I often get asked about my level of fandom with the Pittsburgh Steelers by random people I come across. When they see me wearing my Steelers hat and Steelers jacket and Steelers shorts and Steelers shirt and even black and gold shoes… I think you get the point. But I’m often asked about being a fan. I go on to share about how I’ve had season tickets for the last several years and even how I am the deputy editor of behindthesteelcurtain.com which is the best website for Steelers fans. I relish in my fandom. And now I even get to make it my job. I am truly blessed to be a fan of the greatest franchise in professional sports.
I grew up in far western Maryland only a short drive from Pittsburgh. I woke up in the morning to B-94 on the radio and got my weather from Joe DeNardo on WTAE. Our family would make a trip to Kennywood Park almost every year. I’ve been a Steelers’ fan for as long as I can remember. Admittedly, there was a brief period early in high school when I pretended to not like the Steelers in Spanish class just so I could give my teacher a hard time. But it was Bill Cowher‘s first year as head coach and it was really tough to hide how I really felt.
I continued on as a fan throughout college, getting together with guys from my fantasy football league and watching the Steeler games on Sundays. Upon graduating, the very next fall I was coaching high school football as a first-year teacher. Even then I was still a fan, but not like I am today.
I got married in 2003. My wife knew I was a Steelers fan, and she respected it greatly. She also knew I was just as much a fan of the game of football as anything. The winter before our wedding she had made plans for us to take a day trip with some family on a Saturday not knowing that the Steelers had a playoff game. Thinking it was no big deal, she now understands what she asked me to do in making me have to listen to the game on the radio. Fortunately, I did make it to a TV in order to see the end, but watching Joe Nedney flop the way he did almost made me wish I’d listened to the rest of the game instead.
The fall of my first year of marriage, I remember watching bits and pieces of various college games. I even remember catching part of one on ESPN which was featured because even though they were a school in the MAC, their quarterback was thought to go high in the NFL Draft. It was the first time I saw Ben Roethlisberger in action, and it was the first time I felt I needed to tune in to the NFL Draft. I can’t even remember who they were playing, but I told my wife at that moment the Steelers needed to trade up in the NFL draft to get this quarterback.
April 2004 was the first time I ever tuned in specifically to the very beginning of an NFL Draft. The Steelers had the 11th pick and there was a lot of drama going on with the top three quarterbacks who were to be selected. I didn’t know what it would take to move in the draft, but I knew the Steelers had done so with Troy Polamalu and thought maybe they could move up in order to grab Roethlisberger if he was not taken in the first two picks. It was crazy how everything unfolded and how much Roethlisberger was actually the preferred choice of at least one of the two teams who ended up taking a quarterback. But those teams followed the picks they were “supposed” to make and made their trade. The only wild card from then on was the Cleveland Browns and if the Steelers could get ahead of them.
Shockingly, the Browns passed on Rothlisberger in favor of tight end Kellen Winslow. I said to my wife who was actually watching with me how I couldn’t believe it may actually happen. The Steelers might get Ben Roethlisberger for their quarterback without even having to trade up.
I followed the Steelers as much as I could during the next preseason. I was putting a lot of time in the month of August with high school football and coaching, but I was catching every game I could. My best friend was living in Detroit at the time and my sister and her husband went out to visit them for a weekend. Through his work, he had four tickets to a measly NFL preseason game if they wanted to go, and of course my sister jumped all over it because it was against the Steelers! They got to see Ben Roethlisberger in action in the preseason. I was extremely jealous.
I didn’t get to watch the Steelers opening game of 2004 because it was not available in my area. But I was very excited for Week 2 as their matchup with the Ravens would be televised where I was living in Maryland which was much farther to the east than where I grew up. Tommy Maddox went down with an injury, Ben Roethlisberger came in, and the rest is history.
I remember watching those back-to-back games when the Steelers took down the undefeated New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. The story going into both of those games was more about the Steelers opponent than the Steelers themselves. But not after those two weeks.
What changed for me even more with the 2004 season and Ben Roethlisberger‘s rookie campaign was Christmas day of 2004. After getting a jacket from my wife for Christmas (which was not a Steelers’ jacket ironically), she was disappointed I didn’t notice right away there was something in the pocket. Once I was able to discover the envelope, there were two tickets to Heinz Field for the Steelers against the Ravens the very next day. In 24 hours, I was going to my first Steelers game!
I didn’t even have any Steelers gear. It wasn’t just because I was staying at my parents for Christmas, it was that I wasn’t able to invest in any. As a young teacher, I was doing my very best just to keep up with the apparel I needed as a coach rather than sporting any professional team. But that would never be the case again. After buying an excellent Steelers hat outside of the stadium to replace the dingy one I was wearing, I became inundated with Steelers gear from that point on. Watching the Steelers take down the Baltimore Ravens to clinch the number one seed in the playoffs, it would become very rare that I was not either watching or listening to a Steelers game.
As time went on and my family grew, they all ended up with their own Steelers gear as soon as they were born. With the addition of children, the subtraction of coaching in my life ended up being a byproduct. But without having to pour my heart and soul into breaking down my own team, I was able to focus that energy more on the Steelers.
I know I just laid out a very personal story about how Ben Roethlisberger took my fandom to the next level. Some of you to come to the site may not really care to hear about how my depth of Steelers’ insanity got to the point it is. Some of you may have your very own story very similar to this from decades ago or even very recent. I love these stories. I hope you share them in the comments. I’ll do my best to read everyone of them.
Over the next few days, I’m going to be laying out some of my feelings about our franchise quarterback and his future with the team. I’m going to be open and honest about it that my feelings for Ben Roethlisberger are ones that go deep into my fandom. I was too young for the Steelers’ first two Super Bowl victories, so it was Roethlisberger who helped me experience the joy of my favorite team winning a championship. I know his time with the Steelers will not last forever, but there are certain ways I want his time to end. So stay tuned as I lay out more of my feelings about Ben Roethlisberger and the 2020 season and beyond.