Keeping Up with the Steelers in the Diaspora

Historically, I’ve never been much of a bar person. I haven’t necessarily disliked bars, the activity just rarely rose to the point of being compelling or habit forming. But when you don’t live in Steelers Country, and you don’t have Sunday Ticket then a sports bar is a very good thing if you’re serious about keeping up with the team on a weekly basis.

For several years the bars weren’t an option. I had to work on Sundays, and while I had access to a television and could keep up if a Steelers game was being broadcast locally, too often I was out of the loop, having to content myself with a forced diet of Redskins and Ravens games. Things changed when I had my Sundays free again, and I decided to treat myself to the Steelers for my birthday. My intro to Sunday bar culture came at Glory Days in Herndon, Va. I sat alone at a table watching the Steelers, a woman sat at the table next to mine watching the Bears on an adjacent TV. She surprised me by arranging for a cake with candles in honor of my birthday. A friendship and a habit were born that day.

I suspect it’s different depending on where you’re living, so let me give you an idea of how it works in the Washington DC metro area. The area is a magnet for people from all over the world, and certainly from every corner of the United States. Consequently, sports bars that have a satellite hookup can do very well either catering to fans of a specific team or offering up a smorgasbord of games. There are advantages to both approaches that I will get into shortly. But the situation with Steeler fans is unique. Not counting Ohio, DC is the closest metropolitan region to Pittsburgh and it shows. The number of Pittsburghers that I know in DC Metro easily exceeds the number that I know that are still in the Burgh. A consistently vibrant economy and a pretty good quality of life, in spite of a high cost of living, is probably all the explanation necessary for the phenomena.

What this means is that the area supports several Steelers only bars, and supports them well. In addition, in the case of bars with mixed clientele, the Steelers contingent is often dominant. As a Steeler fan you can feel very comfortable in any number of establishments.

Another interesting characteristic of this part of the world is the number of ‘mixed’ relationships that exist. When we attended the Steelers v. Skins preseason game in August, Homer J. and I both noticed how many couples and other groupings consisted of a Steeler(s) and a Redskin(s) fan. Folks who may be married, close friends or otherwise partnered often part ways on Sunday afternoons; gravitating to environments where they forge other relationships with likeminded individuals who share an affinity for a particular team.

 This is how I got to know and develop a friendship with Sarah, who is originally from Washington, Pa. Generally speaking, I don’t mind being in the same room with most Steeler fans. However, I have learned to be very particular as to whom I actually sit with during games. As others have pointed out, all fan types are not compatible. Now, like many fans, I watch the game in the company of demons. These creatures live inside my head and constantly feed me negative and defeatist information:

"Why can’t we have a simple 3 and out?"

"They’re holding Harrison."

"Throw the ball Ben."

"Why are you lining up in an empty backfield set on second and one?"

"THEY’RE HOLDING DEEBO!!!"

"Ben, get rid of the—Noooooo"

"You’re calling roughing the passer? What about that last series when one of their guys pulled a shotgun out of his jock and shot Ben in the face?"

You get the idea. I mostly keep these thoughts to myself. Well, except maybe for the empty backfield thing. That really pisses me off. I end up stoically holding my head a lot, but keep that venom safely bottled up inside, otherwise the demons win.  I have found that others aren’t as discerning. The kind of things that I just think about comes spewing out of their mouths, plus a number of things I would never think about; cut Polamalu, trade Ben for Matt Hasslebeck and a chicken salad sandwich, commit LeBeau to a nursing home, fire Tomlin, strangle the Rooneys in their sleep, I won’t even share what they say about Arians. All of this in surround sound, inside and outside my head. It’s just too much. I can’t enjoy the game this way.

So, into this void came Sarah. We found ourselves sitting next to each other at Glory Days. She’s smart, knowledgeable, funny, brassy and very easy on the eyes. But most importantly our viewing temperaments are very compatible. We see the same things unfolding, get the same negative premonitions, bitch occasionally, but mostly just peer out from under the brims of our Steelers caps and quietly stew when things are going badly. And then celebrate hardily when the team, usually, sets things right. (Actually she’s much better at celebrations than I am). She’s a big fan of Hines (she’s half Korean) and of Ben (she’s half white…that’s a joke). Unswervingly loyal to Ben she made what I thought was the definitive commentary in the wake of the whole Georgia business when folks were casually tossing around the notion that he was a rapist;

"You can’t rape the willing."

