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After 31 years no longer 'tahk' of the 'tahn'

December 23, 2000

After 31 years no longer 'tahk' of the 'tahn'



By Bill Sterner / Staff Correspondent


An old friend passed out of my life last weekend.

Shame of it was, this pal was only 31 years old. And after Saturday's wake was over, the many memories that came flooding back made me think of my own mortality.

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My old buddy was a catalyst that brought my dad and I closer together with common interest and a mere two decades later was the common ground for the bonding between my own son and me.

Three Rivers Stadium has run dry on time.

But like a hastily poured Iron City beer, the memories are overflowing.

For three decades it has stood a silent, brooding cement sentry on the (and in the native dialect) "dahntahn Pikksburgh" north side - a testament to a city where football is "kink" (king) and "yinz" better never "dat" it.

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Now just sit "dahn" on your "caach" like "Mrs. Astor's cat" and check it "aht" as I explain "haus come."

Fourteen AFC Central Division titles, four super bowls, seven Hall-of-Famers, an enshrined coach and "The Chief," founder Arthur J. Rooney, whose memory and own son, Dan, still drives the Steelers and the Pittsburgh community into the new millennium.

And that's just for starters.

The stadium was the site of arguably the most famous, most discussed and most covered "catch" in NFL history - The Immaculate Reception. I would like to have a nickel for every beer that has gone "sath" in discussing whether John "Frenchy" Fuqua ever touched that ball.

Many memories later, I was witness to the most famous "non-catch" as Bill Cowher's team won the AFC title against the Colts on a failed Hail Mary in the corner of the end zone.

The stadium was famous for bad weather games, weather that was both real and created.

I was fortunate enough to see the 1975 AFC championship game against the hated Oakland Raiders. Shivered all night to garner two of the ducats in the minus degrees, freezing drizzle. The game became known as the infamous "Ice Bowl." Oakland coach John Madden, the unwitting victim of Franco Harris' miracle only a few years before, still swears even today that head groundskeeper "Dirt" DiNardo flooded and froze the turf the night before the game with a common garden hose. The mercury never crept above 0 and with only 30 seconds to go, the sure-footed Harris skidded around left end behind a crushing block from John Stallworth and the "Pride and Poise Boys" slipped into oblivion for another year. Stillers 16, Oakdumb 10

Did the fact that "Dirt" received a game ball give anyone a clue?

You can bet yer kielbasa it should.

I saw the first game ever at Three Rivers on Aug. 28, 1970, against the New York Giants and the first touchdown pass Terry Bradshaw ever threw - a short, over the shoulder 25-yard toss to Ron Shanklin in the end zone where 25 years later my family would be the proud part-owner of seats 9 and 10 in Section 202.

Regrettably, I watched the last game from the comfort of my den allowing someone else the pleasure of those cold, plastic seats, faded from years of Pittsburgh football weather.

But my fondest memories are mostly about the fans and the players, all part of a Sunday smorgasboard of black and gold that gathered like a family reunion around that ugly, green tablecloth of plastic grass.

A math teacher from West Mifflin sat on our right while we were flanked by a pilot from TWA and a guy who worked 37 years for Sears. A garbage man from the boro of Turtle "Crik" (Creek) kept us up to date tirelessly reading each NFL score as it was posted on the scoreboard. We exchanged information about our jobs and families and shared snacks and snapshots of the kids.

The Steeler Nation.

"Here we go Steelers...Here we go..."

"DEEE-FENSE! DEEE-FENSE!"

"Chew tobacca, chew tobacca, chew tobacca spit, if yinz ain't Stiller fans, yinz ain't $@*#!"

I learned and built character through those Sunday meetings.

Still do.

A sense of tradition, of respect, a knowledge of where you came from and, like the arrowhead shaved neatly into the noggin of defensive tackle Ernie Holmes, a sense of knowing where you were going.

"Your In Steeler Country" the sign says.

If former linebacker Greg Lloyd, who wore a t-shirt proclaiming he was not hired for his disposition, was the heart and soul of the Cowher era, then Jack Lambert, who once declared on ABC's Monday Night football that he hailed from Buzzard's Breath, Wyo., and that all quarterbacks should wear skirts, clearly represents Steeler football.

No glitz. What you see is what you get.

Lunch at Sheetz compared to the Fireside.

When the mills failed, when unemployment rose and crime skyrocketed, the Steelers and Three Rivers were the thread that held the community together.

If Bum Phillips and the Houston Oilers couldn't kick the door in, then certainly the few hard knocks you got in life couldn't do it.

I hear you knockin', but you can't come in.

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