I mentioned in an earlier piece that, not only has the game of football changed, but our experience of viewing it has changed. As I spend this Sunday without the blessing of a Steelers game until tonight, I thought it would be a good opportunity to set that old-school experience before you.
Set your way-back machine to 1974-1980.
My family lived roughly three miles away from a town of 300, Stahlstown, PA, and perhaps fifty miles from the nearest TV station, NBC’s channel 6 in Johnstown. We also could tune in, with the help of our antenna, Channel 11 out of Pittsburgh, also NBC, and like Three Rivers Stadium, about 60 miles from our home. At that point, AFC games aired on NBC and NFC games on CBS. There was no FOX network, no ESPN, and only one game per week, Monday night on ABC, which was televised nationally. Both CBS and NBC had doubleheaders every week, with the Steelers typically playing the 1:00 p.m. game on NBC.
Church was at 11:00. My expectation, as a kid, was that it would end by noon, but that was just wishful thinking. We’d pile into the car and head home in time, typically, to see the second half of the pre-game show, which aired from 12:30-1:00. My mother set about preparing lunch for us, typically soup and sandwiches. My father was a sucker for liverwurst sandwiches and, on rare occasions, feasted on beef-tongue sandwiches. I got bologna, which was fine by me.
Here’s a shocker for the younger fans. We festooned the den with all of our Steelers gear, my toy helmet, my mittens, my pj’s, everything but our terrible towels. In those days the towels didn’t come out until playoff time. Our neighbor and friend, who would later plant a large church in Wexford that was home to several Steelers players including Gary Anderson, would arrive just in time for kickoff. The two men, my father and his friend, were much like the old coots on The Muppet Show. Their mouths poured forth a veritable tsunami of pessimism, each one trying to top (or bottom) the other with their prognosis that the Steelers were no good and the game, the season, was lost.
I tuned them out. I had the faith of a child that my heroes would find a way to come through in the end. And in the end, they usually did. Whether it was Franco racking up big gains, Stallworth virtually creating the entire statistic of yards-after-catch, or the Steel Curtain coming down on some hapless offense, we would win.
As the fourth quarter sands slipped through the hourglass, I started planning the rest of my day. One of two things typically came next. If it wasn’t too ugly outside, I’d meet my friend Randy Gooder (now a pastor in Indianapolis) to toss the football, recreating the most exciting plays we saw that day. If it was ugly outside, I’d stay in to watch the second game of the day. Most weeks, Dallas was on CBS for the late game. Oakland was often on NBC. I loved the Cowboys, though of course as a distant second to my Steelers. I hated the Raiders. But I respected both teams and studied them.
When the second game ended, another game clock started in my head — counting down the hours until the next Sunday at 1:00 when it would all begin again.