The upcoming ESPN: The Magazine issue (Nov. 28 release) features Steelers OLB James Harrison on the cover, and has an excellent story centered around Steelers fans in Houston.
Wright Thompson does a magnificent job capturing the now-global feel of SteelerNation, and how widespread it truly is. The hook to the story is a backdrop of what Pittsburgh used to be; a middle class steel working town. Today's it's evolved into the city with the highest concentration of 25-to-34-year-old workers with graduate degrees in the country.
A quote Thompson got from one of his subjects summarizes it perfectly: "One college-aged (Steelers) fan invented a football drinking game: 'Take a gulp every time the announcers say 'blue collar.'"
The story tells the essence of how the manufacturing industry's decline during the 1980s brought about an entire shift in the economy of Pittsburgh. The steel mill jobs went away, as did the oil production, and with it, "The Lost Generation" of native Pittsburgheans set out across the country.
Adam (the host of Terrible Towel Talk's Game Preview edition), myself and our siblings were a part of that. Our dad is in sales, and his job moved him to-and-from Pittsburgh, and into Richmond, Annapolis, Arlington, and finally, Minneapolis, where we all currently live. While we weren't a part of manufacturing, we are a part of the diaspora that saw 200,000 residents leave Allegheny County during the 1980s.
Your editor, Michael Bean, and I speak often of Pittsburgh. I've regaled him with my family's odd connections to famous Pittsburgh citizens - Art Rooney was my dad's peewee football coach, my grandmother grew up with Roberto Clemente, Bill Cowher grew up five blocks from my mom in Crafton, he used to mow my great-aunt's lawn, even though my uncle (four years older) never let him play in the pick-up football games they had. Adam could probably drop more of these stories.
In myriad conversations with Bean, he's asked me to write about these things with the hope of bringing a bit more Pittsburgh flavor to you at Behind The Steel Curtain. My lack of writing ability makes it hard to find a way to tie these connections into the course of analysis and team coverage you're perhaps used to reading from me.
At the same time, though, what I love most about this site and this community is it represents exactly what Thompson and ESPN highlight in this story. We're everywhere.
I jokingly say that to people who often comment on how many Steelers fans are at road games. They say it as if the city of Pittsburgh emptied out that weekend. That's not the case. Steelers fans are literally everywhere. The mass exodus of residents a generation ago has taken Pittsburgh into every major city in America. We're at Texans games, Cowboys games and, obviously, Bengals games (they can't sell out without us). We're at Seahawks games, Ravens games and Vikings games.
Silverstein (Homer) owns D.C., so obviously it's black and gold. Not to dip back into name-dropping but Homer worked with my dad when they were young. He found me on this web site.
We're also here on BTSC. Displaced or otherwise, nowhere else on the internet will you find a base of Steelers fans more diverse in age, background, city of residence or origin.
That's the spirit of Pittsburgh in which I was raised. Another excellent quote Thompson used comes from a fan who was displaced to Houston in the 80s: "We're all from Pittsburgh. It's just that the Pittsburgh we left isn't there anymore."
But you see that Pittsburgh in the respective Steelers bars many of us attend on game days. You see it in the tailgating lots of the local teams in the cities this lost generation now lives. Thompson's story is a bit more somber than I'm making it out to be, but all ex-pats of Western PA are proud of their roots. That's something you see in Steeler Nation.
You see it on Behind The Steel Curtain. That sense of familiarity and belonging are what many I've spoken to are seeking.
Split up in this dichotomy of backgrounds is two separate generations of Steelers glory. There's the Steel Curtain Era, the "blue collar" version of Pittsburgh as well as its football team. Then there's the Roethlisberger Era, defined by a unique name due to the fact he's the first franchise quarterback the team has had since Bradshaw. Championships in both eras, two completely different fan bases in both eras.
One era was based in Pittsburgh, the other has difficulty claiming any one centralized location. We're everywhere, remember?
The older statemen teach the younger of the Chuck Noll Days while all enjoy in the fact Mike Tomlin became the fourth coach in team history to start his career by going 6-2 in four consecutive seasons. It's a hub for both generations and for all fans. For resident Pittsburgheans and Virtual Yinzers.
It's easy to throw out the witty rejoinder about asking who truly is America's team after reading this article. I just know it's our team, wherever we are.