Fly's Ointment - My visit to the 'burgh

It's taken me 48 hours to calm down since Sunday night's game...that, and also the fact that I only got home around 4 PM Monday after my Sportsmen in Travel bus sprang a slow tire leak near Watertown, NY explains why I'm only writing this post today.

I'm not gonna talk about the game itself; plenty's been said already, and while I objectively enjoyed myself from my seat in the upperdeck endzone, subjectively, it's another story.

It was my first visit since 2006. What's changed since, from my perspective? Well, I was staying at the Marriott, near the new hockey arena, and my window was facing where the old Igloo stood. That was weird. I could have attended Saturday afternoon's Penguins pre-season game; hower, the perspective of being the only middled age man sitting among a crowd of young boys or girls without wearing their team colors would have been weirder: the Pens had opened up the gates to youth organizations. I'm not a registered sex offender, but I had no wish to become their accidental Poster Boy.

Instead, we went shopping at Station Square, where I was expecting to run into the usual Steeler player signing stuff. In 2006, it had been Jeff Reed: when we finally got to his table to get him to sign some of the hundred dollar stuff we'd already bought, and found out we were going to have to pay him, I famously blurted out "We ain't paying to get the damn kicker's autograph" and walked away. Little did I know that my contempt was going to be verified a few years later, as his career in Pennsylvania came to an unceremonious end.

This time, we were too early for Bruce Gradkowski (hint: I had not bought his jersey in rabid anticipation). Instead, we were greeted by one of those typical Pittsburgh experiences and met a prince of a man.

Turns out Jim O'Brien was at a table full of his books, promoting his latest on Chuck Noll. His name was vaguely familiar to this foreigner, but his face was very much so: turns out we'd just seen him on ESPN on some kind of Top 10 Steeler players show. To meet a preeminent Pittsburgh sports historian was already a bonus, but the next 15 minutes he kindly spent chatting me up will always been cherished by this fan. Before I'd even bought his book, we'd started chatting about the game, and upon finding out we were from Montreal, he's reminiscing about his days covering the Mets in the 70's for the NY Post.

Then, Gentleman Jim tells us about these Steeler fans from Calgary and their bus, parked nearby, and goes on a break to get us to meet them! Unfortunately, they'd already left, but we ended up talking about his book, which he kindly dedicated to this Fly:

"To Andre, AKA Flying Polamalus - Enjoy Pittsburgh, a city that could learn a lot from Montreal. Best wishes, Jim O'Brien"

It's been three days, and I still don't know what he was referring to: what could a hockey mad city that lost its baseball team and hasn't even gotten a minor league one in return in 9 years since, teach anything to the 'Burgh? Must be some kind of inside political joke.

Speaking of baseball, I was to attend the Pirates' game Saturday night. My last visit having been in November '06, it was the first chance I had to attend a game, and what a time to do so: a first pennant race since '92! What a gem of a stadium! Wish we'd built one just like that in Old Montreal ten years ago: we definitely would have kept our beloved Expos, because it's impossible not to enjoy oneself in such a setting. My seat behind first base cost me a $100, but what a view! To have Chelsea, Quebec's own Russell Martin hit a two-run dinger to open scoring for the Bucs wasn't too shabby either, in what turned out to be a win. The rock show and fireworks topped off an altogether splendid evening, which had started very badly under a threatening monsoon afternoon.

Sunday's being a night game, I took a chance, and returned to the ballpark Sunday afternoon, to find the place gabbed in an orgy of black and gold/yellow. Turns out a lot of yinzers had the same idea. This time, upon advice from our tour guide, whose day job is director of security at Montreal Canadiens home games, I tried the ticket office and presto! Got a behind-home-plate seat at face value, only $41! The Bucs sucked, in a classic example of how a team of eager young studs often struggles when facing a slop pitching vet like Bronson Arroyo. But on Fan Appreciation Day, I was not gonna let that ruin my renewed fun. To score a Pirates scarf was a bonus, even though this old Expos fan from 1979 had trouble wearing an old enemy's colour. It came in handy plenty later that night.

Tailgate was a different experience this time around, too. Our tour bus was banished to the other side of the highway, because of the new casino robbing a lot of room to do so. Having left the game after tailgate had opened meant we had trouble finding the dang thing, and this old flat-footed warhorse was one tired and thirsty soul when we finally reconnected with our group.

After the game, this dispirited group (oh, there were a few Bears fans among us, but they were either very polite or were in fear to wake up being smothered by a Terrible Towel) headed home, dead tired but still very enthralled by its Pittsburgh experience. As far as I was concerned, I'd bid an emotional farewell to arms to Troy, Ike, The Beard, and they'd given me at least a quarter of spirited, exciting football. That is now the sad but temporary state of mind, in this edition of the Ointment.

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