Steelers 2007

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Sean Barrett and Michael Casker are criss-crossing the country in search of Steeler fans and clubs to gather testimonials and photos about Steeler Nation to compile into a coffee table book. Barrett, 24, a writer and recent graduate of Arizona State University, is originally from Cranberry. Michael Casker, 27, a graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography who lives in New York City, is from Zelienople. Anyone interested in contributing to the project can e-mail Sean at seanb1104@gmail.com or Michael at michael@michaelcasker.com. All photos are by Michael Casker unless otherwise credited.
1/10/2008


Allegheny (College) West

When considering Pittsburgh cuisine, most people think of pierogies, chipped-chopped ham and of course Primanti Brothers-style sandwiches. Regional foods, especially the most enjoyable, have a tendency to travel with those who appreciate them the most.

For example, you don't have to be at Geno's or Pat's in Philadelphia to get a Philly cheese steak or even in Boston to get a cup of New England clam chowder. While maybe not as well known as other cities' signature dishes, the French fry and coleslaw laced sandwich can be found in places beyond the Steel City.

Jeff Jordan, originally from West Mifflin, moved to San Francisco in 1994. A graduate of Allegheny College, he was lured westward by an advertising executive position. He developed a network of friends from Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, namely Allegheny College graduates, that would gather for Steelers games and other social events. It was through these encounters that Jeff met with his wife, Allison, also an Allegheny College grad.

Jeff and Allison would treat the partygoers crowd with Pittsburgh-style sandwiches. Everyone raved about the sandwiches, even those unfamiliar with the meal, and wished there were a place to get them beyond game days or other parties.

The tradition only grew larger. Jeff became tired of the grind and changing of the advertising industry and realized that he wanted to change his career path. He knew that he wanted to do something he would enjoy that would not sacrifice his happiness. So, during one of his annual trips back to Western Pennsylvania, he did some research on Primanti's and analyzed some of their operations. Pleased with what he learned, he developed a business plan, quit his job and went to work on opening his own restaurant, Giordano Bros.

Jeff's great grandfather immigrated to the U.S. from Sicily and started a produce business in the Pittsburgh area in 1923. His real name, Rafael Giordano, was Americanized to Ralph Jordan. The produce business, Jordan Banana Co., would eventually become American Banana and Produce company which -- ironically -- located just across the alley from the original Primanti Brothers.

Allison and Jeff opened their establishment in 2004. Located on Columbus Avenue in the heart of San Francisco's North Beach district, the restaurant is sandwiched in an eclectic culinary area of the city. Like its residents, the food is diverse, unique and inviting. Restaurant proprietors from all over the world can be found at the doors of many establishments attempting to draw in patrons. Jeff and Allison have realized nearly instant success in the competitive environment. The restaurant is clearly enjoyed by all, as aside from game days, the clientele is rarely from Pittsburgh.

Steelers games have become a weekly reunion. The place is packed to overflowing -- from infants to the elderly -- with most patrons having ties to Pittsburgh. Each week the fans come to meet and celebrate the Steelers and their roots. "It's the one thing we had never really anticipated. I mean the people really become a second family in that you end up feeling like you know everyone," Jeff said.

Many families make the trip to watch the games. Visitors in town are continually shocked and amazed to see such a place, overrun by black and gold and Pittsburgh sandwiches in, of all places, San Francisco.

Giordano Bros. is much more than just a sports bar. While the walls are lined with Steelers and other Pittsburgh-related signs and banners, its allure goes beyond. Jeff and Allison seem to be a major component of the restaurant's appeal. Warm, friendly and intelligent folks, they make the place incredibly inviting. Much of the same can be said of the staff.

Live music is featured five nights a week. Allison even occasionally sits in with an artist or two in the laid-back, intimate environment. Beyond that, her "day job" is as executive director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA). Her doctoral thesis addressed the environmental impact that wineries create through their harvests. Much of the work is communicating with farmers and the government to create and promote clean and efficient ways of creating good wine. Oh yeah, Jeff and Allison also have a child, Sadie, who is nearly 1.

