Hi everybody! My name is Simon, and I am a Steelerholic.
Many of you know me as BTSC's token German, the guy who has been a die-hard Steeler fan since his first visit to the United States in 2004 and who, despite going to college at St. Vincent in Latrobe, has never once seen a Steelers game live and in person. Well, that changed this Sunday after I was one of two people to win the 'Priceless Steeler Moment' contest sponsored by MasterCard on Behind the Steel Curtain. The prize was a pair of tickets to Sunday's home opener against the Seattle Seahawks, and I was stoked. The following recounts my experience on a not-so-typical Sunday in September.
For those of you that missed the contest, we were asked to recall our favorite Steeler fan memories, with two pairs of tickets being raffled off between all participants. I won't go into detail about my 'Priceless Steeler Moment' as it deserves its own post that I might write during the offseason. For now, I'll just say that it involved watching Super Bowl XL at 2:00 AM with a couple of beer and a joyous ignorance of a driving exam the next morning. Either way, my name popped up in the drawing and on Friday night, I held in my hand two tickets for the game against Seattle.
Any tickets to a Steelers game would have me jumping up and down in celebration, but these ones excited me even more. Not only were they tickets to the game, they were tickets to two seats on the club level, worth $200 a piece. I had no idea what club level meant, but something told me that what I held in my hand was assurance for an amazing Sunday afternoon. Boy, was I right.
Never having been to Heinz Field, I quickly started gathering advice on when to arrive and where to park. That advice steered me toward parking at Station Square on the South Side, using a shuttle trip with the Gateway Clipper over the river and to the Stadium. Sunday came, and my fiancee and I dressed for battle - sporting our Rashard Mendenhall and Heath Miller jerseys, with the token terrible towels always on our sides. We left the house at 9:30 AM, ensuring that we would arrive in the 'Burgh in time to find a good parking spot and enjoy the pregame atmosphere.
With little traffic to account for, we arrived at the South Side around 11:00 AM and hopped on one of the ships waiting to take us to the stadium. For anyone planning to go to a game in the near future, I highly recommend this route - while it cost us $30 ($10 for parking and $20 for two round-trip tickets on the Clipper), riding underneath Pittsburgh's bridges to see Heinz Field appear behind the trees in the distance is completely worth the price. It was probably at this moment that I realized I would not only have a great time, but one of the best Sunday afternoons in my life.
Upon getting to the stadium, we strolled around for a little while while trying to find our gate. We were let into the stadium after a quick pat-down by security officers, and landed right in the Coca Cola Great Hall - an impressive sight for anyone on their first Heinz Field visit. Countless food booths, merchandize shops, and TVs provided the background for a live band ensuring plenty of pregame entertainment. I even saw former Steelers defensive lineman Edmund Nelson, now a commentator for KDKA, find his way to the bathroom! Conclusion drawn: Edmund Nelson is one large man.
After a stroll through the Great Hall, my fiancee and I went up two escalators to find out what this 'club level' stuff was all about. Turns out, it was pretty damn sweet. Club level guests have to go through additional security, ensuring that only the 'right' people would enjoy the luxury lounge. Did we feel like VIPs? You bet. Imagine a lounge filled with leather chairs, panorama windows overlooking the tailgaters with the Pittsburgh skyline in the background, and plenty of food booths from a club sandwich bar to a dessert table. We weren't only at Heinz Field, we had landed right in paradise.
A costly paradise, that is. Turns out, we realized that we were actually quite hungry and ordered a foot-long hotdog, nachos, a Yuengling draft, and a mix drink to share. Adding in a piece of cake (you only live once!), our bill came to right around $45.00. Steep, but definitely worth it as the beer was fresh, the nacho cheese hot, and the hotdog delicious. This was the life! To beat the majority of fan traffic, we made our way to our seats at around 12:30 and just in time to see various Steelers warming up and goofing around. Our seats of course were the next pleasant surprise - Section 207, under the roof of the luxury boxes and at about the 10 yard line of the visitor's sideline. A perfect view to watch the game, and surprisingly comfortable seats that even included cup holders.
We were joined soon after sitting down by our seat neighbors - on one side a dad with his family who apparently had Antonio Brown on his fantasy team, and on the other an extremely nice elderly couple that just as us had won their tickets from MasterCard; their son had participated in a Twitter contest. Pleasant neighbors for sure, although the dad hated every play that didn't involve #84. Does Fantasy Football really hurt football fans? You decide. At least he was happy during a certain punt return.
