STEELER COUNTRY

February 4, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
Gridiron City
By HOLLY BRUBACH

Pittsburgh

THE electronic signs above the windshields on city buses here
alternate their destination with a flashing message: “GO STEELERS!” In
stores, in restaurants, on the street, people are wearing team
jerseys. The news is All Steelers, All the Time: for the past two
weeks, the war in Iraq and the Samuel Alito confirmation have been
supplanted by Jerome Bettis’s mom, Coach Bill Cowher’s decision to
wear the white “away” uniforms, opinion forums (“Is God for the
Steelers?”), and a raspy song by a local band setting Troy Polamalu’s
name to music.

At the airport, where the Carnegie Museum has installed on loan a
specimen from its renowned dinosaur collection, the T. Rex is holding
a Terrible Towel. Sitting at the gate waiting to board a flight to
Newark, I overheard a man on his cellphone telling somebody back home,
“You can’t believe how seriously these people take their football.”

Pittsburgh needs the Steelers in a way that few, if any, other cities
need their teams. The Steelers are our mirror: they tell us who we
are. When they win, we walk a little taller. I say “we” because I was
born and raised in Pittsburgh, and now, after 30 years in New York,
Paris and Milan, I’m moving back. The locals are mystified: they want
to know what Pittsburgh has to offer in comparison to these so-called
capitals of style.

For several years in a row back in the 80’s, Pittsburgh was ranked the
No. 1 place to live in the country, to the incredulity of its own
citizens. Despite historic architecture, a distinguished cultural
heritage, a scenic location and an ethnically diverse community, most
Pittsburghers are remarkably lacking in civic pride. The city’s
inferiority complex is chronic, and its roots run deep.

The Scots and Germans who settled the area early on seem to have
<!–
D(["mb","regarded life as one long, relentless struggle, as, indeed, for them
it must have been, and their work ethic and frugality have been handed
down intact. For Pittsburgh\’s most conspicuous benefactors — the
Fricks, the Carnegies, the Mellons — the city in the Gilded Age was a
base of operations where they built the fortunes that propelled them
to New York\’s larger stage. Successive waves of immigrants (Eastern
European, Irish, Italian) found jobs in the steel mills and the coal
mines, and hard labor became fused in the public\’s perception with the
image of an industrial inferno where the air was so soot-filled that
the streetlights were illuminated 24 hours a day.

My own appreciation for Pittsburgh is relatively recent. Like a lot of
natives, I grew up feeling apologetic that the city, with its
smokestacks, factories and railroad trestles, wasn\’t picturesque (this
was back in the days before "industrial" was an aesthetic); that,
being closer to Ohio than to the Eastern seaboard, it wasn\’t more
cosmopolitan; that it was a blunt, hard-charging, working-class town
in an increasingly nuanced, executive world. When, beginning in 1975,
the Steelers won four Super Bowls in six years, they earned us a
respect we\’d never had, not even for ourselves.

Steelermania these days includes a heavy dose of nostalgia, not only
for those legendary 70\’s teams but also for the era before the steel
industry\’s demise, when the city still had a strong identity.
Pittsburgh\’s population today is less than half what it was in 1950,
and if, with this week\’s report of three fans in Antarctica, Steeler
Nation now extends to the planet\’s farthest corners, surely it\’s in
large part because so many Pittsburghers have left home.

The tech boom of the 90\’s, which was supposed to turn the city into
another Seattle, fizzled. Pittsburgh has lately teetered on the verge
of bankruptcy, and urban revitalization efforts, while finally gaining
“,1]
);

//–>
regarded life as one long, relentless struggle, as, indeed, for them
it must have been, and their work ethic and frugality have been handed
down intact. For Pittsburgh’s most conspicuous benefactors — the
Fricks, the Carnegies, the Mellons — the city in the Gilded Age was a
base of operations where they built the fortunes that propelled them
to New York’s larger stage. Successive waves of immigrants (Eastern
European, Irish, Italian) found jobs in the steel mills and the coal
mines, and hard labor became fused in the public’s perception with the
image of an industrial inferno where the air was so soot-filled that
the streetlights were illuminated 24 hours a day.

My own appreciation for Pittsburgh is relatively recent. Like a lot of
natives, I grew up feeling apologetic that the city, with its
smokestacks, factories and railroad trestles, wasn’t picturesque (this
was back in the days before “industrial” was an aesthetic); that,
being closer to Ohio than to the Eastern seaboard, it wasn’t more
cosmopolitan; that it was a blunt, hard-charging, working-class town
in an increasingly nuanced, executive world. When, beginning in 1975,
the Steelers won four Super Bowls in six years, they earned us a
respect we’d never had, not even for ourselves.