This is a must-stop for Pittsburghers and Steelers fans alike visiting San Francisco. The food and people are truly top notch. For more information, visit www.giordanobros.com or call 415-397-BROS (2767)


11/14/2007


Going Hollywood

The Hollywood Walk of Fame draws thousands of celebrity fans daily outside of the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

But each week, the Walk of Fame welcomes another group of fans -- hordes of Steelers fans bedecked in black and gold.

They gather across Hollywood Boulevard on the second floor of the Hollywood Hooters. On game days, the room, walls plastered with all sorts of Pittsburgh fare including a large "Welcome to Blitzburgh" sign, is nearly standing room only. As in Tacoma, Wash., the waitresses wear black and gold rather than the usual orange.

The catalyst to organizing this group is Toogie Jackson. Originally from the Lawrence County town of New Castle, Toogie works as the kitchen manager at Hooters, although his real passion is comedy. An eight-year veteran of life on the stage, many of his nights are spent working rooms doing standup throughout the Los Angeles area. He also tours with other comedians performing all over the country. Displayed on the Hooter windows facing Hollywood Boulevard is a large photo of Toogie and Ben Roethlisberger, with a caption inviting Steelers fans to meet for the games.

Toogie seems to know everyone and works as a kind of a mayor when the Steelers are playing. During commercials, music is played from a large stereo near his table. He's so warm and approachable, it's no wonder the number of people that show up each week.

The crowd is very diverse. Many of the group's members have little or no actual connection to Pittsburgh yet are as diehard as any other fan from Western Pennsylvania.

One such fan is Timothy Weber. Originally from Virginia, he has followed the Steelers since age 9. He moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music and now lives in the Hollywood Hills, playing guitar in several bands and doing much studio work for others. His wife, Susan, and daughters Emma and Maya have also become rabid fans of the Steelers.

Many of the fans are born and raised Californians who fell in love with the team in the '70s or had some sort of family influence over their choice of favorite team. Others have their own specific reasons for cheering on the Steelers, such as the team's colors or hatred for the Dallas Cowboys. It's amazing how many fans we meet on our travels who have never visited Pittsburgh yet live and die by the Steelers.

Members of the club include Hollywood executives, actors, comedians, even a stuntman. On game days however, they're all part of one big family. Many friendships and relationships have developed through the club.

The next time you see a Hollywood movie premier with the red carpet and cameras flashing, realize that just across the street is a little slice of Pittsburgh. The Hooters of Hollywood Steelers Fan Club on Hollywood Boulevard is packed full of black and gold each week.

For more information on the club, e-mail Toogie at: toogiejackson@yahoo.com or check out his MySpace site: http://www.myspace.com/toogiejackson.


10/25/2007


Enemy territory: Seattle and Tacoma

Aside from teams like the Cowboys in the '70s, opponents with which the Steelers have developed rivalries have tended to come from within the division, or at the very least the same conference. Ever since Super Bowl XL however, the Seattle Seahawks could arguably be considered a true rival of the black and gold. For those living in Seattle, both Steelers supporters and haters, the rivalry is most definitely real.

Steelers fans have definitely staked their claim behind enemy lines, in the land of lattes. Several clubs meet each week in the Seattle/Tacoma area to watch the games.

Sideline Sports Bar in Bellevue, minutes from Seattle, is home to one of the clubs. The crowd essentially takes over the moderately sized establishment on most game days. The loosely organized club is an affiliate of the Black and Gold Brigade, a Web site that works to network a number of Steelers clubs all over the country. Many of the group's members seemed to be from Western Pennsylvania. If you're ever in the Emerald City, looking for a nearby place to take in the game, this is the spot.

Roughly 30 minutes from Seattle is Tacoma, Wash., home of the Northwest Steeler Nation (www.northweststeelernation.com). It claims to be the largest fan club in the Northwest, and from what we saw, it would be nearly impossible to argue. After splitting from another fan club in the area, Black and Gold Express, the newly formed club established the Tacoma Hooters restaurant as its home venue.

