Chef assembles a Steelers shrine in his basement

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There are tastefully decorated "man caves" with cushy sofas, contrasting pillows, neatly framed pictures and carefully swept carpet with nary a nacho chip in sight.

And then there's Denny DeLuca's homemade Steelers shrine of a cellar that's packed with decades of memories, including a steel beam from Three Rivers Stadium and action figures he spends days painting accurately, right down to the color of their socks and shoes.

"It is such a fun place to come and watch the game. The room looks like a sports store that someone threw a bomb into," said Mr. DeLuca. "Ninety percent of the stuff is made. If something was bought, it's been altered."

Like the Elvis lamp painted black and gold. Or the bust of Bill Cowher that wears a Steelers hat, sunglasses and has dribble coming out of its mouth. It's a place that embodies the decorating-with-found-objects-spirit patrons enjoyed at the long-gone Chiodo's bar in Homestead.

On occasion, Mr. DeLuca sells his handiwork. A Steelers chess set he spent three months painting is displayed on a coffee table at The Sports Deli, a sports memorabilia store in Parkway Center Mall.

This cozy cellar holds two stadium seats that were offered as prototypes for Heinz Field and discarded. While the seats are reserved for visiting guests, two sofas accommodate Mr. DeLuca, his 26-year-old daughter, Jamie, son-in-law Dan Guimaraes and 2-year-old grandson, Caleb.

"I'm a little unbalanced when it comes to the Steelers," said Mr. DeLuca, a chef for the past 30 years at Rico's Restaurant in the North Hills.

He's made veal piccata for Dan Rooney and other members of that large Irish clan, and whipped up meals for burly guys lucky enough to wear black-and-gold jerseys.

Mr. DeLuca's friends understand him; often, they leave items on his porch. A fellow churchgoer dropped off a Steelers flag composed entirely of black and gold beads made by his mother, who died recently.

Entering this hallowed space requires a walk down a steep staircase and through a turnstile that Mr. DeLuca salvaged from Kennywood Park's Jack Rabbit.

Want to see the Steelers greatest hits? (Who doesn't, given this year's win-loss record?)

"I went on YouTube and had a guy make a DVD for me. People watch it and go nuts," Mr. DeLuca said. "It lasts a good 30 minutes."

He's philosophical about recent disappointments.

"We've been in the playoffs so much we've come to expect it."

Before the Steel Curtain first rang down, Mr. DeLuca and his sons, Denny and Danny, started attending Steelers games at Three River Stadium, Section 617, on the 50-yard line. Their seats were actually in Section 605, but they preferred standing or sitting with friends on the concrete steps beneath the box for the visiting team's film crew and the NFL's camera staff.

"Friends and family would meet up there and sometimes they'd watch the whole game from up in that area. ... We sat underneath that giant cross beam," he said, pointing to a hunk of steel scrawled with writing.

While watching games, Mr. DeLuca used a marker to record moments like the Immaculate Reception. Years later, he watched the work crew that prepared Three Rivers Stadium for demolition and asked if he could have it. Later that day, as he worked in the restaurant kitchen, a co-worker told him, "There's a guy here with a piece of metal."

The beam is proudly displayed under the family's television.

Scavenging is one of Mr. DeLuca's best skills. On a Saturday morning, days before Three Rivers Stadium imploded, he slithered inside the gate wearing a hard hat and orange vest.

"There was a guy bringing the garbage out and shaking his head," the chef recalled.

The man holding it said it contained a gold banner the Steelers ran through on Dec. 16, 2000, before playing their final game at Three Rivers.

"Some guy bought it for $600 at the auction and never claimed it," Mr. DeLuca said, adding that he asked for it and walked out with it.

There's also a huge black-and-white photograph showing the famous "Ice Bowl" game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Snapped by a ball boy, the photo is signed by Dwight White, Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood.

Perched atop one sofa and reaching for a football hung in mid-air is a Troy Polamalu mannequin. The figure recalls an interception when the long-haired player was "totally horizontal to the field in mid-air." But what would Polamalu think if he found out that's a female mannequin?

And then there's the pickle slice that one of the DeLuca boys tossed against the stadium wall one day after removing it from a hamburger. It, or a facsimile, stayed there for years. Before Three Rivers turned to dust, "we scraped it off the wall, took it to Kinko's and had it laminated," Mr. DeLuca said.

There's a red-white-and-blue football that his mother, the late Violet DeLuca, hid in 1965 to stop him from throwing it against the walls.

"The day she was on her death bed, she told me there was a football hidden inside a plastic seasonal coat bag" in the closet, he said.

Kitty, his wife of 33 years, doesn't join her husband in his man cave. Though she loved Bradshaw and still follows the Steelers, she is more interested in learning to sew nowadays.

"When I hear screams coming from the basement, I flip the channel on to see what's going on," Mrs. DeLuca said.

This weekend, Mr. DeLuca will root for underdog teams, adding that he would like to see the New Orleans Saints go to the Super Bowl..

"It's really going to be hard watching any of those games, because I'll be crying black and gold tears."

In years when the team makes the playoffs, Mr. DeLuca puts tea lights in the chandelier, with gold balls and sconces made of 75th anniversary cups. He realizes his passion has gotten a little out of hand. He doesn't care.

"It looks like something in a Catholic church, like a novena for Chuck Noll and the Rooneys."

Marylynne Pitz can be reached at or 412-263-1648. First Published January 9, 2010 5:00 AM


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