It’s been a very difficult few months for me Steeler Nation. After a relatively short but very hard fought battle I lost my father to lymphoma a few weeks ago. Nothing will ever be the same but I’ve been trying to get back to some normalcy in my life and reaffirm my love for writing about the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s been difficult to get back into it, I have to be honest. I can’t think about the Steelers without thinking of my father. The Steelers have always been a huge part of my family and my life and quite possibly the biggest aide in that transition we all go through in our relationships with our parents from childhood to adulthood. Being able to sit with my dad and talk for hours on end about the Steelers was something very special to me. I loved giving him updates on the news I heard and loved that he valued my opinion and acknowledged long ago that his little girl new her stuff when she talked football.
To put it into perspective on how I can make a statement that I can’t think about the Steelers without thinking of my Dad, especially when my father never played or even worked for the organization, is to explain that in our family we are all born Steeler fans. My twin sister and I were Steeler fans in the womb as my mom was pregnant with us just after the last Super Bowl of the 70’s and my grandfather declared that we were to be the next great quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers (this was of course before the age of 3d sonograms so they just assumed we were 1 boy instead of 2 girls). My older sister had her picture in the newspaper as a baby dressed head to toe in Steelers garb with a Terrible Tower and a picture of the Super Bowl X Champion Steelers. Even though my dad ended up with 3 daughters and no sons, he still raised us all to love Steelers football just as much as he did.
In 2004 I was dead set on getting to see a Steelers game with my dad. I scoured eBay for tickets to see them play in Miami just a few hours away from where we lived. I found great seats and surprised him with the tickets for Father’s Day that year. Unfortunately, that year was a busy year for Florida in terms of hurricanes. Early in the week we heard reports that Hurricane Jeanne was making her way across Florida, over the weekend. Oddly enough the NFL was really dragging their feet about making a decision to cancel or postpone the Steelers @ Dolphins game that was to be played at 1:00 on Sept. 25th. That was just fine with me as I was unwilling to accept that we were not going to the game. It was supposed to be my first game with my Dad and I wasn’t giving it up for some stupid storm. My dad was unwilling to leave my mom behind (on account of the huge hurricane on its way and all) so we all piled up in the car and headed to south Florida, right into the eye of the storm. We were able to find a hotel open with a restaurant that night and my dad and I were going to make our way to the stadium first thing in the morning to get a ticket for my mom. The absurdity of the trip was not lost on us, traveling towards a hurricane just to see a football game. There were a lot of laughs on that trip. We survived the night in the hotel, hearing the downpours and strong wind gusts outside our window. Thankfully the game was just postponed to an evening game and not cancelled. My dad and I made our way to the stadium in the morning to get a ticket for my mom to join us. I’ll never forget driving down Dan Marino Blvd and my dad beaming with pride telling me how awesome it must be for a local kid like Marino to have a street named after him a thousand miles away from home. We went to a local sports bar after getting the ticket for my mom to watch the early afternoon games together. We made our way to the stadium for the game as more feeder bands of rain from the storm covered the sloppy field for Big Ben’s first NFL start. My god was that an awful game. The final score was 13-3, with the lone touchdown coming from a diving catch by Hines Ward. We sat in our seats and got drenched by the rain and I made them stay until the last tick of the clock. It was, and still is, one of the best times I’ve ever had at a Steeler game.
My dad was able to make it to a whole lot more games than me. After he retired from the Navy, going to sporting events was one of his favorite things to do. For my sister’s and my birthday a couple years ago, I saw when the schedule was released that the Steelers played in Miami again the day before our birthday. I immediately requested tickets to the game as my birthday present. Bear in mind this was March when the NFL schedule was released, but I was just making sure that I would get to go to that game. My dad spent months never confirming to me that he got the tickets and wanted me to kiss up to him whenever I saw him. I would find new and interesting ways to say “You’re amazing!” in any conversation with him for about 6 months straight, knowing that he definitely bought the tickets but just playing along. The day we were leaving for Miami was a couple days before our birthday. We went over to our parents’ house to pick up the tickets and birthday cards and my dad had a large envelope for me. He made a point to tell me to open that one first and gave a smaller card to my sister. I just assumed he was still messing with me and put the tickets in an oversized envelope. I opened it to find a large cardboard sign that read, “I need tickets” and my dad laughing his ass off. The tickets were in the smaller card he had handed to my sister.
When my dad got sick, his condition grew worse very quickly. He was intubated within 3 days of being admitted into the hospital and placed in a chemically paralyzed state after just 4 days. His lungs were so weak that his only chance was to let the ventilator completely take over his breathing. He was paralyzed for 45 days. When he finally came out of it and woke up there was definitely some times where he was disoriented and confused, especially as to how long he had been there. One thing he kept asking for was football. Although we kept telling him it was too early, and I’d give him the countdown to the second till the Sept. 9th kickoff, he still asked to watch the Steelers on a pretty regular basis. When we got to bring him home to spend his final days with us, we stumbled across the 2003 Wild Card Playoff game between the Steelers and Browns on the NFL Network. My mom quickly got his favorite Steelers t-shirt (that didn’t even really qualify as a shirt any longer with all the holes in it) and cut the back open to replace his hospital gown with it. He was finally at home watching his beloved Steelers. He tugged on his shirt and looked right at my mother and said “You cut this?!”
I want to thank Steeler Nation and especially the writers of NPC for the kindness and support they’ve shown me over the past few months. When you feel the kind of love I’ve been getting from people I’ve never actually met in person, you realize just how special this thing we’re a part of is. I know my dad would want me to continue doing what I love and continue to share my smart ass remarks about football with people so that’s just what I intend to do. I thank you for indulging me as I share just some of my Steeler memories of my hero, my buddy, my mentor, my Dad.
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