Unlike other football fans, I had no choice in the matter. I was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. Ergo, I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. In that part of the country, team loyalty is passed down like eye color, pigeon toes and Grandma’s Golumpki recipe. Impossible to deny. As involuntary as breathing air.
So, I grew up rooting for the Steelers like everyone else I knew. From a young age, I felt contempt for the Browns and the Cowboys, although I wasn’t sure why. I wore a Steelers hat with a gold pompom even though it didn’t match my coat. I helped mom make heaps of Chex Mix for Super Bowl parties, when Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, Lynn Swan, and Franco Harris were in their heyday.
Team loyalty was also part of the marriage contract between my husband, Francis, and I. He willingly abandoned his beloved Green Bay Packers and joined Steeler Nation, just for me. And I became a Catholic, just for him.
Kinda romantic, when you really think about it.
The first few years of moving to different duty stations were tough, but during back to back tours in Virginia, we were able to raise a growing family of true Steeler devotees.
But then, just when our family was comfortably ensconced in black and gold sportswear, a Steeler Flag flapped from our front porch, and a Terrible Towel was poised for action on the family room coffee table, the unthinkable happened — we got overseas orders again.
Living in base housing in Stuttgart, Germany, we learned that we would not be able to watch most of the football games because Armed Forces Network only aired certain match ups. And those were broadcast at odd hours of the night.
Finally, someone told us about a new technology — online streaming.
Despite the risk of identity theft, malware infection, and prosecution for piracy, I punched my credit card information into a suspicious streaming website on game day. After what seemed like endless fiddling with our circa 2005 Dell desktop with inadequate bandwidth and a scant gigabyte of capacity, a tiny window finally popped up showing a pixilated image of Heinz Field.
“C’mon everybody!” I yelled from the back bedroom where our computer was connected to the internet, “I found the game!” One by one, we piled onto the full-sized bed. Myself, Francis, the three kids, and our 110-pound dog.
However, what should have been a relaxing experience, quickly turned into a fiasco, as everyone fought for territory on the mattress. Once chicken wings, celery, and chips were introduced to the scene, the bed was more like a Salad Shooter.
Play after play, we strained to make out what was happening on the poor-quality images. Then somewhere in the second quarter, the screen permanently froze up. And that was that.
Once, during our three-year tour in Germany, we had an opportunity to watch a live game that wasn’t broadcast on AFN. The Steelers were playing in Super Bowl XLV, so we rented an apartment in Rome with a cable package that included the network that was airing the game live, just after midnight.
After a full day of visiting tourist sights — the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Forum, Trevi Fountain, the Jewish Quarter, Villa Borghese Museum — we filled our bellies with a late dinner of pasta, fried artichokes, bread, wine and gelato before nestling in to watch the game.
Despite our initial excitement, it would have taken an espresso machine, cattle prods and toothpicks propping open our eyelids for us to make it to the halftime show. We were all sound asleep three downs into the second quarter.
We realized that military service required a kind of sacrifice we’d never expected.
Thankfully, there are better options for military families today. Digital streaming is now a mainstream technology. Fans anywhere in the world can watch games on demand, legally through NFL Game Pass. See www.nfl.com/help/gamepass. And those located in the U.S. have even more ways to keep up with their teams. See “How to stream NFL games for the 2017 Season” at www.nfl.com.