Faithful Steelers fans keep their hopes up until the disappointing end
Diane Mackie of Washington, Pa., and other Steelers fans cheer at Jerome Bettis' Grille 36 on the North Shore during yesterday's game.
Steelers fans at Jerome Bettis' Grille 36 on the North Shore: From left, Pam Stewart of Freeport; Jennine Kasperoski of Mount Oliver, and Les Jarvis of St. Clairsville, Ohio. They're cheering Heath Miller's third-quarter touchdown.
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As playoff scenarios flashed on television screens, fans at Jerome Bettis' Grille 36 on the North Shore yesterday kept one eye on the Steelers' score and the other eye out for updates from other games.
Most of the people in the bar needed no sports announcer to provide a summary of the long odds for their defending Super Bowl champions. They knew that for Pittsburgh to make it to the playoffs, they'd not only have to win their game against the Miami Dolphins, they'd also have to hope for a series of win-loss combinations in several other games.
When the Steelers lost to the Browns on Dec. 10, Natalie Roman, a nurse who lives on the North Side, started doing the playoff calculus.
Sitting at a table yesterday afternoon with her sister and two other friends, she said there was an easy way for the Steelers to make it to the playoffs.
Relatively easy, that is. To have any chance at all, the Steelers had to win yesterday's game.
Check. They defeated the Dolphins, 30-24.
But by the time the clock ran out on the Steelers game, Ms. Roman's preferred formula was already ruined, because another crucial ingredient, a Houston loss, did not materialize. Instead, the Texans defeated the New England Patriots, 34-27.
"There's still hope," she said after the Steelers victory and the Patriots defeat. "A very, very slim chance of hope."
Hope, and another formula. With the Houston victory, the 9-7 Steelers needed the New York Jets, the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos to lose their games, she said.
Last night, that scenario was upended when the Ravens beat the Oakland Raiders, 21-13, ending the Steelers' chances to proceed to the playoffs.
But for a few hours yesterday afternoon, there was hope, and highly atypical cheering for the Patriots from fans decked out in black and gold.
"I hate that I have to root for New England and the Raiders," said Jimmy Finley, of O'Hara.
But that's what he was doing, keeping an eye on one of the television screens showing the Patriots game. He'd come to the bar with about 10 of his friends, hoping to send the Steelers on to post-season play.
"We kind of hold the Steelers to another level," he said. "We almost expect the Steelers to be in the playoffs every year."
John and Millie Kovatch of Washington, Pa., agreed. Six Super Bowl victories is not enough, they said.
"Seven Super Bowl wins is not out of the question," Mr. Kovatch said.
And if a Super Bowl victory wasn't possible, the Steelers should at least make it to the playoffs, they said.
"Yeah, we're kind of greedy," said Bob Hilliard, of Bellevue. He was at the bar with his brother and 10 of their friends.
"We set a high standard," he said. "Them not making the playoffs would be a disappointment."
When the Steelers game ended, the televisions changed to the Denver and Baltimore games and most people lingered to see if the scores would tilt in the Steelers' favor.
As he prepared to leave for his long drive home to St. Clairsville, Ohio, Jack Rosenberry watched for a few minutes as Baltimore took on Oakland, but after the Houston victory, he was less optimistic about the Steelers' chances.
"It will be very doubtful that we get in the playoffs. We know that. But it didn't stop us from coming today," he said.
For the past 25 years, Mr. Rosenberry has traveled here on Sundays to watch the Steelers play, home or away. Yesterday marked his first time cheering for New England and Oakland, he said.
He wasn't happy after the New England loss, but he also wasn't devastated.
"We have bragging rights," he said. "We have six rings."
As the Steelers' season came to an end in Pittsburgh yesterday, many people at Grille 36 said they were glad to have another hometown team to watch. Kristian Claus and Bryan Goetz, both of Fox Chapel, planned to stay at the bar to watch the Penguins play last night.
Under his Steelers jersey, Mr. Goetz had on his Penguins gear, ready for the transition from football to hockey.
"That's the nice thing about the Penguins and the Steelers," Mr. Claus said. "They complement each other."
First Published January 4, 2010 12:00 am