In just three years' time, the club has grown in leaps and bounds. Initially the restaurant agreed to reserve a section specifically for the fans. The group quickly outgrew their allotment of tables. Now, more than half of the large restaurant's seating area is completely taken for the club's fans. The walls have a number of Steelers signs and pennants, and the waitresses even trade in the traditional orange uniforms for black and gold Steelers gear. The management has been amazed by the increase and consistency of the number of attendees (more than 100 a week), and has developed a great relationship with the group.

Walt Cavalier, one of the group's founders, is a big part of the group's success. Originally from Jackson, Miss., he has been a Steeler fan ever since he was a young boy in the '70s. Far from a bandwagon fan, he has stuck with the team through wins and losses. His service in the military has moved him all over the country and world.

"I just love it, man. Just about everywhere I've been you can find Steelers fans. Up here is no different," he said.

Along with Walt, the club's founders, Jeff Mikesell, Shawn Bell and Will Kohn, have established a relationship with local charities. The club raises money and collects donated food that is given each Thanksgiving to the Northwest Harvest, a local food bank. Additionally, toys and money are donated each year for the Treehouse of Caring, which supports the area's needy children.

Auctions support the club. Along with authentic jerseys and other apparel that the group acquires, Hooters makes weekly donations to be auctioned.

Understandably, the club is not very well received by Seahawks fans in the area. Apparently many still think that their team's loss in the Super Bowl was due to several calls made by the refs. Many feel that the Steelers robbed them of their shot at a ring. Some of the fans claim to have had their cars keyed or received verbal abuse for having Steeler adornments on their vehicles. During the Super Bowl run, a councilman even made the group remove its banner from atop the Hooters roof. Apparently, after several complaints from residents, a loophole was found on the city's books forcing the banner's removal. The group fought to have it replaced, and a compromise was reached: The banner could be displayed only on game days.

"It's just an example of how fair-weather and shallow the fans around here can be. We had been here for years and never heard a peep until they decided to become contenders," Walt says.

He now refers to Seattle's team as the Chickenhawks.

"What really gets to me is all the charity work that we do. I mean, it all goes to causes within this city, not to Pittsburgh, and they still have the nerve to get mad," Walt says.

Game days are a congregation of Steelers fans from all kinds of backgrounds, all seemingly as close as family. It is yet another place where Pittsburgh fans can meet to connect with their roots and share stories and laughter. It's truly a phenomenon.


10/18/2007


Fans are cookin' in Cooke City, Mont.

There have been so many moments and experiences throughout our journey that have incited awe and amazement, but up to now, there may not have been a more surreal moment than our arrival to Cooke City, Mont.

The roughly 14-hour drive from just outside Fargo, N.D. to the isolated mountain town may have contributed to our sense of wonderment. It's located just a few miles from the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park on one side, and just beyond the Beartooth Highway -- considered one of America's most scenic drives that reaches 12,000 feet in elevation -- on the other.

So imagine our amazement when we heard Myron Cope's voice spliced amid Steelers fight songs blasting through the one street in town, welcoming us to its local deli Buns 'N Beds.

It's been said over and over, but it never seemed as true as then: Steelers fans are everywhere.

Leo and Jan Gaertner are the owners of Buns 'N Beds, a deli/sandwich and BBQ shop with several rentable cabins behind. Originally from West View, Leo entered the hotel business and ended up in Billings, Mont. From there, he was persuaded by a friend to move to Cooke City (population 75) where he eventually took over Buns 'N Beds with his wife.

The town's main industry is tourism. In the summer, much of the business comes from people from all over the world visiting Yellowstone. In the winter, the area is flooded with visiting cross-country skiiers and snowmobilers.

The all-wood interior to the establishment is decorated with several Steelers pennants and Terrible Towels along with traditional decor of the area such as a stuffed moose head. A large flat-panel television hangs from one of the walls. It commands much of the town's attention on Sundays, drawing 30 and 40 screaming Steelers fans (from the 75 folks living there). Some weeks even more.

