Wednesday, September 25, 2013

what i learned at the stadium

being a protestant pastor of a church that worships on sunday mornings about four hours from pittsburgh doesn't lend itself to getting to go to heinz field for a steelers game very often. 
which is why i'm basically a tv-watching steelers fan. 
except for this week.  actually, i've been to a handful of steelers games now, (six now, in total).  an evening game provides me an opportunity to drive to the best city in the world and sit in that great yellow coliseum, and it is an opportunity i took advantage of this week, even though my bears fan buddy bailed on me. 
and so i left church, ate lunch with the family, and headed for the 'burgh, feeling my anticipation grow with each passing mile marker.  i have some sort of inner radar that senses my distance from pittsburgh at all times.  and i can feel the needle climbing the dial as i drive west.  finally, i made it down the parkway east and into the city that holds my heart. 
i'm not sure where else you can park downtown in a city parking garage for $5 on gameday, then ride beautiful public transportation to the game for free, but that's how it is in pittsburgh.  i got to the staduim early, walked around to take in all the sights and sounds, and found my way over the Stage AE, a concert venue next door to heinz field, where i had previously seen a concert (explosions in the sky).  in the hours leading up to the game, they have all sorts of stuff going on there, including wdve's pregame radio show, lots of games to play, lots of places to buy refreshments, and places to watch all the other nfl games going on. 
from there i headed over to my gate, went through security without any issue, headed up to my section, and asked someone where i could get some wings to eat.  he directed me to the great hall, and, not wanting to fight the incoming crowds, i walked around the stadium in the seating area, rather than through the concourse.  as i rounded the endzone, i saw the NBC crew preparing for some pregame televised stuff, and i noticed bob costas looking over some papers.  i called out his name and waved, and he looked up and flashed me a peace sign.  or maybe it was a steelers "v for victory?"  not sure.  i looked over and saw hines ward, also preparing, and after i shouted his name, he gave me a wave, too!  i practically skipped the rest of the way to the great hall where i got my wings. 
after eating and socializing with some fans around me, i enjoyed the pregame atmosphere in the stadium, and got ready for kickoff.  soon the game was beginning, and, before long, the steelers were already losing 17-0, and some of the more obnoxious fans around me were yelling about how bad todd haley is, and how ben should be benched, and so forth.  they seemed to be miserable and grumpy, and it got me thinking. 

i love the steelers.  i mean, i really love them.  i am a full grown man, but when i saw those players run onto the field on sunday night, there really wasn't much separating me from my 9-year old self.  i was enraptured.  full of wonder.  taking mental snapshots of those black and gold players with the shiny black helmets running on that great green gameboard.  there were literally fireworks going off at the stadium at that moment, but i didn't need them.  i had my own.  i can't really describe it any further or offer a legitimate explanation for it to those of you who don't already get it, except to say that it is undeniably real.  it is goosebumps and joy and exhilaration all at once.  and i immediately began the process of losing my voice. 
of course, i soon had very little reason to shout.  but that didn't stop some of the steelers "fans" around me.  they instantly found a reason to complain.  we were only down by 10 when the guy just down the row from me had already given up and taken to his vociferous grumbling.  when felix jones fumbled the ball, he started screaming that haley "sucks."  then, when ben dropped back to pass on a first down, he complained that haley passes too much.  as the game became more lopsided, others joined him, and soon there was a whole negative cheering section that was booing and complaining and whining and making absolutely no sense whatsoever. 
and then, the steelers started to comeback.  when ben hit antonio brown with a great touchdown pass over a defender, no one was complaining about todd haley.  no, mr. grumpy was standing up giving me a high five.  his tune had changed.  he no longer wanted to see "landry jones out there" as he had previously been demanding.  soon, the stadium was coming unglued with excitement.  people were screaming their faces off.  or, at least, i was. 
as you know, the wheels fell off the steelers comeback car, and everything went horribly awry.  and when it did, my section-mates returned to form, showing their true colors.  and those colors aren't really black and gold.  maybe green?  maybe red?  maybe just some swirl of grey and brown, i don't know.  here's what i do know:  my true colors are black and yellow.  when they are scoring, and when they are stinking.  when they are winning superbowls and when they are falling to an embarrassing 0-3.  when i don't agree with the play call, and when i do.  in all of this, and more, my colors remain black and gold, and my fanaticism remains completely in place.  i refuse to scream at the team that i love.  instead, i rejoice with them when they succeed, and i hurt with them when they fail. 
and so here is what i learned from my trip to pittsburgh on this beautiful september evening:  being a good fan is alot like being a good person.  when the one you love doesn't do what you want, you don't scream at them and criticize them and rant at them as if you are perfect and they are perfectly awful at everything they ever do.  that's just not what a fan does, whether you are talking about a fan of a team, a friend, a child, or a spouse.  if i say that i am your biggest fan, it means that when you fail, i will help you carry the blame, and do my part to get you through it until we find success again.  and so to the jerk in my row in section 127: shut up.  please sell your ticket to someone who supports the team.  that is all. 
and go steelers!

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