An Entangled Meditation on Browns vs Steelers Part Two

By Ivan Cole

It would have been a difficult weekend, even for those of us with the lightest, most superficial ties to the city and its culture (not to mention that of humanity writ large). However, for me and several others of this little online family of Steelers fans, it cuts closer to the bone.

Although I did not live in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, I am an alum of Taylor Allderdice High School, and that community was a major player and influence in my adolescent coming of age. I need not go through the mental gymnastics of trying to imagine the physical layout of the place, its rhythms, the mysteries of the bonds of relationship that define Pittsburgh or that particular part of the city. I lived it.

That being said, my ties are not close to being the richest of those who reside and contribute to this site. While I am certain that I am acquainted with dozens of people with ties to the Tree of Life Synagogue, a facility I rode past every day on my way to school, I have been spared the more searing pain of a more direct relationship with those who perished on Saturday morning. Homer J, whose family has ties to the congregation for decades and who had his own Bar Mitzvah there, was not quite so fortunate. Rebecca lives a few blocks away from the facility, as does Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin, and, I believe, Art Rooney II. When I make my annual pilgrimage to Steelers training camp I stay in the Rollett home. Rebecca’s son Adrian, with whom I connected on BSTC some time before I ever met Rebecca, is also an Allderdice alum.

I have never had the honor of direct contact with Howard Fineman, the former editor of Newsweek and the Huffington Post, who has been poignantly reflecting on events on NBC and the pages of the New York Times, but there are a few connections. Like Homer, he was a congregant of the Tree of Life, like me an Allderdice alum who had a Pittsburgh Press paper route when he was a kid, and the three of us contributed articles on Steelers football in an issue of Steelers Annual a few years ago.

All of this to reiterate the directness of this attack on my own experience and many close to me. Though not being Jewish could be considered a degree of separation, it is difficult to spend much time in Squirrel Hill without developing a healthy appreciation for the strengths and vulnerabilities of the Faith and the culture. The Pittsburgh Public Schools did not recognize Jewish holidays, but when eighty five percent of the students of a particular school are Jewish there is not much going on during Rosh Hashanah save for a day-long study hall. When my high school football team played for the City Championship, the game was rescheduled from Saturday morning to Friday afternoon out of respect for the Sabbath.

It even affected the slurs we were subjected to when we traveled to other schools. A pretty, blonde cheerleader from a Northside school eyed me slyly before I headed to the field before a game and said, “You don’t look Jewish to me.” How does a black Christian respond to an antisemitic taunt? Some of my acquaintances in Virginia are mystified with the vehemence of my pushback when someone casually mentions Jewish conspiracies.

It is within this context that the Pittsburgh community was given the healing experience of a Steelers game day. We can say ‘healing’ because Pittsburgh won, and it was Cleveland, that uniquely potent elixir combining the hatred of an archrival with the calming certainty of a Globetrotters/Washington Generals matchup. I am sure that a longitudinal study would prove that a steady diet of this sort of thing would cure cancer among Yinzers. So, despite what preceded it, and is certain to follow, it was an afternoon respite that was both pleasant and appropriate.

Hombre

Once a year Hombre de Acero journeys from Argentina and graces us with his presence. There was some controversy associated with this year’s visit. Last year Hombre showed up for the Jacksonville game. After that spanking there was some conversation suggesting that this man may be a jinx. Bill Steinbach helpfully suggested that he had contacts at the State Department who could get this guy placed on a no-fly list. Don’t we have enough problems in this country without having some random person from the Southern Hemisphere showing up and infecting us with bad mojo?

After this game (which, minus the brain fart of the free kick was an unqualified success) it is now being contemplated how we can keep Hombre from leaving.

The Megabus

There was some joking around Steelers Nation that in fine Cleveland tradition if the Browns soiled the bed in Pittsburgh yet again, Head Coach Hue Jackson would be summarily fired and left to walk or take the Megabus home. Though he was spared that indignity, maybe because it’s the middle as opposed to the end of the season it was reported this afternoon that Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were given their walking papers.

Two things that are highlighted here: First is the impotence of the diametrically opposite approaches to leadership of the AFC North Ohio teams. There is Cleveland, who like Spectre in the James Bond universe, have little tolerance for failure and have turned Heinz Field into a boneyard for their mistakes. On the other hand, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis is some sort of zombie/vampire who should have been professionally dead years ago but is still animated and stalking the sidelines. Second is the validation that my attacks on Haley weren’t just the frustrated season ending rants of a Steelers fan crazed with grief.

