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Old 12-08-2006, 04:26 AM   #1
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Default Die-hard Fans Show Up

Losing records, lousy weather didn't stop die-hard fans from showing up
Friday, December 08, 2006

By Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



The parking lot outside Heinz Field had the feel and look of a North Pole landscape even before Connie Walsh spiced up her tailgate party with a Christmas tree and hung stockings with care around a faux fireplace.

"We don't need these Thursday night games. But if there's one good thing that came out of this season, we won't have to worry about crazy start times next year. Nobody will schedule us," she laughed. "That's OK. We'll regroup."

The homemade ornaments that the fan known as Steeler Connie placed on the tree were gold stars, because no matter what the record is, and no matter how low the temperature plummets on game night, the Steelers are still stars in her book.

Last night's game was the 110th meeting between the Browns and Steelers, including playoffs, and the only thing more bitter than the arctic weather that gripped the stadium has been the rivalry between two cities connected by proximity and a blue-collar legacy.

There was a bit of history involved. With a 27-7 win over the Browns, the Steelers evened the all-time series at 55-55. The Browns have held the edge in the series since it started in 1950.

This edition had some unique wrinkles, starting with the night of the week it was played. For the first time, the NFL is carrying a series of late-season games on its own network, which led to this Thursday night game in December. It was 20 degrees at game time, but a swirling 12-mph wind made it seem much more frigid. Ears, noses or fingers that were exposed for longer than 30 minutes in these conditions would be subject to frostbite.

The coldest temperature for the start of a game at Heinz Field was 11 degrees for the AFC championship game against New England on Jan. 23, 2005. The coldest temperature ever for the start of a home game was 5 degrees on Dec. 17, 1989, also against New England.

Just about everybody who bundled up for last night's game was aware that the forecast for Sunday calls for sunny skies and a high of 46 degrees. But this is the new NFL.

A light snowfall and the mid-week night game conspired to create a traffic nightmare, too. With commuters trying to leave Downtown and fans trying to get to the stadium, traffic was snarled. Among those who got caught in traffic were the officials for the game, although they did arrive in time for kickoff.

Many fans weren't so lucky. With convoys of cars moving at a snail's pace on icy roads and bridges, ticket-holders were stuck in traffic. They were still streaming through the gates well into the first half.

The attendance was a relatively light 55,246, or 8,253 below the season average.

Both teams had losing records entering the game, but the Browns-Steelers rivalry rivals playoff intensity no matter the stakes. The die-hard fans who shunned their TV sets to shiver in the stands embraced the conditions.

"This is the perfect scenario for Cleveland and Pittsburgh," said M.J. Burger. "All we need is a white-out during the game."

The playing surface at Heinz Field was devoid of grass between the hash marks, and comparisons to a sandlot setting were obvious. But it doesn't matter when or where the Browns and Steelers play, it matters that they play. The clouds of visible breath being exhaled by opposing linemen added to an atmosphere in which Terrible Towels doubled as facial scarves.

Husbands, wives, cousins and best friends get caught up in their respective allegiances. Take the case of Randy Antonio of Cleveland, who went to the game with his best friend, Stan Hesketh of Johnstown. Dressed in their respective team's colors, they talked about the weather all during the drive to the stadium, but there was no consideration given to watching it in a more comfortable setting.

"There's nothing like being at this game in person," said Mr. Antonio, who braved nasty weather and poor road conditions for the two-hour drive that defines the Turnpike Rivalry.

Bone-chilling conditions did affect some business. Vendors and scalpers did little in the way of sales, and two young entrepreneurs peddling hoagies on the sidewalk along the Allegheny River had sold nary a sandwich.

A sense of humor helped fans get through the game -- either that or the polar cold affected thought processes. Halftime entertainment was provided by Carolina Rain, although Carolina Snow and Ice would have been more appropriate.

