A good eight hours into our stay at the bar, and a booze induced “nap” by Dominic later, all of us were welcoming a pair of ladies from New Jersey that were also attending the game. The girls we’re friends, via the internet, of Dom’s.
Mistakenly, the girls had agreed to drive us band of degenerates around town. A deed I’m sure they regretted later, but a deed that guaranteed VIP status in heaven someday.
All of us had heard from the friendly, yet smack talking locals, that South Carson Street in downtown Pittsburgh was the place to cruise. According to a waiter at the Buffalo, S. Carson Street boasted the most bars/per block ratio, in the country. So, S. Carson Street is where we all headed, by piling into one of the Jersey girl’s Dodge pick-up.
With Matt, Scott, Leif and I in cramped in the back of the pick-up, all of us immediately reverted to the personalities of 14 year-olds. We were all giggling and daring the soldier flanking the right or left, to do anything immature to Dominic and the two gals squeezed into the front of the cab. All of it culminated with a heavily inebriated Dominic receiving a “wet willy” from Leif.
Somehow, someway we all made it to the infamous S. Carson Street, despite the zero of semblance navigation, or even standard compass directions.
Stepping out, the street and town reminded me honestly, of Seattle. The buildings, their positioning, and vibe could’ve been carved out of any downtown part of Seattle (or vice-versa). The only difference being the history and wisdom you could sense from the layout.
The area of South Carson Street, in particular, rang identical to Seattle’s Pioneer Square district. And, as advertised, the businesses dotting the street went as follows; bar, bar, bar, pizza shop, bar, bar and finally tattoo parlor.
While the majority of our throng entered the first pub they stumbled upon, Leif and I pushed onward. We found ourselves a few doors down, at some tavern with “Jack’s” in the name, if I recall correctly. It was the type of downtown establishment, where the edge of the bar was only 4-5 feet from the wall, so anyone entering was forced to grind and shimmy upon the other customers, before finally reaching the opening in the back.
Adding to the typical bump and grind needed to procure a beverage at such a place, was Leif’s outfit, which screamed “Seahawks Fan HERE!” He wore a jersey with the name “Blitz” on the back, shorts, and neon-green and blue shoes with the Reebok emblem decaled on the side. The outfit was only outdone by the way entered the bar.
He waltzed and pranced from side to side, raising his hands atop his head…pointing down towards himself, to garner and gather in the contempt. We both smiled and traded barbs with the regulars, even earning an impromptu chant of “Seahawks Suck, Seahawks suck, etc.”
Yet, as I had alluded to earlier, none of the conversations turned ugly. While the residents immediately, and maybe even rightfully, brought up whining about SBXL, all discussions came back to mutual respect. The Steelers Nation and Hawks fans alike, welcomed the match-up to gauge their team’s true potential.
Eventually, the others joined us in the bar. And, it was about this time that my pancreas began failing me.
About four years prior, a four-day binge in Vegas had left my pancreas as useful as Dan Marino attending a Super Champion symposium. Luckily, I had known that eventually the weekend would leave me ill and feverish, so I planned ahead and garnered a legal prescription to suppress the pain and break any increase in body temperature.
Yet, even with the medicine in tow, I could no longer stand the heat of the crowded room adding to my already tempura biology. I stepped out of the bar, and headed towards a tattoo parlor.
Maybe it was because I was drunk, maybe it was because I snarled at the other patron that heard and laughed at my request, but the dish-plated earlobe artist was unable to fulfill my ink. He claimed it was too late. So, with that I hailed a cab and retired to the room for the evening.
The day before, all of us had promised that we were all going to arrive to the stadium early on game day. We all pushed out illusions of absurdity; “yeah, let's get there at 7:30 or 8 AM”. When the morning arrived however, I was the first one up at 9:20 AM, forced to wake the others. The night before, right before arriving back at my room, Matt had stated vehemently that he was in “NO WAY” going to arrive, or get up that early. So, I only called him, to get the tickets.
