Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle pilots attached to the 4th Fighter Wing display their Terrible Towels. The 4th Fighter Wing flies out of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Walnut Creek, N.C. The photograph was submitted by Bobby McGrath, instructional designer at the Naval War College, Newport, R.I.
By Timothy McNulty Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Those applying for credentials as huge Steelers fans should ponder the following questions:
Did you name your first child after Rocky Bleier? Did you flirt with dyeing your black and white cat gold? Did you rent professional studio time for your family picture in Steelers garb?
Did you share your obsession with the world?
Steelers fandom can be measured in many ways -- from traveling to Tampa to waving a towel while stationed overseas -- but in the digital age fans are increasingly proving their mettle by posting pictures of it online. Particularly for those from outside Western Pennsylvania, uploading eye-grabbing photos is a way of staking a claim deep inside Steelers Nation, even from hundreds of miles away.
Scott Torgun's oft-photographed fanaticism took root at age 4, watching Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert on TV with his father in Gloucester City, N.J., during the team's first Super Bowl run in 1974-75.
"I said, 'Daddy, I want to be just like him' and he said 'Son, if you want to play that's the guy you want to be like,'" Mr. Torgun said this week.
Some 15 years later he started getting portraits of Steelers greats tattooed on his back, including Mr. Bleier, Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger; had a Steelers emblem etched onto his neck; a helmet on his leg; and the team's name both on his stomach and atop a dragon on his shoulders. (Yes, he is a biker.)
A decade later, he and his wife, who has a team emblem on her stomach, named their son Sebastian Bleier. Nighttime reading with the boy can involve memorizing Steelers rosters.
Space remains for planned tattoos of Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field, for an overall back piece titled "Generations of Champions." While visiting the South Side for the Super Bowl in 2006 Mr. Torgun -- a carpeting contractor who still lives across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, which he calls "pigeon country" -- counted 62 requests from fellow fans that he raise his shirt for pictures.
He put similar ones online. And it all started with the first tattoo in the series, of Mr. Lambert.
"You've gotta have audacity ... to get that mug on your back," the 38-year-old said.
Over in Tennessee, Johnstown native Cheri Lane had some pressing concerns after a fire destroyed much of her house in early 2006. Could she save her signed Roethlisberger jersey or the seats from Three Rivers? What about the brownie mix in the mason jar that she dared not move from the kitchen counter for 10 years, since she failed to make them before the loss to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX? Would her Steelers-Seahawks party go on?
Yes, her family was safe and the house outside Memphis eventually rebuilt, but there was something else to worry over.
What about the mini Steelers village Ms. Lane had tended to for more than 10 years, which spread like kudzu across her dining room from Thanksgiving through the team's last playoff game every year? The collection was filled with collectables from Hawthorne Village and other knickknacks of her own creation, and the 44-year-old homemaker would later post a series of photos of the village to the Post-Gazette's fan gallery, along with a note asking for tips on dying her cat Trixie's white belly gold. (Save the animal-rights e-mails -- the dye job didn't happen.)
After the 2006 fire "we lived in the game room. We still had the village and we still had our Super Bowl party," she said. She also finally made the 10-year-old brownies.
There are, of course, too many Steelers fan photos -- nearly 850 posted to the newspaper's fan gallery alone as of yesterday -- to note them all. A large subset are snapshots, shot around the world, of family members in Steelers gear.
A percentage of those -- such as those Jennifer Rogers of Virginia had taken of her 3-year-old daughter Isabelle -- are posed in professional photo studios.
Ms. Rogers first took her daughter to a studio when she was an infant, to take Christmas photos for her Steelers-fan father back in New Paris, Bedford County. By the time she returned to a local Leesburg, Va., photo studio for a third Christmas -- armed with coupons to make the photo session affordable -- her daughter had turned into something of a model.
She left with a disc filled with 100 Steelers-related photos, many with her daughter in her Troy Polamalu jersey. The studio asked her to sign a waiver to post them at their store.
"I wasn't expecting her to ham it up much as she did. Every single one of them was a good picture," Ms. Rogers said.
Even simple photos have a story to tell. Ed Plopa, 57, posted one of four generations of his family in team gear, along with Wee Willie Parker the dog, standing by a Steelers flag in the Kansas prairie. The Cecil native and former Canon-McMillan quarterback (whose tailback was future New York Giant Doug Kotar) settled there after playing football at Wichita State. In October 1970, half of his teammates died in a plane crash en route to a game in Utah. He was on a second plane.
He's going to Texas for Sunday's game, along with his wife and mother.
"My son (third generation) and my wife were naturally indoctrinated as to the ways of the Steeler Nation," he said in an e-mail. "And now the love for the Steelers has been bestowed to my granddaughter (4th generation) who lives, in all places, Dallas."