(HOST) Commentator Joe Deffner will be in church twice tomorrow – once in the morning and later in the day around kickoff time for the Super Bowl.
(DEFFNER) I’m a card carrying member of the Red Sox Nation, and for years I’ve chastised New Englanders who root for the New York Yankees. I don’t care if you weren’t born here – if you live here now, it’s your solemn duty to read and recite the history, theology and mythology of the Bo Sox. Anything less is sacrilege, hypocritical, and just plain wrong.
Then last week, one of my students confronted me in the hallway of the high school where I teach. He was wearing a New England Patriots cap. He pointed to my Steelers shirt and demanded, “How can you root for the Steelers?” I felt like a pharisee caught in the temple, my hypocrisy exposed for all to see. Forced into an examination of conscience by the young upstart, I found the answer to his question lies – for me – in religion.
In Western Pennsylvania, where I grew up, there’s a fine line between religion and football. Ok, for some of us, there’s no line at all. Religion is a uniter, not a divider. The common catechism among Jews, Christians, and Muslims includes the football trinity of owner Art Rooney, now in heaven; his son and Steeler president, Dan Rooney; and the legendary Chuck Noll who led the Steelers out of mediocrity and into the promised land of four Superbowl victories. Our catechism honors early Superbowl saints: Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann, Terry Bradshaw, and Franco Harris – whose Immaculate Reception in the playoff game against the Raiders struck sparks of faith in my young heart.
In the church of the Holy Steeler, worship begins on Friday night as crowds of faithful numbering in the thousands pay homage to high school teams as they battle each other for city and league championships. Saturday worship takes place in the house that Joe Paterno built or in that of the radical breakaway sect, the Pittsburgh Panthers. On Sunday morning, more than one priest has shortened his sermon during football season so that the pilgrimage to the holy site where three rivers come together may begin. Armed with their Terrible Towels and sustained by such Pittsburgh delicacies as chipped ham barbecue sandwiches, pierogies and pigs in the blanket, the pilgrims enter Heinz Field and commence to worship.
How can I root for the Steelers? How can I not? I was raised “Steeler,” and tomorrow night my own sons will be sitting between their mother and me. We’ll wave that most sacred of religious objects, the Terrible Towel, and pray for the Steelers to add one more Lombardi trophy to their collection. It’s a matter of faith.
This is Joe Deffner of the Steeler satellite nation in Thetford Center.
Joe Deffner is a teacher at Thetford Academy.