Raising the Jolly Roger

I’ll make this one quick. I don’t have much time to mourn, because it’s midterm week in the Bronx, and I have to get prepared.

It’s been 21 years since the Pittsburgh Pirates have had a winning season, let alone a playoff appearance. I won’t spend much time listing all the things that have happened since then and now, but suffice it to say that it’s been a long time coming.

I wrote for IHeartPGH this summer, hoping to give a die-hard fan’s perspective on the Pirates. I’ll boil down my perspective to this: I want 82. Man, I’ve wanted 82 more than I’ve ever wanted the Steelers to win the Super Bowl, the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup, or just about anything else that I could ever want. In 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates won their 82nd game on September 9th. I didn’t yell all that loud about it, (except on Twitter) and then, for the first time in my entire life, I started to seriously think about the Pittsburgh Pirates as playoff contenders. And they kept winning games. Between September 9th and September 23rd, the Pirates had won 12 more games. They had guaranteed that Pittsburgh—and, more importantly, that PNC Park—would at last see a playoff game. On October 1st, 2013, they clinched at least two more playoff games in the Steel City, and I only wished that I could have been there. I’ve put everything on hold to watch the Bucs as closely as I could in the past week, and I’ve never been more proud of my team or of my city.

As I’m writing this, Pedro Alvarez has been retired as the last out of the 2013 season, and I’m sad that it couldn’t go on longer, but I can’t deny that I’m at least somewhat pleased with the result. The Pirates have staged an amazing baseball renaissance in the city of Pittsburgh. Frankly, it sucks that the city can’t get more reacquainted with fall baseball, but we don’t have much time to mourn. Baseball’s back in Pittsburgh, and we have to get prepared for 2014.


A Football Town With a Soccer Problem

Despite three Stanley Cups championships and five World Series titles to its name, Pittsburgh is undeniably a football town. Every time Monday Night Football comes to town, Pittsburghers are treated to hearing ESPN’s crew praising our city’s blue-collar work ethic, as well as noting how that work ethic is reflected in our football team. They’re not wrong. The Steelers have a unique bond with their city that few other teams in the NFL, let alone in the whole of professional sports, can claim. For example, the Terrible Towel, originally a tool for supporting the Steelers, has become just as strongly associated with the city as a whole.

Surprisingly enough, this won’t wind up being a post about football, so much as it’ll be about fútbol. Considering Pittsburgh’s passion for the sports world (maybe “passion” is the wrong word to describe our relationship with the Pirates in the last twenty years, but bear with me), it surprises me that our own Pittsburgh Riverhounds don’t get more in the way of love from the ‘Burgh’s historically spirited fanbase.

Okay, fine. Maybe it’s not all that surprising. Most Americans—not just Pittsburghers—have had a tense relationship with the game of soccer since we gave up the game in grade school. (Admit it, you only played for the orange slices at halftime. I know I did). I get it. You want touchdowns and home runs. Even hockey goals are more exciting than soccer goals, partially because you know the names of the guys who are scoring them, and partially because the powers that be have made it impossible for hockey games to end in a tie. Ties are boring, and any game that offers the outcome of neither a win nor a loss must also be boring. Period. End of discussion.

Hold on a second. The Steel Army would like a word with you. On Sunday, I headed down to Station Square to see the Riverhounds square off against Antigua Barracuda FC. The Hounds trounced Antigua, by a score of 4-1, but the highlight for me was the passionate supporters group who gathered on the bleachers behind the goal line, and spent nearly the entire game shouting, chanting, singing, beating drums, waving flags, and generally stirring up a ruckus, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen on a sustained level at a professional sporting event. Sure, every once in a while someone will get a good chant going, (“Let’s Go Bucs, “Let’s Go Pens,” “Here We Go Steelers,” etc.) and I won’t deny that 65,000 people waving Terrible Towels in unison is a pretty exciting sight to see, but it always seems that, eventually, stadiums are awash in a “Too Cool to Care” attitude, and the fan participation dies down after about a minute and a half. What I witnessed on Sunday in Highmark Stadium (the capacity of which is around 4,000 bodies) was almost a full 90 minutes of unabashed engagement, from truly passionate fans. The Steel Army takes its cues from traditional English supporters, (no hooligans though, as far as I could tell, so feel free to bring the kids) and even though their numbers are significantly smaller, they make up for it by being very loud and very invested in the outcome of the game. I get the feeling that if you spent some time with the Army, you’d become just as invested. Even if you don’t see the appeal of soccer as a game, or if you don’t understand it completely, I’ve said it before: there’s something exciting about a group of people bonding over city pride, and the Army has city pride in droves.

