Despite crowds, North Shore handles both Pirates and Steelers games


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With Pope Francis opting to scale back his Vatican-provided transportation, it was only fitting that Don Zadach, the self-styled "Pope Yinzer," do the same.

"We came on the T," said Mr. Zadach, who was offering black-and-gold blessings to passers-by as he and his wife, Remy, walked around PNC Park on Sunday afternoon.

Inside the park, the Pirates were on the wrong end of what ended up as an 11-3 shellacking courtesy of the Cincinnati Reds.

For Mr. Zadach, 55, of Jefferson Hills, who used to dress as a Steelers Santa Claus but started donning his papal vestments three years ago, there was a sliver of a silver lining in the defeat.

"With the Pirates losing, people may get out early," Mr. Zadach said.

The couple had come to the North Side well in advance of the 8:30 p.m. kickoff against the Chicago Bears to "watch the chaos" as the city and team officials coordinated traffic and parking for the more than 100,000 fans combined expected to attend the Pirates and Steelers games. That pandemonium never materialized evidently, with a Steelers spokesman and police saying Sunday night that there were no real issues with the two big games played on the same day.

PNC Park, which holds 38,362, was sold out for the 1:35 p.m. matchup with the Reds, Pirates staff at the gate said, and the Steelers also sold out Heinz Field, which seats 65,500, the team's 318th straight sell-out, Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten wrote in an email.

With Pirates fans streaming for the exits in the late innings as the rout worsened, however, congestion didn't appear to be an issue.

"It doesn't look like they're coming back," said Robert Ammon of Houston, Pa., who was leaving the stadium with his 11-year-old son, Bryce, and heading home to watch the Steelers.

Outside PNC Park, Pittsburgh police Lt. Matt Lackner said Pirates fans were rapidly departing to make room for Steelers fans, who were asked to delay their arrival until 6 p.m.

"It's going very well right now," Lt. Lackner said. "They appear to be heeding that."

Police had planned to close inbound access to the North Shore from 4 to 6 p.m. to allow the Pirates crowds to exit and Steelers officials said last week that fans would not be able to access five lots near Heinz Field until after 6 p.m., encouraging them to park Downtown or in the Strip District and walk or take the T to the game.

Tony DeLoia, 59, of DuBois, who was headed to the Steelers game with family and friends, said he parked Downtown and walked over the Clemente Bridge.

"We knew Pittsburgh was going to be kind of crazy," Mr. DeLoia said. "I had nightmares about it last night, thinking it was going to be horrible. ... It's been OK so far."

For other tailgaters, however, there was only one surefire way to arrive with a place to park.

Pete Castellano, 51, took his boat, "My Goomah," from a North Hills marina, one of dozens of other vessels moored on the north bank of the Allegheny River.

"It gives us an opportunity to tailgate and have fun without paying the ridiculous price for parking," Mr. Castellano said. "We normally drive, but when the weather's good we take our boat."

Stage AE, the Steelers' official tailgate area, opened at 12:30 p.m., to encourage early arrivals.

Greg and Deb Milholland, a couple from Fort Wayne, Ind., who have been married 32 years were among a relative handful of early birds lounging outside in the mild weather and crossing an item off their bucket list.

Longtime Steelers fans, they had been hanging out since 1 p.m. and were making their first-ever trip to Pittsburgh and a Steelers game.

"They're playing the Bears, which is kind of our second team," Mrs. Milholland said. "We've been waiting for a home game with the Bears for three years."

They were undeterred by the prospect of having more than seven hours to kill, planning to head to Jerome Bettis' Grille 36 for lunch, plenty of time to figure out how to get back to their hotel after the game.

"Our cab driver told us, 'Tonight, walk across the bridge, don't call for a cab,' " Mrs. Milholland said.

Other Steelers tailgaters said they breezed into their usual spots before 6 p.m. without incident.

"They did a lot of hype," Diane Sears of Shaler said. "They scared people away."

Her friend, Gee Schwalenstocker, also of Shaler, who sported her "terrible bra" over a yellow Steelers shirt for the matchup, said the group had been tailgating since 3:30 p.m.

"They made a big fuss for nothing," she said of the parking restrictions.

Some visiting fans, however, took the rules very seriously.

"We got here at 10 a.m. ... Otherwise we couldn't have gotten this spot," said a bleary Sal Khan, a 35-year-old IT consultant from Naperville, Ill., just outside of Chicago, who was wearing a stuffed bear's head at a raucous tailgate a stone's throw from Heinz Field.

Brothers John and Pancho Espinoza, in black-and-gold facepaint, and their cousins, Rudy Delgado and Otto Maldonado, wearing Chicago blue and orange, made the trip together from Rock Falls, Ill.

They said they haven't missed a Bears-Steelers game since 1993. Around them, a mixed group of more than two dozen fans, some in black, some in blue, line-danced together to the "Cupid Shuffle."

"Bears and Steelers fans," Pancho Espinoza said. "The best in the NFL."

Steelers - neigh_city - pirates

Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909.


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