Steelers at home when they’re away
By Ira Kaufman
For the Mirror
Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles is the most expensive stadium ever constructed in the history of the world and is nearly 2,500 miles from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ home stadium, Heinz Field.
The Los Angeles Chargers (and Rams) play at Sofi and have one of the best young quarterbacks, Justin Herbert, and a solid team with a chance to make the Super Bowl this year — which ironically will be played at Sofi.
So why in the world, two Sundays ago, were a vast majority of the 70,000 fans in the stadium, wearing the Steelers’ black and gold and enthusiastically waving Terrible Towels as the Steelers played the Chargers?
Only 300,000 people actually live in Pittsburgh.
Did roughly one quarter of the city trek across the country for Hollywood, the Pacific Ocean and a football game?
The terms “Steeler Nation” and “the Steelers fans travel” are used to describe Steelers fans simply taking over stadiums throughout the NFL.
I have watched in person the Steelers play in almost every single stadium in the NFL, and even I am shocked by the sheer numbers and the unbridled enthusiasm of their fans thousands of miles from the ‘Burgh.
There are a large number of Steeler fans from Pittsburgh who travel to the games, and there are a large number of Pittsburgh transplants in areas outside Pittsburgh.
However, the vast majority of fans in places like San Francisco, Arizona, Los Angeles, Denver, and Kansas City are people who have never even been in Pittsburgh — or they might talk about the one or two times they made a trip to Heinz Field.
Some of these fans grew up loving the 1970s dynasty of the Steelers, but many others have become fans during more recent decades of greatness under Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin.
This fandom has been passed down from generation to generation. They watch the games at the Steelers sports bars all around the country or have DirecTV and have more Steeler mugs, shirts, hats and paraphernalia than many of my friends who live in Pittsburgh.
Los Angeles is a unique market as it did not have a home team for 20 years so many football fans fell in love with teams from other cities — especially the Steelers.
When the Steelers played the Chargers two years ago in the small 30,000-seat soccer stadium in Carson (while Sofi was being built), it felt like 90% of fans were rooting for the Steelers.
When the local team is awful, it actually becomes comical.
At a game in Atlanta a few years ago, the Falcons fans and the Steelers fans both booed the horrendous Falcons as they were introduced in their home stadium.
Because of the way the NFL schedules work, the Steelers might only play in a certain city once a decade.
That is why the Steeler Nation is more dominant and passionate in cities like Arizona and Los Angeles than it is in Cleveland or Baltimore, where the Steelers play every year.
The fans get to the stadium super early and tailgate in the parking lots far longer than the Chargers/Cardinals/49ers fans.
For sure, Sofi stadium was one of the loudest “Steeler” stadiums I have ever been in because of it being an inside venue with a flat roof.
Without the pumped in Steeler music or the hometown announcer, the Steelers fans screamed as loud as they could to give Ben and company a hometown feel.
Without a doubt, Heinz Field can be deafening at times and the hometown fans are great, but the Steeler Nation fans around the country know that the “next game” is not “next week” but rather in four years.
So far this has been a tough year for the Steelers and their fans, but one thing for certain: Steeler Nation is still out there and only growing.
Ira Kaufman, an Altoona native and traveling sports fan, hosts IRA on Sports on trueoldiesfla.com on Monday night from 7-8 p.m. It is also available on Soundcloud & iTunes, search Ira On Sports. His column appears occasionally in Voice of the Fan.