Note: This is more of a football post than a genealogy post but it is a family story! Originally written six years ago, I tried to get it published but couldn’t get the attention of either a Pittsburgh or a Baltimore publisher. But now that I have a blog, who needs ’em? It’s perfect for the run-up to a critical AFC North re-match this weekend.
December 18, 2004
I am a Black-and-Gold girl in the Land of Purple. Some of you have immediately grasped the import of that statement. For those of you who haven’t, I’ll elaborate.
I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Raised in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, I came to this area to attend college. After graduating, I moved into Baltimore City where I have lived for 27 years. So that’s 18 years there and 31 years here. I love this city and yet I love my team. How is that possible?
Black-and-Gold is my heritage, as strongly felt by me as others feel about an ethnic or national connection. The family in which I grew up is spread across the country but football is one of our common languages. Even though we can’t be part of each others’ daily lives, we can always talk about how our team is doing. I know that when the chips are down, it’s third and long, my sisters in Colorado and in Maine, and my parents, now in Zelienople (another funny name), are just like me. And they are watching the game if they can.
And then there’s my extended family — I can strike up conversation with anyone sporting a Steelers emblem. I’ve met a man from Greentree on Light Street, a family from Uniontown on the beach in North Carolina, and a graduate student from Upper St. Clair where I work. There’s Kris, the new neighbor down the street from central Pennsylvania, and Susan, the librarian from Wheeling, who embraces me after each victory. There was also that very disheveled man with just a few teeth in the Harford Road carryout – we whispered to each conspiratorially. Under the skin, we are all brothers.
Meanwhile, in my marriage to a man from Baltimore, there were a few early “issues.” The Steelers and the Colts faced each other in 1976 in the playoffs. The game is remembered more for the fact that a light plane crashed into the upper deck at Memorial Stadium moments after it ended than for the outcome on the field. The 1979 World Series was a true test but we survived, probably because the Pirates won and because he is a better sport and a more generous person than me. Baseball just hasn’t been an issue since then and seems unlikely to become one, at least in our lifetime.
Then, with the departure of the Colts in 1984, the way was clear. I was free to raise my daughters to be Steelers fans, without undue interference. And in fact, my husband, for the lack of anything better to do, rooted for the Steelers, too.
The turning point came in 1997 with the arrival of the Ravens. For a few years, the impact was minimal as the two teams’ fortunes moved in a way that allowed peace. Happy for my fellow Baltimoreans, I could vaguely root for the Ravens. I bought my husband a very handsome Ravens shirt and genuinely relished the demolition of the Giants in the Super Bowl. I wore a purple shirt that day, although I could never wear anything with another team’s insignia.
Now, in 2004, a stark and lasting reality has sunk in. My household, my neighborhood, my very world is, on many days, defined by a divisional rivalry that is, to put it mildly, intense. These days I can only root for the Ravens when the Steelers are out of the playoff picture and that’s the last thing on earth I want to happen. This year, my husband even attended the first meeting between Ravens and Steelers and heartily rooted his team on to a victory that ironically turned the tide for my team.
Perhaps the harshest ill wind of all – this Christmas, my oldest daughter asked for a “tasteful” Ravens sweatshirt. I went to three stores before I found the right one – a black hooded one with purple and white lettering. It’s all wrapped up and under the tree. I couldn’t deny her the right to claim her own heritage but that won’t stop me from hoping that, this year at least, she won’t be wearing it for long.
UPDATE: There have been many losses, both personal and athletic, since 2004. We also have two more Super Bowl Championships. Not so the Ravens. But this weekend, I don’t feel very confident. Then again, I very rarely do — I’m a pillow-chewing fan not a trash-talking one.
I haven’t seen that oldest daughter in her Ravens sweatshirt recently (does she even have it? I don’t know.) She’s engaged to an Eagles fan (not an issue, although hockey season is another story), roots for the Steelers and probably keeps quiet in mixed company. The two of them even humored me by posing in this god-awful Snugli (apologies to the gift-giver) last Christmas:
The younger daughter, however, is a lost cause draped in purple, and now permanently attached to a young man who dresses the same way (and sometimes even wears an Ovechkin jersey.) I still love them anyway.