January 12, 1975. That day would have a significant impact on my life, although I did not know it at the time. That was the date of Super Bowl IX, when the Steelers met the Vikings. It is also the first football game I can recall watching. I was a couple months short of 9 years old (Some quick math would tell you that I was born in 1966, the first NFL season to culminate with a Super Bowl. That also happens to be the first year the Steelers held their training camp at Saint Vincent College. Coincidence that these historic football events occurred in my birth year? You can think what you want. I know.)
As the game began I asked my father who he was rooting for. He sad that he liked both teams but that he was rooting for the Vikings. Therefore, naturally, I decided to root for the Steelers. The reasons for going with the opposite choice of my father would make a book. Suffice to say that he was not around much. And thank God my father chose the Vikings. The Steelers Super Bowl win marked the beginning of their incredible run of 4 in 6 seasons. For me, it set in place a foundation for identity and connection.
As kids we continually evolve our personality. We discover who we are and how we present ourselves to the world. My family moved around quite a bit when I was young. I have a physical handicap as well. These 2 factors led me to be more of a loner, or outsider, in school. When I did get comfortable enough to interact with my new classmates, I fell back on the Steelers for support. Whatever else I was at that time, I was a Steelers fan. Everyone knew the Steelers were perennial champs. I co-opted that for myself.
No player epitomized what I loved about the Steelers more than Jack Lambert. I’m sure most Steelers fans have seen this play from Super Bowl X:
As I watched, I saw myself as Roy Gerela-the little guy getting picked on. Lambert took care of Cliff Harris for Gerela. I envisioned Jack as my imaginary personal bodyguard. You weren’t going to mess with me because I was a Steelers fan with Jack Lambert right behind me.
The 1980’s saw the end of the Steelers dynasty and myself in my middle teenage years. I still followed the Steelers, but other interests took hold. My older sister, Rox, introduced me to music. I remember walking down the hallway and hearing this voice coming from her room, "In Candy’s room, there are pictures of her heroes on the wall..." I was mesmerized by Bruce Springsteen.
Most people think of the Born in the U.S.A. or Dancing in the Dark when they hear Springsteen’s name. Those songs/images are certainly part of who Bruce is. I want to show you a different side of him; the side I loved, and still do. This B&W video is taken from an in-house feed of a 1978 show in Passaic, N.J. Almost 10 minutes long, but if you take the time to watch, you’ll see what drew me to him:
In an era that was seeing the end of disco, and when MTV was just beginning, I needed something more "real." Bruce delivered. He wielded that telecaster like Excalibur. I had another hero. I was no longer that "retarded kid." I was that "retarded kid that likes Springsteen." Just as Lambert did earlier, Springsteen gave me another weapon with which to face the world.
I got married at 22. I have 2 daughters. Bethany is 28. Nicole is 18. I’ve been separated/divorced for 13 years.
I am lucky enough to share my passions with both my daughters. I’ve written before how Bethany first started going to watch the Steelers games with me at a local bar when she was about 15. Her favorite player was Hines Ward because "he’s always smiling." Nicole soon joined in. Although she didn’t understand the game at first, Nicole (5) would bring her crayons and draw Steelers pictures.
Now it’s Bethany who doesn’t get to watch many of the games. Her little boy, Kaidyn (6 years old), keeps her busy, as does work. Nicole, on the other hand, never misses a game. I’ll lay money that she knows more about football than 50% of the guys out there.
Both of my girls have gone to Springsteen concerts with me. I’ve seen him over 30 times. Bethany has seen him 4 times, Nicole 3. The most recent was this February in Philadelphia. As Bruce tore into Prove It All Night, Nicole exclaimed, "Dad!!!!" Although she may not fully understand what the song means to me, Nicole knows it's my favorite.
After working as a supervisor for 15 years, I took a "lesser" position. Although it came with a decrease in pay, it was the best move I ever made. Not only am I much happier at work, it has allowed me more free time to devote to my thirst for football knowledge.
I need to know why a play was successful. Why it failed. What defense was called. I am just starting to learn. One of my favorite football books is "Blood, Sweat, and Chalk," by Tim Layden. Dan Patrick had this to say about the book, "Tim has created a playbook that’s instructional, a history book that’s fascinating, and a football bible that’s a must-read for anybody who loves the game. All in one." Perfect description. Go read it.
My approach to football analysis is generally, "I don’t know." Brilliant, right? Well, I say that because I’m averse to making blanket statements without having the facts and/or watching for myself. "We would’ve won if Ben had just thrown short instead of going for the bomb on 3rd down." "If we played more tight man coverage, we’d be better in pass defense." "Haley sucks." I’m not saying I agree or disagree with any of those statements. I’m saying that they are not easy to know one way or another.
Those type of statements are the kind where I tend to get into disagreement with people. Not just when it comes to football. Again, not necessarily because I disagree, but because someone is asserting something they can’t know to be true. In that regard, I am referred to by some as Spock (Star Trek) because of my logical approach. The character of Mr. Spock is half-human, however. My human side does let loose when I’m watching the Steelers. On a penalty called on the Steelers and/or not called, "Oh come on!!" will be my first reaction. If the replay shows the correct call was made, I generally acquiesce.
BTSC allows me to pursue more of my love of football, and to share it. That is the key. Because unless you are connecting to others, in whatever you may be doing, it ends up pretty meaningless.
To that end, I have found someone whom I want to share my life with. Christina is an Eagles fan. Funny thing is, that shortly after we began dating, she said, "I’m so glad you like football." I think if I asked Christina now, she would change the word "like" to "obsessed with." I am the one who’s thankful to have someone who is understanding (for the most part) of the amount of time I devote to football.
On that January day in 1975, I found something that would provide a central theme, an avenue with which I can find myself and connect with others. I am thankful that I share that with my family. And I am happy to be able to contribute to the family here at BTSC.
Bethany and me, 1st Steelers game, 11/16/08, Chargers:
Nicole’s 1st game, 10/20/14, Texans:
Training camp 2015 with Christina (my fiance’), her daughter Kayla (they are Eagles fans), and Nicole. Some guy named Moats got in there too:
Training camp 2016 with The Hitman:
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