And they don’t mean just this week, when the Pittsburgh Steelers
are in town to play the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl. The
Tampa Bay area is loaded with western Pennsylvania transplants, and
that means it’s loaded with Iron City beer, pierogi and Steelers
“I have a whole drawer full of flags,” says Beckie Veronesi,
whose husband grew up in the Pittsburgh area. “He has close
to 50 or 75 Steelers hats. Not a day goes by when he doesn’t
have something Steelers on.”
Throw in the Steelers supporters arriving from points north to go
to the game — or who just have a yearning to party and watch
it on TV here — and the Super Bowl atmosphere is starting to
take on a home-game vibe for the Pittsburghers.
“They’re the most dedicated fans of any sport I’ve
ever seen, and I’ve been around universities,” says former
New Yorker Bernie O’Brien, whose O’Brien’s Irish
Pub in north Tampa has been home to the local chapter of the Black
and Gold Club for more than a decade. ESPN.com agrees, choosing Steeler
fans as the best in the NFL last year.
The phone at O’Brien’s has barely stopped ringing since
the Steelers won the AFC Championship game Jan. 18. Most of the calls
are from Pittsburgh-area people who want to come down. “Nobody
has tickets, they’re not even asking me for tickets,” O’Brien
says. “They just want to come here to watch the game here.”
Another “Steelers bar” is right down the road, owned
by Johnstown, Pa., native Chris “Tank” Jaksec, who has
the Steelers logo tattooed on one of his arms. His place, Tank’s
Tap Room, is one of more than 30 establishments in the Tampa Bay
area where Pittsburgh fans gather on football Sundays. Jaksec also
has been taking call and after call from folks who are coming to
town and want to be among their Steelers brethren.
“They’re having an ice storm there, and it’s 82
here. Any more questions?” laughs 55-year-old Marco Kier, who
drove down from Mars, Pa., with a buddy earlier in the week.
Pittsburgh-area TV and radio stations are doing live broadcasts
from O’Brien’s and Tank’s this week. Both places
are stocking up on Iron City, the preferred brew of the Steelers
Bob Purvis, 41, grew up in Beaver, Pa., and now lives just outside
of Tampa. He reckons the loyalty of Steelers fans stems partly from
the longtime ownership of the team by the Rooney family. Owner Dan
Rooney is seen as an approachable, regular guy who cares about the
fans. In other words, he’s one of them.
“It’s not just a logo or a corporation,” Purvis
says. “It’s something that’s been passed down through
the generations.” Folks wearing the red of the Arizona Cardinals
may be a little harder to find among the sea of black and gold on
the streets of Tampa this weekend. Brian Dragos is one die-hard who
will be flying cross-country to be here. He grew up in Minnesota
but has been a Cards fan since they moved to Arizona two decades
“It may be our once in a lifetime shot,” the 51-year-old
Chandler, Ariz., resident says.
He acknowledges that his team lacks the rich tradition and fanatical
fan following of the Steelers, but “just like our team, we’re
learning how to win.” Dragos says he’s fully prepared
to be outnumbered by Steelers fans on the streets and in the stadium.
That even happens at Cardinals’ home games sometimes.
“I think the Steelers have five Super Bowls, we have zero,” he
says. “I think our average record is 4-12. That doesn’t
build a very big fan base.”
Faith Mixes with Football for the Super Bowl