Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The City of Champions

I spent the first 18 years of my life in Pittsburgh, PA. I also spent my 27th through 30th years there. I love the town. I grew up there, my entire family still lives there, most of my friends are still there or at least in the general vicinity. That being said, there’s no way in hell I’d ever move back. I just don’t like the snow.

If you’ve never experienced pro football season in Pittsburgh, you’ve never witnessed true fanaticism. Wait, let me take that back. There’s no such thing as football season in Pittsburgh, only Steelers season. And it lasts 365 days a year. It ebbs and flows, slowly building in early August, and, depending on the results of the regular season & playoffs, either coming to an abrupt – although temporary – downturn in December, or, like this season, builds and builds to a Super Bowl championship crescendo. There may be some downtime for the players, but for the fans, there’s always something to cheer for. “Here we go Steelers” can be heard up and down Carson Street in the middle of the summer, and if you’ve ever worn black & gold through any airport in this country, you know you’ll need more time than expected to catch your next flight because of the number of other fans who’ll stop you to talk about their favorite plays, players or whole seasons.

Regardless of the outcome of each NFL season, Pittsburghers’ love for their football team never wanes. Unlike Philadelphia and Cleveland, which are notorious for their relentless treatment of a losing home team, the Steeler Nation stands behind their team like they stand behind their city. This steadfastness is evidenced by the fact that the Steelers have only had three coaches – Chuck Knoll, Bill Cowher & Mike Tomlin – since 1969. Journalists and sports historians are quick to draw similarities between the working class attitude of the Steelers and the grungy history of the clue-collar Steel City, but that parallel runs deeper than a simple Sports Center metaphor. We Pittsburghers know we’ll never have the glamour of New York City or the sunshine of Miami. The steelworker clich├ęs abound, but rather than live in denial or attempt to refute the unfair stereotypes we’ve been given, we embrace our history while knowing that the truth is we’re a cutting edge city still covered by the soot of the steel industry.

Carson Street, Pittsburgh's Southside after the Steelers Super Bowl win

Here are a few things you may not know about the Steel City:

  • In 2008, Forbes magazine ranked Pittsburgh #13 on its “Best cities for young professionals” list.
  • Entrepreneur magazine ranks the city ninth on the list of best cities in which to start a small business.
  • In 2007, Forbes ranked Pittsburgh as the 10th cleanest city (so much for all that coal smog)
  • Places Rated Almanac gave Pittsburgh the title of “America’s most livable city” in 2007.
  • Pittsburgh is the headquarters of nine Fortune 500 companies (ranks seventh in the nation).
  • The Carnegie Museum of Art opened in 1895 as the world’s first museum of modern art.
  • Pittsburgh boasts the lowest crime rate out of the top-25 US metropolitan areas.
  • Pittsburgh is home to 34 colleges and universities, including Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, two schools consistently ranked in the top 25 in the country.
  • Pittsburgh is second only to NYC in its number of theater companies.
  • Pittsburgh has more certified “green” buildings than any other US city.
  • The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center consistently ranks in the top 10 best US hospitals and is a leader in cancer treatment and organ transplant research.

Pittsburgh doesn’t brag about its accomplishments, doesn’t feel the need to self promote. It’s a humble city with a huge heart. The people that make up its population reflect the hard exterior, deep roots and unyielding perseverance of a town that was left for dead in the early ‘80s but slowly and steadily has reinvented itself. There was a time when Steelers football and four Lombardi trophies were the only pieces of metal left shimmering under the collapse of the steel industry. The last bit of greatness; memories of what once was. In the town’s hardest times, Steelers football brought everyone together. Now, more than two decades later, the Pittsburgh Steelers are on top, and the skyline of the Steel City once again stands tall and proud as the backdrop of champions without ever forgetting its past. Oh yeah, make that six Lombardi trophies.

I-279 (Parkway West) inbound, Monday morning

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