Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Heroes Wear Black and Gold

by KJ Howe

I have been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan since I was a little girl. When the leaves started to change, my excitement builds. The sound of cracking pads and the sight of colorful uniforms infused me with energy and enthusiasm. It came as naturally to me as reading. While I may have gotten my love of reading from my mother, my love of football came from the men in my life. My father played, one of my brothers played, and my husband played and coached for the majority of his life. So, while the traditional heroes may have worn white hats, mine wore black helmets.

The overlap between sports and literature has a long and well-known history. Sports, and the uniquely North American Football League, is an obvious metaphor for the elements of powerful fiction. Games are filled with heroes and villains (referees?) struggling to impose their will on each other. There is a clear beginning, middle, and end, and a clear resolution to all issues by the time the game is over.

Above all, there are larger-than-life characters. Every sports team has its fair share of unique individuals, but the Steelers have had more than their fair share. "Mean" Joe Green who would savagely kick and punch his opponents but is best remembered for a touching moment where he was portrayed with a young boy in a Coke commercial. The "Blonde Bomber" Terry Bradshaw who took a franchise that had never won a championship and won four Superbowls after critics had all told him he was "too dumb" to succeed in the NFL. Even the birth of the Steelers franchise is surrounded in legend and mystery. And there are the "unsung heroes," AKA the offensive linemen, who sacrifice their bodies in anonymity so that others can score touchdowns and see their faces on highlight reels. Sound like the cast of a good book?

And football, like good literature, has always reflected the society around it in a profound and symbolic way. This was recently explored in a fantastic book about the rivalry between the Steelers and Dallas Cowboys in the 70's. As the economy in Pittsburgh sputtered and steel workers and miners found themselves losing their jobs, new money and industry was turning Dallas into an economic success story. The Dallas Cowboys were as brash and flashy as the exciting new city was, and the Steelers were a dark and angry reflection of a steel town in crisis. The flashy uniforms and confident attitude of the Cowboys reflected a city flush and excited with new success, and players like "Hollywood" Henderson picked up on the culture and brought it to their playing style. But, like in any well-crafted story, the hard working underdogs won four Superbowls and won the "struggle for the soul of America."

As the football season comes to its culmination, take a few minutes to think about the intersection between sports and literature. If you can learn to think about this great game of ours as something more than a black hole that sucks men in for on most Sundays, and consider it as a metaphor for character, culture, struggle, and above all, passion, you can see why it inspires and entrances tens of millions every weekend.

In the spirit of the upcoming Superbowl, we'd love for you to share your sports passion. Do you shed a tear at the conclusion of Hoosiers? Do you live and die with your local baseball or hockey team? Do you take the day off work when the the Wallabies play the All Blacks or the Springboks? Or do you just love Troy Polamalou's hair?


gamistress66 said...

Go Steelers!! :D Time for #7 to be picked up in Dallas!!

gamistress66 said...

Grew up outside Pittsburg in the 70's-80's so of course I bleed black & gold too :) do we really have any choice -- take the girl out of the burgh, not the burgh out of the girl ;) I enjoy both football & hockey (go Pens!) Love that hard hitting action. Love Mean Joe; that coke commercial is one of my all time fave's (Troy's remake a few years ago was cute too).

While I may be in the DC area long enough to be "almost a native" Pittsburgh still is the 1st team I root for. Looking forward to Super Bowl Sunday :)

Kim in Hawaii said...

Aloha! We just love Troy's hair! The Steelers win take him to Dallas and the Jets to Honolulu.

Next week are several activities the NFL is hosting for military families as part of Pro Bowl Week:

Thursday is a mini camp for boys (football) and girls (cheerleading).

Saturday is Ohana Day - an open house at Aloha Stadium.

Sunday is the Pro Bowl - military families were given the opportunity in early December to buy cheaper tickets (we bought the cheapest so look for us in the nose-bleed area).

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Gamistress, good for you with the chook!

Kim, what an interesting post! I must say there's plenty of eye candy for a girl when she watches sport. We've got the Australian Open tennis on down here right now. I must say I find tennis fascinating which is one of the reasons I rarely watch it - honestly, a whole day is gone if you settle down to watch five minutes! And I love the sole gladiator combat element of tennis. And the power of those top male players - wow!

Sheree said...

