TAMPA, Fla. -- Steelers Nation didn't just go to Super Bowl XLIII to watch it. They intended to be part of it.
"That's the 12th man," said Jay Osselburn, who traveled from New Jersey to support his team. "You don't face the team. You face the Nation."
And the Nation came from all over the nation to be there yesterday.
Three days ago, the Churleys of Los Angeles weren't Super Bowl-bound. But a friend with tickets found out he couldn't make it and suddenly at 10 p.m. Friday the father and son who used to live in Cranberry had tickets at a bargain price: $800 for two.
Pittsburgh football devotees descended on Raymond James Stadium yesterday in such numbers that, without the distinctive palm trees and temperatures in the 60s, the place might have been mistaken for the North Shore.
In pregame madness, it didn't take long to find folks with ties to Beaver, McDonald, McKeesport, Munhall and Squirrel Hill, not to mention Carrick and Braddock, Baldwin, Connellsville and Erie. "Can I get a plug in for my business?" asked one happy tailgater. "I'm a chiropractor down in the South Hills."
Maybe he would have found clients over on Himes Avenue, where the black-and-gold faithful were helping put money into the pockets of entrepreneurial homeowners with front-yard parking available for between $10 and $100.
"You go over there, you'll think you're in Pittsburgh," said Michael French, a man who lives in Tampa and grew up in Virginia but was draped in Steelers attire and admitted to owning a cat named, yes, "Pittsburgh."
Why the Steelers? He just started liking them more than 40 years ago -- he played on a team that had the same colors -- and the passion never faded. "Black and gold, mean as can be!" he shouted cheerfully.
Arizona Cardinals fans weren't missing in action. That dark red stood out when someone wearing it happened by. Jay Nilsson and Scott Dannehl, for example, had come from Omaha, Neb., to support their team.
They almost committed a rookie error a few weeks ago by booking a flight after the first half of the playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Things got a bit too close there in the second half.
"After I bought my plane ticket, I was thinking, oooh," said Nilsson.
He admitted to feeling a bit outnumbered yesterday. "Well, look around," he said, as groups of Steelers fans surged by.
Not much later, the Bethune-Cookman University marching band strolled by looking rather Cardinals-like in their red, white and gold. Other sightings near the media gate included entertainer Will.I.Am, San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary and some interesting people carrying guitar cases in front of two SUVs with dark-tinted glass and escorts.
Hey, was that ESPN's Chris Berman?, asked Alan Demo, a junior at Youngstown State University who lives in Beaver. He interrupted an important interview with a newspaper reporter to run over to get a picture of the TV sportscaster.
Meanwhile, his dad, Wayne Demo of Cincinnati, sat patiently waiting for the right offer on Super Bowl tickets. The two decided last year to come to the game because it was being held not far from a condo they could use. Having the Steelers in it just made it that much better.
By about 4 p.m., they already had received a dozen offers or so. Tickets were available. But they still had more than two hours before kickoff and certain standards to be met.
"I just want to pay face value," said the older Demo, who has done this at other Super Bowls.
"Within the next hour, you'll see ticket prices come down," he predicted.
Gary Ring had driven 21 hours from Tulsa, Okla., starting Friday afternoon, and he, too, was still waiting for the right offer.
"I'm just kind of seeing who is out here," he said.
Quotes were coming in the range of $1,900 and $2,500. He planned to spend about $2,000.
Ring chose to become a Steelers fan years ago just to be different from his father, who followed the Dallas Cowboys.
Teresa F. Lindeman can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-2018