Fans often refer to the Pittsburgh Steelers' fanbase as 'SteelerNation'. This is the first installment exploring fan bases of the Steelers, not just in the United States, but around the globe.
Edmundo Hernandez can’t wait to watch the Steelers win their seventh championship ring. An avid fan since 1968, he has vivid memories of many Steelers Super Bowl victories. During the regular season, his Sundays are spent cheering on the Steelers while grilling at home or with family and friends at a local Steelers bar. His favorite players are Franco Harris and Jack Lambert, and he has great hope that Le’Veon Bell will become a legend as well. Hernandez is a quintessential fan, enthusiastic, loyal and knowledgeable. Hernandez also lives in Mexico, a country that boasts one of the most ardent and fanatical fan bases outside of Pittsburgh.
It has been 15 years since the Steelers and Colts faced off in a preseason game in Mexico City. Steelers president Art Rooney has expressed interested in playing a more games there and in Germany within the next five years. "If I had to put a timetable on it, I would be disappointed if we don’t have games in those two countries within the next five years," he said on TribLive.com.
There are a lot of fans in Mexico who would be terribly disappointed as well. That preseason game helped fortify and expand an already vibrant Steelers fan community there. In the years after that game, when the internet started taking off, fans in Monterrey created an MSN group called Steelers Mexican Fans. Enrique Solis liked the idea so much he started a Steelers club in his hometown of Mexico City. In 2005, there were twelve members. Today, there are over 11,000 fans of Steelers Mexico on Facebook, and these days they do more than watch games and talk about their favorite team. They have organized meet-ups and trips, and supported one another through illness and tragedy as well. They aren’t just Steelers fans; they are Steelers family.
The Steelers Mexico group is special, but it is not unique. There are countless communities of fans who share their love of the Black and Gold both online and in person, in living rooms and in bars across Mexico. A common theme among Mexican fans is that Steelers football is not just weekly entertainment. It is much more than that. As cliche as it may sound, Steelers football is a way of life in Mexico. Fernando Camacho shared this saying in Spanish, "Mi Corazon y mi alma son Amarillo y negro pero mi passion y mi orgullo son de acero." (My heart and soul are Black and Gold, but my passion and pride are made of steel.)
Many Mexican fans have been passionate about the Steelers for decades and have encyclopedic knowledge of the Steelers’ history, culture, and players. Sergio Martinez joined the Black and Gold after he became "entranced by the combination elegance and strength of Lynn Swann." Alberto Bass remembers the Dallas Cowboys were popular among Mexicans in the 1970s. One of his most vivid memories was watching Jack Lambert body slam Cowboys safety Cliff Harris in Super Bowl X. "At that moment," he said, "I became a Steeler for life."
Uriel Lopez’s love for the Steelers originated with the iconic Steel Curtain. He shared his thoughts on the Steelers defense in terms almost too poetic for the violence they inflict on the opponent. "That emblematic Steel Curtain has captivated me throughout the years with its power, tackles, turnovers, interceptions, and other extraordinary plays that only a defense like the Steelers can perform," he shared.
Indeed, Steelers football is a religion for Mexican fans. Leo Dominguez described what the first kickoff of September is like in his social circle. "When regular season arrives, my family and friends- fans of American football- hug it out and say, ‘Happy New Year!" he said. "The best time of the year is finally here.’"
Every game day, not just the season opener, is celebrated like a holiday. Enrique Solis described preparing platters of grilled and braised meat, roasted onions and peppers, cured meats, and cheeses. There is also is the traditional michelada, a beverage made of beer, lemon, Tabasco, salt, and clamato (that part is optional).
Fans in Mexico tend to admire the intangible qualities of their favorite team as much as their prowess on the field. They appreciate dimensions of the Steelers rarely described or even recognized in the United States. Jose Antonio Gonzalez explained, "The Steelers always fight with everything they’ve got. I’ve admired that since I was a child." Marco Villeda’s interest in the Steelers also transcends the on-field play. "When I saw the Pittsburgh Steelers play," he began, "I learned the meaning of passion, love, effort, sense of community, wisdom, and being tough only when you need to be."
In the midst of scandal and other negative NFL distractions, the Steelers fans in Mexico display a rare optimism and passion for the sport that goes well beyond wins and losses and depth charts. Steelers Nation is an outdated term. We have entered the era of Steelers World.
Alejandro De Anda captured the essence of Steelers World perfectly: "Find a perfect stranger wearing your team’s jersey," he said, "And that person becomes an instant friend." If that is the case, there are lots of very good friends in Mexico.