Steelermania these days includes a heavy dose of nostalgia, not only
for those legendary 70’s teams but also for the era before the steel
industry’s demise, when the city still had a strong identity.
Pittsburgh’s population today is less than half what it was in 1950,
and if, with this week’s report of three fans in Antarctica, Steeler
Nation now extends to the planet’s farthest corners, surely it’s in
large part because so many Pittsburghers have left home.

The tech boom of the 90’s, which was supposed to turn the city into
another Seattle, fizzled. Pittsburgh has lately teetered on the verge
of bankruptcy, and urban revitalization efforts, while finally gaining
<!–
D(["mb","some traction, are several years behind those of other Midwestern
cities. The ubiquitous luxury brands, with stores in every major
American market, have made few inroads here, and their "aspirational"
appeal seems lost on a populace persuaded that glamour is for other
people.

Though today it\’s advanced-degree professions like medicine and
education that drive the local economy, the Steelers\’ image has
remained hardscrabble: "blue-collar" is the adjective most often used
to describe Pittsburgh\’s style of football. For the past few days,
hometown coverage has focused on the role of the running game, which
the Steelers more or less abandoned during the playoffs. Against the
Colts, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed on 7 of the first 10
plays, astonishing not only the Indianapolis defense but the
Pittsburgh fans. Who was this team? Elegant, cerebral — for a minute
there, we could have been watching the Patriots.

The Steelers have historically gone about football the way people in
Pittsburgh have gone about their lives. It occurs to me that what may
appear to be a lack of pride is, more precisely, an acknowledgment
that the city simply can\’t compete when it comes to the things
American culture calls important: celebrity, fashion, fancy cars. Not
because Pittsburgh has tried for all that and failed, but because here
those aren\’t the things that matter. This may not be a popular
position we\’ve inherited, but we\’re sticking to it, and looking to the
Super Bowl for vindication.

Holly Brubach, a former style editor at The New York Times Magazine,
is writing a novel.
“,0]
);

//–>
some traction, are several years behind those of other Midwestern
cities. The ubiquitous luxury brands, with stores in every major
American market, have made few inroads here, and their “aspirational”
appeal seems lost on a populace persuaded that glamour is for other
people.

Though today it’s advanced-degree professions like medicine and
education that drive the local economy, the Steelers’ image has
remained hardscrabble: “blue-collar” is the adjective most often used
to describe Pittsburgh’s style of football. For the past few days,
hometown coverage has focused on the role of the running game, which
the Steelers more or less abandoned during the playoffs. Against the
Colts, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed on 7 of the first 10
plays, astonishing not only the Indianapolis defense but the
Pittsburgh fans. Who was this team? Elegant, cerebral — for a minute
there, we could have been watching the Patriots.

The Steelers have historically gone about football the way people in
Pittsburgh have gone about their lives. It occurs to me that what may
appear to be a lack of pride is, more precisely, an acknowledgment
that the city simply can’t compete when it comes to the things
American culture calls important: celebrity, fashion, fancy cars. Not
because Pittsburgh has tried for all that and failed, but because here
those aren’t the things that matter. This may not be a popular
position we’ve inherited, but we’re sticking to it, and looking to the
Super Bowl for vindication.

Holly Brubach, a former style editor at The New York Times Magazine,
is writing a novel.

About papillion

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6 responses to “STEELER COUNTRY

  • spokaloothezoo

    Not that I know ANYTHING about football and no that I am counting down untill I have to stop hearing about the seahawks and the superbowl but being a Washingtonion I have to say GO SEAHAWKS!

    • ladylord

      Now seriously…why would you go and do that? Did you have to come on my page and dis the Steelers like that? You know I’m gonna have to delete your comment right?

      • spokaloothezoo

        yes yes of COURSE! I didn’t diss, just encouraged. Hey do you have a recipe for Ginger Porridge or know if it would go by any other name in Twi or whatever? I am not sure how wide spread it it, we had it during Ramadan to break fast, but since my family didn’t fast, just cooked for those that did, we had it for breakfast.

      • ladylord

        ginger porridge? hmmm…i’m not quite sure what you mean. i may have had it and not known it’s name or it may be i’ve never had it before…could you give me more details?

      • spokaloothezoo

        Its like oatmeal but its made with Ginger. Its veryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy spicy and makes you really hot and sweaty and tired(appetizing eh…) and its grey.

      • ladylord

        i think i’ve had it before. yeah..i would have to ask one of my Aunties for the recipe…

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