I'm not the world's foremost pro football fan.
Baseball's my game of choice.
But there's something about having a strong local team ("our" New England Patriots), not to mention having a kick-butt 46" flat screen TV to watch a game on, that's got me watching more football games than is my norm. (Where my historic norm is pretty much zero per year.)
Despite the Pats not having made the play-offs (despite a season's record far superior to the Arizona Cardinals, who are representing the NFC in this year's showdown; and despite having whomped those Arizona Cardinals during the regular season), I have watched quite a few of the post-season games this year, and most have been interesting and exciting.
Super Bowl this year has the Cardinals up against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I'll be watching. And rooting for the Steelers.
Sure, there are some good story lines on the Cardinals part: this would be the franchise's first championship since the 1947 season. (I use the word "franchise" here, since this crew has moved around. They were originally in Chicago, then moved to St. Louis, then decamped to Phoenix.) The same family's owned them for eons, which is a plus in my book. But in this respect, they are not unlike the Steelers, so this plus gets neutralized. The Cardinals are the underdogs, and I tend to like underdogs. And I do enjoy watching their wide-receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, at work. Wow! Finally, I have more relatives in Arizona (my brother Tom, my sister-in-law Betsey, and my cousins Mary Pat and Michael) than I do in Pennsylvania (zero family members).
But all this doesn't combine to make me want to root for the Cardinals.
For a number of reasons (10, in fact), I'm rooting for Pittsburgh:
- They play in the cold. I have no idea where football was invented, but I'll bet it was in some nasty weather place. Maybe not Green Bay, Wisconsin. But someplace like that. So I've come to believe that real football is played in weather: cold, snowy, miserable weather. Buffalo weather. New England weather. Pittsburgh weather. And if you're a cold weather team, you'd better be playing outdoors if you want me to be a fan. Maybe playing in a dome kept the Indianapolis Colts out of it this year. (Wusses!) Maybe playing in a dome is responsible for the Detroit Lions record-breaking 0-16 record. Yes, I know that Super Bowl is always played in some warm weather (or domed) destination site. Still, real teams play real football in real weather.
- Their stadium is named for something real. Speaking of real, the Steelers play in Heinz Field - as in Heinz ketchup. The Cardinals play in University of Phoenix Stadium, which is named for a virtual university that doesn't have a football team. And naturally, it's domed.
- They've stayed put. Unlike the Cardinals, who've been something of vagabonds, the Steelers have always been in Pittsburgh. As a stay-at-home, native New Englander, I'm down with that. Rather than snowbird it down to Arizona, the Steelers have been true to their home town.
- Oh, that lunch bucket name. They may no longer make steel in Pittsburgh, but the image of men of iron, forging steel with their bare hands, sweltering over Bessemer ovens, that the name Steelers conveys... What a great name for football team. (The only equivalent is the Green Bay Packers.) It's a harken back kind of name, isn't it? Harkening back to the days when we actually made tangible stuff in the good old U.S. of A., rather than just dream up financial instruments. (I don't think we'll ever have a football team named the "Credit Default Swappers.")
- Oh, that lunch bucket logo. I'm trying to think of another team logo that's also the former logo of a company (US Steel) and is now the logo of an industry. Sure, it does have a kind of jazzy, 1950's-1960's feel to it, but, hey, in those days, we still made tangible stuff, etc., etc.
- Oh, that lunch bucket town. Yes, I know, Pittsburgh has high tech, financial services, bio-med, and all the other modern industries. But, come on, don't you still think steel mill, coal mine, blue collar, Deer Hunter? I'm also thinking hilly and ethnic. All of which, of course, reminds me of Worcester and other places that people are actually from. Whereas when you think Phoenix, you're thinking desert, sprawl, and people fleeing cold.
- Their ultra basic color combination. My personal preference for team colors are those that use the basic color pallet. Here, the Cardinal's do just fine: can't get much more basic than red and white. But I hate the color combos that include fancy-ass colors like teal. Steelers have black and gold. Just the basics. Not my favorite colors, but good for them that they haven't tried to fancy things up for themselves.
- Pittsburgh's baseball team is terrible. Well, who wouldn't rather have a great baseball team than a great football team? I know, I know, the answer is football fans. Given how lousy the Pirates are, the Pittsburgh fans deserve a win - even if, for baseball fans, it's second best.
- The owner walks to work. Dan Rooney, son of the original owner, by the way, still lives in the same house - in the city - he was brought up in. It's a 10 minute walk from Heinz Field, so the boss can walk to work. This also means that at least some other Pittsburgh fans can get to the game via shanks mare, and don't have to get in their cars and drive out to some suburban sprawl-ville to watch their team.
- Pittsburgh: city of my dreams. Unless you count a stop-over in Pittsburgh Airport, I've never been to the city. But for years I had a recurring dream that involved being on a bridge at the confluence of the Alleghany, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. I have no idea where the dream came from. I haven't had it in years. But I've never had a dream about being in Phoenix, even though I've been there in real life. Go figure. It must mean something....
So, despite the fact that Rush Limbaugh is a Steelers' fan, that's why I'm rooting for Pittsburgh on Sunday.
In truth, of course, I will neither shed tears nor lose sleep over the outcome of this game. It's just that I don't understand how anyone can watch a sporting event and not pick one side to cheer for. Even when I'm watching a game where I'm 100% indifferent to the result, I always end up picking a side.
This time, I know going in that my side's Pittsburgh. But if it's going to be the Cardinals, I'm picking Larry Fitzgerald for MVP.