Every year from about the beginning of September through the end of January, I get incredibly homesick. I start to reevaluate my decision to live in Washington, DC and wonder if I should move back to my childhood home in the Mon Valley, close to Pittsburgh.
Kerri Carpenter resides in that part of Steeler Nation known as Arlington, Va., and works for a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C. (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I claim that I would like to be closer to my family and my best friend. But let's get real. This year it has finally dawned on me. I know why I get this feeling.
I miss the Steelers!
As a proud fan and Steelers Nation member, it's incredibly difficult to live away from the Steel City, from the Iron City beer and from the stop signs that instruct me to stop unless I'm making a right turn. I can't even describe how difficult it is for me when people ask me why I put French fries on my sandwiches or wonder what I'm talking about when I say we should get a buggy at the grocery store.
It's practically unbearable to listen to Red Skins fans talk about how their latest flavor of the year (a.k.a. their coach) is going to take them to the Super Bowl, how Clinton Portis is awesome or, well, talk about pretty much anything Red Skins-related.
And then, because Baltimore is so close, I have to listen to nonsense about a team that used to be the Cleveland Browns.
It's a rough life.
I suppose I shouldn't complain. I've never been to a city that didn't have a Pittsburgh bar. I travel a lot for my job and in the last year I have been to Orlando, Houston, Phoenix, Sedona, The Grand Canyon, Chicago, Nashville, New York City and San Francisco. I have seen Steelers fans, Roethlisberger jerseys and that beautiful three-diamond logo in all of these places.
While The Grand Canyon was one of the most spectacular sites I've ever witnessed, seeing someone holding a Terrible Towel while looking at the canyon at sunrise was truly a sign from God.
Everywhere I go I see black and gold. So distinctive. So eye-catching. It always makes me smile. Like a homing beacon beckoning my inner Steelers soul.
But a couple of months ago I had a truly defining moment. I thought I understood the meaning of Steelers Nation, until I went to Seattle. As I boarded a Seattle-bound plane for a business trip, I thought that finally I would discover a city with no sign of my Steelers. Surely I would see no fan gear. After all, we beat them this year in their first attempt at a Super Bowl championship.
I walked off the ramp after the two-leg, 10-hour flight, grabbed my luggage at baggage claim and headed to the shuttle bus service. In my jet-lag-induced comatose state, I looked to my left and was sure my tired eyes were playing tricks on me.
A man about my age, standing in the same shuttle bus line was wearing jeans and a plain white polo shirt. Plain, except for the glorious sight of that three diamond Steelers logo.
Could this be? Or was I so tired that I was willing my exhausted eyes to see the longing of my inner heart. (Sound dramatic? Give me a break. It was August, and I was dying for football season to start!)
He boarded the bus first. As I walked by him to take my seat, I proudly yelled out, "Nice shirt!"
I could tell he was taken aback. I would have been. Would a stranger in the recent Super Bowl-defeated town actually complement the victor's shirt, or was she being sarcastic? Either way, I left Seattle with nothing but fond memories.
But while I enjoyed the advantages of being a devoted member of Steelers Nation last year, the past two months have been rough.
You have to understand what it's like down here in Washington Redskins land. Not to mention those crazies from Baltimore. Let me repeat: the Ravens used to be Cleveland!!!
Every year, my dad instructs me to keep my mouth shut at work. "Don't run your mouth about the Steelers," he says. He claims it will come back to bite me in the you-know-where.
So naturally, I go into work and boast about how great the Steelers are and how we are getting a 6th Super Bowl ring this year. How many rings do the Ravens have?
I mean, I don't really see what the issue is. I know the Steelers are the best team ever. Even in a sour year, they are superior to the Redskins and Ravens.
Where did these strong feelings of dislike originate? you might ask. Well, there are several points of conflict.
First, I don't always get to watch my Steelers from the comfort of my own home. If the Redskins or Ravens are playing, they get top billing down here. I have to call my best friend in Pittsburgh and have her give me the play-by-play. (She does an excellent job, by the way.) I mean, television viewers would actually rather watch these teams? I have my doubts.
My second point of contention has to do with the fair-weather fans. Coming from Pittsburgh, I was born and bred to love the Steelers. Just because I moved or they had a bad season or I didn't agree with a team decision did not mean I would stop being a fan.
It's the same with coaches. I am 27 years old and I have only known two coaches in the Steel city. I have lived in D.C. for more than nine years and I have seen the Redskins go through at least five coaches. (It is hard to keep track, they change so frequently.)
Also, they have professional cheerleaders down here, both the Redskins and Ravens. Cheerleaders who are grown ups. Well, personally, I thought that's what fans were for.
Finally, when I was in college someone hung a sign in an apartment with an expletive denigrating Pittsburgh. I was appalled. This was before Sienna Miller, mind you. I will never forget that sign, and I'm still ticked off about it. Let the hatred begin.
There is no greater felicity to me than a Monday morning after the Redskins have lost. Let me alter that. There is nothing better than when the Redskins were winning but made some juvenile mistake in the fourth quarter to lose the game. The city is so let down.
But you know, the Steelers don't disappoint an entire city when they lose, they disappoint an entire nation. Steelers Nation. I've heard this term my whole life and only recently have I come to know what that means.
Clearly the Steelers have issues this year. But since my biggest criticism about the Redskins is the fair-weather attitude of their fans, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I cannot let my Steelers down. Nor would I ever turn on them.
So lose every game, Steelers. (Please don't take that literally!) I'll still be here hoping that a Redskins or a Ravens game isn't on television so I can watch you. I won't give up and neither should you. An entire "nation" is pulling for you.
Besides, if you don't start winning I might actually have to consider keeping my mouth shut at work. And what fun would that be?