I have had the joy of seeing the Steelers play live in six different opposing stadiums, including multiple games in several cities, such as Atlanta, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Tampa. Each time I show up with a nation of of 15-25,000 from the Black and Gold brigade, and never have I seen the Steelers lose an away game. The only difference on Sunday in sunny, scorching Tampa was that there may have been 30-35,000 Steelers fans in attendance at Raymond James Stadium.
Actually, very few Bucs fans were tailgating before the game, but plenty of Pittsburgh fans were decked out in a variety of Steelers’ garb. An often-repeated but erroneous cliche is that Steelers fans travel from Pittsburgh to their team’s road games. In contrast, most of the Steelers fans I talked to on Sunday were actually from Florida or the Southeast. Many, like myself, have Western Pa. roots. Others just hopped on the welcoming Steelers Nation bandwagon at a young age and never looked back. After the game, some folks on the Buccaneers’ call-in show were complaining that the stadium was 70-80 percent Steelers fans, but that was an exaggeration. It wasn’t that lopsided until after halftime. Our seats were lower-level end zone near the center of the field. Excellent views for a trio of Steelers touchdowns, including Mike Wallace’s second score.
Of course, these seats were nowhere near as good as my last trip to Raymond James Stadium when I sat upper deck on the 49-yard line. And as wonderful as last Sunday’s 38-13 dismantling of Tampa was, it was also no match for attending the most exciting Super Bowl ever played.
There were a few Bucs fans talking trash to Steelers fans, especially after Charlie Batch threw an interception early in the game. However, they were quickly silenced and most gave up before their team did. Could you imagine the riot that would ensue if 30,000 opposing fans tried to take over a Steelers’ game in Heinz Field? That would never happen, because those people cannot get tickets to a Pittsburgh home game. However, judging by the passionless Bucs fans who actually watch the team live (all of their home games are blacked out in West and Central Florida), the only way a riot would take place in Tampa Bay would be if Matlock reruns were dropped from syndication. Bucs fans do not care or even know their current team, since the most popular jerseys I saw Sunday were those of Derrick Brooks and Mike Alstott, both of whom are retired. Another reason why Bucs fans were generally kind to the visitors were the absurd number of beautiful “Stiller Women” in the crowd, many of whom it seems are big fans of SteelersLounge.com.
There were plenty of big plays from the likes of Rashard Mendenhall, who rushed for 143 yards and the ever-dependable Hines Ward who recorded his 79th career TD catch.
However, no Steeler accounted for more key plays on Sunday than cerebral, fourth-string quarterback Charlie Batch, a genuinely likable veteran who was serenaded with chants of “Charlie, Charlie” throughout the game’s final 20 minutes and as he left the field following his 3-TD passing performance. He acknowledged us chanting his name in the end zone on several occasions.
After the game, though, no player seemed to bask in the glory of the throngs of Steelers fans cheering their warriors as they exited the field than veteran defensive end Brett Keisel, who simultaneously recorded his first career interception and touchdown on a 79-yard return in the fourth quarter. For those in attendance, it was similar to exiting Heinz field after an early-season win, with fans chanting “Here we go Steelers,” and “We got a feeling, Pittsburgh’s going to the Super Bowl.” Again, hardly a Bucs fan could be found in sight.
All in all, a joyous and wonderful experience well worth the cost. If you have never had the pleasure of seeing a Steelers’ road game in person, I strongly suggest you go this year. After all, you will make a lot of new friends and will not feel like a visitor in any opposing stadium.