Friday, July 27, 2012

“Pittsburgh Calling – The Next Chapter”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a hazy morning in the Icehouse home office.

I was on my first cup of coffee. Riley and Quigley, our Black Lab and Pomeranian duo, were snoozing on the floor.

Suddenly, the telephone began to ring.

I rubbed my eyes. Strewn over the desk were unfinished writing projects, random business cards and copies of the Maple Leaf newspaper. Somewhere in the pile was my mobile device.

“Hello?” I answered after a half-dozen rings.

The voice on my phone sounded vaguely familiar, like an echo from the past. I struggled to understand while clearing my desk.

“Hey, dis is Al,” he boasted. “Al Luccioni. You remember me?”

“Who??” I asked.

“Al!” the caller said again. “Luccioni!”

Recognition cleared my head. It was a long-lost neighbor from the Pittsburgh area.
“Ain’t you dat Buckeye kid who lived here in New Ken?” he huffed. “I’m callin’ you!”

“Yes,” I replied. “Great to hear a voice from the ‘Burgh. But… I’m in my fifties now. Not a kid anymore.”

“Whaaat?” he grunted with disbelief.

“My family moved away from Pittsburgh in 1978,” I explained. “Don’t you remember?”

“All I remember is a lot of Superbowl rings for the Stillers!” he boasted.

“Right,” I agreed.

“So, we’re gettin’ close to the start of football camp,” he said with excitement. “That always makes me think of you, kid.”

I laughed at his remark. “Football makes you think of me?”

“That’s right,” he cheered. “Here comes another losin’ season for your Browns!”

I sighed out loud. “Well, in January, Tim Tebow took care of your team in the playoffs, didn’t he? It’s all downhill from there…”

“Hah!” Al exploded. “Go pound salt, kiddo!”

“Admit it, you guys were the losers,” I reflected. “29-23. Welcome to the club.”

“Losers you want?” he grunted. “How about Billy Belichoke? He’s halfway to losin’ as many Superbowls as Marv Levy!”

“Careful, Al,” I cautioned. “Your Steelers have also lost two Superbowl contests.”

My erstwhile neighbor sounded angry. “C’mon! Yinz Cleveland people got nothin’ to cheer for. We got rings – a whole six-pack of ‘em!”

“And we have eight,” I exclaimed. “Four in the NFL, four in the AAFC…”

He was about to hyperventilate. “Hey, loudmouth kid! Show respect for the ‘Men of Steel’ or I’ll reach through dis phone and twist your neck!”

Suddenly, my stamina evaporated. I felt like a parishioner going to confession. Our long-running disagreement had turned stale.

“Okay Al, no more argument,” I admitted. “We say the same things every year. And the result is no different. Cleveland can’t even win eight games in a season. So there you go. Hats off to you…”

He was flabbergasted. “Huh??”

“Pittsburgh is the better city,” I said without emotion. “Do your victory dance.”

“Hey, wait, wait, wait… dat is the smartest talk I ever heard outta Ohio,” he thundered. “Let me write that down! But I don’t believe it. What about the Rock Hall? Or the Great Lakes Science Center? Them two always get brought up when we argue Lake Erie versus Three Rivers. You feelin’ okay, kid?”

“Just fine here,” I explained. “It has been a long time since the era of Bernie Kosar and Ozzie Newsome. Since then, Giant Eagle bought Rini-Rego Supermarkets. PNC Bank absorbed National City. And there are Steeler fans all over northeastern Ohio. Heck, we even have Yuengling and Iron City beer to drink, despite the fact that Great Lakes Brewing products are far superior. Game over. We might as well be in Pennsylvania.”

Al babbled with disbelief. “I am speechless, kid!”

“It dawned on me the other night, while sitting around a campfire with my neighbors,” I reflected. “We were discussing local sports, and I realized that everyone else in the neighborhood was a Steeler fan. That wouldn’t have been the case thirty years ago. But a whole generation of people has grown up on Lake Erie without ever seeing the Browns win more than a handful of games in a single year.”

My neighbor whistled to himself. “Dang, you sure sound smart, all of a sudden!”

“Every season turns out the same,” I sighed. “High expectations that crash into bad team management and questionable coaching. Plus, the typical amount of negative headlines in the press. Even Mike Holmgren hasn’t changed that.”

“Hah!” Al snickered. “He ain’t so smart. We took care of him in the Superbowl! But what about Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson? Yinz people on the lake keep barkin’ about those new guys.”

“Hopefully, they make a difference,” I said. “It would’ve been great to have Richardson and Peyton Hillis together, for a dynamic running attack like Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack in the old days. But I guess it wasn’t meant to happen.”

“You want to run the football?” he jeered. “Just take a lesson from the Stillers. Dick Hoak, Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Merril Hoge, Barry Foster, Frank Pollard, Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall. They just keep marchin’ on, kiddo!”

“Sure,” I agreed.

“What, ain’t you gonna bark about Jim Brown, like usual?” he laughed with confusion.

“One of the guys at work has a friend who is a tattoo artist,” I said. “His number one request is the Pittsburgh Steelers logo. Thirty years ago, you would have been lucky not to get a broken arm for showing something like that in Cleveland. But a lot of water has gone under the lift-bridge since then…”

Al snorted into the phone. “I miss dat rivalry we used to have. But face it kid, the Dawgs are better off layin’ on the porch. Yinz people can’t run with us.”

“Maybe not,” I replied. “We’ll see…”

“Okay,” Al interjected, “Ma is makin’ her best ‘kielbasa spaghetti’ tonight. She’s simmerin’ up some tomato and Iron City sauce, right now. I’m gettin’ hungry.”

“Thanks for calling, old friend,” I said.

“You bet!” he growled. “Be good, kiddo!”

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