Exactly twenty minutes later, all of us met outside, even Matt. We were all worse for the wear; beleaguered, confused, raspy, dehydrated and fatigued. Except for me, that is. One of the “side-effects” of the prescription I possessed was its ability to quash any pain, even anguish brought on by a hangover. While I offered those morsels to all, only Leif took me up on the offer.
“Okay, but only take a quarter,” I said while handing it over.
“Why?” “How many do you take?” he replied.
“I take one and a half, usually. But, I’m machine, not man. I could process a refrigerator through these kidneys. God built me for this”, I warned.
But, to his eventual dismay, Leif allowed the entire pill to dissolve on the tongue.
Via taxi, we arrived at “Red 6”, the lot we had heard other Hawks fans were stationed, about 10:20 or so. The lot was situated between PNC Park and Heinz Field. Or, in other words, picture Qwest Field’s North Lot flipped to south side, next to Safeco.
Not quite reaching the spectacle of my trip last year, to Kansas City, but definitely better than Seattle, was the “real” NFL tailgating.
All around, you saw vans opened from the back with TV and speakers blaring. Your nose was bombarded by the smell of every meat under the sun – seared over smoldering coals. And, more importantly, all around was the collective vibe of Steelers fans engrossed in a bonding ritual of food, booze and appreciation of the game and Sunday tradition.
The pinnacle of the tailgating scene was a customized Steelers van parked approximately 30 feet from our eventual home base.
The van was painted all black, with yellow trim and roof. On the van’s starboard was a functional tap, providing beer to the party. Out the back, above the gargantuan speakers, the van was equipped with a crane shooting nearly 14 feet above everyone’s head. At the tip of the crane rested a funnel, the size of a human torso, with six clear and professional grade tubing. And, at the end of the tubing were industrial grade nozzles, allowing for maximum control. It was the mother of all beer bongs.
The only thing out doing the van’s beer delivery devices was their BBQ set-up. The grill itself was the size of an Escalade’s hood. That ridiculous grill rested on four-corners, consisting of cinder blocks resting vertically. Underneath that grill lied countless of the disposable aluminum cooking trays, filled with coals. At least 2 dozen steaks, a dozen hamburgers, and 20 hot dogs were all being cooked at the same time. Everything getting lathered with a marinade that’s smell dominated all others.
We eventually were successful in weaving throughout the maze of cars, grills, smack and fans to locate the beacon we were instructed to find; a Seahawks flag. I don’t recall exactly how we knew to locate that specific flag, or even knew to locate and find the “Red 6” lot.
When we arrived at the base of the flag, we found other Hawks fans stationed around a one gracious couple’s SUV. This Ballard-based, half-Hawks, half-Steelers rooting couple, forked over insane amounts of money to feed the minority of us Hawks fans.
Alongside the standard fare of sausages, hot dogs, hamburgers and full keg of beer, the two offered all of us grilled bacon-wrapped jalapeño’s and virtually a full bar for cocktails.
There we remained stationed, for the next two hours. Drinking, eating, trading friendly smack with the locals, and appreciating a true NFL tailgating scene. Well, maybe not all of us.
Leif eventually succumbed to what I had warned him of. Shortly after arriving at the tailgating scene, Leif turned pale, sweaty, and nauseous. 15-20 minutes after that initial reaction, he periodically spent time within the makeshift porta-potty (blue tarp drapes, over a city drain) vomiting.
Close to one hour before kick-off, all of us finally made it within Heinz Field. The best way I can describe it, is Qwest Field on a budget (it does have escalators, however). And, I don’t mean that negatively. Heinz Field has a similar shape, size, design and layout of Qwest Field. It lacks some of that extra, normally unnoticed, difficult to describe luster and texture…only exorbitance can provide.
What Heinz Field maybe lacks in overall grandeur, it definitely makes up for in overall game day experience. Everything thing done before, during and after the game was hit the desired mark.
Before key defensive series, the Jumbotron would whip the crowd into a frenzy with montages of bone-crushing hits, to the sounds of modern rock or hip-hop songs. Prior to a key defensive 3rd down, and intimidating sound and man would appear on the screen, swinging a sledgehammer. Every time out was filled with more songs and highlights, local heroes, or other football related tidbits to get the crowd humming.
