View Full Version : New generation embraces parents' Steelers passion

09-10-2009, 06:20 AM
New generation embraces parents' Steelers passion
By John Dudley
Jim Noe grew up in the heyday of the Pittsburgh Steelers' run of four Super Bowl championships in five years during the 1970s.

Most Sundays during the playoffs, he would spend the morning playing pickup hockey games on the frozen pond at his uncle's camp in North East, then huddle around the television with the rest of his family to watch the games later in the day.
When Noe, a 42-year-old Albion resident, watches the Steelers with his two teenage sons now, those memories return.

"It's kind of neat to be able to share that," said Noe, who plans to watch tonight when the Steelers open defense of their latest Super Bowl title in a nationally televised season opener against the Tennessee Titans. "It seems like you're starting to see a lot more Steelers stuff around now, especially on kids, than you did maybe 10 years ago."
More than two decades after winning the last of their four Super Bowl titles in the '70s, the Steelers are cultivating a new generation of loyal fans.

Too young to remember Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann, they pull on their Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward jerseys and, like their fathers and grandfathers before them, twirl Terrible Towels on Sunday afternoons.

One of them is Millcreek Township resident Kyle O'Connell, 13, who became a Steelers fan when his family relocated from the Scranton area about seven years ago.
O'Connell owns three Steelers jerseys, has plastered his bedroom with posters of his favorite players and has a collection of trading cards that includes nearly every member of the team's active roster.

Recently, he has gained the upper hand on his father and brother, who are fans of the New England Patriots, one of the Steelers' chief rivals in the American Football Conference.

"I just tell them, 'Look at the scoreboard,' " said O'Connell, an eighth-grader at Walnut Creek Middle School. "When I first moved here, it seemed like almost everyone at school was a Steelers fan, and now it seems like there are even more."
It doesn't hurt that the only NFL team with a local fan base to rival that of the Steelers has been awful since returning to the league as an expansion franchise in 1999.
The Cleveland Browns once routinely went toe-to-toe on the field with the Steelers, but now the series is almost totally one-sided. The Steelers have won the past 11 meetings dating to 2003.

Since 2001, the Steelers have won 85 games and lost only 42 and added two more Super Bowl titles to their record total of six.
Thanks to that success, says Millcreek resident and lifelong Steelers fan Dan Bensur, an entire generation of fans has grown up with no memory of what he calls the franchise's lean years.

From the mid 1980s through the early 1990s, the Steelers were fiercely mediocre, never winning more than nine games in a season during that span.
Bensur says his own children -- daughters Gabriella, 19; Julia, 16; and Blaine, 13 -- have never had to experience that pain.

"They've really been fortunate," said Bensur, who takes his family to at least one game each year at Heinz Field. "They've grown up with expectations of making the playoffs, of having success, of going deep in the playoffs."

Gabriella Bensur has even discovered an enclave of Steelers fans at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where she is a sophomore.

They gather on Sundays to watch games and, throughout the week, track Steelers news on the Internet or through updates on their cell phones.
That instant access to seemingly limitless information, Bensur says, is perhaps the single biggest difference between past generations of Steelers fans and this one.
"As a kid, I didn't know anything about the players," Bensur said. "They were larger-than-life personas that we saw on TV, but that was it. Now we know so much about these guys it's amazing. I know someone who lives near Troy Polamalu in Pittsburgh, and people ask him, 'What's he like?' They're just real people."

For Millcreek resident Ed Cleary, watching the Steelers with his two sons is dj vu.
Cleary grew up in Pittsburgh's South Hills neighborhood in the 1970s.
His father and grandfather were at Three Rivers Stadium when Steelers running back Franco Harris made what would later become known as the "Immaculate Reception" during a 1972 playoff game against the Oakland Raiders, a play that helped the Steelers to their first postseason win in four decades and launched the team's Super Bowl run.

His sons Andrew, 13, and Brandon, 11, have grown up watching Roethlisberger and Polamalu lead the team to two titles in the past four seasons.
"It's kind of strange, but I kind of compare the whole era to the 'Rocky' movies," Cleary said. "My dad took me to see the first 'Rocky' when the Steelers were really good back in the '70s, and I took Andrew and Brandon to see the newest 'Rocky' when it came out (in 2005), and now the Steelers are good again. It's like history has repeated itself."
Not surprisingly, Steelers fans remain optimistic on the heels of the team's 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII in February.

Many core players are entering the prime years of their careers, and the franchise continues to be among the most stable, well-run organizations in professional sports.
"They have a few young guys like (wide receiver) Limas Sweed, (running back) Rashard Mendenhall and (linebacker) Lawrence Timmons who need to step up and show they can play," said Millcreek resident Rick Sienerth, a lifelong Steelers fan who passed his love of the team on to his two children. "But honestly, I think they could be even better than last year."

JOHN DUDLEY can be reached at 870-1677 or by e-mail. Check out his Fifth Quarter football blog at GoErie.com/blogs/nfl.

09-10-2009, 07:38 AM
My daughter is 12 and i've had her to TRS,Heinz,PNC and the igloo already. She is true blue Pittsburgh!

09-10-2009, 09:57 AM
My mom is the reason I became a Steelers fan - she wouldn't let me root for any team other than the black and gold.