For those of you who are truly old-timers, Michael was the person who began Behind the Steel Curtain, back somewhere in the mid-2000s. He is also one of the main people who is directly responsible for my Steeler fandom. Whether he should be congratulated or execrated for this I leave to you all to decide.
Ivan was a giant in my eyes because he embodied many of the characteristics I hoped to be better at and grow into as I progressed through life. Pragmatic but optimistic. Serious but with a funny streak. Welcoming to others but intensely loyal to those in his original orbit.
On the website, everyone always wanted to raise their game a little bit when Ivan was involved in a conversation. To try to be a little more thoughtful with their analysis, a bit more crisp with their writing, and definitely to leave the ad hominum nonsense at the door.
Ivan brought people together. In my small little sandbox of the website, that meant bringing more readers into the site and making more people feel emboldened and safe to share their thoughts in a respectful way.
When I asked Ivan to write for the preseason magazines we did for three years, I learned through the stories he shared in his pieces that Ivan was the type of guy everyone knew and respected, no matter the neighborhood, no matter the campus, no matter the setting.
This impression has been strengthened in my cherished conversations with Ivan’s friend Mike Silverstein, who explained to me just recently that Ivan was able to connect him to a whole new wide range of fellow Yinzers even decades later.
Even though we never got to meet in person, I certainly felt like I knew Ivan. We talked like friends, but I always made a point to treat him like an elder whose respect I had to earn. I cherished our phone calls over the years, and I am especially thankful that Keith Thomas alerted me to the importance of trying to reach out a few months ago when Ivan was not feeling well. On every call we would talk football first and foremost, but he would ask about my life, my girlfriend (and now wife), and he would always have a new story to share about his daughter. Then we’d get back to football and I’d learn something new, or reconsider something I was passionate about with that year’s team or upcoming opponent.
So even though we never met, and even though it’s been awhile since I’ve been involved with the whole Steelers fan writing community, I say from the bottom of my heart that I loved the man. I couldn’t be more appreciative of everything he taught me about the game, about how to tell stories, and about how to be a man at a time in my 20s when I was craving for role models just like him.
RIP Ivan and thank you for everything you meant to me.