There were a number of big stories to emerge during Monday's night's Pittsburgh Steelers win over the Washington Redskins. One of them appears to be the overwhelming contingent of Steelers fans that took over FedEx Field, forcing the host Redskins to actually use a silent count in their house.
The opening discussion on the post-game Sportscenter wasn't the play of the Steelers defense, or even the job Byron Leftwich did coming off the bench in relief of of Ben Roethlisberger. Instead, it was the two hosts looking at each other, jaws agape, discussing the thousands of Pittsburgh fans that made FedEx Field seem like Heinz Field East.
Ryan Wilson wrote about it this morning, and points out a piece by Dan Steinberg at the D.C. Sports bog on this very topic.
My original guess was 15 percent, but I was mocked for going too low. Was it 20 percent? Was it 25 percent? Some writers guessed as high as 30, and the Washington Times went with 33 percent, although I still say that's way too high. Your guess on the percentage? And as long as I'm asking questions, why does this happen? Why does it happen with Penguins games? Do Pittsburgh fans have more money? More passion? Fewer outside interests? Fewer job responsibilities?This is nothing new for Steelers games on the road. Every week, regardless of where they're playing, they have a strong showing of fans in the stands. In fact, I didn't think last night was one of the better road showings for Steelers fans. I noticed the towels, I noticed the jerseys, but I never thought it was an overwhelming dominance that would force the home team to play like they were on the road. Perhaps it's because we're used to seeing it every week.
Now, onto Steinberg's questions as to why, and how, this happens. He asks about passion, fewer outside interests, fewer job responsibilities and, of course, money. I can't speak for everyone that is a Pittsburgh fan, obviously, but I can speak for myself and offer some of my personal theories and thoughts.
First, it's usually not a matter of Pittsburgh fans "traveling" to the games. Sure, it happens -- and we'll get to that -- but it's not the biggest factor. The population in the city of Pittsburgh has been shrinking rather consistently for decades, mainly due to the lack of jobs in the area, the Steel Industry disappearing in the 1980's, and people having to relocate to other parts of the country. Pittsburghers tend to have a lot of pride in where they come from, and it carries over to the sports teams that help identify our city. So, passion is most certainly a factor.
When Joe Six-Pack had to leave Pittsburgh in the early 1980's because his Steel Mill was shut down, he remained a Pittsburgh fan even though he now lives in San Francisco, or Washington, or Atlanta, or Chicago, or Dallas or wherever it is he now calls home. He raised his kids as Pittsburgh fans, they raised their kids as Pittsburgh fans, and the cycle continues. This is where the majority of it comes from; displaced Pittsburghers staying loyal to their town. Local radio personality Scott Paulsen wrote about this phenomenon just prior to Super Bowl XL, when Pittsburgh annexed the city of Detroit and created the greatest home field advantage any team has ever had in a Super Bowl. Many Pittsburgh fans made the four-hour drive to Detroit without tickets to the game -- and never having an intent on purchasing tickets -- simply to party with other Pittsburgh fans before, during, and after the game.
Because of this, it makes our job responsibilities less of an issue. Naturally, if you're hopping on a plane to fly to Denver, or getting into your car and driving to D.C. you're going to have to take a couple of days off from work. If you're already living in the city, well, that's no longer a problem.
It's Not Just Limited to the Steelers
The Penguins also have a strong following on the road -- including Washington -- as Steinberg points out. In fact, Pittsburgh fans have been so prominent in Washington over the years, that Capitals owner Ted Leonsis once tried to place a block on the team's website preventing fans in Western Pennsylvania from purchasing tickets to playoff games in Washington. It never worked, and "the phone booth" is still our home away from home.
I've traveled on the road to see the Penguins and Pirates play. I've twice made the ten-hour drive to Chicago to see the Pirates, once made the three-hour drive to Cleveland to see the Pirates, and this past June went to Detroit to see the Penguins play game one of the Stanley Cup Finals against the eventual champions, the Red Wings.
Detroit was an incredible experience. This was the Stanley Cup Finals in "Hockeytown," and Penguins fans were all over Joe Louis Arena. We met fans that traveled in from Pittsburgh, sure, but there were a number of those displaced natives that I mentioned before. We met Penguins fans from Orlando, California, Vancouver, Columbus, and New York, all of whom had some sort of connection to Western Pennsylvania. Ushers in the arena commented that they had never seen so many out-of-town fans snag tickets before hockey-mad Detroit could. We didn't outnumber them, but we were represented.
It certainly isn't because I have disposable income or more money than somebody in say, our nations capital, that allows me to make these excursions. Actually, it's all about the opportunity cost and what I enjoy. Personally, I'd rather spend my money on purchasing tickets to a playoff game and driving five hours to Michigan as opposed to buying designer clothes, four-star meals, or spending $60 dollars for a night out to see the latest Ben Afflek flick (is he still making movies? Seriously. I don't know. Frankly, I don't care) at the local Carmike Cinemas. I think to some degree, a lot of people around here feel the same way. Of course, this leads to my wardrobe consisting of $20 jeans, sweatshirts I was wearing in high school, and plain white tennis shoes, but, hey, I'm comfortable with that.
In a way, this is an example of Pittsburgh fans having fewer outside interests. We're not New York or Los Angeles in terms of night life, and we don't have beaches and perfect weather like, say, San Diego or Miami. We're a sports town, and that's what people around here do, and that's what we care about.