One of the banners found in the Steel Army supporters section

One of the banners found in the Steel Army supporters section

If I still haven’t convinced you by way of my “passionate soccer hooligans” argument, (even though they really do seem like lovely people) at least do yourself a favor and go check out the stadium. Situated in Station Square, Highmark Stadium opens out onto the Monongahela River and offers a really awesome view of the Point that faces opposite Heinz Field and PNC Park on the Allegheny. The Hounds carry their ten game unbeaten streak (unfortunately, that does include ties) into a match against the Charlotte Eagles on the Fourth of July at 7:00 PM. Tickets start at $9.50. What better way to celebrate your country’s independence than with cheap semi-professional soccer? Then, toward the end of July, (July 19th, to be exact) Wigan Athletic comes to town. For those who are unfamiliar, Wigan Athletic is a club from across the pond in Merrie Olde England. They’re also the reigning FA Cup champions, which is kind of a big deal. Think March Madness multiplied by eleven or so. Every football club in England (all 758 of them) automatically qualifies, then they duke it out for the oldest association football championship in the world. So now the victorious Latics are bringing the FA Cup to Pittsburgh, and would probably be missing out if they weren’t given the whole Pittsburgh sports experience that one might receive at a Steelers, Pirates or Penguins game.

But if you really must avoid the association football, you can head down on July 3rd  at 6:30 PM for a free concert and a great view of the Three Rivers Regatta Fireworks show. At least you can be sure that the fireworks won’t end in a tie.

Steel of the Week: Yinzer Bingo

This week’s featured Steel of the Week is Yinzer Bingo by John the Craftist. Seen at Boutique 208, you are sure to get a kick out of this unique bingo card if you are from the Pittsburgh area. All the spaces on the card are relevant to the area, such as “Road Work”, “Pothole”, “Terrible Towel”, “Big Ben Jersey”, with some of the more culturally unique ones being ”Pgh Left”, “Jean Shorts”, “Confusing Intersection”, “80s Bangs”, and “Jagoff”. John the Craftist’s products mostly consist of PGH-centric/Pittsburghese greeting cards, along with magnets, keychains, buttons, gift tags, and other small paper craft items. Zodiac birthday cards are also available. All the products are handprinted, handcut, and hand-folded by John the Craftist, who is actually Thea Okonak of Aspinwall.Yinzer Bingo


Along with Boutique 208, John’s stockists include The Mattress Factory Museum, The Shop at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Wildcard in Lawrenceville, Koolkat Designs in Mt. Lebanon, and Nota Bene in Aspinwall. John also vends at he I Made It! Market events, and this past year sold with Koolkat Designs at the Three Rivers Arts Festival and with Steeltown Etsy at Handmade Arcade.

You can get a first look at new cards by checking out the Facebook page, http://facebook.com/johnthecraftist. This is where you can also find out the next vending location and interact to give feedback or stories about the products you’ve enjoyed!

Have an item you would like featured as our Steel of the Week? Submit to sotw@iheartpgh.com!

4 More Days – Seattle Steelers Fans Getting Ready for Sunday

Yesterday, I headed over to the Hollywood Theater in Dormont to check out Davy & Pete Rothbart’s My Heart Is An Idiot Found Tour.

Davy Rothbart started Found 10 years ago to share the best of found notes, items, even grocery receipts.  My Heart Is An Idiot is the name of Davy Rothbart’s new book which hit bookshelves yeterday.  Pittsburgh was the first stop on their 79 city tour (if you are reading this and live in one of the other 78 cities on the tour – I highly recommend you spend an evening with the Rothbarts).    Davy shared some of his favorite found notes and his brother Pete performed some songs inspired by found notes. (And a huge thanks to Davy and the Found team for giving us some tickets to giveaway).

So what does this have to do with the Steelers… this morning I was scanning my Facebook feed and I was inspired to share this Facebook status message – I think it eloquently and accurately sums up how many Pittsburghers are feeling.

The following was posted by my friend Justin – we went to grade school together here in Pittsburgh.  He now lives in Seattle and through the magic of Facebook we keep in touch about all things Pittsburgh.

4 more days until the best football team on the planet kicks off it’s season, I start wearing black and yellow everyday, Wiz Khalifa goes on repeat…

But most importantly, my The Pittsburgh Steelers family reunites and begins on the Stairway to 7.  Lets do this!

Here we go!

from Dino's Foursquare Page

Should you find your self in the Seattle area in need of a place to watch the Steeler game – Dino’s is the place.  I have confirmed that some actually native Pittsburghers will be there for the first game of the season and likely every other game this season as well.

Dino's Pub on Urbanspoon

And because you are probably about to google this song any ways – here is a little black & yellow to help you make it til Sunday.

Where will you be watching the game on Sunday?