Growing up as a Steeler fan on the West Coast, Pittsburgh had always been a mythical land of black and gold football, the setting in which so many great moments I had watched on TV played out live. I knew a lot about the city thanks to my various adventures through the Steelers blogosphere, and I felt strangely connected to it despite having never been there, or anywhere close to it.
However, that finally changed as I got to live out my longtime dream last weekend to watch the Steelers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home in Heinz... uh, Acrisure Stadium with my dad. It was the father-son trip of a lifetime.
It was the first NFL game I had ever attended, which is part of the reason why I took a big gamble in picking the Buccaneers game to attend. Watch the Steelers play live, watch Tom Brady play live, watch the Steelers beat Tom Brady — it all sounded great. But would it actually happen? I’ll be honest in that my expectations were around as low as it gets flying into Pittsburgh the Saturday before the game. My beloved Steelers were down reigning defensive player of the year T.J. Watt, talented tight end Pat Freiermuth, and 4/5ths of the starting secondary. I didn’t care that Tom Brady was a living fossil, there was no doubt this was going to hurt.
Still, I knew that whether or not Pittsburgh got blown out on Sunday, I would at least be able to take in the sights of the city and the experience of going to my first Steeler game.
I checked off my first tourist box by taking a photo with the Franco Harris statue at Pittsburgh International Airport. It didn’t matter that the statue was flanked by Nellie Bly and George Washington, or a literal Tyrannosaurus Rex down the next escalator — Franco was the one and only attraction. There was a small line formed as arriving passengers delayed getting to their checked bags to snap a photo with the monument to the Immaculate Reception.
After getting to the hotel, the next stop was Primanti Brothers. We’d be headed to the original location in the Strip District, which is by all accounts an essential destination for any tourists or wannabe Yinzers like myself.
I’ll be honest, I was excited to try it, but I was a tad worried that the iconic sandwiches would be a bit overrated. Tourist destinations, especially food-based ones, tend to be.
But I was very wrong.
The atmosphere inside Primanti Bros was excellent, and the sandwich (I got the Pitts-burger for anyone wondering) was even better. I’m no food critic, but the addition of coleslaw and fries in between the two slices of Italian bread really did add something special. It was easy to see how Primantis Bros gained its legendary reputation, and if I ever find myself in the Pittsburgh area again, you can bet it’ll be my first stop.
Something I wasn’t expecting on the Lyft drive to the Strip District was the entrance into Pittsburgh. The area around the airport and the hotel was unimpressive, but popping out the other side of the Fort Pitt Tunnel was breathtaking. Right off the bat you could see Acrisure Stadium, PNC Park, the skyline, the rivers, and the bridges. A truly breathtaking sight.
We finally got Heinz.. uh, Acrisure Stadium the day of the game. I took a lap around the interior before finding my seat, taking a pit stop to eat some more Primanti Bros inside the stadium, using a trash can right next to a Lombardi Trophy display as a table.
The game itself was a roller coaster of emotions. Scoring on the opening drive was certainly shocking, as was the slow realization at halftime that the Steelers actually had a shot at winning.
The injuries piled up as well. It felt like the momentum was sucked from the stadium when Kenny Pickett went down, but little did we know we were about to get treated to one of the best performances of Mitch Trubisky’s career. Mason Cole’s injury had an effect as well — both myself and the fan next to me sighed oh no not Kendrick Green before we saw J.C. Hassenauer trot onto the field. We both learned at that moment to give the inactive list a closer read before the game.
Cameron Brate’s injury was also chilling to watch. Regardless of the team, it always hurts to watch a player lay on the turf for that long. The NFL has had a surprising influx of head and neck injuries that has been rather disturbing this year. It was good hear that Brate has since been released from the hospital.
There were also pigeons. Lots of pigeons.
As the PA system announced that the Steelers had won as the triple zeroes showed on the game clock, it was still hard to believe. I had seen the Steelers win in a massive upset, seen Pickett’s first touchdown pass, and his first win — against Tom Brady no less.
Needless to say, the incredible game day experience slightly eased the pain of getting up at 2 a.m. the next morning to catch a flight home.
It was an expensive trip, and certainly not one I see myself making again anytime soon. But I must note that I have the distinction of that the Steelers have never lost a game while I am in the same city as the team. Tom Brady has also never won in my presence. So if I’m ever needed in a key game later in the season, I am more than open to being sent to Pittsburgh once again.