With Terrible Towel In Hand: The Story Of How a Fan Was Made

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IMay 12, 2009

BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 14:  Hines Ward #86 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs the ball against the Baltimore Ravens on December 14, 2008 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. The Steelers defeated the Ravens 13-9.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Most people who haven't known me for more than nine years think that I was born bleeding black and gold.

What they don't know, and what is now painful for me to admit, is that I was not a sports fan from birth. 

Sure, I remember Super Bowl XXX. I remember not having a clue what a quarterback was, but still wondering why Neil O'Donnell was doing such a bad job of it. I remember my father being upset that we lost.

That's about it for football memories.

And then I joined the marching band my freshman year of high school.

Marching band would change and define my life for the next eight years in more ways than I can count; one of the happiest side effects of my choice to join was what it did to my relationship with sports.

For those who haven't worn the uniform and sat through ten or more football games a season, it gets tedious and boring if you don't have a clue what's going on. 

I got tired of being lost. I began watching the game more closely, and I soon discovered that high school football was a poor vehicle for learning the sport.

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So I went to the top. The first Sunday after 9/11 that the NFL played, I tuned in to see the Pittsburgh Steelers.

When the game started, all I knew was that the Steelers were the hometown team and therefore the team I should be rooting for during the game.

By the time it was over, I was ready for even more.

During that first amazing day, I quickly learned the skill positions. I learned that Kordell Stewart made everything happen as the quarterback, that Hines Ward caught his passes, and that Jerome Bettis ran the ball on the ground.

I learned that we had a great defense, but my knowledge of defense would long lag behind my knowledge of offense.

From there, three people would shape my knowledge of the game and help me fall in love with it.

My father was the first. He taught me the positions and their responsibilities and, more importantly, he told me about the 1970's and the four trophies we'd won back then.

He gave me my first Terrible Towel and told me what to do with it.

Then he did something else that proved important. The next game we watched, he turned down the telecast volume and turned up the radio.

Myron Cope and Bill Hillgrove did the rest. I quickly was in love with the way Myron wildly called the game with Hillgrove's steady play by play. 

Watching the game with the two of them broadcasting the audio portion proved to be the silver bullet. I was hooked before I knew it.

The Steelers did their part too, going 13-3 and narrowly missing a trip to the Super Bowl. But by the time the season had ended, they could've been 3-13 and I'd still have been outrageously excited for next year.

It's easy enough to be enchanted by a winning team. What is more interesting to me is that Tom Brady's Patriots didn't prove fatal to my desire to watch more football.

The Steelers just have a magic about them. 

I became quickly enchanted by the way Hines Ward played football. The back story on him was easy enough to find, and because he was an underdog kind of guy, he quickly became my favorite player.

For those who have never seen me, I'm just a shade over five feet five inches tall, and I still struggle to put a good spiral on a pass from time to time. I'd never make it in the NFL.

But Hines Ward wasn't supposed to be a great player either when he was drafted. Now, he's a lock for the Hall of Fame.

In short, I love an underdog.

Beyond Ward, it was something about the team. They just had something in them that fascinated me. The more I watched, the more I loved.

I think what really did it was seeing how the fans lived and died by what happened between the sidelines on Sundays. The nicknames, songs, and sold-out and screaming crowds at home all made the game irresistible to me.

I'm not sure where the moment came that I fell totally in love with the Pittsburgh Steelers. To be honest, it seems like it might have been a combination of things.

The wave of the Terrible Towel.

The underdog spirit of Hines Ward.

That magical 2001 season.

The voices of the Steelers' radio team.

I guess it doesn't matter when it happened. What's most important to me is that, now, there is no way to separate me from my team. I keep worrying about different aspects of moving away to find a job, but the first thought in my mind is always the same.

How will I watch the Steelers on Sunday?

Oh...I'll find a way. That much is certain. Once you fall in love with the Steelers, they never, ever, give you a chance to escape.

They really do have some kind of magic about them. That's why I'm a Steelers fan.