What Makes a Steelers Fan Makes a Good Steelers Reporter

Marky BillsonContributor IMay 17, 2009

“When you get into this business, kid, ya gotta stop being a fan!”


So said former KDKA Radio sports director Goose Goslin to me when I was a 22-year-old intern, writing sports copy for him and generally not doing much of anything else other than taking his abuse three times a week, four hours a day, for four months.


While Goslin’s remark was more a statement of his cynicism than professional advice, I would later hear his statement repeated by many other members of the sports media with much happier personalities.


What did that mean?


My passion for Pittsburgh sports teams knew no boundaries. I had chosen to attend Point Park College because, yes, they had a good journalism program, but more importantly it was the college that was located closest to Three Rivers Stadium.


Three years later during a leave of my studies, I found myself living in Johnson City, Tenn., where there were no sports bars showing Steelers games.  


Unable to watch the Steelers every week on local TV, I collected my weekly tip money from a job delivering pizza and drove my 1981 Chevy Citation to the nearest Steelers bar every week they were not shown locally.


It should be mentioned the nearest Steelers bar was in Winston-Salem, N. C. some 141 miles away from Johnson City.


On mostly two-lane, U.S. Highways; not interstates.


Is it any wonder I went back to school in Western Pennsylvania the following year for my internship?


Still, what did this mean?


I knew enough not to refer to the team I was covering as “we” or “us” and certainly wasn’t going to wear my Myron Cope T-shirt to the press box, but was I supposed to renounce the revered moments of my youth rooting passionately for the Steelers so that I could live in the city I loved covering the teams I had loved?


My passion for Pittsburgh sports teams began as an 8-year-old boy when my mother and I moved to Pittsburgh in the magical year of 1979. Willie Stargell lived down the street, as did L.C. Greenwood and Joe Grushecky, a local rocker and close friend of Bruce Springsteen, whose career was peaking at the time.


The Pirates won the World Series.


The Steelers won their fourth Super Bowl.


I knew nothing about sports upon moving to “The City of Champions,” but upon leaving after my mother’s doctorate fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh ended, I had been indoctrinated as a Pittsburgher for life through the sports teams.


I would move multiple times throughout my childhood up and down the east coast. Never again did I see an area so passionate about their sports teams.


Citizens decorated not just the inside of their homes with Pittsburgh sports memorabilia, but the outside as well. Between watching cartoons on Channel 53, I read ID liners stating “Super Steelers Go for Four.”


And I swear the P.A. system at Linden Elementary School dismissed us to the Steeler Polka!


But since I moved around so much in my childhood I needed to establish some sort of identity, and the joy I had of bonding and being accepted by my peers in Pittsburgh by talking and playing sports stayed with me.


My mother’s first two teaching jobs were at Pennsylvania colleges, so I could often follow them.


And even when I WASN’T living in Pennsylvania, a choice that certainly was not my own, I would continue to follow Pittsburgh sports teams through the 50,000 watt AM signal of KDKA or even the 5,000 watt signal of flagship station WTAE, which on a clear night could be picked up 400 miles away if one was patient enough to weed through a broadcast that would fade in and out with regularity.


Whenever the Steelers, let alone the Penguins, Pirates, or Panthers, were on television—I refused to miss the telecast. I’d even beg to visit family in Florida when the Steelers were playing there with surprising success.


Free moments were spent perfecting my Myron Cope impersonation. Unhappier moments were spent trying to sneak the family car from Tennessee and drive to Pittsburgh to watch the Pittsburgh Gladiators in the first-ever Arena Bowl, a story that is best left untold.


And now I had to give all this passion up just to make a living in my chosen career?


I’d have to “quit being a fan” and become as bitter as Goslin, who often said he wanted to goad Bill Cowher into striking him during a press conference so Goslin could sue.


No way!


The concern is, of course, objectivity.


Though Goslin's ill fated retirement plan did nothing for the sake of journalism and everything for the sake of causing tension during Steelers' press conferences, my steadfast belief that Mark Malone was going to be better than John Elway because, after all, Malone’s Steelers BEAT Elway’s Broncos in the 1984 playoffs might have been tainted just a bit by the black and gold lenses in my glasses and therefore less than objective as well. 


But it says here that fans are often the most objective people surrounding a team.


Fans want Cliff Stout benched when he throws 21 interceptions against 12 touchdowns in 1983. Fans don’t fall in love with Bubby Brister or continue to lobby for him to be the starting quarterback because he gives good quotes. And fans realize it’s time for the rookie to replace the struggling veteran before coaches and teammates who stick with the vet out of personal loyalty do.


A journalist should have a fan’s enthusiasm for the next game.


A journalist should realize presenting scenarios on how the team can win along with how they can lose is the very definition of objectivity.


So that’s why a journalist should be a fan. That’s why being a lifelong fan of the team one covers can uncover historical references that will bond him or her with the reader, viewer, or listener.


And that’s why I wanted to turn my passion for the Pittsburgh Steelers, which by now includes countless friendships with media, players, and fans; recognition by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in their “Visa Hall of Fans” in 2000, a one-time position covering the team, a talk show on then-WTAE-AM as a fill-in, former linebacker Ed Bradley volunteering to let me try on his Super Bowl ring, a letter to Dan Rooney that resulted in the 1947 team being honored in at halftime of the Steelers’ game against Jacksonville on 2001 (complete with my article on the team in the game program), and, more recently, being linked to by noted blogger “Mondesi’s House” for my piece on how Carlton Haselrig is turning his life around ( http://mondesishouse.blogspot.com/2009/05/carlton-haselrig-won.html), into a full-time career.


It starts with Bleacher Report in 2009!