I couldn’t believe it. The Steelers had beaten the Ravens for the third time this year. Then, they beat the Chargers to advance to Super Bowl XLIII. They had survived the league's toughest schedule. They had done more than survive – they were on their way to the Super Bowl. I literally couldn’t believe it. As I’m sitting on the couch, exhausted from willing my team to victory, my wife says something stunning – why don’t you go to the Super Bowl. I’m lost for words. After what seemed like a half hour or so, I asked her if she’s serious. Knowing that I’ve been a die-hard Steelers’ fan since I was seven years old in 1968 (2-11-1 baby), she realized how important this was to me. And, since Tampa is only about a 9-hour drive, it was doable. I told her the tickets would be expensive. She asked how much, and I quickly turned to the internets. Chagrined, I told her the nosebleed seats were around two grand. Without missing a beat, she said, buy two and take your brother from Tennessee. He can drive, pay for the food, and the hotel, and I could pay for the tickets. Again, I asked (I’m sure my voice was trembling) if she was serious. She smiled and said yes.
So, my brother and I drove to Daytona Beach to stay with a friend of his. On the way down, I had what would turn out to be a recurring experience – the unbelievable camaraderie of what is usually called “Steeler Nation.” We passed another Mustang all decked out with Steelers’ magnets, flags, and bumper stickers. About an hour later, we stopped to get gas and something to drink. A few minutes later, this middle-aged woman walked in wearing a Steelers’ sweatshirt. My brother asked her if she was in a Mustang. Immediately, her eyes lit up and she said we must be the guys wearing the Steelers’ jerseys who passed them up the road. After just a few minutes of chatting, she asked where we were from. My brother said he was living in Tennessee and I was living in Alabama, but we had both grown up in Plum Boro, outside Pittsburgh. She was from Greensburg, but now lived in Huntsville with her husband. This question, where are you from, turned out to be a standard question among Steelers’ fans. It is some kind of bonding mechanism. It’s like long-lost family members rediscovering one another. There is a joy and a sense of bonding like I’ve never experienced in any other setting or any other fandom. They said they envied us for going to the game. They couldn’t get tickets, but they didn’t want to stay in Huntsville. They wanted to watch the games with their “friends” in the Steeler Nation. Therefore, they were driving to a great sports bar in Panama City, Florida to watch the game. They were driving almost 400 miles, 7 hours, to watch a football game in a bar because they wanted to be with people they probably had never met before, but who they knew would welcome them as long-lost family. This is why Steelers’ fans “travel well.”
Saturday before the game, we drove the 140 miles from Daytona Beach to Tampa to reconnoiter the situation and check out the “NFL Experience.” After paying $10 to park in K-Mart parking lot, we went on a quest for the “Experience.” We finally found it, and proceeded to stand in line for an hour or so. Luckily, we developed a great game – inappropriate jerseys. We took pictures of folks wearing jerseys of teams not actually playing in the Super Bowl. Some people were wearing jerseys of teams that had never been in any Super Bowl. Here are a just a few:
I guess that Adrian Peterson really is, as they say over at KSK "Purple Jesus." Look here, he brought Walter Peyton back from the dead. Unfortunately, he turned Sweetness (and himself) into a white dude.
Here are the two Cardinals' fans we saw at the "Experience." Seriously, there were probably 300 Steelers' fan for every Cardinals' fans. Amazingly, everybody was very cool. The fans of both teams treated the other with respect and good sportsmanship. I know it's only anecdotal information, but I didn't hear anybody talking smack to anybody else.
This Browns' fan appears to be looking for something. If it's a Super Bowl appearance by her team, she might have to wait a long time. (I know that's snarky, but, come-on, it's the Browns. Wait to you see what I have to say about the Ravens).
If your wife sees that you made her kids dress in 49'er's jerseys, she will win the inevitable divorce case. "Momma don't let your babies grow up to be '9ers":
Or Cowboys, er Cowgirls. Hey, look, it's Tony Romo after a bender in Juarez!
Making your kid wear an Eagles' jersey might be worse child abuse than the '9ers.
This is just confusing. I imagine the conversation went something like this, "Dad, if you get to wear the jersey of a substitute high school teacher in Minnesota, then I want to wear the jersey of an Eagles safety." To which his brother said, "If you get to wear a DB's jersey, then so do I." I'm not sure of the logic either.
These guys, however, might win the prize for messing up their kids. Could you find enough disparate jerseys to force your kids to wear?
Come on! You've got to wear, at the very least, a jersey of a team that actually exists. This would be like wearing a Bill Belichik replica hoody from a time when he wasn't cheating.
The “NFL Experience” is great if you’re a kid or somebody who likes to play punt, pass, and catch games. If you don’t, you’re s.o.l. (sort-of-out-of-luck). Also, if you think paying $5 for a bottle of Pepsi, $8 for a Budweiser, or $10 for an Italian sausage sandwich is highway robbery, you’re similarly s.o.l.
When you think of heavy industry, you think of that great steel town -- Phoenix.
This is also where people can buy their souvenirs. My brother offered to buy me some things, but I told him I’d take care of that myself – then I saw a painting of Jerome Bettis pancaking the great Brian Urlacher. It was autographed by the Bus. It was on sale for a tad less than $2000. I told my brother I had changed my mind; he demurred.
The "NFL Experience" also had 32 dummies in team uniforms. They were set up so people could stand behind them and get their picture taken like they were a genuine football player. Neat.
Some parents stuck their poor little kid inside the hollowed-out hulk of a Browns player. Child abuse, again.
I know -- real mature. But I really couldn't help myself.
After spending several hours soaking up the whole “Experience,” our feet and legs were killing us. We called it a night and drove back to Daytona Beach, eagerly waiting Sunday.
A benevolent Buddha watched over us as we left.