The best part of major football games is the lack of traffic during the games. I've never been a sports fan although I like to ogle athletic guys as much as the next hetero woman.

If the weather holds (sunny and in mid-60's), I may spend Super Bowl Sunday at the beach like I did this Sunday.

I do however forgo sleep for the Olympics.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi KJ!

While my family fervantly loved football from the comfort of an armchair, my husband's family - born and raised in Cleveland, are a more die hard sort of fan. My husband was a defensive lineman in college and was all-state in high school. My husband's great uncle was the incomparable Gomer Jones who was an All American in college before he left OSU to eventually coach for Oklahoma. My son played in high school and they are all big Browns fans. I'm afraid they weren't cheering for Pittsburgh tonight (grin).

I enjoy OSU football and basketball (we're number one in the nation at the moment). Mostly I enjoy the pagentry of football and the amazing efforts and daring-do of the players. Once I've finished oogling the biceps of the basketball players, I enjoy the speed and artistry of the game. I definitely prefer college over professional sports - not sure why. Go Bucks!

PinkPeony said...

Hi KJ...

I used to follow the 49ers ages ago, but I've tired of pro sports and the bad behavior of some sports figures.

I'm a die hard Cal Golden Bears fan. Being a Cal fan is a lot like being a Cubs fan. We cringe more than we cheer.

I'm happy to see the Packers in the Superbowl though. Their QB is a Cal alum!

Cath's Chatter said...

I only watch sport for 3 teams THE ALLBLACKS (rugby), THE WARRIORS(rugby league), and THE SILVERFERNS(netball).
And my husband hates it because I turn into a screaming, yelling, argumentative, know it all erratic fan!!!!!!!!!!!
I generally get banned to the bedroom so he can watch in peace!!

barb said...

have a good day gamistress
I don't really follow much sport but DH follows Grand Prix formula 1and the aussie V8 car racing so I often see that... he goes to a lot of the V8's as he helps his friend who sells model cars at the race meetings

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

Not a big sports fan myself, I used to watch football with my mother but to sit and watch it myself, no. She liked college footbal, WVU being her team of choice of course.

KJ Howe said...

gamistress66, love your attitude towards the hard-hitting action! Maybe you can show the GR a thing or two about Steelers football today! :)

KJ Howe said...

Kim in Hawaii, how lucky that you get to go to the Pro Bowl! Enjoy every minute. And, yes, those Polomolecules are stunning. I wish I had Troy's hair!

KJ Howe said...

Anna, I'm a huge tennis fan as I've played for many years. Tennis is a fascinating sport because it is both physical and mental. I can only imagine how tough it must be playing in the heat. My all-time favorite player is an Aussie--remember Patrick Rafter???

KJ Howe said...

Sheree, I love your attitude! The beach certainly has its pull, but I'll be in front of the TV on Superbowl Sunday now that the Steelers made it! What a game last night.

KJ Howe said...

Donna, go OSU! Sounds like your husband's family is passionate about football. Love it! Congrats on all the success OSU has had this year.

KJ Howe said...

Pink Peony, Aaron Rogers is so's going to make the Superbowl quite a gripping game. Go Cal!

KJ Howe said...

Cath's Chatter, I adore your style. It's such a healthy release to get fired up about a sports team. Hilarious that you are banished to the bedroom though. Maybe give your husband earplugs??? :)

KJ Howe said...

Dianna, your mom sounds like one cool lady. I think it's great that you watched football together!

PJ said...

A blog after my own heart, KJ! My dad took me to my first football game (at University of Michigan) when I was two years old and I took to it like a duck to water.
I know the rules, the stats, the history of the game and have had an ongoing love affair with the gridiron for 50+ years. At Super Bowl parties I attend, the women gather to chat about a variety of topics, none of which are football, and occasionally watch the commercials while I'm right there in the middle of all the husbands yelling at the refs with the best of them. *grin*

Several years ago, the dh and I bought a big screen TV. People who didn't know me well would make jokes about the hubby's big, sports-watching TV. Little did they know...the dh bought the TV for ME! lol!

My team is out of the running this year so I'll be pulling for a great game and happy for whichever team wins. Both the Packers and Steelers are franchises rich in tradition and history and well-deserving of being in this year's Super Bowl.

KJ Howe said...

