Such existential questions are usually reserved for philosophical musings or populist fodder. Is it proper to bring such sublime reasoning to the mundane of football fandom? Do discussions of nature vs. nurture, or choice vs. innate have anything to do with football? I don’t pretend to speak for everyone or for anyone for that matter, except myself. I will only say that in my case, I believe the subject of Steelers fandom is a little bit of both.
I was raised in prehistoric times (1960’s – 70’s) in the NFL barren wasteland of Arizona. It was so long ago that it pre-dated Blogs, Forums, The Internet, Home computers, Cable Television and even Super bowl I! I wasn’t a football fan yet (I was only 2 years old) but I was alive! The world had just recently been changed from black and white to color. In Arizona, you could still hear the distant roar of dinosaurs and there was no NFL team (egad!!!). As primitive as we were, we still pondered if UFO’s were real and if the NFL actually existed. Nightly news would show sparse and grainy, out of focus, clips of supposed NFL games, and you could read about eyewitness accounts of pro football games in an antiquated form of media, known as a “Newspaper”. It was actually a collection of pages folded together with words printed in ink on them, arranged in articles. You had to hold it in your hands and actually, manually turn the pages to read. It was rough, but we were strong and chiseled from a hard life of such physical labor.
In to this world of technological and NFL want, I was born and would start my long sojourn to fandom. Football existed in Arizona in those days, but nothing above the collegiate level. Once a football player graduated college, he often was rumored to have been spirited away to that mythical netherworld of the NFL! Growing up, I would see evidences of its existence. A cap with an NFL team logo on it, a brightly colored jacket proclaiming that one team or another had been spotted. New neighbors from faraway places claiming to have actually had an NFL team in their former city. Was all of this real, or the equivalent of watching someone in a tinfoil hat walk down the road proclaiming the end was near! Such things would inflame the thoughts in my young mind. Could it really be, is there really an NFL where the best football in the world is played?!
Then it happened! It was just another nondescript Sunday afternoon in 1974, I was 9 years old. While visiting a friend at his house, he said there was going to be a program on TV that was going to blow the lid off of the whole NFL controversy and present proof that it was real. I was awestruck and frightened at the same time. He turned on the TV and turned the channel dial click by click to tune into the proper program. In those arcane days, you had to actually grab and twist a huge knob on the TV in order to change the channel. Mighty, we must have been, for even a young kid could do it single-handedly without any help. Primitive savages we were, but mighty indeed! If I had known what was about to happen, I may have been too afraid to look, but my curiosity got the better of me and I glared, eyes wide open at the screen!
Popped into plain view was that mythical thing that left me stunned to my core. An NFL football player. Not just any NFL player, but a whole group of them that was rumored to be the most accomplished and feared of them all. The Black and Gold clad Pittsburgh Steelers Steel Curtain Defense!!! Like seeing a burning bush, stumbling upon Bigfoot, or watching a flaming crash from the sky outside Roswell New Mexico in 1947, I was thunderstruck! I sat there dumbfounded as it slowly sunk in. It was real, it was real!! Not only was the NFL real, but the legendary Steel Curtain defense was real! I was watching NFL players with my own eyes, it was an NFL encounter of the 3rd kind! Play after play I watched as the fearsome Steelers D dominated its hapless foe. I knew at that moment that my sojourn to find the NFL was over. I had been called, I had been chosen, I was a “loud and proud” Steelers fan and would be so until the end of time!
I was not a Steelers fan because I was born or raised in Pittsburgh. My parents weren’t football fans at all, nor was anyone that I knew. Conversely, my first words as a child weren’t “Steelers” and I wasn’t born with a Black and Gold halo around my head. I did choose to be a Steelers fan, but it wasn’t a choice born of careful consideration of all available teams. I saw and I instantly knew, to the core of my being, that I would from that moment on be a rabid Steelers fan for life. Choice, intrinsic, a solid combination of both? Yes! and Black and Gold, Damn proud of it!!!
With love, SteelHobo.