Meanness (cont.)

Bob Labriola’s article supports the narrative that Pittsburgh’s recent success is correlating with the physical (meanness) factor.

It’s not how you start…(cont.)

After their loss to Baltimore earlier this season, this week’s coming rematch looked like a crisis moment, a must-win trial for the Steelers. Events of the past month have flipped the script as Pittsburgh has an opportunity to put the dagger to the Ravens’ division and post-season prospects. Which is another reminder that championships are rarely won or lost in September.

7 comments

  • Ivan, this happened in my city, and, as you noted above, in my house of worship.

    It could have happened anywhere. But it happened in the very chapel where – when I reached the age of 13 – I stood at that podium, chanting a portion of the Holy Scriptures in Hebrew, marking my passage into manhood. Some of the dead will be buried in the old cemetery on a hillside in Sharpsburg where my Mom and Dad and my little brother and my grandparents and extended family rest. And that’s where I will end up. When something like this happens, it’s a tragedy for everyone. But when it hits this close to home, it becomes surreal, and everything is in slow motion, in a continuous loop.

    And yes, I knew – or knew of – some of those who died.

    Yes, it happened in Pittsburgh, but what took place in those awful moments is not who we are.

    We are the first responders who risked everything to save lives. Some we wounded saving the lives of others. We are the people of all faiths who cry out and share our pain, the people who reach out to comfort, the people who grieve, the people who become the helpers, because that’s what we’re taught to do. We don’t just look for the helpers. We become the helpers. We are stronger than hate.

    This happened at the corner of Wilkins and Shady, and if you head down Shady Avenue to near the bottom of the hill, and look to the left, you’ll see Mike Tomlin’s house. If you had down Wilkins a block or so, you’ll see Beechwood Boulevard, where Fred and Joanne Rogers lived and raised James and John. This happened in Mister Rogers neighborhood. A few blocks away from where Mac Miller had the Best Day Ever. Just down the street from Blue Slide Park. Other places preach diversity. Squirrel Hill lives it every day.

    Squirrel Hill is a truly wonderful place. Its soul is Jewish, but, like Mother Pittsburgh, its heart is open to everyone. It is one of America’s great urban neighborhoods, a peaceable place where all are welcome. That won’t change.

    A single deranged gunman brought unspeakable horror to our nation, to the city that I love, murdering innocent people gathered to pray in my own house of worship. It could have happened anywhere.

    But what happened during Shabbat services at Tree of Life was not who we are. It was the exact opposite of who we are.

    We are the Steeler fans and Penguin fans who redrew our team logos to include the Star of David to defiantly tell the haters who we are. And I can’t look at those redesigned logos without feeling the love we all share, and without crying. There are tears in my eyes as I write this.

    I have always loved my city and fellow Yinzers, but I’ve never been prouder of the ‘burgh or loved them more than I do right now.

    We are Pittsburgh, and we are as strong as steel. We must the world a single message: that we are stronger than hate. Make them hear you.

    “It is a tree of life to all who grasp it, and whoever holds on to it is happy; its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all it paths are peace. (Proverbs 3:17-18)

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is so inadequate to “like” this comment. (For one thing, it’s pretty hard to find the like button when your eyes are full of tears.) But you are right, Homer. The shooter is not who we are. He does not represent what my city is. And all of us, beginning with me, who took for granted what we have here have been put on notice, a notice that echoes the old phrase “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

      Ivan and I talked on the phone last night, and one of the things which had struck both of us is how, for us, Squirrel Hill is a safe place. I wouldn’t pretend to know what it feels like to be black, but as a woman I can tell you that one of the things I love about my neighborhood is that I can walk home alone from a late night rehearsal and not be afraid. How many places (at least in a city of any size) can one say that about anymore?

      Pittsburgh is an adopted city for me – we moved here when I was already in my 40s – but it has long been my home. I am so proud of how my fellow Pittsburghers have responded.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Very well said, Homer. While I did not grow up in Pittsburgh, my grandfather and mother did. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, though – that hits close.

      Like

    • My grandmother is buried in that same cemetery in Sharpsburg

      Like

  • I lived in the Pittsburgh area from 1971-1983, during the Steelers’ glory years. The city and the people have never left my heart. God bless you all in this time of heartbreaking sorrow.

    Like

  • I also lived in Pittsburgh from 1954 to 1976. And at one point shared an apartment on Shady only two blocks from the Tree of Life. Thank you Homer and Ivan and Rebecca for your moving words.

    Like

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