Wilson: What it means to be a fan(atic)

Blogger Ryan Wilson has a laundry list of things to do before every game to insure Pittsburgh is best positioned to win the game. 2003 was rough, but it looks like he's finally getting the hang of what it means to be a superstitious Steelers fan.

Today's game against the Cincinnati Bengals is the first time this season I'll have to trudge over to the local watering hole to catch the action. One of the downsides to living in the nation's capitol – in addition to the insane traffic problems and the absurd real estate market – is that the Washington Redskins are the hometown team. And after them it's the Baltimore Ravens. As defending Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers do get a lot of national exposure: the Thursday night season opener, a Sunday night game against the Chargers on October 8, the Monday night affair against the Jaguars, and the NFL Network's post-Thanksgiving Steelers-Browns tilt on December 7.

It could be worse, I suppose. I mean, I could be a 49ers fan living in Washington D.C. The only time San Francisco is scheduled to be on the national stage is when they face the Seahawks on December 17. Not only would I not be able to watch my team from my living room for 16 weeks, the one time they do manage to get on television, it's in a game their likely to lose 100-0. Sweet.

I should mention when my wife and I moved from Pittsburgh three years ago, my first order of business was to call DirecTV. Forget telephone service or internet access, I needed to make sure my NFL football viewing would be unaffected by my residence. All the other "important" stuff could wait.

Good plan, crappy execution. One of my problems is severe myopia. Under normal circumstances I'm pretty good at making decisions and usually forward-planning enough to navigate most foreseeable landmines that might pop up down the road. Put me under a little pressure and that logical, methodical, left-brained reasoning goes right out the window. One of the things I neglected to consider when deciding on our DC apartment was access to the southern sky. I don't say this because I'm an amateur astronomy nerd, but because the DirecTV satellite is positioned there. And if there's a big building between, say, the dish on your balcony and the satellite in space, you're screwed.

So in case you're wondering, this is why I don't just fork over the dough for DirecTV. It's because I'm an idiot.

But hey, that ship has sailed. The good news is that the Washington area is chocked full of good Steelers bars. For the 2003 season, me and my buddy Andy watched games at the Capitol Lounge, located appropriately enough, on Capitol Hill. A displaced Pittsburgher owns the joint and it's always packed with Steelers fans on game days. Even during that forgettable 2003 season. Great place to watch NFL football … until it burned down right before the 2005 season.

Last year, with the first-string bar smoldering in the rubble, we ended up at an "NFL bar" because Andy knew the bartender. Not quite the atmosphere of a typical Pittsburgh bar but the tradeoff included a lot of all-day beer tabs totaling five bucks. What can I say; I'm a sucker for cheap beer.

The one exception last season was during the first Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game. For some reason I convinced Andy and my wife that we should check out Outta the Way Café in suburban Maryland. I'd heard from a couple of DC Steelers fans that this was the second-best thing to actually being in Heinz Field. That turned out to be an understatement along the lines of "Mark Madden isn't really that fat." If Heinz Field is a 10, this place was a 20.

First, it's located in a strip mall next to a Laundromat and a dollar store (I could be exaggerating on this point, but it sure seemed that way at the time). From the outside, everything looks unassuming enough, but once you walk through the doors it's like you're magically transported back to Pittsburgh. Between the black and gold themed … well, everything, and the dark wood paneling, it was impossible to know what time it was without actually looking at your watch. We stood in the doorway, mouths agape for what seemed like minutes in awe of what we saw before us: Seemingly every Steelers fan in the greater DC area squeezed into this bar for a big regular season division game. After a couple of minutes we finally found a table near the back, but with a good view of one of the three big screens.

I should note that this all took place more than two hours before the opening kickoff. It's not like we showed up at 12:50 PM, found the nearest empty table and plopped ourselves down to watch a little football. This was hardcore, man.

A few minutes later a waitress dropped a bucket of Iron City Lights on the table and a few minutes after that an older couple joined us because every other seat was taken. The old-timer told me that he comes to Outta the Way for every game even though he has DirecTV. That's dedication.

I should also point out that, like most fans (which is, without a doubt, just a euphemism for "crazed lunatic") I have a list full of pregame rituals that inevitably result in the Steelers either winning or losing. Oddly, I didn't start practicing all this voodoo stuff until after I left Pittsburgh. Don't know what this means, but I'll be sure to bring it up with my therapist at our next session.

On game days, I'll put on my "uniform" about two hours before kickoff. In 2004, my uniform was a long sleeved, reversible Steelers shirt, black on one side and … wait for it … gold on the other. Pretty boring, right? Well, not if you make your wife sew "Polamalu" on the back and "43" on the left sleeve on one side and "Hampton" and "98" on the other. Yeah, I thought it was pretty cool too. My wife? Not so much.

After the heartbreaking AFC Championship loss to the Patriots, the shirt has since been retired. Now, I keep things simple. Partly because it's easier and partly because my wife says I have to do all my own Steelers-related sewing from here on out. My 2005 (and now 2006) game day wardrobe was one of the $5 tee shirts you can get from any of those not-licensed-by-the-Steelers vendors outside of Heinz Field. Specifically, it's the Heath Miller "Big Money" print that couldn't be more ridiculous if it was hot pink. Underneath that I wear a long sleeved blue Canon-McMillan shirt. You know, just to keep it real.

I'll also sport a Terrible Towel in my right front pocket and a Steelers jersey beer koozie.

For games televised locally, I'll also sit on this footstool my wife uses for footstooly type stuff when the Steelers aren't on television. To say this thing is kinda uncomfortable is like saying Ricardo Colclough is kinda bad at returning punts. But I figure it's the least I can do if it helps Pittsburgh play well.

Suffice it to say that Outta the Way was a sea of black and gold and my wife actually said she felt out of place because she was "dressed normally." I reminded her being a Steelers fan isn't normal. It's not necessarily pretty, but it's never normal.

Okay, I gotta go get into my uniform. It's almost game time.

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