While most fans live in town, some travel from surrounding communities such as Cody, Wyo., or Bozeman, Mont. Leo's son, Leo Jr., comes from Cody nearly every week with his wife, Joelene, and children Tori, 12, Leo "Bump" III, 12, Cimmi, 9, and Jason, 3.

"It's become a real family event. We love getting together to watch the games," Leo Jr. said.

Visiting Pittsburghers and other Steelers fans are amazed to see the Steelers paraphernalia. Many feel compelled to send gifts, usually more Steelers gear, after visiting. Jan is continually surprised and impressed by the warmth of Steeler Nation.

"I actually used to be a Bears fan back in the day. Of course I'm now converted," she said with a smile. "I was just blown away by how nice and friendly the fans are. I mean, you meet a Steelers fan and literally it's like you're immediately family. There is no other team like it."


10/02/2007


A Tavern on the Avenue in St. Paul, Minn.

ST. PAUL, MINN. -- Black, rather than purple, is the color accompanying gold on Sundays on most at the Tavern on the Avenue in this Twin Cities hot spot. Once again, Steelers fans have established a community and identity outside of the 'Burgh.

Each week, up to 100 members of the Steeler Fans of Minnesota club congregate at the Tavern to share in the Steelers game day experience. Although most fans have some direct ties to the Steel City, a good number have little or no connection to Pittsburgh. There are many reasons for this, from the team's phenomenal success in the '70s to the fact that the Steeler jersey is similar to that of the Iowa Hawkeyes, a popular team in the area.

A loosely organized group began gathering to watch the games in the late '80s in St. Paul. A number of graduates of The Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics had relocated to the area to work for Northwest Airlines as mechanics. As more implants from Pittsburgh moved to the area, the group grew and became more and more dedicated.

The group originally met a bar near the airport, but when bar management changed, it moved to the Tavern. It welcomes the group with a massive banner on the front of the establishment that reads "Official Headquarters of the Pittsburgh Steelers." An entire section, the majority of the seating area, has been decorated with Steelers regalia. The game day menu includes Roethlis "Burgers" and an anticipated addition featuring Isaly's "chipped ham".

The current group is made up and led by a group of genuinely nice and dedicated fans. Their connection to one another through the team is very real, their relationships true.

One of the group's leaders, Paul "The Mayor" Palmer, 67, a retired 3M sales director, is still connected to Pittsburgh through the arts. An opera singer, he has performed nearly every summer since 1975 at the Benedum with the Civic Light Opera. This past summer he performed in his 49th and 50th shows.

Another one of the group's leaders had no connection to the city until a friend turned her on to the Steelers while in college. Leena Patel was born in London, moved to Canada at a young age and eventually relocated to Raleigh, N.C. to attend college. Her roommate and now best friend was from Pittsburgh and turned her on to the Steelers. She immediately fell in love with the team. She now goes to every season's home opener and is even contemplating moving to the area.

If you're ever in the Twin Cities area during the season, be sure to take in a game at Tavern on the Avenue. You'll be welcomed with open arms (as long as you have your Steelers gear on). More information on the club can be found at www.mnsteelersfans.com.


9/24/2007


Iron City Ed of Illinois

Steeler hysteria is alive and well in America's gateway to the West. Ed Schussler, 44, better known as I.C.E., which stands for Iron City Ed, lives for this time of year. His passion for the Steelers is yet another testimony to the expanse of Steeler nation.

His home, located just outside St. Louis in Collinsville, Illinois, is easy to spot, complete with a Steelers flag flying from the front yard's flagpole and a "You're in Steelers Country" banner hanging just below the house's front windows. A large spotlight splashes the Steelers logo on the side of the house, luring fans of the black and gold the way Batman was alerted to crime.