It's been a long and bumpy road since the Steelers opened up with a win against the Dolphins on a Thursday night that was a postcard for a perfect late summer night. Fans could cheer one last time for the Super Bowl winners back then. Nobody is blocking off dates for a victory parade this time around.

But such is the drawing power of the Steelers that they'll travel thousands of miles and brave a big chill even if their team has a snowball's chance in Hades of making the playoffs.

Alyssa Rosales, 19, was among four people who made the trek to the tundra from Tucson, Ariz., where the coldest temperature this year in the southwestern desert was 49 degrees.

"I love this weather," she said, noting that she had dressed in layers of thermals to ward off the cold. "We were hoping it snowed. All we get to see in Arizona is sunshine -- and the Cardinals. We'll take the Steelers in any kind of weather."
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Old 12-08-2006, 07:39 AM   #2
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Default Re: Die-hard Fans Show Up

As was the case at the 2001 AFC Championship game, every time I bought a beer, it froze. It was daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn cold. As with every Steeler game, it was worth every penny and shivering bone.

Despite temperatures in the teens, James Montgomery, of Washington, Pa., celebrates his return from active duty in Iraq, his 30th birthday and a double-digit Pittsburgh lead last night during the fourth quarter of the Steelers 27-7 victory over the Browns at Heinz Field.
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Old 12-08-2006, 07:49 AM   #3
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Default Re: Die-hard Fans Show Up

It was hard to hear what was happening where I was watching but we noticed all the people still filing in late and wondered if the roads were really bad. What a great game to have seen live. It had to be a blast to be there! Good for all of you who made it....wish I could have joined you!
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Old 12-08-2006, 07:52 AM   #4
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Hey - I give those who braved the cold and wind last night props - it was frigid out there with the wind chill added on to the already low temperature. Perfect football weather imho! Somehow, going to a preseason game in late August/early September just doesn't have the same oomph. I've sat at Heinz during a frigid game, but I don't think the cold affected me as much there as it did at TRS - now that was one damned cold stadium, even though there was no open end. My seats were on the river side and back when Pittsburgh used to get a lot of snow, it was so cold, my hair froze - LOL!
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Old 12-08-2006, 08:38 AM   #5
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Default Re: Die-hard Fans Show Up

I was at the game last night. That traffic was really bad. I left at about 5 or 5:30 and I couldn't make it inside until it was early second quarter. I can brag how I saw Willie Parker breaking the franchise rushing record. This game was worth it to see with my own eyes regardless what the weather was. This game would have been even better if it snowed a lot more.
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Old 12-08-2006, 08:43 AM   #6
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It took my sister an hour and a half to get from downtown Pittsburgh to the South Hills (Nevillewood) area. It was crazy.

I'm with you volkmire, I was hoping for a 2005 Steelers vs Bears weather showing. No luck. I hope that will be the case for the Ravens game on the 24th.
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Old 12-08-2006, 08:48 AM   #7
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Default Re: Die-hard Fans Show Up

"There's nothing like being at this game in person," said Mr. Antonio, who braved nasty weather and poor road conditions for the two-hour drive that defines the Turnpike Rivalry.

Amen. I actually agreed with a Browns fan.......I feel tainted.
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Old 12-08-2006, 10:47 AM   #8
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Default Re: Die-hard Fans Show Up

I hear ya, it was the coldest game that we have had in awhile. It was a good game to be at.
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Old 12-08-2006, 11:22 AM   #9
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Default Re: Die-hard Fans Show Up

We got to the stadium around 4 so we got throught he traffic. The bridges into pittsburgh were sheets of ice after the snow. It was absolutely freezing but it was my girlfriends first NFL game ever so we had a blast! I even got Brian St. Pierres auto on my hardhat!!
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Old 12-08-2006, 11:32 AM   #10
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Default Re: Die-hard Fans Show Up

Not to sound demanding but...

It would have been great to see the Browns' uniforms slicked up with mud. Hard to squeeze mud from a frozen field I guess.
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