Pittsburgh Steelers fans should be justifiably proud of what we see on TV each football season, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
The NFL markets cheesy "team towels" modeled after our own, but they just don't compare to Myron Cope's masterpiece. Budweiser commercials end with the phrase, "Here we go," which always wants to make me yell "... Steelers!" at the end of them. And, of course, the team continues to carry on a tradition of success each year, even if we fall short of grabbing another Lombardi Trophy.
Clearly, the team has become a permanent fixture not just in the ol' hometown, but also to millions worldwide. It is the reason I, and countless other loyal expatriates, buy DirecTV football packages to watch the team every game, or track down the closest "Steelers Bar" in some outlying province to bond with fellow fans.
Every Steelers household has a series of rituals or superstitions invoked prior to the game. We light a candle for the team after Mass each week, eat the same pre-game meal and have the same seating arrangement during each game.
And each week we have faith that we'll dominate from the first minute or, somehow, pull out the last-minute win. And as true Steelers fans, we don't lose that faith, regardless of outcome. Faith is a great thing, because you can turn up the level of faith you have, or decrease it, and no one can take that from you, even if reason says otherwise.
In February 2011 the Post-Gazette published my Steelers Nation essay about faith and allegiance among strangers when it comes to All Things Steelers. In the intervening months I have learned that faith and reason now apply to me as well on a personal level.
After suffering severe abdominal pain for months and being misdiagnosed, I was operated on and found to be full of metastatic, stage 4 appendiceal and abdominal cancer, with some strangely designed tumors that make it even worse. It is a fairly rare, fast-moving, deadly cancer.
In recent months I've had a major surgery with large parts of my body excised. As I type this, I have a portable pump spewing FolFox chemicals through my chest and abdomen. My days revolve around a regimen of taking medications, drinking warm fluids, hoping for my bowels to work and trying to gain weight.
I am returning from Kentucky to the Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh soon for treatments called "debulking" and HIPEC. Without sounding like a medical show, suffice to say that the next months are going to be a life-and-death struggle -- my personal "NFL season" in trying to make the playoffs for an ultimate "super win" over cancer.
My son, the scripturalist of the family, reminds me that our Catholic beliefs are based in large part on faith and reason. In his mind, I need more faith (i.e., that miracles do happen), whereas my wife needs more reason (i.e., that this is a long, hard fight in which the heavens may not open to bestow upon me an instant cure).
My son is a wise young man, and I do indeed have a renewal of faith -- faith tied to home and team. I could go to a handful of other regional treatment centers, but the choice was easy once Pittsburgh accepted me as a candidate. Those of you still living in the area have no concept of how much we expatriates -- those who moved away for whatever reason -- still yearn to come home.
I am coming home, at last, for good or bad! Reason tells me that it's a 50-50 crapshoot -- that this cancer is a hard one to eradicate and that not everyone survives. But faith -- crazy, irrational, personal-dependent faith -- tells me they will fix me back home, simply because it's Pittsburgh and success is expected.
My glorious personal vision for the winter is to have a hospital window that looks out near the stadium and to see and feel the excitement in the air come playoff time. I have never been to Heinz Field for a game, so this may be the closest I get, and I'm happy for that chance.
Faith says the Steelers are going to have a Super Bowl year, even if reason may cluck its tongue in disagreement. Faith tells me I'm going to beat this insidious disease percolating through my lower extremities. But reason tells me that even if I don't, there's no better place to come home to -- to live or die-- than Pittsburgh during football season.
You just gotta have faith.
Mark Fassio of Pendleton, Ky., a Junior ROTC instructor and retired Air Force officer originally from Leechburg, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Steelers Nation" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.