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Old 01-15-2011, 01:11 AM   #1
A Son of Martha

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Default Steelers fans arrive from far and wide

Steelers fans arrive from far and wide
By Rachel Weaver
Saturday, January 15, 2011

Stacey Call is swapping sun and sand this weekend for snow and Steelers.

Call, 39, of Letart, W.Va., is in Pittsburgh to watch her beloved football team take on the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional playoff at Heinz Field, instead of lounging in the Bahamas celebrating her five-year wedding anniversary.

"I'm probably the only wife alive that would do that," Call said with a laugh. "All my girlfriends keep saying, 'Are you crazy?' "

Call and her husband, Brad, originally planned a beach vacation to celebrate their Jan. 29 anniversary.

"I said, 'We have to go to Pittsburgh and see the boys,' " Call said. "He loves them, too; not as much as I do. He knows how I am. I offered him everything under the sun."

Call isn't the only one who made special plans to come to town. Some fans are coming from much farther away. Hotel managers in Pittsburgh said several international guests are checking in this weekend.

"We have a group coming from Mexico and a number of people coming from Canada," said Tom Hardy, general manager of the Sheraton Station Square. "There must be a large contingent of Steelers fans in Canada. Almost every home game, a large group comes down."

The tourism agency VisitPittsburgh predicts today's game will bring in $19.2 million for the local economy, including tickets, restaurants visits, retail spending and hotel expenses, said agency President Joe McGrath. That's $1 million more than the last time Pittsburgh hosted a playoff game in 2009 and about $4 million less than what the National Hockey League's Winter Classic generated this month.

Nino Sunseri, proprietor of Jimmy & Nino Sunseri's Italian foods in the Strip District, said his business gets international visitors for such events.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "A lot of people from other countries tend to be Steelers fans. It's about chasing your favorite team to the ultimate goal of the Super Bowl."

Bob Page, director of marketing for the Omni William Penn, Downtown, said the hotel is getting guests from Canada.

"They're also coming from all over the country," he said. "We have some coming from as far away as Spokane, Wash."

The business upswing is especially helpful in January, which typically is the slowest month, McGrath said.

Hits on visitpittsburgh.com increase "substantially" when the Steelers host a playoff game, McGrath said. It's estimated 10 percent of people at the game will be out-of-towners.

Fans at a Steelers rally at the Allegheny County Courthouse Friday were excited about visitors coming to town.

"It's good to show people the beauty of Pittsburgh," said Vince Ryan of Kennedy. "When you go away, you always hear how friendly it is here and how enthusiastic we are."

David Lassow, 44, traveled about 500 miles from Norwalk, Conn., for today's game. Lassow, who has family living in Monroeville, comes to town once a year and tries to bring someone who's never been to Pittsburgh.

"I grew up in Connecticut surrounded by the Patriots, Giants and Jets, but at Christmas, it was always about getting Steelers memorabilia," he said. "I grew up with them."

Meghan Murphy Woods, 34, traveled almost 600 miles from Columbia, S.C., with her family. Woods grew up in Mt. Washington and went to her first Steelers game with her father at age 4.

"I saw both AFC championships at home. I still get goose bumps when I think about it," she said.

If the Steelers win and the New England Patriots lose, Woods plans to stay in the Northeast; her brother, who has a wedding to attend, gave her his AFC championship ticket.

Let the betting commence

When the Steelers took on the Ravens in the 2009 playoffs, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl unofficially changed his name to Steelerstahl. This time, the mayor simply agreed to a friendly wager with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

If the Steelers lose, Ravenstahl will send to Baltimore a tray of sandwiches from Primanti Bros., Steelers-inspired Smiley cookies from Eat 'n Park and other Pittsburgh-based goodies.

Rawlings-Blake agreed to send a tray of crab cakes from Faidley's Seafood in Baltimore's historic Lexington Market if the Ravens lose.

The losing mayor must post a message to his or her Twitter and Facebook pages stating, "The (winning team) are superior to the (losing team)," and post a YouTube video talking about the winning team's superiority while wearing one of its jerseys.

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato saves any bets with opposing teams' towns for the Super Bowl.

But a few other locals are joining in on the betting.

Airport and mall directors at Pittsburgh International Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport issued a challenge. If the Steelers win, BWI directors will wear Pittsburgh players' jerseys and eat traditional Pittsburgh steak salads for lunch while waving Terrible Towels. If Baltimore wins, their counterparts in Pittsburgh must wear Baltimore's team attire while eating Maryland crab cakes.

Pittsburgh Catholic Bishop David Zubik and his counterpart in Baltimore have a wager. If the Ravens win, Zubik will make a personal donation to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. If Pittsburgh is victorious, Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of the Archdiocese of Baltimore will donate to Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh.

If the Steelers win, Zubik challenged O'Brien to wear a Steelers jersey and root for them through the Super Bowl. Zubik agreed to root for the Ravens and wear their jersey.

Rachel Weaver can be reached at rweaver@tribweb.com or 412-324-1403.
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