Usually, the folks I hang around with confine their bar attendance to when the Steelers are not featured on local television. That eliminates regional broadcasts as well as the Sunday, Monday and Thursday evening national telecasts. Given the fact that the DC area is something of a workaholic’s paradise the audience for games that are featured on a work night would probably not be so great in any case.

The advantage of Glory Days begins with location. It’s a local bar and most of the Steelers’ contingent who has been coming to this place for years is local as well. In addition to being a mixed environment (fans from multiple teams), it is also a family restaurant meaning that while the place is enthusiastic, the atmosphere doesn’t get too angry or vulgar for the most part. The interaction between fan groupings is almost always good natured and respectful.

 Of course, Skins fans outnumber all others, but they are anything but overbearing. In fact, a generation of futility has resulted in them having something of a ‘whipped’ quality. Like someone who constantly recoils from the browbeating they receive from a domineering partner, Skins fans are beset by deep seated fatalism and are usually grateful if you don’t remind them that they are at the mercy of a greedy fantasy geek who somehow got his hands on an actual team. Many of the fans of the other teams root for Skins fans, if not the team, because Washington is much more fun when the Skins are winning and fairly depressing for everyone otherwise. Excluding the beginning of the current season that has people pinching themselves it’s usually not fun in DC in the fall.

 You would think there would be a lot of Ravens fans around given the proximity to Baltimore, but there aren’t. And that is probably a good thing. Steeler folks don’t talk much to the Patriot crowd (there are limits to good will) And there is one asshole (sorry, that is the only adjective that fits) of a Browns fan who finds great sport in taunting Steelers fans if Pittsburgh is losing late in a game. His body will be found in a dumpster someday.

The other advantage with a place like Glory Days is that you get to see all the games in real time. This is nice when you have a situation like this past Sunday where the competitive phase of the Steelers game was really over sometime early in the third quarter. It’s a pleasure being able to peek in on the Ravens suffering at the hands of the Titans or the Bills defeating the Raiders in the final seconds.

However, as we moved into the playoffs last year, Sarah and I relocated, on her recommendation, to a pure Steelers bar in Fairfax, VA, Fast Eddies. As its name implies, Fast Eddies is a billiards establishment located in a strip mall. The crowd is adult, raucous and is family in the sense that Steeler Nation is family. There are lots of transplanted Pittsburghers, a Pittsburgh themed buffet, 50/50 type raffles and heavier drinking. At Glory Days we are usually anchored to one spot. At Fast Eddies there is more mingling, cross talk, higher highs, and more angst. This place was more appropriate because these were the playoffs. This is not the time to be rubbing elbows with neutral parties or enemies. Its true believers and fanatics only; a morgue one minute, New Year’s Eve the next. There were hugs and kisses after victory. And the women were even friendlier.

Arla is another Ex-pat from Pittsburgh who takes classes where I work. We usually touch base on Wednesday evenings to discuss the latest happenings in Steelers World. Arla is a devout fan who attended Super Bowl 43 in Tampa, and more recently was at last year’s Steelers/Ravens game in Baltimore. She hangs out at the Alley Cat in Alexandria, Va. along with a crowd that is dominated by the Steel City Mafia. I haven’t been there yet, but I promised to check it out sometime during the season.

All the places mentioned and a few others would be acceptable places to take in a game, but if I were giving a recommendation for a visitor as to where to go, my advice would be the flagship of Steeler bars in DC Metro; the Pour House. Located on Capitol Hill, the Pour House is a three story brownstone with a bar and TVs on each level. Like Fast Eddies and the Alley Cat it is pure Steelers (Although it is also a University of Florida bar as well. Don’t ask me, I don’t understand. But someone should make some sort of arrangement with Pouncey and Gilbert to take advantage of that connection). I found out about this place per recommendation of Homer J., though we have yet to actually take in a game together there. It’s a great place to watch. I witnessed Super Bowl 43 there. I don’t attend more often for a variety of practical reasons. The commute is over an hour round trip. Additionally, you have to get there early if you want to sit. Being in the city, parking is a bit more of a challenge. This literally adds hours to the experience.

Now please don’t get me wrong, I’m probably just scratching the surface in terms of what goes on in my neck of the woods. I’d be interested in hearing other recommendations from my area and any other experiences that would expand the knowledge base on the site.

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