Quite a tumultuous week it’s been in Pittsburgh.
On Friday, just 11 days after saying he would run again, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced he would not seek re-election after all.
Then on Saturday, the shit really hit the fan.
Ben Roethlisberger became a year older.
Roethlisberger’s 31st birthday is a reminder that he won’t be around forever, either. Ravenstahl’s announcement Friday probably won’t impact Pittsburgh’s mood nearly as much as Roethlisberger’s eventual farewell.
Even Ravenstahl made his love for the Steelers a part of his legacy as mayor. He petitioned to change his name from “Ravenstahl” to “Steelerstahl” in 2009, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, when the Steelers played the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.
Ravenstahl plucked a line from Bill Cowher’s retirement press conference Friday when, according to the Post-Gazette, he said “This North Side boy has lived his dream.”
“Mayor Luke” worked the Steelers game into his schedule when he was in New York City in December of 2009. He and several other Pennsylvania politicians attended The Pennsylvania Society’s Holiday Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria.
The Steelers were scheduled to play the Browns on a Thursday night when Ravenstahl was in the Big Apple. At the time, the NFL Network wasn’t available on cable in Manhattan, so Ravenstahl had to go to a bar that had DirecTV to watch the Steelers.
He went to Hibernia in Hell’s Kitchen. That’s where my hand became one of the million or so that he’s shaken in his political career, even if it wasn’t one that could pull a lever next to his name.
The Steel Curtain not only had a bruising impact on the rest of the NFL but on the impressionable minds of budding sports fans far beyond Pittsburgh. That’s how I was indoctrinated as a Steelers fan as an 8-year-old Rhode Islander in 1979, when Ravenstahl was just a bump on his mother’s belly.
I grew up more than 500 miles from Pittsburgh. I’m a Red Sox fan and a Celtics fan, but not a Patriots fan. I took some heat from provincial New Englanders for being a Steelers fan even though I’ve never lived in Pittsburgh. With that in mind, I’ve always tried to complete myself as a Steelers fan by learning about Pittsburgh and its culture. In 2002, I made the 10-hour pilgrimage to Heinz Field to watch Tommy Maddox lead the Steelers back from an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit in a 34-31 win over the Ravens.
During my time in Pittsburgh I ate at Quaker Steak and drank Iron City beer.
Vitamin I became more accessible when I moved to New York. At least half a dozen Steelers bars dot the city. I felt like more of a ’Burgher at heart with an IC in my hand watching games with transplanted western Pennsylvanians.
While at Hibernia watching the Steelers play at Cleveland in 2009, I had a friend take a picture of me holding an Iron City. Not only did I figure it would strengthen my spiritual connection to Pittsburgh, but I also planned to put it on the Steelers blog I was running at the time. I thought my best photo opportunity was with a bottle because I didn’t know Ravenstahl was in the house.
Still two months shy of his 30th birthday, the fresh-faced Ravenstahl looked like some white-collar Manhattan resident having drinks with his buddies after work. At least part of that impression was accurate. He was on a career fast track, becoming the nation’s youngest big-city mayor at 26. The previous mayor died in office and as the City Council president Ravenstahl took over.
Ravenstahl had just won re-election the night I met him. Of all the nights to meet the mayor of the Steel City, it just had to be that one, didn’t it? The Steelers lost to the Browns 13-6 for their fifth straight defeat, pretty much knocking them out of playoff contention.
Ravenstahl’s critics might argue that the mayor should have been in Pittsburgh that night to assess the damage from the natural disaster that was the Steelers’ five-game losing streak, but at least he buoyed the spirits of this Steelers fan in the wake of that humiliating loss to the Browns.
Since then I’ve moved to New Jersey, and there seems to be a nice little enclave of Steelers fans in my area.
If I ever do go home again, and another Rhode Islander calls me on the carpet for being a Steelers fan, I can tell him that even though I’ve never lived in Pittsburgh, I did meet the mayor.