When the Steelers take the field today 3,000 miles from Heinz Field, there will certainly be more than a few golden towels twirling amongst the sea of silver and black. Undoubtedly, the crew chosen to announce the game will state how incredible the Black and Gold faithful travel. This bothers me as a native of this region on many levels, simply because I have very little tolerance for ignorance.
I use the term ignorant in its purest definition. Those announcing quite simply do not know. They do not know that the majority of the fans that show up at every stadium in which the Steelers play already live in that town or region.
How did these fans come to be in every city and state in this great nation? Diaspora. One definition of this term is “the dissemination of something originally confined to a local, homogeneous group, as a language to cultural institution”. Stay with me here folks, you may learn more than you bargained for.
We all know the stories of our parents and grandparents about how the Steelers coming into their own coincided with the downfall of the steel industry in the region. When the hard-nosed, defensive and physically dominant Steelers were endearing themselves to a hard scrabble proudly blue-collar region, the bottom of the well was hit in the industry that made these folks the way that they were.
Being of the ilk that knew how to make their way in the world, these fans of the Steelers made their way out to TX to work an oil rig, or to Florida to become a phone lineman, or to North Dakota to do whatever it is they did at the time in North Dakota. They took the work ethic taught to them by their parents and grandparents, and instilled that into their children. They also taught their children their pride and love for their hometown team, the Pittsburgh goddamned Steelers, the team that gave them a couple of hours a week away from the stress of seeing the lives they had worked so hard to build crumbling around them.
These children are now grown, and either make the occasionally pilgrimage to the ‘Burgh, or plan on doing so. I have met countless folks at Steeler tailgates that are in Western PA for the first time, and came here with the sole intention of seeing the Black and Gold at the confluence of the three rivers. I have lived in AZ, FL, and MI, and have found a friendly tavern in which a Terrible Towel hangs behind the bar in every place I have been. Inevitably, those folks are not from Wilmerding or Blawnox, but their parents were, and they have visited once or twice and can’t wait to get back.
Those folks are now wrapping their own babies in the gold towel at birth, granting them the birthright of being a member of Steeler Nation. These children will be the ones twirling the towels in 20 years, and their children will learn the same the following generation.
Our city is unique in its history; the Steelers fan base is equally exclusive as a result of this history. Now that you have maybe learned a little something about why you are who and what you are, scream it at the TV the next away game the Steelers play when Cris Collinsworth foolishly marvels at how well the Steelers fans travel: “We were already there!!”