The year was 2006 and I was living in southwest Virginia. I had lost 30 or so pounds over the previous few months — chemotherapy will do that to you. My cancer treatments left me, weirdly, both listless and tired, and often unable to sleep. Though I was confident I would be okay (my oncologist told me that, in their more macabre and honest moments, doctors call Hodgkins’ lymphoma the “good cancer” because it has a very high cure rate. Nevertheless, I began putting together a mental bucket-list. On that list back then, and still on that list now, was “fly on a private jet.” On that list then, but now checked off was, “See a Steelers game from a luxury box.”
Charlotte was the closest NFL city to me, but we played there only once every eight years. Nashville was next closest and I was blessed over the years to attend Steelers games there. A close friend had season tickets and was always gracious to invite me over for Steeler Sunday. Atlanta was third closest, but again, those matchups were only once every eight years. But 2006 happened to be one of those years. One of my dearest and closest friends lived in Atlanta and, like me, loved the Steelers.
That friend, Tim O’Brien, was like me in almost every way. He grew up in a Pittsburgh suburb, while I was just outside the band of bedroom communities, out in the sticks. He was Irish, as am I. He shared a nicotine addiction with me, as well as a deep love of all things Pittsburgh. We met twenty years earlier in college at Grove City, where every Sunday, we’d watch the game on my 10-inch black-and-white TV. He and I were together years later, downing chili dogs from Sheetz as we watched on his TV when Sid slid and the Pirates’ season came to an end. So I sent him an email to ask if he, now a corporate muckety-muck but still the same good man, had any connections by which I could score a couple of tickets.
He told me he’d look into it. Eventually word came back that he had tickets and plans were made. He refused to take my money and he led the way into the Georgia Dome, up an escalator, past attentive ushers and through a door into our own private luxury suite. There was a spread laid out for us, large screen TV’s, cold refreshments in the fridge, and seats looking out on the field. Getting there had worn down my battered body, but being there lifted my spirits. I not only got to check “luxury box” off of my bucket-list, I got to do it with my oldest friend.
The game itself was a seesaw battle. Michael Vick was still young Mike Vick. Hines scored a 70-yard TD on a pass from Charlie Batch and ran right out of his shoe on the way to pay dirt. Warrick Dunn scored, Santonio and Fast Willie each coughed it up. But the root of our demise was one Alge Crumpler, the Falcons’ tight end. This man was so huge that he made Eric Green look like Don Beebe. And he had a huge day as I watched from that luxury box, hauling in three touchdown passes. The Steelers dropped to 2-4 on their way to an 8-8 season. I, like that forlorn soul who had been turned into a newt by the witch, got better. And so did the Steelers. We might be on our way to another mediocre season this year, but you can find a way to redeem it anyway. Enjoy your friends and family — and give thanks that you're not a Browns fan.