Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Boys are Back in Town.

Yesterday the Steelers played their first preseason game of the year. Yes... the obsession of the region continues after the short break between drives for the prize. Pittsburgh is nuts about its football. I'm sure every city with an NFL team is much the same... but in a city of this size the passion can overwhelm the place. People here experience a very real sense of personal loss when the Steelers fail to win. The drive to and from work is more tense, and the mood of the workplace becomes increasingly temperamental. And somehow everyone is expected to share the fortunes or failings of the "Steeler Nation".

This is a problem for me because I can't stand watching football. I loved to play it when I was a kid, but it bores the hell out of me on television. It is the most disconnected of televised sports in America. They are constantly taking abrupt breaks between spurts of intense action. It is a stutter-step dance, back-and-forth between goal lines. Performance relies almost purely upon size, strength and speed. Players are expected to act intuitively based upon the conditioning received from the coaches. If they think for themselves they are doomed. Even the quarterbacks take their orders from the sidelines. In this respect it is the most miltaristic of games, and this quality understandably compels a citizenry infatuated with war. The "Blitz"... the "End Run"... "Lines of Defense"... "Offensive Maneuvers"... these have their parallels in the very real overseas battlefield destinations that "we" send our troops to. And we need to "support our troops"... our side, our team... it's "us vs. them", and "take no prisoners". Don't question the commanders and policymakers- it's too easy to be an arm-chair quarterback. Wear the colors, wave the flag... hooray for "us"!

Sorry, I'm not buying it. This past season, when the local team won it all, I couldn't join the victory revelries. I didn't care when they lost the early games, and I certainly didn't invest myself when they became champions. People at work wondered why I just couldn't get into the "spirit" of the excitement. It didn't matter who really cared, it was just crucial to show your support and "hometown" pride. The fact is that I work in the exurbs, among people that could care f'ck-all about Pittsburgh during any other time... people indeed that have fled the urban centers so that they wouldn't have to experience any of the actual hard work of real support for the city (not to mention city taxes)... people that basically have nothing to do with the city other than following the Steelers. These people want to be regular 'burghers when the Steelers are winning. Sorry... wearing the black-and-gold every casual Friday doesn't make you part of Pittsburgh.

And then there are the suckers in the city- those meat-and-potater folks that ponied up their hard earned taxes so that the Steelers could have a brand new stadium for themselves, even while the city was still paying off the "old" one so recently demolished. Yeah, the Steelers represent us. We may not have decent jobs or adequate public transportation... but shucks... we got the Stillers! The players might make millions of dollars a year, yet still they lack even a shred of loyalty to (or involvement in) the community... but at least they are winners! They'll take those damn gaudy rings to all corners of the nation, and wear them proudly in their new multi-million dollar homes in the suburbs... but they are still "our" boys.

Of course my position makes me a virtual pariah whenever I voice it. Why can't I just let people have their fun? It's only because I see the state of our streets, the conditions of our schools, and the city pools shutting down for the summer because of lack of funds. The city just went through bankruptcy. Yes... that's true... ahem... but we had the All-Star game this year!!! Never mind. I've said enough.


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