Being that I lived in Pittsburgh for eight years, it became a rule, a religion, almost a commandment to root for the Steelers. I had no affinity for any team at the time, so it became easy to get invited in the wave of fans that so valiantly and loyally supported their home team. Pittsburgh is a small town. Everyone knows everyone else. I wasn’t going to live in a small city and be the outsider who wears anything but yellow and black, possibly causing myself harm as a result of being a renegade. We supported the Steelers so much, we even had former Steeler teammates over for Friday night dinners. Steve Avery became a regular Tombosky guest and a dear friend. We’d compare rings, and I noticed his was much larger and blingier than mine, which I was okay with, because he was a coveted Steeler player battle scarred with a knee injury to prove it. I got full on swooped up into the excitement of Steeler fanatacism. My husband and I relished in excitement over our home team getting to the Superbowl this year. I am a loyal fan, forever dedicated to the yellow and black. I am faithful, dedicated, unwerving….that is, until this past Sunday.
Last Sunday I decided to head over to my Bubby’s house to watch the Superbowl. We ordered the usual goodies, spicy hot chicken wings, cold cut sandwhiches on rye and an assortment of other high cholesterol bad for you snacks. My grandmother has been watching football for forty-five years. She can still remember sitting in the bleachers with her father, my great-grandfather when she was nine years old as she watched the Bears play the Green Bay Packers. When she learned the Packers were headed to the Superbowl, she called me with tears in her eyes reminiscing about the first time she ever watched them when she was nine-years-old with her dad. She told me about that cold day in Chicago and how Grandpa bought her peanuts as they shared wonderful bonding moments in the bleachers gazing at the field goal. I was lucky enough to know Bubby’s parents, my great-grandfather and my great-grandmother. They both died when I was in my twenties. Great-Grandpa was 99 and great-grandma was 103! Bubby was the only person over eighty who would walk out of the Synagogue during Yizkor because both of her parents were still alive. After hearing my grandmother speak about the Packers with so much love, guilt crept into my heart as I felt myself questioning my loyalty to my former home team for the first time.
Bubby sat with her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren as she explained every nuance of her favorite game, and relished in telling us every detail and backstory regarding the two teams who played a feirce and close battle. “I love the Packers because they are owned by the whole city, not by one rich mogul who calls the shots and exploits our American game.” She became feirce every time the Steelers would “steal” the ball or “fight dirty” as her Greenbay players got injured on the field.
My nine-year-old neice and my eight-year-old son sat at her feet jumping for joy every time the Packers scored a touchdown. Suddenly the room was polarized, with my entire family sitting on one side of the yardline and myself sitting solo rooting for the one team that was falling behind by 6 points. Questions started creeping into my heart….should I switch loyalties? Can a fan do that? Is that against the sportsmanship law? What would my mother-in-law think of me? She’s lived in Pittsburgh her whole life, I could possibly damage our relationship. She might not fix my favorite meat stew if she finds out I have left the yellow and black for the green and taxi cab gold. And what about Steve Avery? He damaged his knee for me. The only trace of injury I’ve incurred is after Superbowl heartburn from too many buffalo wings.
I had an entire family forever loyal to the Steelers. Cousins, brothers and sister-in-laws, a whole town counting on my commitment and here I was questioning my dedication and allegiance. I was polarized and feeling like a duplicitous fan. To the outside world, I wore black and yellow, but in my heart as I watched Bubby smile from ear to ear as the Packers held that football, tipping the scale to victory, it became evident, that a little piece of me was smiling inside my heart. I felt more guilt than the Verizon guy feels when he has to justify his success as a result of getting paid actual dollars to say “Can you hear me now?” And then it hit me. Technically, I was born in Wisconsin, which meant that technically, Greenbay was my real home team. Technically, rooting for the Steelers meant I was a traitor, like the backstabbing A.V guy who ruined Fergie’s moment at half time by messing with her mic. How could I live myself, how could I look at myself in the mirror if I didn’t try, didn’t work on, didn’t stand up and do the honorable thing and admit that I was born to be a Packer’s fan? Not only was I born to be a fan, it was my duty! It was my obligation! This obvious reckoning crept up on me in the final quarter, and I finally enjoyed the game and the Packer’s victory with great enthusiasm.
The only question that remains now is- how do I tell my mother-in-law?
**Fun Fact: (From Wikpedia) In August 2008, Espn.com ranked the Packers as having the second bestfans in the NFL. Subsequently, it was the Steelers who finished ahead of the Packers as number one, in having the best fans. As a result of this year’s game, Chava Tombosky may have managed to tip this scale back to the Packers as having the number one fan base, which she promises to spend the rest of her life apologizing for.