Me and my old man were watching the first Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowl. Mean Joe Green crushed Christian Roger Staubach and I screamed that I loved the Steelers forever. I loved LC Greenwood’s yellow sneakers. I loved Franco and his Italian army. I loved Rocky Bleier and the Vietnam story. I loved Stallworth for being there and Swann for being beautiful. I loved Jack Lambert for being the toughest dude and Dirt Winston for being named Dirt Winston. To watch the Steelers in the 70s was to experience gritty, hardnose beauty, which as always spoken to my soul.
I did get off on the rebel aspect of being a Steelers fan in Houston, Texas. This was the bum Phillips, Dan Pastorini, Earl Campbell era of the late 70s. Except for the Steelers they would have won the championship. Grown men would pull their trucks over and yell shit at me for wearing my Franco jersey. I went 4-1 in fistfights at school. The principal called me into the office and bitched at me for wearing black and gold on “Oiler Blue Friday.” Every Sunday my old man and his pals would cram on the couch. I would talk so much shit that they locked me outside on the porch. During the Steelers-Oilers 1978 AFC Championship game at Three Rivers—they pantsed me.
The Old Man got busted when I was in 6th grade. Ended up going down hard – getting 35 years for selling plants. (Fuck the drug war.) No more great football watching days with pop. Me, my ma and my sister moved to Albuquerque. Shitty times meant for another story.
I turned hardcore punk in the early 80’s. I hated football players. Spent my teenage years brawling with them. Add that the Steelers sucked and you’d figure I’d lose interest in the black and gold. But when you go to prison, time freezes. My old man’s best friend and last memories were watching football with me. (He secretly respected my rebellious fandom.) So we would talk about the Steelers. He’d always want to know what I thought about the team. A lot of times he’d call me collect from prison on a Sunday and we’d watch the game together.
I went bohemian in college, which is definitely anti-football. Art people scoff when you tell them that you’re going to watch the Steerlers wildcard game at the bar. I almost had to go into the football closet. But then I read Kerouac’s biography and A Fan’s Notes by Fred Exley. I didn’t have to hide anything. And truth is, I don’t know how you can claim to be a writer with something to say about America without knowing something about football. I spent Sundays in my college years watching games at 7B in the East Village.
Now, tonight, more than a mad decade later, I am going to that same 7B to meet Ted Hamm to watch the Steelers-Indy game. Everyone’s picking the Colts. They’re undefeated. They’ve got a great offense. Golden Boy Manning is unstoppable. But the one thing we got is grit. From Jack Lambert to Hines Ward, we’ve always been blood and guts. The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t the literary scene, they’re the writer who comes home after work exhausted but still does two hours on the typer. The Steelers are a classic. My old man is out on parole now. He just called me from California to say that the Steelers are going to dominate tonight. Guaranteed.
Tuesday morning: 11a.m.
I guess the lesson here is never listen to an ex-con…The Steelers sucked last night. The offense was anemic. Horrible coaching decisions. Me and Ted had to knock down three pitchers to numb the pain.
But when the game was over we got two whiskeys, sat in a dark corner and talked heavy about our lives. We talked about how investing ourselves in NYC can feel like putting energy into a black hole. We talked about our anger and frustration with being writers when writing ain’t all that important anymore. We talked about our fears—about what we’d like for ourselves and where we hope to be someday.
And that’s why I love the Steelers. In ten years when I look back on that game, I won’t think about how the Steelers got blown out 26 to 7. I’ll think about hanging with a friend, talking, laying the bane for a while. That’s what the Steelers have always meant to me. Warmth and friendship in a life that ain’t so easy.
JASON FLORES-WILLIAMS is a lawyer in New Mexico.