STEELERNATION UK'S FIRST FOOTBALL GAME IN PITTSBURGH - THE PANTHERS
Friday October 15th we woke expectantly. It was to be our first visit to the stadium although the main priority was getting our tickets for the Penguins Saturday game against Hartford.
Once we had obtained them and tickets for the following Saturday against the Blues we trekked through Point Park and across the river to Three Rivers Stadium. More photos were taken in the short time it took us to travel about a mile than at any other time during the holiday.
Having crossed the river we made our way around the stadium and found the main gate open. It was an invitation for everyone to walk onto the turf and have their photos taken underneath the goal posts. I went on ahead to try and arrange a meeting with the players. While I was waiting to meet Dan Edwards, Myron Cope walked through the lobby. I had met him a few months earlier when the Steelers played the 49ers in an exhibition game in Barcelona, so I renewed my acquaintance with him.
Just then Dan came out and I tried to set up a timetable to see a practice. He asked me to ring him the next day, so I departed, well almost. I asked at the reception desk if she would mind if I brought my party in to see the four Super Bowl trophies.
The four reminders of those Steeler glory days sat at the front of the Steelers front office. I went out to the others and we shuffled majestically back into the lobby before I asked my daughter to take a photo of me with those four icons of former victories.
After taking photos of ourselves on the hallowed astroturf, we sat down and tried to imagine what the atmosphere would be like for Sunday’s game. That was an impossible task so we tried to work out where our seats were located.
While we sat there, a couple of players entered the opposite side from where we were sitting and we immediately became curious as to the implications. When coach Cowher appeared, it was obvious the Steelers were just about to hold a practice.
Our anticipation began to wane as the coach spotted us and walked in our direction. Like naughty school children, we waited to be scolded. Coach Cowher found a security guard who politely asked us to leave, but we can now say that we were thrown out of Three Rivers Stadium by Bill Cowher!
Saturday October 16th we had a tight timetable. We ate first at the Eat 'n Park and found ourselves surrounded by orange sweaters and T-shirts. Syracuse (the Orangemen) were in town to play the Pittsburgh Panthers and it appeared that a large number of their supporters were staying in our hotel. It's mighty strange when the opposition appear to outnumber you in your hometown. Now there’s a thing to note. We were already comfortably wearing the mantle of Pittsburghers and viewing the Orangemen as out of towners.
We went downtown anticipating a trip to Three Rivers, but when I called Dan Edwards, he said the team were not practicing, so our minds switched to Pitt Stadium.
It just happened, as it always does, that this Panthers game was their homecoming game. That means that all the students from previous years are welcome to revisit their university for the game. Mike Dikta was the president of the homecoming and its activities.
Pitt Stadium, where the Steelers played until Three Rivers Stadium was completed, was to be our first experience of football in America. It was a twelve o'clock kickoff and Mike Ditka came onto the field for the coin toss.
The stadium was about half full (34,000), with our side in blue and yellow and the other side mainly orange. Syracuse went three and out and punted. The Panthers returned it for a score, and the twenty-two point underdogs were looking good. Curtis Martin, the Pitt running back, ran for a record breaking 37 times for 206 yards. With the score at 24-21 to Syracuse, the Panthers had a first and goal.
Three times Martin attempted to run in the winner, but to no avail. The Panthers coach, Johnny Majors, sent out the field goal unit for the tie and then changed his mind. A tie wouldn't do it. Martin would have to. Unfortunately, Syracuse held Martin to a 1 yd gain as the clock ran out to give them the win. The Panthers lost the game and my vocal chords were becoming fragile from all the encouragement I gave the team.
It was then onto the Civic Arena for the Penguins' game. Trying to buy a beer in the arena, I was asked for my ID. Some guy behind me remarked, "He looks all of under twenty one " (I was forty five at the time). I volunteered to him that I would have the last laugh, as the driving licence that I had given her was an English one. Confused when trying to find my date of birth on the licence, she reluctantly served me a beer.
The Penguins scored after only twenty three seconds. They made it two nil after another five minutes before putting the game well out of Hartford's reach with their third at 12:24.
The Pens went on to record their fourth win of the season with a 5-3 victory and we went back to our hotel happy bunnies.