PJ, you're my kind of girl! I wish we lived closer so you could come over for the Superbowl! I'm dying to know...who is your favourite team?

Anna Sugden said...

LOL KJ - you know me - this is my kinda post (especially as I'm in the midst of revising my hockey hunk book at the moment!).

I love watching sports, though must admit to hating golf and cricket and not being a fan of basketball. I'm a 'Skins gal for American Football, Manchester United and Exeter for Soccer, Yankees for baseball and, of course, a New Jersey Devils fan for Hockey. That said, I will go and watch sport even if it isn't my favourite team - like when we went to Wembley earlier in the year to watch the '49ers vs the Bronces. Oh, and England rugby - love the Six Nations Championship.

Live or die by sport - stop laughing Banditas! - uh yes. Particularly hockey. I've been known to get text messages to tell me the scores in a game I can't watch. I read the blogs, listen religiously to The Puck Podcast, check the scores each morning and watch NHL on the Fly each evening. I even watch my Devils play the early games via the internet. We're season ticket holders for Man Utd, so we go to most home games.

We're looking forward to London 2012 and hope to get tickets to events. We're even volunteering to help out at the Games!

And, like PJ, I'm a rabid fan *g*.

I also love romances that feature pro-sports stars.

Anna Sugden said...

Forgot to say, we get pretty good coverage of American sports over here - NFL especially - so I can keep up with the games.

Susan Sey said...

I'm so not a televised sports fan. My husband watched all the football yesterday on our crappy little TV, then spent the rest of the evening measuring wall space for the TV his heart desires. You would not BELIEVE the size of the TV he wants.

You know, though, I do like some televised sports. I adore the Olympics. They focus so much of the people playing the sport rather than the sport itself, this character lover just can't resist. In fact...aren't we due for some Olympics? Maybe next summer? Oh, yay!

Superbowl, though? I couldn't care less about the game. I do like nachos, though. :-)

Deb said...

I'm not much of a football fan unless I am watching the Iowa Hawkeyes--on t.v., of course, in the comfort of my home and out of the nasty elements.

I have been to Hawkeye basketball games and the energy is amazing inside of Hawkeye-Carver arena. What fun!

I like watching the winter Olympic sports and enjoy ice skating and ice dancing, bobsledding, and ski jumping.

My husband loves football (especially the Cowboys---and the Hawks, of course). Shary and I get a chuckle when we hear him yelling at the t.v. or shouting in triumph.

One movie I enjoyed was The Final Season about Norway, Iowa High School's final baseball season before merging with another school. Let me tell you, Norway, Iowa is VERY baseball-oriented and their teams won state championships left and right, year after year. The scenery in the movie was gorgeous and you could tell it was Iowa. Besides that, the coach, Kent Stock, is also my niece's former principal and a friend of my sister's BIL...

Suzanne Ferrell said...

OMG KJ, say it ain't so!!!!AGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

I am a Brown's fan from wayyyyyyyyy back and have already picked sides for the SuperBowl...

I root...


Anyone playing The Steelers!

So this year I'm gonna be a Chessehead!

jo robertson said...

Interesting post, KJ! Sports, ah, having raised 4 boys and a husband (oh, yeah), I've been inundated with the mega-testosterone of all things "sporty."

But the one that really holds my interest in basketball. And yes, I loved Hoosiers!

Janga said...

I belong to a sports-mad family. An inviolate rule at my maternal grandparents' house was that we kids either watched the game or read when a game was on. Our usually gentle Papa frowned on noise that distracted him from his baseball game.

My brother was all-state in three sports in high school and an all-SEC offensive lineman in college. I grew up going to football, basketball, and baseball games and track meets. We pretty much defined seasons by the sport.

Now I prefer college to most pro sports since the make-up of the pro teams change so often. I taught for 22 years at a university that is a traditional rival of my brother's school. That makes for interesting family dynamics. I was a Braves fan even "in the rotten years," and I rarely miss watching a Falcons game. We had a family gathering to watch last week's game and gained another family story when the five-year-old grand said to his uncle, who was evaluating the Falcons' performance in expletive-rich language, "Don't take it so hard; it's just a game." :-) Of course, he'll learn that it's never "just a game."

Nancy said...

Gamistress, congrats on the bird!

