Life in Black and Gold
Growing up Steelers by Kate Oczypok
The local women’s hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania wraps newborns in the Steelers’ rally towel (aka the “Terrible Towel”) in their nursery. Being born and raised in Pittsburgh, I was ingrained a Steelers fan at a young age.
Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them how much the game of football means to me. It’s more than just a game of four quarters and a halftime. To me, it means family, it means bonding and it means growing up.
I first got really into the Steelers in early grade school. Every week in geography class, we would get a worksheet all about the geography of the city the Steelers were playing that week. We got extra points if we wrote the score of the game at the top of the worksheet. Through these sheets, I learned all about the geography of Cleveland, Ohio, Baltimore, Maryland and New England.
Since I was ever the oldest child perfectionist, I wanted the extra points for the score. I began watching games on a small early ‘90s TV with my dad while he painted the house we moved into when I was five going on six. I immediately got caught up in the excitement. It was fun to watch the games with my dad and I learned a lot about how the game of football worked.
Our family gathered on Sundays to watch Steeler games. Dressed in our black and gold jerseys, my mom would make all kinds of snacks and dips. If games fell on holidays, aunts, uncles and cousins would gather with us to watch our favorite players. We would all nervously snack on Grandma’s Christmas sugar cookies or my mom’s cheesy, gooey Buffalo chicken dip as we cheered the Steelers to victory.
As I got a little older, I remember my mom would grocery shop on Monday evenings. My dad would help us with homework and then make sure we all got to bed on time. If the Steelers played a Monday Night Football game, my dad would often make his signature homemade popcorn. I still associate its salty, delicious smell with Monday Night Football games. My dad would let me stay up past my bedtime, hurriedly telling me to run upstairs when my mom’s headlights would appear in the window.
The special times were when we would get to go to a Steeler game in person. I remember my dad getting tickets to the AFC Championship in January 1996. I was 10 years old, and the Steelers won an extremely close game, sending us to the Super Bowl. It was one of the most exciting and fun memories of my childhood, even though I was too short to see the last touchdown! It was my first experience in person with wild Steeler fans. I remember a happy, practically delirious drunk man yelling to a security officer as we left the game, “Hey officer, we’re going to Tempe!” If you’re wondering why Tempe, it’s where the Super Bowl was that year! My dad and I rode in his friend’s pickup truck through the city afterwards. People were screaming and singing “Here we go Steelers, here we go!”
I moved to Washington, DC to attend college, and if I met a person from Pittsburgh, we would instantly bond. In fact, one of my best friends from college grew up just a half hour south of me. I drove home from school with two fellow Pittsburghers to watch the 2006 Super Bowl (which the Steelers won). Road tripping back to be with fellow Pittsburghers for the big game was a blast and deepened my sense of belonging to the Steelers family.
These days, having settled just outside DC in suburban Maryland, I often will wear a Steeler beanie to walk my dog in the winter. Since COVID has us all wearing masks, I of course have a Steeler mask I love to wear during football season. It’s fun to strike up conversations with people in my neighborhood who have a connection to the city – whether they grew up there or just visited, they all feel a bond with the Steelers.
Now that I’m in my 30s, I see that being a Steeler fan is special. We’re not just fans, we’re living the “black and gold” life. Say the phrase “Here we go” in Pittsburgh and chances are, someone will echo “Steelers, here we go!” Turning on a Steeler game during the NFL season makes me feel comforted when I miss my family.
My grandma was a Steeler fan for her 88 and a half years, yelling at bad plays for her nearly nine decades of life. I know my dad will do the same and I can bet my siblings and myself will too. Once you’re welcomed into Steeler nation, it’s awfully hard to want to leave.
Kate Oczypok is a freelance writer in Maryland.
Photo credit: Football by Jean-Daniel Francoeur