Cardinals fans are showing a little spark. New Times was on hand at Sky Harbor International Airport to see what organizers estimated was 1,800 people cheer on the team as members boarded a plane to Tampa.
Contrast that to the number of people who showed up in 20-degree weather to see the Steelers off to Tampa that morning — 30,000, according to Pittsburgh TV station WTAE — and you see what this story is getting at.
Even if they were playing the Baltimore Ravens (a team that wears purple and employs a stupid marching band to play at halftime) or the San Diego Chargers (a squad that's also from a Sun Belt city with a large percentage of fair-weather fans), Arizona's genteel Cardinal fans would have their work cut out for them in Super Bowl XLIII.
They're matched up against the grubbiest, loudest, and nastiest fan base in all of sports — as well as one of the largest.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are White Trash America's team.
Though Raiders, Eagles, and Browns fans certainly have their own reputations for trashy behavior, Steelers fans win the prize for crudeness. It's hard to find a trailer park anywhere in the country that doesn't have a black-and-yellow flag fluttering from the door of a doublewide.
Anecdotal evidence of the mindset of Steelers fans is everywhere — do a search for "Steelers fans" on YouTube and bear witness to a 90-year-old woman getting the team's logo tattooed on her arm at her family's insistence and a guy who became estranged from his brothers after he put a giant Steelers logo on his father's tombstone.
But there's much more than that out there.
Take the team's official band, a country act called The PovertyNeck Hillbillies. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appeared in the video for the group's song "Mr. Right Now."
Or the team's mascot, Steeley McBeam (that is, the guy who portrays him), blowing twice the legal limit during his DUI arrest last year. Or the way a Steelers fan accidentally set fire in November to a dozen Redskins fans' vehicles in Washington by leaving a grill full of burning coals in the back of his car. Or Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's calling a press conference to say he'd temporarily changed his name to Luke Steelerstahl before the Ravens and his hometown team met in the AFC Championship game.
Before that contest, some strings were pulled to have a Terrible Towel waved on the International Space Station (no word on whether the astronaut Steelers fan was part of some experiment to see how hillbillies fare in a zero-gravity environment).
A columnist for the Baltimore Examiner summed it up pretty well in an article called, "Why do we hate Steelers fans? Let me count the reasons," where he described them as wearing "stone-washed, black Wranglers with a 'Terrible Towel' hanging from the back pocket like Cooter from The Dukes of Hazzard."
Geography has a lot to do with why some Steelers fans are the way they are.
Pittsburgh's the largest city in the massive poverty-stricken backwoods known as Appalachia, and the Steelers are the only NFL team that plays on Appalachian soil. (Technically, Nashville and Charlotte, where the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers play, respectively, aren't in Appalachia). The heart of the Steelers fan base is in the moonshine-making hills of western Pennsylvania and hollows of West Virginia, and their location colors much about them.
Take Myron Cope, the longtime Steelers broadcaster who died last year. His calls were screeched in a hillbilly patois nearly indecipherable to the ears of somebody accustomed to Standard American English. But, in the Steel City, his "Pittsburghese" made him a deity. "Kin yinz belif tha way he moved that pal? Yoi, he's slippy!"
Thing is, many Steelers fans may be impoverished but they find a way to support their team. The last time the Steelers were in the Super Bowl, ESPN columnist Greg Garber speculated their fans outnumbered Seahawks fans 25 to 1.
At a neutral-site game like the Super Bowl, cheering goes beyond the intangible effect of getting players psyched up. Home teams usually get more calls, and referees unconsciously seem to respond to all the spinning piss-yellow towels.
Ask Seattle Seahawks fans about referee Bill Leavy's "shameful" performance in Super Bowl XL. Ex-Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren addressed it at a post-season rally: "We knew it was going to be tough going against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I didn't know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts as well."
Cardinals fans, that's what could happen if you get out-cheered all game long — the Super Bowl will be turned into a Steelers home game.
Maybe that's why Steelers fans are so cocky going into this weekend. In the Valley, Steelers faithful certainly aren't suffering from the crisis of confidence that almost made the aforementioned Clayton Jacobson take a swing at another Cards fan.
Kim Chapman describes herself as a "hardcore" Steelers fan. "I would say, Steelers by at least 14," she says smugly.
Chapman, who watches Pittsburgh games at First Round Draft in Gilbert, one of a half-dozen Steelers bars in the Valley, has little respect for the Cardinals or their fans: "They're playing in a college stadium for how many years, and they finally got their own official NFL stadium a couple years ago? Come on!"