Steelers pay tribute to Angelo Cammarata, a fan of 80 years
Angelo Cammarata bought Steelers tickets from Art Rooney Sr. in 1933 and has had season tickets ever since. Mr. Cammarata, 98, will be recognized at Sunday's game.
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The Steelers have accomplished much in their first eight decades, winning six Super Bowls and becoming an unmatched source of pride for an American city. That's the view from 10,000 feet.
But down on the ground, at the micro level, their impact can just as easily be felt through one man's long journey through adulthood.
The Steelers have accompanied Angelo Cammarata at nearly every turn, their successes and failures serving as touchstones to memories stretching from the man's graduation from high school to the births of his great-grandchildren to the death of his loving wife.
The methodical uniting of fan and franchise began in 1933 with a conversation between Mr. Cammarata and Art Rooney, the team's owner.
Mr. Rooney was 13 years Mr. Cammarata's senior. Their families were both members of St. Peter Parish on the North Side, and Mr. Cammarata was first a fan and then a water boy for Mr. Rooney's semi-pro football team, the Rooney Reds. So it was no big deal for the 18-year-old to approach Mr. Rooney at his office at the William Penn Hotel and request a ticket to the Pittsburgh Pirates football game against the New York Giants on Sept. 20.
The Pirates were joining the National Football League that season, becoming its eighth franchise. Mr. Cammarata and Mr. Rooney talked for a few minutes as Mr. Rooney pulled on a cigar. It'd be $3 for the ticket, and Mr. Cammarata was treated to a 23-2 loss to the Giants.
Still, the next week, he came back to the hotel, wanting a ticket to the game against the Chicago Cardinals, and Mr. Rooney had a suggestion.
"Why don't you buy tickets for the rest of the season?" Mr. Rooney propositioned.
Mr. Cammarata did the math. That'd be $12 for the last four home games and $15 total for the season. Sure, he could swing that.
The next year, he visited Mr. Rooney again. And the year after. Their relationship continues Sunday as the Steelers, in their 80th season, face the New York Jets at Heinz Field.
The Steelers are calling this the "Year of the Fan." Last spring, they asked members of Steelers Nation to make their pitch as to why they should be one of 10 fans who will be honored, one at each home game. The winners would have their picture on the ticket and would participate in the twirling of the Terrible Towel on the sidelines prior to kickoff.
The 65,000 fans Sunday will be introduced to Mr. Cammarata on the Jumbotron, and they will see a 98-year-old man with large silver-framed glasses covering sea-blue eyes, smiling ear to ear at the great fortune of his longevity. Five of Mr. Cammarata's family members will be watching from the family's seats -- section 535, row S, seats 4-8 -- that date back to that transaction with Mr. Rooney and signal the beginning of the slow march of time for Mr. Cammarata.
In 1933, Mr. Cammarata had met the woman who would be his wife. That year, Prohibition would end, and he would sell his first bottle of beer as a bartender at his father's establishment, Cammarata's, on Federal Street on the North Side. Because Cammarata's opened at midnight the day Prohibition was lifted instead of in the morning, Mr. Cammarata would end up becoming the world's longest continuously serving bartender. Of course, he couldn't foresee then that he'd be tending bar for 77 years.
In 1938, Mr. Cammarata married his sweetheart, Mary. They'd have a boy and a girl before he joined the Navy, heading off to the Pacific for the only years where he wouldn't have ordered his Steelers season tickets. When he came back, he'd have two more boys, Frank and John, and before long, he'd be taking them to Steelers games.
Cammarata's was his spot to run now, and sometimes the Rooneys would come in for a drink. Josh Gibson, the baseball slugger for the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues, also was a patron. Mr. Cammarata put everything into that bar, and so he needed something outside of his daily responsibilities to replenish him. That's where the Steelers came into play.
"It was my way to enjoy my life after the grind of work, year after year," Mr. Cammarata said.
In 1954, Mr. Cammarata was forced to move his bar from Federal Street because of the building of Allegheny Center. He bought a tavern in West View, and, as with the North Side place, he'd make it his own.
When the team moved into Three Rivers Stadium in 1970, he decided he would ask Mr. Rooney for 12 season tickets with six in each row placed back to back. Mr. Cammarata's wish was granted, and he'd begin offering the season tickets up to his patrons each year as a show of gratitude.
In 2009, the family sold the bar and Mr. Cammarata, at 95, would stop serving his customers. Well, not before going into the Guinness Book of World Records. "Life has been good to me," Mr. Cammarata said.
Last February, Mr. Cammarata went to the Steelers headquarters and put his tickets into the name of his 30-year-old grandson, John Cammarata, ensuring that his family will be set well into this century.
"He's a pretty amazing guy," John said.
John's father, John Cammarata Sr., still marvels at Mr. Cammarata, even in retirement. "People ask me, 'How are you doing?' I say, 'Good.' They say, 'How's your dad doing?' I say, 'Better than me,' " the elder John Cammarata said. "If I'm cutting the grass, he says 'What can I do? Give me a blower. Let me rake.' If I'm washing the car, he'll say, 'Let's wax it,' and then we'll wax it."
Mr. Cammarata watches most Steeler games on TV now. He stopped going to them frequently when his wife, now deceased, became sick a few years ago.
His grandson hopes to be able to continue going to the games well into the future, but there's one potential catch.
"It's expensive," John said. "It's $4,200, and that's just for the regular season."
That's a long way from the $15 his grandfather spent back in 1933. But, after 80 years, it's the going price of that relationship forged between Mr. Cammarata and Mr. Rooney.
First Published September 15, 2012 12:00 am