KJ, what a fun take on football! I enjoy college basketball more than pro--seems like more of a team sport. And I follow tennis pretty closely. We had a period when we watched the Atlanta Braves on TV pretty faithfully, but then they traded all the players we recognized and by then we had a toddler, and that was the end of that.

Several of my annual beach group were on the women's basketball team, which I think is cool. A couple of others were on the tennis team.

We went to a couple of WNBA games when the boy was little, but the noise level in the arena was too much for him. I don't follow any team closely, but if someone says, "hey, let's go to the ballgame," I can be up for it.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...


Oh, KJ, you KNOW I love me some football. But I'm totally bummed that the Bears aren't going aginst the Steelers though. *POUT*

Fun post!

Gamistriss66, congrats on the choooookie-chook.

Helen said...

Well done gamistress66 enjoy your day with him

We are big followers of sport here in my house at the moment summer means cricket and The Australian cricket team we lost the ashes to England in the test matches but the one day matches are in full swing at the moment and we are 3 up YAY.
Winter sports and we follow the rugby leauge and our team is the West Tigers black and gold (must be the best colours LOL) we get to games when we can but watch the rest on the TV.
Hubby also coaches a soccer team and has done for around 25 years now I don't think he will ever give it up he started when our son was 4 (and he is 29 next week) our son stopped playing when he was 16 but Ron found another team to coach and is still loving it.

Have Fun

Becke Davis said...

I'm a disappointed Bears fan. :-(

catslady said...

Oh fantastic post. I live in Pittsburgh and am recooperating now from our playoff game party lol. My son-in-law is a Jets fan. It sucked to be him yesterday lol. My hasband and I had season tickets for over 15 years (then we had kids and had to give them up). That was during the 70's and fantastic football (most of the time). Pittsburgh has always been a great sports city and us fans never give up. Here's looking forward to our 7th superbowl win!!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Catslady, I feel your son-in-laws pain! There's no joy in this little corner of Mudville. My son has been a die-hard Jets fan for over 20 years. When he was a little boy (around 9 or 10) my brother-in-law lived in NY and sent him a Joe Klecko jersey for his bday. He's been a Jets fan ever since, and considering their abysmal record, that is saying something.

Pink, I watched the 49ers years ago too, as in when Joe Montana and Steve Young played QB.

As for televised sports, don't really watch it that much. But we were in NZ for the start of the World Cup last year and I think everyone in the country was glued to TV ALL DAY AND NIGHT! It was fun being part of the excitement.


Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Becke said I'm a disappointed Bears fan. :-(

Yep. My house is in mourning too, Becke.


Pat Cochran said...

I'm a life-long fan(atic) and
follower of the Houston sports
teams. Whether high school, U.H.,
Buffs/45s/Astros, Rockets, or my
beloved Houston Oilers, I'm so
there: win or lose! So I'm sure
you will understand that I was
not rooting for the Steelers last
evening! They have long been a
pain to me! In fact when we moved into our home in 1969, I almost "died" when I realized that the
high school my children would
attend had black & gold as their colors!! The only saving factor
was that they were the Eagles!

Best of luck to both teams, but I
won't be watching the Super Bowl
this year!

Pat Cochran

Beth Andrews said...

Go Steelers!!

Hey, KJ, what a fun post! I'm a huge football fan and love my Steelers *g* My son has a deep passion for hockey (I hope he and Anna can meet in person some day!!) and follows his Pens - and now my younger daughter and I are Pens fans, too. (My older daughter will watch the game but that's only because she's hoping to get a glimpse of Jordan Staal *g*)

Did I mention GO STEELERS!!!


Keira Soleore said...

Go Packers, by God!!


KJ Howe said...

Okay, Anna S, I'm recruiting you to cheer for the Steelers on Feb 6th. I'm so like you when it comes to the rah rah factor in sports! Love it!

KJ Howe said...

PJ, we should have a meeting of all Bandita buddies for the Superbowl! What fun that would be.

KJ Howe said...

Susan, your husband's measuring is so cute! I understand why he dreams big. My husband had his wisdom teeth out later in life and as a surprise, I had a large flat screen installed for him just before his operation. He was a happy guy!

KJ Howe said...

Deb, thanks for the movie recommendation. I'll definitely check it out.

KJ Howe said...

Deb, thanks for the movie recommendation. I love watching a good one.

