Every Steelers fan has a golden story

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TAMPA, Fla. -- In a humongous bar called Splitsville in Tampa's Channelside entertainment district, the "Here we go, Steelers!" chant regularly burst forth Saturday night from a near shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, but once I noticed a slight twist.

"Hair we go, Steelers."

That was the slogan on a banner with a likeness of Troy Polamalu, the Steelers safety with the quick feet and seven-year curls. Mary Joyce Burger of Ross and her friends were holding the banner up and people were snapping photos.

Her father, Chuck Crawford, who just turned 80 in December, is the artist. Mr. Crawford made the drawing because he not only likes the way Polamalu plays, he seems "like a people person."

Evidently, the entire Polamalu family is. Mrs. Burger pointed to Polamalu's autograph on the banner and told me this story:

On Tuesday night, Fred and Mary Joyce Burger had dinner at Don Shula's Steak House at the Intercontinental Hotel in Tampa, where the Steelers were staying. After dinner, they were outside the hotel waiting for the valet to return with their car when Polamalu pulled up with his wife, Theodora, and their infant son.

The Steeler was getting his son from the car seat when Mrs. Burger asked to show him something her dad had made for this Tampa trip. She unfurled the banner and, when Mrs. Polamalu saw it, she told her husband, "Oh, Troy, that's so nice. You have to sign that."

So Polamalu signed with his free hand and held their boy with the other.

"Thank you so much," he told Mrs. Burger as he signed. "That's so nice of your dad."

Mrs. Burger has been to every Steelers Super Bowl but the first one. Her husband had been only to the one in Detroit three years ago, so she wanted him to experience the hoopla in sunshine. They met at a Steelers game, wouldn't you know.

When I called Mr. Crawford at his home in Brighton Heights yesterday morning, he said, "I never met the man but knowing what I saw of him, and heard of him, I thought he would sign it. He's that kind of people person."

But then Mr. Crawford might be getting used to the city's celebrities doing him favors. He can't do the winter chores he once did and so he reports that his neighbor -- Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, his wife, Shelly, and son, Danny -- have been taking turns shoveling his driveway.

Oh, and when Mr. Crawford, a retired field engineer for Verizon, took night art classes at Carnegie Tech after coming out of the Army in 1948, he took at least one class with Andy Warhol (when he was still Warhola).

Only in Pittsburgh, folks.

Sometimes you go to the game, and sometimes the game goes to you.

If we know anything, we know that Steelers fans dot the globe. We know they'll sometimes travel ridiculous distances for a big game. But yesterday afternoon, with the help of Pittsburgher Nick Nery's knowledge of 72 Steelers fan clubs around the country, I made contact with a Floridian of a different kind of who spoke of the sometimes agonizing wait for this mountain of a game to come her way.

Lisa Keser was born in DuBois 42 years and five or six months ago, and says she's been a Steelers fan for roughly, oh, 42 years and five or six months. As she drew her first breaths, her mother, Paula, probably "wrapped me in a Terrible Towel."

Now she lives in Orlando, maybe an hour from Tampa, but she didn't want to jinx the Steelers by buying Super Bowl tickets too early. Her mom remembered how they were let down when the Steelers didn't quite make it to New Orleans in 2002 and Jacksonville in 2005.

So she waited until the two-minute warning in the final quarter of the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens before booking her mom's round-trip flight to Orlando.

We were talking about 90 minutes before the game by cell phone, so I asked where she and her mom were sitting so I might visit them. Oh, they didn't have tickets yet, Ms. Keser said. But they'd found "the most awesome tailgate party."

Some guy from Chicago was throwing it in a parking lot a block from Raymond James Stadium. There were televisions, seven kegs of beer -- "we kicked all the kegs" -- and 11 cases of Iron City and IC Light. She didn't sound too worried about finding two tickets.

"If we don't, we'll just go back to the tailgate party. I'll be among fans, so who cares?"

I reached her again with about four minutes to go in the second quarter and she hadn't gotten a ticket. She and her mother were back at the tailgate with about 300 others, with a good view of a TV and "having a blast."

Steelers fans -- what can you say? Nobody could count all the Terrible Towels waving in the stadium last night, and one sure couldn't count all the ones at tailgate parties and in living rooms, but there's a tale beneath every tattered cloth.

Brian O'Neill can be reached at boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947


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