This is a good morning here in western Pennsylvania, despite facing the prospect of watching two of the most loathed and venal football coaches lead their teams on to the world’s largest stage tonight. I’ll be watching, in hopes its an exciting and well-played game, but my heart isn’t in it and I expect the camaraderie and food will be the main attraction at the party we’re attending.
There will also, undoubtedly, be some happy discussion about Jerome Bettis who, after several years on the ballot, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame yesterday. I won’t expound on the accomplishments of the man we know as “The Bus,” because it’s been done elsewhere, beyond explaining that not only was he one of the best running backs of all time statistically, he was the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh Steelers for a decade, a selfless and dedicated member of the community, and a beloved iconic figure in a region that’s filled with them. Lots of people collect football jerseys of their favorite players. I have one. I’m just not a jersey guy, but I am a Bettis guy–and this is a distinction that has been too damn long in coming. But hey, he’s in now–and it is sort of fitting that even on this day of great personal recognition for Bettis, he’s provided one more victory for us to savor on an otherwise depressing Super Bowl Sunday. We celebrate with you, Bus, and we celebrate for you.
To put this in perspective, a little about background:
I’m from western Pennsylvania, so I like football. We’re born that way; it is in our genes. Those who don’t are aberrations we don’t really talk about outside the home, and even then only in hushed and somewhat superstitious tones. The term “birth defect” comes to mind–hideous, elephant man-scale birth defect.
We go to high school football games on Friday nights the way some people go out for drinks–which is not to say that we don’t go out for drinks, too. We just go after the game, and the bands we go to see don’t hit the stage until 10pm.
We follow college football, whether we are perennially frustrated Pitt Panthers fans, couch-burning WVU fans, or glazed-eyed drooling JoePA cultists shuffling around State College, PA (yes, that’s the name of the town) mumbling about restoring wins and Nittany this, Nittany that. We’ve got our religious zealots (Notre Dame), and–um, I don’t even know what to say about Ohio State except that it’s in Ohio. WTF?
Our children are born with an innate knowledge of 0-technique and some strong opinions on how to employ it’s various permutations, and our women don’t gossip about celebrities or whose cars are parked behind the Holiday Inn at lunchtime on a Tuesday afternoon–they’re too busy arguing over the merits of zone blitz versus cover-2.
Primarily, however, we love the Steelers. Our hearts race, or our blood pressure stablizes, depending upon the context, when we see the colors black and gold, and we’re never listening to a polka song when a little voice in the back of our head isn’t singing The Pittsburgh Steelers Polka.
It is how we are.