Last Thursday evening, while packing for a road trip to Pittsburgh, I was causally watching the Pitt (College Football) game. Pitt (University of Pittsburgh/graduate school alma mater) was playing Virginia Tech. The game was important for a couple of reasons. One, Pitt started this season 3-0 but managed to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” and lose the next 3 games. Two, there’s a bit of a rivalry between Pitt and VATech.
Our daughter Faith and I were going to Pittsburgh to attend an NFL Monday Night Football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Houston Texans. We had also purchased tickets to an NHL Hockey game between the Pittsburgh Penguins (Pens) and the New York Islanders on Saturday night. About an hour south of Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon, my undergraduate alma mater West Virginia University (WVU) was hosting Baylor, a then undefeated team from Texas. As Pitt started to win, I had this silly notion and an odd feeling that all four teams were going to win.
I had no right to that feeling. Pitt’s odds hadn’t looked good before the game. WVU had no odds at all, they were going to lose. The Pens are a good team, but the Islanders were coming into town undefeated. And the Steelers?
The Steelers have been off their game for three long years. The team is rebuilding but trying not to let anyone know. It’s like when a hotel erects a highly decorated temporary wall around what used to be the lobby – “move along, nothing to see here.”
You know what’s coming. Yeah, WVU beat Baylor.
Unfortunately, WVU fans celebrated that amazing victory with a ridiculously stupid version of their signature response which is to burn something. That’s a story for a future post; this story is all about good news.
Faith and I were waiting in line for the hockey game when I checked ESPN ScoreCenter and saw that WVU had won. I said two things to Faith: “there are going to be fires in Morgantown tonight” and “I’m up for a sweep.” I explained my vision to her and added that “since the least likely team to win had won, the rest would be easy-peasy.”
The Islanders scored first, but the Pens came back to take the lead late in the 2nd period and then they sealed the deal in the 3rd period to win 3-1. Three up. Three down. 4-out-of-4 was within reach but the Steelers had to win.
On Monday, we walked around Pittsburgh’s Strip District, an old warehouse district turned eclectic public market. There are stores there that date back to before I was born, and there are stores and restaurants I never dreamed I’d see in Pittsburgh, let alone in what used to be a pretty tough part of town.
My father brought my brother and me with him to the Strip District numerous times when we were kids. My favorite memory is of when he bought 5# bags of pistachios at Stimoolis, a Greek food market that’s been on the Strip since 1912. Next to Stimoolis is the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company a.k.a. Penn Mac. We had to check out Penn Mac because my wife regularly orders Chipped Ham and Pierogies from them.
Chipped Ham is a Pittsburgh thing. Processed ham, sliced so thin that you kind of pile it on your sandwich instead of laying slice over slice. It was made famous by Isaly’s, but every neighborhood butcher knew how to slice that stuff.
We saw something else in the Strip District. Texans fans. Houston is a team the travels well, but I wasn’t expecting to see big bunches of fans walking around my hometown. I overheard some in a store, and realized that there was an entire tour’s worth of them staying in the same hotel as Faith and me.
What if we lost?
What if I had to get in an elevator, all decked out in Steelers gear with a bunch of celebrating Texans?
That couldn’t happen, right? I mean the (betting) line was even. Both teams were 3-3 and the Steelers had won 15 straight Monday Night Football games at home, dating back to 1991.
Walking over to Heinz Field, surrounded by people wearing black and gold was special; it was like I had come home. Actually, it was like I had never left. The game started badly for The Steelers. They couldn’t move the ball on offense and the defense looked like, as a guy in the row behind us yelled: “Swiss cheese!” As we approached halftime, Houston was up 13-0 and I was thinking about that elevator ride.
The Steelers scored a field goal. 13-3 wasn’t a great score but it would carry us into the 2nd half with hope. Then, in the span of 73 seconds, the Steelers were winning 24-13. You can click here for details, but we scored three touchdowns before the 1st half ended.
The 2nd half was normal NFL football. The officials robbed Antonio Brown of a touchdown, Houston scored, we scored, Houston threatened in the last 1:46 but they never made it past 24. The Steelers won 30-23 – team sweep complete.
Pictures – The upper picture is the Neville Island Bridge which carries I-79 over the Ohio River. We stayed on Neville Island the first night in Pittsburgh.