for a 40 yard field goal. No problem for this guy.  He kicks, and its like the invisible hand of God swipes the ball off line. Stunned silence. Then in the relative quiet the snickers and the cheap shots start to come from the Pats fans. "Choke!" Oh, no they didn't! A Browns fan walks up to us and starts talking smack.  A Browns fan!

Overtime. Third big moment. Before Mendenhall cleared the hole the roar went up. By the time he got into the endzone the cheering was deafening. Pats and Browns fans were nowhere to be found. Without our eyes meeting, Frank offered his hand and we shook hard. Sarah quickly paid her bill. "Next week?"

Wouldn't miss it.

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