Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What Would the Chief Do?

Today is Day 108 of the NFL Lockout.
Art Rooney, Sr.
I am a typical middle American forging ahead in a down economy.  I sit at this computer a few times a month and try to juggle which bill is going to get paid now, which has to wait, and I nurse a sore jaw while I do it because I really need to go to the dentist, but it's hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars for the work I need done and time away from the job, and I really can't spare either (although I started this during work hours because I couldn't log in - working from home is a truly interesting double-edged sword that deserves its own post), and I know this predicament is of my own making because I voluntarily drug us across country at a time when gas nearly tipped the $4.00/gallon mark, so I just try to hang on and hope the house back in Texas sells soon, and take some comfort in the fact that in modest little houses all over the area, many men and women are doing the same juggling act for different reasons and, all things considered, we've done pretty well.  I've still managed to start squirreling away for Christmas, we've gone to a few baseball games (the advantage to living in a market with a perennially crappy team is the cheap seats are $11), and we've got a full pantry.  Still, it's tight.  Just like it is in all those other little red brick houses where the same worries keep my neighbors awake at night.  Yet, on Saturday morning at 10 AM most of them were on their computers or on the phone doing the exact same thing I was doing:  trying to nab up individual game day tickets to the Steelers home games for 2011.  Not an expert at working the system, I made some rookie mistakes that ended up costing me, and I only got one game, and it's a lousy one at the tail end of the season when it might not matter, and starters might be sitting to ready themselves for the playoffs, and it's almost certain to be cold, maybe miserably so.  But, I took it and took it gladly.  Happy to get box office prices for a home game, I didn't hesitate.  I don't feel guilty either.  Maybe I will  in the next few days when the next round of bills is due, but for now I'm just excited I got any tickets at all, reasoning that I didn't come all this way to NOT go see my beloved team play in person.

But, I'm pretty nervous.  What if there is no season?  What if the game I just shelled out precious money for never gets played?  The rumors, a friend was quick to point out, is that owners won't refund fans for tickets to games that might not get played.  For a lot of the fans in Fox Chapel or Sewickley maybe that's just a chance they have to take and, although aggravating, is just another investment loss, and they'll move on.  For others of the Steeler Nation, just getting to a real game is a much bigger deal that involves real sacrifice.  They still scrambled to their phones and computers, just like I did, to nab up those precious limited individual game tickets, but if they just flushed money down the proverbial toilet with me, they will really feel it.  The damage will be real.  The anger will be real.  And it should be.

Tour of Heinz Field
You can't go anywhere in this town, church included, without seeing people decked out in Steeler gear. They're good hockey fans, one of the largest consistent television audiences south of Canada, and holding a 200+ home sell out run.  They even love their Pirates, doggedly determined to stand by their team, assuming that at some point there will be light at end of what has been a very long, dark tunnel and their loyalty will be rewarded.  But, above all else, this is a Steel City.  For a lot of reasons, the tough blue collar mystique of the town is personified by the tough, smash-mouth Steelers in a way the other teams cannot match.  So, at the Pirates games there are as many Polamalu jerseys being sported around as anything else.  Go to the zoo and take a poll:  more than half the patrons are wearing Pittsburgh sports gear and 70% of that is Steelers wear (I've done a little unscientific monitoring).  The Super Bowl, as I've noted before, was treated like a national holiday here, houses decked in Steeler Black and Gold.  Businesses closed early, others warned their staff not to dare call in sick.  Some probably did anyway.  When they lost, it was like a day of mourning had been pronounced.  This is all stuff I've written about before.  If you've known me for a while, you know a little about it anyway just by osmosis probably.  But, as I've watched all that merchandise wandering around, knowing full well what each item costs (because I've got plenty of it myself), I think about all the reasons we're loyal to our respective teams and love our football, but how we've paid for that loyalty.  It didn't come to us freely.  We've bought the jerseys, hats and t-shirts, gone to the games, patronized the sports bars, decorated our cars and homes, and even branded ourselves for life with tattoos.  We watch the ads that provide the revenue to the owners.  We buy their products as a result.  I may bleed black and gold, but there's some green seeping out of there as well.  As a result. I've been thinking about who the real losers in the lockout really are.  The fans.

I'm not the first to think about the economic impact of the game.  Months ago, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette ran the numbers and came up with $123.2 million in this area alone.  Another site estimated $160 million on average per NFL city.  That's just regular season.  What about poor little Latrobe and all the revenue that small town receives from training camp?  The economic impact is immeasurable.  To everyone but the owners.  NFLLockout.com doesn't paint a pretty picture of the owners, who it claims will make out like bandits if the season doesn't happen.  The players have done a better job of protecting their image, I personally think, during the ordeal.  But, I have spared a little ire for them as well.  The top players live pretty well off all our patronage.  They need to remember that.  It's hard to sit in my tiny little house with my throbbing jaw and feel all too sorry for Terrell Owens.  But, I do hope they hold fast to their goal of protecting the rights of former players who have sacrificed their long-term health to entertain me every Sunday.  I respect that part of this whole jumbled mess, even if sometimes wondering how much that aspect of the player's position is window dressing in the larger fight to retain their revenue sharing.

200th Military Police Command
I don't know.  Many don't.  It's big business at its biggest and ugliest.  Lost in the mighty clash of these titans are people like me and Marissa who used football as the three hours a week the burden of our sorrow was lifted from our shoulders.  It's the guy at the end of the street with the Iraqi war veteran plates and the bumper sticker that reads "My other vehicle is a Blackhawk".  He's not a Steeler fan actually, one of his other bumper stickers professes his loyalty to some inferior franchise, but he served our country, doesn't he deserve to relax now and enjoy the game?  What about the family that lives just a few houses down from him with the star banner hanging in their front door, indicating they have a family member in active service?  Haven't they earned the right to forget about the worries they must have constantly?  What about their son or daughter who tucked a Terrible Towel away in their belongings and carries it with them in Afghanistan?  Those are the more intangible losses to calculate.  There have to be millions of stories like mine.  I want football, but I need it as well.  It's important enough to me that it factored heavily into moving all the way here.  I wish I had the millions of stories to lay at the feet of the owners and could force them to remember us "little folk".  It's not all about the money.  But without us, ultimately, there is no money.

I tend to think The Chief (Art Rooney, Sr.) knew that and must be looking down on all of these proceedings, maybe a celestial cigar in hand, and shaking his head sadly.

I never wanted 18 games.  Right now, I'm just praying I get 16.  Please don't forget about us.


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