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It's a warm and hazy day, and Frank and I are at our sons' Little League practice, watching baseball but talking football. Nothing could be more typical of metro Pittsburgh in June. The Pirates, at 10 games below .500, are ambling toward their 15th straight losing season. The Steelers' training camp starts in six weeks. Hallelujah.
Frank knows football, and certainly knows western Pennsylvania football. He is Frank Namath, nephew of the man who some 40 years ago made our steel town, Beaver Falls, almost a household name. When "Uncle Joey" got big, Frank tells me, his mother had to move out of town and into a tiny house on a hill that overlooks it. Strangers from all over the place had been besieging her, gawking, poking, prodding. She, blue collar through and through, found herself suddenly the mother of an iconpresumably no easy thing. Especially here.
How do we love the Steelers? Let me count the emblems. Running on any given day through our old residential neighborhood, I see Steelers flags, camp chairs, license plates, decals, posters, mail boxes, bumper stickers, and articles of clothingincluding my own T-shirt. When I, a lifelong Steelers fan living five hours from Pittsburgh, came out to interview for a job, I was astonishedand delightedby all of the Steelers paraphernalia. Back home, my black-and-gold-bleeding brother-in-law (to whom I once gave a Steelers cutting board for Christmas) referred to my landing a job in "Mecca."
How to live with all this devotion? When the Steelers made their remarkable, improbable Super Bowl run two years ago, the atmosphere across the region was electric, all day, all night, each week bringing a new level of primal voltage, powering countless parties, conversations, newscasts, even classrooms. At the college where I teach, students, faculty, and staff could speak of little else, to the sometimes flamboyant annoyance of the out-of-staters in our midst. Two guys, one from Ohio, the other from Cyprus, shaved ...