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A Steelers fan's love for family, life and the Black and Gold

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On occasion through the years, people have asked me why I chose to work in the media. To that I say "meet Mary Grace," whose love for entertaining coupled with a win in Super Bowl XIII over Dallas pushed me to what I try to do each day.

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The date was January 21, 1979. The Pittsburgh Steelers faced the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII. The result is no story, but the events that unfolded at the Orange Bowl were viewed by many both inside the stadium that no longer stands, along with untold millions of football fans. I was nine years old and experiencing Steeler mania in its early stages. Its impact on me was profound.

What really made that day so special was all the effort my mother put into it. You see, if there was one thing Mary Grace was always going to do was to serve people the best way she knew how and that was with food. As a youth, growing up in the Lincoln Larimer section of Pittsburgh post-World War II, you worked. And if you were the daughter of Italian immigrants, you were made to quit Westinghouse High in ninth grade to find a job and help support a big family.

To my mother's credit, with little more than sheer drive, determination and skill, she put on the best party of her life. It wasn't but a few years later that my father, like many in the mid-Mon Valley, lost his job when Westinghouse packed up and went to Mexico. Mom started doing what she learned after leaving high school and that's cook. Mary Grace created Phillips Catering and, for 10 years, she fed people at weddings, picnics and even some corporate events. 

Dad was sick shortly after losing his job in 1984. Nineteen years as a welder and, just like that, in his mid-40's pops was hurting inside and the only way to survive was for mom to get back to work. And you know what, that little catering business she started began to quickly replace dad's lost salary. In fact, she made more and built a reputation as a can-do woman.

It's so drastically profound as I see her life coming to an end. For a parent to tell you they no longer have the will to live is crushing. To look into her eyes and see how tired she looked, that wasn't the Mary Grace I've locked peepers with when I was young.

I feel such sorrow and pain, yet there's such joy and love for Mary Grace. For whatever hardship she suffered through in her early life, even with a company leaving the area and devastating thousands of households, Mary Grace stood strong and prospered. For what she provided me, my sister Shirley and of course her own husband for 43 years in my father, nobody can say thanks enough.

My mother supported me and my dreams of becoming a broadcaster. Because of that passion she had for her children, for the food she made and those she made it for, Mary Grace instilled in me a sense that, if I worked hard, I could achieve anything. Turns out she was right. In 1997, I was given my first talk-show on Ardmore Boulevard at 1250 WTAE-AM. Just a mile away from where we lived.

I have Mary Grace to thank for it all. She loved her Steelers and Pirates. Her love for all the above drove me in spades. Maybe it was fate or destiny. I really don't know why but she gave me the strength to rise out of where I lived and be successful at what I did. For that spirit that she instilled in me, I can never pay her back as she exits this world and into the unknown.

We hope she can see the Steelers play one more time this Sunday. I'm sure Mary Grace would love to feed you if you came over and watched.

John Phillips is a radio personality for 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh and a columnist for Behind The Steel Curtain. Check him out on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.