Back in the early 2000s, when Heinz Field and PNC Park first opened, there used to be one day a year that the Steelers and Pirates would both play home games. The Pirates game was usually a meaningless one at the end of the season as the club played out the string in another lost season, while the Steelers game would be an even more meaningless preseason game against the Buffalo Bills or Washington Redskins.
Even so, I always wanted to do both games just because it seemed like going to two professional sporting events in the same day would be a semi-cool thing to do. On Sunday, I had the opportunity to do it. And I did. And as it turned out, both games meant something, and in an unexpected turn of events, it was actually the Pirates game that may have carried the most importance.
We already had tickets to the Steelers-Bears game on Sunday night, and when I noticed the Pirates were playing the Reds in a pivotal game in the National League playoff race on Sunday I texted my brother and told him we should do both games. He naturally agreed, and it was on. We ended up sitting through two blowout losses — the Pirates by a margin of 11-3 and the Steelers, well, you already know how that one turned out and it leaves them in an 0-3 hole that is probably going to be impossible to get out of the way they seemingly keep digging themselves deeper.
It’s Week 4 of the NFL season and the Pirates are headed to the playoffs while the Steelers are not only winless, but find themselves behind the Cleveland Browns in the standings less than a week after the Browns promoted Brian Hoyer, their third string quarterback, to starter and traded their only NFL quality running back (all on the same day, no less).
These are strange times we’re living in, friends, and the locals don’t really know how to handle it.
I came into the season with no expectations, and after the 0-2 start I’ve become resigned to the fact that this is probably going to be a rough year and the playoffs are not in the Steelers’ immediate future. These things happen, and it’s not going to stop me from going to games and enjoying the afternoon and evening.
Others, however, have decided that they are going to lose their collective shit.
Take for example the two early 20-somethings (one girl, one guy) that were sitting a couple of rows in front of us on Sunday night. I don’t think either one was old enough to drink, as neither one consumed anything in the stadium, but they were pretty clearly trashed upon entering the stadium because no sober person acts the way they did. They spent the entire first half standing up and screaming at the fans in our section about how terrible they were because they refused to stand up and cheer as loud as they did. They were basically in a pissing contest to see who was the biggest fan, and in their world, standing up and screaming the loudest equated to being the best fan.
Others did not agree, and after a while people sitting directly behind them were getting pretty annoyed that they could not see the game. There are times when it as acceptable — and encouraged — to stand during a game. Key third or fourth downs. Big plays. Etc. These people made it their goal to stand the entire game, no matter what was happening, and were none too pleased when somebody pointed out that they were obstructing the views of many others.
Had my camera had any battery life in it this would have all made compelling video, so instead you’re just going to have to get the play-by-play as I remember it happening.
The guy — who looked like he went by the name Joey Meatballs — was so angry that he started challenging people to fights. When a guy in the row behind us told him to sit down because he didn’t pay to look at the back of his head, Joey Meatballs responded by screaming, “Do you need me to come up there and fight you?” They then exchanged verbal insults including “jag off” and “sit down and quit acting like a nut bag.”
The girl, who came into the game with a noticeable chip on her shoulder, seemed convinced that everything was going wrong for the Steelers because the fans weren’t standing up and cheering. Whenever the Steelers did make a big play and fans stood up and cheered she would sarcastically mock everyone by saying, “Oh, now you stand up and cheer. Why don’t you stand up and cheer when they’re not doing good?” I kid you not, she actually asked why people weren’t standing up and cheering when the team wasn’t playing well. This would become a running joke throughout the night. If fans would have stood up and cheered that turnover wouldn’t have happened. At one point, the Bears fan sitting directly in front of us told her she really needed to chill out because “it’s all hugs here tonight.”
What really sent things snowballing was when the Steelers scored their first touchdown and she was the only Steelers fan in the stadium that didn’t stand up and cheer. When everybody asked her why she didn’t stand up it turned into a comparison of how Seahawks fans cheer at games compared to Steeler fans.
When Joey Meatballs justified his behavior, including a threat to punch somebody in the face, by saying that he comes to five games a year in these seats I joined the conversation and said that I had been sitting in my seats for 13 years and had never seen him before. This was apparently a big mistake, because his girlfriend picked up an empty coffee cup (thankfully it was empty) and threw it at my face. Right. At. My. Face.
While that was annoying — and shocking — the thing that truly angered me that night (and still does two days later) was the lack of a response from security. In a crowd of 65,000 people you expect there to be a few morons, and that’s the type of thing a moron does. You expect security to take care of it and eliminate the moron. Upon telling stadium security about the situation, including the fact she threw something at me and that everybody in the section was tired of their act, they told me that they would “keep an eye on it” and that “you’re allowed to stand up between plays.”
Before every game the Steelers play this ridiculously bad video that talks about the code of conduct policy and the types of things you can’t do at a game. As I found out on Sunday night, it’s all a load of bullshit because stadium security is a waste of time. A few minutes later my brother decided to go down and issue a complaint, thinking that multiple complaints would get somebody to do something. They informed him to return to his seat as they were keeping an eye on things. Eventually security came up and issued a warning to them as everyone in the section pointed them out as the trouble-makers. When security warned them they proceeded to talk back to security and continue to talk about how they can do whatever they want because they paid for their tickets. All of this went down in the third quarter. By the fourth quarter security had finally seen enough and escorted them out.
So all of that happened.
I’ve said this many times before, but in all of my years going to Steeler games it never fails that it’s the Steeler fans that end up causing the problems. There were thousands of Bears fans in attendance on Sunday night — more visiting fans than I’ve ever seen at Heinz Field, outside of maybe the Cowboys and Giants — that took over the stadium by the end. There was not one issue with them from what I could see, including the guy in front of us (who was actually from Canada) and the person sitting next to me. And speaking of that guy, man. When he first arrived I wasn’t sure how it was going to work. First of all, he was an older gentlemen, I’m guessing at least in his 70s, and had to be 300 pounds. He could barely move and he somehow made it up to the seats. He was wearing neutral colors and took his seat next to me and instantly struck up a conversation by asking me how much a beer costs at the stadium. He quietly informed me was a Bears fan and that, thanks to his brother who lives in Pittsburgh, it was the very first NFL game he had ever attended and that he wanted to see the Bears defense score a couple of touchdowns. He couldn’t have been a nicer guy and I have to admit, I was kind of happy for him by the end of the night.
He was just one of many Bears fans in attendance on the night, and by the end of the game they had taken over most of the seating area behind their team’s bench as “Let’s go Bears” chants echoed throughout the stadium. In 13 years of attending games at Heinz Field I’ve never seen anything like it. For one night, Steelers fans found out what it’s like on the other side. It wasn’t much fun.
The positives on Sunday were that the Steelers moved the ball a little, managed to break the 20-point mark, nearly came back from a three-score deficit, and Antonio Brown had his first big game in who knows how long with two incredible touchdown grabs. The bad news is the offense turned the ball over five times, the defense forced none, and the Steelers still lost by 17 points.
It just seems like that type of season.