I am a professional musician. There is a lot of travel inherent in that particular line of work. In fact, I usually tell people that I drive for a living; I play music for free. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how I am going to watch (or at least hear) the Steeler game each week, and this weekend was no exception. My band played in Omaha, NE (about 375 miles away from where I live in St. Paul, MN) Saturday night. That meant that we'd be driving back home during the day Sunday, right in the middle of the game. No way was I going to miss the season opener against the Ravens. NO WAY. But since stopping and finding it in a sports bar somewhere was not an option (for some reason I am the only football fan in my band), I had to think outside the box. While pondering the possibilities, I began to consider the many strange scenarios I've found myself in over the years all trying to experience my beloved Steelers. So, this week's Top Ten: My Top Ten Steeler Game Viewing (or in some cases listening) Experiences. Basically these are some of the many things I've had to do, the hurdles I've have to overcome, the hoops I'd had to jump through just to get the game into my brain. Read on:
10. The Time I Had XM Satellite Radio Installed in Our Band Van This was in fact this past weekend! You may have wondered what I did in order to get the game while driving home this past Sunday; here's your answer. All things considered I am not sure it was even worth it, since there were signal issues, I had to listen to the Ravens homer radio feed, and the game was the worst game in the history of human competition. But, since I'm going to be in basically the same situation this coming Sunday versus the Seahawks (hopefully with a better outcome), it was a good idea.
9. My Regular Visits to the Steeler Bar in Town Not really one single "unique" experience in itself, but since it happens a lot I thought I'd include it. And, since we've had three bars as our Steeler Fans of MN headquarters in the last five seasons, there are more hoops involved than you'd think. I've dealt with obnoxious opponent fans, grilled cheese that was raw on the inside and burned black on the outside, chairs that make a church pew seem plush and comfortable, inside conditions that rival any exterior temperature during a Minnesota winter, obscene drink prices and countless other hassles. All in the name of fandom, and I'd go through it all again in a heartbeat. Besides, when you don't live in the ‘Burgh, what choice do you have?
8. Experiencing Other Steeler Clubs in Other Cities Last season I stopped into Trophy's Sports Bar and Grill in Des Moines, Iowa to hang out with the Des Moines Steeler Club. I was on a band trip and had some down time, so I went in order to see the Raiders game. What a brilliant time! Steelers won in a rout, 35-3, so not even Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts could ruin the broadcast for me. The Steeler club was about thirty fans strong, and had a nice balcony spot overlooking the rest of the bar. Plenty of Raiders fans below, and it was really enjoyable listening to their smack talk fade to silence as the game went on (their chant "BRUCE, BRUCE, BRUCE" was particularly annoying, despite his Pittsburgh roots). The club really made me feel welcome, and meeting other Yinzers living in the Midwest is always fun.
7. Heinz Field, December 2, 2001 Vikings at home. There are few things I enjoy more than talking smack to Vikings "fans". This was my first trip to Heinz Field for a Steeler game--I'd been there once before for a Pitt game but never for the pros. I flew into Pittsburgh on the 6am flight, tailgated, watched the Steelers win 21-16, hung out with some family and friends, then flew home late that night. All in all an exhausting and completely rewarding experience. Try it if you haven't.
6. Convinced Friend to Get NFL Sunday Ticket I would have just probably done this myself if I had DirectTV, but I don't, so I had to be a little more resourceful. I talked a friend of mine into buying the Sunday Ticket package so I could come over and watch the game each week. Thankfully I have loyal and generous friends. Even better that this one happened to have a Steeler fan for a wife. Perhaps a little on the devious side, but sometimes a fan has to go to great lengths. Sort of what this whole list is about!
5. Had Another Friend Tape the Games A lot of what I did for the last couple of seasons involved me going to the Steeler bar each week, and then if I was out of town, getting a friend who has both the Sunday Ticket AND a DVD burner. A lot of my trips are such that I will travel to a Midwestern city for Friday and Saturday night gigs, and then drive home Sunday during the day. If I was out on one of these trips, this particular friend would be instructed to record the game on his DirectTV DVR, and then burn it to DVD for me to come pick up and watch. All the while, I would be on a "media blackout"--phone turned off to avoid seeing any game info via snarky texts from Viking fan friends, radio off, no stopping at restaurants/gas stations with TV or radio broadcasts. This worked pretty well for awhile, until he cancelled the Sunday Ticket because their prices kept going up. Ce'st la vie.
4. The Time I Walked Through a Blizzard January 6, 2002, Steelers/Browns at home. The game was not on national TV; I was at home in the Twin Cities, so my Steeler bar was the logical choice. I don't think I ever really stopped to consider that I shouldn't really head outside. It's Minnesota. There are hardy people here; a little snow never stopped anyone from doing anything. Close inspection of my garage revealed more than a little bit of snow blocking the door, however. The car was out. Ah well no worries. Normally it takes me six minutes to drive to the bar. No big deal, right? I bundled up and walked. Ninety minutes later, I was at the bar and enjoying the second quarter of the final game of that regular season, a 28-7 Steeler victory. There were plenty of seats at the bar, as I recall, which was a nice change of pace from the usual crowd. Especially against the Browns.
3. The Time I Skipped Mass Christmas Eve Day, 2006. Steelers/Ravens from Heinz Field for a noon game, our time. My family had for some unfathomable reason scheduled a trip to Christmas Eve Mass at 2pm. My brother Neal (he's famous now) and I were having none of it, and went to the Steeler bar instead. My grandmother was in town from Pittsburgh and everything. I don't think she was too impressed (she commented about giving me coal, I remember), and we lost 31-7. You'd think I'd have taken that as a sign. Nope. Luckily I don't think my family has gone to Christmas Eve Mass since.
2. Titans AFC Divisional Playoff Game at EPCOT This was January 11, 2003. My girlfriend at the time/wife now and I were in Florida on vacation. We had planned the trip months before and the possibility of a playoff game "interfering" with our vacation plans had loomed large in my mind. I packed my jersey (Randle El at the time), my lucky Steeler hat and lucky Terrible Towel, and set to figuring out where we could watch the game. I remember that day the Magic Kingdom was FULL of Steeler jerseys--that was a great experience, giving people high-fives and the whole deal. I think I saw about a dozen Titans shirts. It truly is the Steeler Nation. We watched the game at some kind of ESPN-Zone thing next to EPCOT. Again, Steeler faithful outnumbered Titans fans about 100-1. Gino Torretta was there doing a little Q&A deal beforehand, which was kind of cool. Probably way cooler than the game. I'm not sure which award was more deserved--Torretta's Heisman, or Joe Nedney's Oscar for Best Diving Performance in a Playoff Game. The $9 pints at the Rose and Crown helped a little bit later, but not much.
1. Belfast for the 2001 AFC Championship Game I was in Ireland over the 2001 playoffs, and was forced to experience an NFL Europe broadcast for the AFC Championship Game versus the Patriots. They seemed to know our every move before we made it that day. Hmm... anyway. If I remember correctly, there was only one bar in town that even knew what American football was, and they were kind enough to let me watch. The broadcast wasn't live; I think it was delayed by several hours, so even though it was a noon start, it wasn't on in Ireland until 9 or 10pm. The bar closed at 11, so I watched what I could there, and then had to hustle over to a cab stand owned by a friend of mine so I could finish the game in the lobby on a tiny TV while I answered phone calls and dispatched cabs to places I'd never heard of. Truly a unique experience. All this and the Steelers fell by a touchdown. The things I do.
That's it, that's my list of Top Ten Steeler Viewing/Listening Experiences. At least most of them were memorable for positive reasons. Yours?