The home's basement has been transformed into a sort of luxury box entirely dedicated to the Pittsburgh Steelers. On game days, up to a dozen die-hard supporters gather in Ice's basement/shrine surrounded by all kinds of paraphernalia including a vast number of autographed 8x10s of Steelers legends both past and present. Framed pictures from attended games, along with ticket stubs, adorn the black and gold painted walls just below the terrible towels that line the space just below the ceiling.

Ed used to play chef each week, but now guests chip in, bringing an assortment of dishes occasionally reflecting the particular week's opponent. Week one's menu included "Browns stew" (chili), and week two featured Buffalo wings.

Ed's affinity for the Steelers began in the fourth grade, the year that Bradshaw was drafted. His father was born and raised on the South Side. After his parents split up when he was very young, he would spend his summers in the Steel City. Originally a Pirates fan, he developed a passion for the Steelers that quickly surpassed that for the Buccos. His love for the team and city is obvious. "Pittsburgh people are a different breed. I can walk into any store in America, notice a Steelers shirt or hat, and we're immediately friends; family really."

Ed strives to make the viewing experience as authentic as possible. As the season progresses and the temperature drops, guests need to bundle up just like the fans in Heinz Field as the windows are opened and sub-freezing winds blow through the basement.

The Internet has become a major tool in the coordination and development of Steelers support groups both in and outside the city. Fans from all over the country subscribe to Ed's ICEmail, a forum dedicated to the discussion of all things Steelers. Every day Ed sends multiple e-mails to the over 100 subscribers, discussing all facets of the organization. Fans are afforded the opportunity to connect with reputable ticket brokers and merchandise dealers, among other things. Along with Ike Taylor's wife, Ed organized an auction in Heinz Field's parking lot during the home opener, featuring autographed items, that benefited a charity supporting Cystic Fibrosis research. His e-mail list was the catalyst for the event.

Ice's family has also become true fans of the team. Daughters Claire, 8, and Carlie, 7, have shunned the hometown Rams in favor of the black and gold. His wife, Becky, has also been converted, due in part to her first experience at a live Steelers game. During the '92 season, at the end of the third quarter of the Bills game, Ed proposed to her via the Three Rivers Stadium Jumbo-tron. He had organized it through the Steelers PR department nearly a year in advance. He claims it was all part of a master plan to return to the spot of their engagement each year.

While his love of the team may seem a little crazy, Ed seems to have it all in perspective. "I know it may seem obsessive. However, I am a therapist, and at the end of the day, I am able to realize that it is all in fun. I really love it," he said.

Since the early '90s, Ed had watched or even gone to every Steelers game with a good friend named Dave Cairns. The two shared many of the same interests. Along with the Steelers, the two had a history of partying and admitted self-destruction. Ed was able to recognize a developing problem and has recovered with splendid results. Unfortunately, Dave was not as fortunate and was not able to overcome his struggle. Each week, before the game, Ed lights a candle atop the TV in honor of Dave. Half of his ashes reside on a shelf next to his chair in which he watches each game. The other half were spread on Heinz Field following this season's home opener against the Bills per Dave's request.

Ed is currently a counselor and therapist for troubled youth. He travels to at least one game each year.


9/19/2007


Hoosier favorite team?

INDIANAPOLIS -- There's a wide slice of Steeler Nation in Indianapolis, Ind., smack dab in the heart of Peyton Manning and Colts country. That team's success over the past several seasons has done little to sway the loyalties of the black and gold allegiance. And you might be surprised to learn there are a number of fans who cheer on the Steelers each week here who have no ties to Pittsburgh whatsoever.

Each week, Steelers fans gather at the Nickel Plate Bar and Grill, just outside Indianapolis in Fishers, Ind. Among these are Amy Burchfield, a 35-year-old native of Toronto, Ohio, and Jason Zanjeski, 33, originally from Weirton, W.Va. They now live in nearby Noblesville, Ind. The two met at Amy's cousin's wedding several years back and plan to marry Nov. 10 in Weirton. Each has a personalized Steeler jersey with his and her future last name on the back. Jason wears No. 11 and Amy No. 10 to acknowledge their upcoming wedding date.