A couple of random observations from the actual game follow:
- Don't hate Mike Tomlin for his early challenge after Mendenhall got stuffed on the 1 yard line on 4th and goal. I have read plenty of comments on here lambasting Tomlin for his decision, and it seemed stupid on TV, but it truly wasn't. We had a great vantage point from our seats as the play was toward our side, and it looked to everyone around us like #34 was in the end zone before his knee was down. What's more, the only replay the jumbo screen showed before Tomlin threw out his flag was an over-the-shoulder view which made it look even more certain that Mendenhall hat gotten into the end zone, immediately after which Tomlin threw the flag. Blame this one on the jumbo screen operators, not our coach.
- Upon watching parts of the game again on DVR, it didn't seem to me like the announcers praised Troy Polamalu nearly as much as he should have been during this game. He took it completely upon himself to stop the Seahawks on their first drive as he made all three tackles around the 1 yard line at a time when a single first down might have taken a shocked Heinz Field crowd out of the game. And even after those plays, he seemed to always be around the ball. It was crazy to see in person how Polamalu can basically cover the entire backfield by himself when he is in good shape, although he did whiff on a certain pick six later in the game.
- I have to admit that I missed the replays and commentary I have become so used to on TV. We love to hate on guys like Phil Simms and Chris Collinsworth, but when it comes down to it these guys actually (despite all their BSing) do a decent job of getting the essential details of each play down. There were plenty of times when the fans were left completely unaware of whether a catch was made or dropped, sometimes until the next play. Of course, I then went home and watched parts of the game on DVR only to hear the FOX announcers talk about the Steelers looking bad and old - at 10:00 left in the 2nd quarter, when they were up 14:0. Dear announcers, I'd like to see you make a reasonable argument how a team on pace to win 42:0 looks bad.
- This town sure loves their defense. While I was somewhat disappointed that only the offensive starters were announced one by one, I was delighted to hear that sacks were being cheered for about as loud as TDs, and that every defensive play was celebrated by the Heinz Field faithfuls. Speaking of cheers, it's nice to know that our obsessions about Sir Isaac Redman on BTSC are not isolated. The ovations he got on his 20 yard TD run might have been the loudest of the entire game, and from all around you could hear "I told you so!"s. Redman had a great game against a defense that was actually pretty stout against the run. The legend lives! The same can be said for Charlie Batch, who received standing ovations for the couple of snaps he took relieving Ben after his injury.
- How stupid must you be to buy club level tickets at $200 a piece, only to get so wasted that before halftime you are thrown out of the stadium? That happened to a couple of specimens three rows in front of us. One of them actually fell over chairs, while another passed out in the middle of the game. Security guards tried to shake him awake unsuccessfully, until they took his beer out of his hand - at which point he was wide awake and tried to get it back. Needless to say, we didn't see either of them again.
- We are extremely spoiled to have a team and fanbase like the Pittsburgh Steelers do. From leaving the house to arriving back late after the game, I saw exactly two people in Seahawks gear, both on the Gateway Clipper on the way to and from the stadium. Both were wearing Sean Alexander jerseys, a testament to how little these Seattle fans have had to cheer for since the 2005 season. Fortunately, the two lonely fans were not harassed by their Pittsburgh counterparts but cheered up, a gesture of sportsmanship that was encouraging to observe.
- We Steeler fans sure love to hate the Ravens. Their struggles against Tennessee were THE conversation topic at half time, and every update showing a Titans touchdown or Flacco interception was cheered for almost as much as any Steeler sack or TD. When the game in Tennessee was over, the news of the Ravens demise spread like a wildfire through Steelers faithfuls waiting for their shuttle across the river. I will never again argue that the Steelers-Ravens match up isn't a true rivalry.
- I love blowouts as much as the next guy. But for the sake of atmosphere, an at least somewhat close game might have been even more exciting to be a part of. Heinz Field started out on fire, but after the Seahawks put up no resistance it quickly turned into a casual watching experience. A stream of fans left during the third quarter (who does that?) and the teams themselves almost became a background attraction to lively conversations for some around us. Keeping the shutout intact was a major goal that was cheered for when achieved, but I didn't get to hear Renegade even once because there simply was no need for it. Not that I am complaining about that!
After the game was over, we made our way back across the river and to our car. It was about that moment that I noticed a distinct sunburn around the edge of my sunglasses, and my face muscles hurting from constant smiling before, during, and after the game. My voice was also starting to disappear mysteriously. After waiting through some traffic at the Squirrel Hill Tunnels (I am starting to believe there truly is a monster in there - how else do you explain the constant slowing down?), we made it home about 2 1/2 hours after the game had ended. I was exhausted, content, excited, relieved, and tired all at once. Thank you MasterCard for this amazing experience! Following are a couple of pictures I took during this beautiful Sunday afternoon.
"Holy Crap! I actually got those tickets!"
Bad-Ass worker in front of Bad-Ass stadium
we made it! Jill & I in front of Heinz Field
The Club-Level Lounge
Lining up for the first Point After
Isaac Redman Touchdown!