Absent were cutesie plane races, dancing oddities or montages to individuals that paint their faces. Everything done was done with the intent to stir the crowd even further, or pay homage to their gridiron legends.
All of it worked…perfectly. At least for that day, Heinz Field was the loudest stadium I have ever attended. That hurts me to say, as Seattleite, and I’m sure I’ll get ripped for saying it but, it’s the truth.
Maybe it was because of the opponent, and their need to legitimize the SBXL victory? Maybe it was the fact the city has had 75 years to perfect the game day experience? Or, maybe, just maybe, their louder fans? Whatever it was, it bruised my ego.
I can honestly no longer argue that Qwest Field is the loudest stadium I have ever been to.
The game itself? Well, ah, never mind … many individuals more qualified than myself have already dissected and offered up qualified insight. Let’s just say that Sunday night was spent getting a quick bite to eat, a few more beers, and finally some sleeping pills hurling me into unconsciousness.
Scott, Dom, Leif and I all met at 4:25AM sharp the following morning, catching a cab towards the airport. Matt, had somehow caught a later flight, furthering his asserted distance from the group.
While Scott, Dom and Leif were all groggy and weary from Sunday’s results and a weekend spent drinking like a high schooler, I had something keeping me giddy and focused. I had one last mission to accomplish, the retirement of my jersey.
At the intersection of all the outbound and inbound gates, within the Pittsburgh Airport, lie two wax statues of famous Pittsburghians. One of the statues shows an unfamiliar man, wearing colonial garb. And the other is Steelers great, Franco Harris.
As soon as I landed in Pittsburgh, laying my eyes upon Mr. Harris’ likeness, I knew exactly where my jersey was going to be retired. It was going to be retired, on Mr. Harris. Everyone knew of this plan, but I don’t think it hit the rest of the group until we were all waiting in the security line, heading home.
Through security, transferred via tram, and up an escalator later – there I stood directly in front of my mission.
But, in what can only be described as symbolism for my life so far, something obvious and shamefully overlooked stood between the objective and I. The hands of Mr. Harris were clasped, immovable; there was no way I’d be able to get the jersey on him.
Dejected, distraught, dehydrated and disheveled I resigned myself to laying the jersey in between the two figures…on the podium describing the infamous beings.
Funny? Yeah, sure.
Even funnier considering I know it stayed there for a while.
Historic and befitting? Um, no.
The jersey is most likely residing alongside hideous jackets, skanky dentures, and other various sundries within the airport's lost and found.
When I boarded the plane from Pittsburgh to Atlanta that morning, I over heard two men and a woman in front of me, bad mouthing the Hawks fans also on the flight. Unlike the numerous encounters I was involved in while in the town of Pittsburgh, these three were just plain rude. While I don’t recall what exactly they said, I remember they stopped after me and a few others bitterly snarled at them.
Our flight stopped in Atlanta for a short time, maybe only enough to choke down a cigarette and use the restroom, before heading to the other gate. It was at that second gate that I noticed the same three on the flight from Pitt to Atlanta, seemingly awaiting my very flight home, to Seattle.
“So, you guys are from Seattle?” I asked loudly to the three Steelers clad fans.
“Yup”, the younger of the two men answered, proudly.
“Born and raised?” I asked, this time raising my voice so everyone could here.
“Yeah…” he replied before I interrupted.
“Wow! That takes a lot of strength and faith! Being the fan of a team, which perennially makes the playoffs and boasts numerous Super Bowls Trophies. You guys should be commended,” I blurted out for the awaiting flight to hear.
The men and woman were embarrassed and speechless, as everyone laughed and cringed over the magnitude of how stupid the three were made to look.
For the first time since Sunday, October 7th, at about 1:45 PM Eastern Standard Time, I recaptured my Seahawks pride.
Having endured enjoying a city I wanted to hate, a stadium/game day I yearned to degrade, and the systematic dismantling of my first passion I thought only another Seahawks victory would ease my pain.
Nope, all it took was the looks on their stupid, cowardly, traitorous faces.
Ryan Davis is an armchair quarterback with a vibrating recliner. Feel free to contact him here.