I know the exact moment on November 30, 1997, when I stopped rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It wasn’t their fault. In fact, they won the game that prompted the breakup.
No acceptable reason existed for my devotion to the team with the Terrible Towels. I didn’t grow up in western Pennsylvania, or anywhere in PA, for that matter. In his DNA, my father did not pass Steelers fandom down to me along with pasty skin and a love for lamb sandwiches on toasted rye bread.
No, I became a Steelers fan when the bandwagon stopped in front of my house.
The first National Football League game I remember watching was the 1976 Super Bowl between the defending champion Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys, a.k.a. the Lynn Swann game. Had Dallas won, I probably would’ve asked Santa for a white, number #88 Drew Pearson jersey. Instead, I got a black, #88 Swann jersey.
In 1983, my Steelers fanaticism nearly got my dad into a parking lot brawl prior to the last football game ever played at Shea Stadium, as drunk Jets fans spewed profanity at his thirteen-year old son sporting head to toe black and gold. Clueless, I happily raced to the entrance, as my old man exchanged glares with the locals. (The Steelers won, by the way. Somewhere in my old bedroom at my parents’ house is the game program featuring Jack Lambert on the cover.)
But on November 30, 1997 a new passion collided with an old one and I emerged from the wreckage a changed man.
The Steelers played the Arizona Cardinals in the desert. I watched the game in the living room of the house I owned in South Bend, Indiana, with two of my roommates and two other buddies, one of whom is named Ed. (All of us graduated from Notre Dame, and returned for various jobs a few years later. You may have heard about my gig.) Ed is the type of buddy every group has, where you stay friends with him in spite of him. We asked him to join our fantasy football league because… wait, we never actually asked him. He had been there sixteen months earlier when I’d drunkenly suggested we start a league and, well, unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg, it’s tough to not include everybody who was present when the idea was hatched.
On that last Sunday in November 1997, Ed and I were locked in a tight fantasy battle while my beloved Steelers were locked in a tight real battle; the game headed into overtime at Arizona. Nervously, I watched as quarterback Kordell Stewart guided his Steelers into field goal range. With the ball marked at the Cardinal 10-yard line in the mathematical center of the field, victory was assured. “All we need to do is take a knee and kick the field goal,” I astutely explained to anyone listening, which was nobody.
But then a strange thing occurred: Kordell Stewart did not take a knee. Instead, he handed the ball off to my fellow Notre Dame alum Jerome Bettis. Apparently, Coach Bill Cowher was not entrusting his fate to some pansy kicker. No, sir, he bet his spit on his workhorse.
The Bus, in turn, ran right and followed his blockers into THE FUCKING END ZONE!!! AMAZING! HALLELUJAH!
I leapt from the couch, exultant. Pounding my hands together hard enough to hurt, I noticed my annoying friend Ed doing the same. With a wrinkled brow, I turned to the Chicago native and lifelong Bears fan and asked, “Why do you care that the Steelers won?”
Recalling his smug smile just made me want to swallow a Terrible Towel. He raised a victorious arm. “I won, too.”
My brain’s computer could not process that information. Unfortunately, the guys in the living room caught on before I did, a fact they still bring up from time to time, i.e. every time they see me.
Ed beamed. “I’ve got Bettis. And that TD just beat you!”
Ooomph. My buddies’ cackles still echo in my nightmares.
My loyalty to the real team had blinded me to the very real vulnerability faced by my fantasy team. My internal warning system should have been blinking red with a DEFCON 5 (or is it 1 that’s the worst? I never remember) intensity. Sir! If the Steelers choose to bypass the field goal in favor of a completely unnecessary touchdown… doomsday! Instead, I unplugged the 9-volt battery that apparently runs my brain and suffered a mortal blow to my bravado.
At that very moment, I decided I could be a Pittsburgh Steeler fan OR I could play fantasy football. But I could not do both.
Just got back from my league’s 19th draft.
In 2011, I coldly bet, er, “invested” on Green Bay in the Super Bowl and rejoiced when they covered. Sorry, Steelers.
Oh, and as commissioner, I kicked Ed out of our fantasy league in 2001.
Jamie Reidy is an author who set a New Jersey record for INTs and dropped TD’s in high school. Follow him on Twitter at @JamieReidy, where you’ll discover this IS his first rodeo.
A note from Fantasy Lead, Jay Marks (@FFHottieAsst): As with many in my fantasy football world, I became e-friends with Jamie Reidy via Twitter. I soon discovered he knows a good deal about football, the film industry and Viagra. Yep. Google him to find out more.