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A bit of Pittsburg

Local Steelers fans turn Hub City restaurant into Steel City hangout

Local Steelers fans turn Hub City restaurant into Steel City hangout

November 22, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Take note, fans of the NFL's Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens and especially Cleveland Browns - the Colonial Motel Restaurant & Lounge north of Hagerstown is Pittsburgh Steelers country.

And members of its newly formed local fan club chapter have the jerseys, the "terrible towels" and the tailgate parties to prove it.

Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Hagerstown, Md., celebrated their first official Sunday as an organized, nonprofit group with a 9 a.m. tailgate party and a group viewing of the Steelers' afternoon game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

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Several Western Pennsylvania natives, such as Jim Festa, said the Colonial long has been known as a meeting place for fans of the Steelers and "is like being back in Pittsburgh."

Joe Spirko and Jason Marren said they have watched games at the Colonial in recent years because of the atmosphere and camaraderie among their fellow fans.

"This is the best place to watch a game, except Heinz Field," said Spirko, who lives near Waynesboro, Pa. "There's no fans like Steeler fans."

A few seconds later, Spirko stood up and led dozens in the chant, "Here we go Steelers, here we go ..." as they waived the trademark gold "terrible towels." The chant erupted again, and much louder, as Steeler Joey Porter hit Bengals' quarterback Carson Palmer for a key second-half sack.

Nearly as loud were chants paying homage to longtime Steeler running back Jerome "The Bus" Bettis, a few minutes later. Dozens of black jersey-clad fans belted out, "The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round ..." when the veteran broke through the defensive line for a first down.

They had plenty to cheer about as the Steelers went on to blank the Bengals in the second half and rallied for a 19-14 win. The win kept the Steelers, 9-1, among the National Football League's elite teams.

According to the group's membership form, the cost to join the club is $20, which is slated to go toward a fan club T-shirt, food for the tailgate parties and establishing a Web site. The fan club officers said they hope to organize bus trips to see the Steelers' training camp practices and possibly a 2005 home game in the "Steel City."

The next tailgate party is scheduled for Dec. 18 at 10 a.m., just a few hours before the Steelers play against the New York Giants. Club officers Mike Danley, president; Ron McMullen, vice president; and Chuck Eichelberger, treasurer/secretary said they expect a crowded bar again next week, when the Steelers face the Washington Redskins, even though there will be no party and the game will be televised locally.

The officers said they were approached by the Colonial's owner, David Leazier, this month about forming the group.

"This has been going on a long time here. We just decided to make it official," Eichelberger said. "It gives us a place to go when the games aren't on TV because of the ratbirds (the Ravens)."

Leazier said the business has attracted Steelers fans for about 20 years. Leazier said he believes there was a significant spike in the fan base when the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984, leaving Baltimore without a team for several years.

And despite the loyalty, which extends to everything from wearing team jerseys to a weekly Sunday increase in orders of Iron City beer, which is made in Pittsburgh, Leazier said he never thought he would see it extend to Sunday morning tailgating.

"I pulled up this morning and couldn't believe it," he said. "It was crazy. It's fun."

Smithsburg resident Sheila Brnilovich, a Pittsburgh native, said she hopes the celebratory scene extends to Feb. 6, the date of the Super Bowl.

"It's absolutely our year," she said. "It'll be like the days when I was in high school, going to all the Super Bowl parties."

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