"I let her wear the 10. It reminds me too much of the Kordell days," Jason says with a smile. Their dog Bobo wears a baby onesy Hines Ward jersey. Part of their wedding celebration includes tickets to the Browns game at Heinz Field in November.

Among the friends they've made at the Nickel Plate are Kurt Emmert, his wife and two children. In fact, Kurt, 35, of Anderson, Ind., may be one of the most passionate Steelers fans anywhere. Every day for the past 14 months he's worn some sort of Steelers apparel, and he also runs a Web site, www.indysteelers.com, established to help fans in the area stay connected.

Although Kurt has never lived in Pittsburgh, he's been a fan of the Steelers since the '70s. His knowledge of the organization is incredibly vast.

"Half the people I have talked to in Pittsburgh don't even know who John Henry Johnson is," he said with a bit of a smirk.

His commitment to the team has paid off, affording opportunities to meet several Steelers legends, both past and present. A recently "made" man in the national support group, Steel City Mafia, Kurt's passion has rubbed off on his entire family. Wife Carol, 34, and daughters Emily, 9, and Arlene, 7, are also diehard supporters.


9/16/2007


In Columbus, a house divided by loyalty

On most days, Zetter Drive in Columbus, Ohio, looks no different from that of most middle-class neighborhoods in the Midwest -- similar single-family homes, trees, a sidewalk and the local elementary school.

But during football season, the Broom home at 1436 Zetter Drive takes on a dual personality -- inside and outside. On one side of the front yard is a towering inflatable Pittsburgh Steeler, the other side an inflatable Cleveland Browns dog.

Joyce Broom had never liked football, but her family forced her to watch the sport on TV every week, so she finally gave in. However, rather than support their beloved Cleveland Browns, the 59-year-old Columbus native went in a different direction -- just to rankle her family.

"I knew they were all Cleveland fans and that they didn't like the Steelers," she said recently, clad in a vintage Terry Bradshaw jersey. "I said, hmmm, that's my team, and I've been with them ever since."

Thirty-five years later, Mrs. Broom's relationship with the Steelers has blossomed into a lifelong love affair.

The Brooms' basement is divided like a war-torn country. A turn to the right at the bottom of the steps leads to the Pittsburgh Steelers room. The walls have been painted black and the ceiling gold. Portraits of players from various eras, pennants, posters, flags and framed Post-Gazette front pages of key moments in Steelers history cover the walls. There's a large bookcase stuffed with black and gold knick-knacks and two giant inflatable Steelers chairs. In a glass case are bobbleheads, game day programs, commemorative Heinz ketchup bottles, team-autographed footballs and encased ticket stubs.

She's found much of her collection online. One of her sons, who is in the Navy, sent her a ticket from the 2006 Super Bowl in Detroit following the magical season. "He got that in an auction in Virginia, I believe. That one is special because of that amazing season," she says.

To the left of the stairs is what Mrs. Broom considers no man's land -- the Cleveland Browns room. Her husband, Robert, 58, also a Columbus native, is a lifelong fan. His room is covered in brown and orange and a cutout of NFL legend Jim Brown hangs on the walls with other Browns posters and signs. While his room is impressive, it's not as overwhelming as the other. "She started doing the room thing," he says. "She actually did most of this room, too."

Each week they watch games in their respective quarters with their own supporters. Mr. Broom, a welder, has a few friends over to his side of the home. Five years ago, when Joyce was in a local store dressed in a Steelers coat, an employee named Cathy struck up a conversation. The two hit it off and have been watching the game in the basement shrine ever since. They also make the pilgrimage to Heinz Field each year for draft day.

"Cathy is the one always trying to get something started," Mr. Broom says about the friendly rivalry. He is referring to the miniature bus with a mini-Bettis cutout that mysteriously rolls through enemy territory at times.


Sean Barrett, who is looking for recommendations from readers on out-of-town Steelers bars or clubs, can be reached at seanb1104@gmail.com .


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