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The Steeler Nation

Josef Kuhn | Tuesday, January 27, 2009

With Super Bowl XLIII quickly approaching, football fever is mounting. Of course, for Pittsburgh fans, football fever is more like multidrug-resistant typhoid. Few teams boast a tradition as long and strong as the Pittsburgh Steelers. I cannot attest to the vivacity of the Cardinals’ fan base, but as a Pittsburgh resident I feel that it is my duty to impart to the masses a little bit of Steelers fan culture in preparation for the Super Bowl.The Pittsburgh Steelers, established in 1933, are the oldest franchise in the AFC. They are one of only three teams in the NFL to have won five Super Bowls, and this year they will have the chance to become the first team ever to win six. In the 2005 season, the Steelers were the first No. 6-seeded team in NFL history to go to a conference championship. As if that wasn’t enough, they won the game and then went on to win Super Bowl XL. The team included quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Super Bowl MVP receiver Hines Ward, and legendary running back Jerome “The Bus” Bettis. Roethlisberger was only in his second professional season when he became the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl.Despite this impressive offensive lineup, the cornerstone of the Steelers has traditionally been their defense. During their 1970s dynasty, when they won four Super Bowls in six consecutive years, the Steelers’ famous defensive line earned the nickname “the Steel Curtain.” This moniker stuck and eventually came to designate the whole defensive squad. The current team is no exception to the rule, having the No. 1 defense in the NFL.But their fans make them special. In 2008, ESPN.com ranked Steelers’ fans as the best in the NFL based on their “unbelievable” sellout streak – they have sold out every home game since 1972. Both the Steelers and the Pittsburgh Pirates used to play at Three Rivers Stadium, named for the three rivers that converge in the center of the city. However, Three Rivers was demolished in 2001 and the Steelers now play at the beautiful Heinz Field. Named for the famous condiment company based in Pittsburgh, the stadium features Homer Simpson-yellow seats and an open end that looks out onto the rivers and the Pittsburgh skyline. The 96-foot JumboTron is crowned by two giant light-up ketchup bottles that tilt and pour red ooze down the screen whenever the Steelers score.Another fixture of the Steelers franchise is the Terrible Towel. It was conceived in 1975 by Myron Cope, the legendary broadcaster who used to announce Steelers games on the radio. The Terrible Towel is a simple device, consisting of a school-bus yellow towel with “Terrible Towel” printed on it in black lettering, but when 65,050 of these towels are gathered together, the results can be deadly for the opposing team. Just think of the loudest noise you’ve ever heard, multiply that by ten, and combine it with a veritable ocean of whirling yellow cloth – that’s what the Steelers are greeted by every time they take the field. And who could talk about Heinz Field without reference to the food? Primanti Brothers, a local restaurant chain, has stands throughout the stadium. Their sandwiches are a Pittsburgh tradition, consisting of your choice of meat, cheese, tomato, coleslaw, and French fries, all between two pieces of Italian bread. According to legend, the Primanti Brothers sandwich was invented back in Pittsburgh’s steel mill days. Mill workers (“steelers”- that’s where the name comes from) would come into the restaurant for lunch, but they didn’t have enough time to sit down and eat with proper utensils. Instead, the cooks put the side dishes right on the sandwiches for them, so they could take it to go and eat with their hands. It may sound gross, but so does peanut butter to most Europeans.All of this is only basic knowledge to your average Steelers fans. There is much more I could tell you, but this should be enough to give you an idea of what this team means to thousands of people across the nation. At least when you’re watching the Super Bowl you’ll know what all those yellow things are flying through the air.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Josef Kuhn at [email protected]