KJ Howe said...

Suz, I still love ya! I was at a Steelers Brown game once and boy, was it ugly. Quite something!!!

KJ Howe said...

Jo, basketball is the best. So fast-paced and dynamic. Who is your favorite player???

KJ Howe said...

Janga, "just a game"? Yep, that little guy will soon learn just how important it was. LOL I like the Falcons--tons of talent. I'm sorry they lost.

KJ Howe said...

Nancy, who do you like in tennis? I'm a big fan and love playing when I have time.

KJ Howe said...

Jeanne, I was really hoping for the Bears. So sorry. What did you think of Jay Cutler's injury? Should he have played?

KJ Howe said...

Helen, cricket is the coolest sport. I was in Barbados when they had the big tournament there and I grew to love it. The sport is quite popular in Toronto because we have a lot of people here from the West Indies. It's fantastic.

KJ Howe said...

Becke, big hug on the loss. I was really hoping Obama would be at the Superbowl!

KJ Howe said...

Catslady, you rock. Love you teasing your son. Didn't you teach him right and show the Pittsburgh path to gold??? LOL I'll be thinking of you during the Superbowl. Cheer loudly!

KJ Howe said...

AC, I feel for your son. I've been on the losing end so many times and it is beyond frustrating. When your team isn't playing well, you want to jump on the field and sort them out! Thanks for stopping by!

KJ Howe said...

Jeanne, big warm hug for you!!!

KJ Howe said...

Pat, you crack me up. I respect your love for Houston. I'm sorry the Steelers have left a sore spot. They are a rough bunch of hooligans, but I love them. :)

KJ Howe said...

Beth, love your fire!!!! GO STEELERS GO! You'll hear my screams all the way from Toronto!

KJ Howe said...

Keira, it's going to be a fabulous game with two powerful teams. We'll see how it all plays out.

Nancy said...

KJ, in tennis, I like Sharapova and the Williams Sisters. I've been watching the Australian Open on TV. I used to play little, when I could find someone bad enough for me to hold my own with. I had a decent serve but NO foot speed. Then my back fusion pretty much did in my service motion. But I still like watching it.

A highlight for me was when Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova played an exhibition here. The dh had to teach that night, so a friend who was also into tennis went along and drove me. I was still in the post-surgery cast and wasn't allowed to drive.

And my alltime tennis heroine is Billie Jean King, who did so much for the women's game and for the sport overall.

Pissenlit said...

GO LEAFS GO!!! Woooooooooooo!!!

Gotta love hockey! I'm also a fan of the Blue Jays and baseball in general but I don't really enjoy watching it on TV very much. I love following the Olympics(Winter more than Summer...yay hockey and curling!) and I usually try to catch the US Triple Crown(horsies!) on TV every year though I tend to forget and miss 1 or 2 of the 3 races.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

KJ said: Suz, I still love ya! I was at a Steelers Brown game once and boy, was it ugly. Quite something!!!

THey are usually really down and dirty. Grins. They're Uber-rivals, like the Bears/Packers. :>

I saw Culter's injury and I'm glad they took him out. 1) knee injuries can end a career, so better safe than sorry. 2) he was having a sucky day. 3.) Hanie was going great until that interception. If that pass had hit the receiver? Different story today! :>

Louisa Cornell said...

Gamistress won the GR Bowl! Yay!


I should have known you were a Steelers fan!!

Actually my Dad was a HUGE Steelers fan as he grew up in PA. He was also a big Penn State fan.

Of course I live in Alabama where college football is a religion, not a sport!

I am an Alabama fan, as is my Mom, one of my brothers, one of my nephews and my niece. The other brother, however, is an Auburn fan, as are his wife and my other nephew. Makes for a really rowdy time when the Alabama vs Auburn game comes up each year.

My Mom is actually a Dallas Cowboys fan as her cousin played for Dallas years ago. (Leroy Jordan, don't know if any of you have heard of him.)

And I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Saints.

Nancy said...

Pissenlit, I think Olympic skater Kristy Yamaguchi is (or was) married to a hockey player and that he was on the Raleigh, NC, team at one point.

Suzanne Ferrell said...

KJ:Suz, I still love ya! I was at a Steelers Brown game once and boy, was it ugly. Quite something!!!

Girl, you were taking your life into your own hands by doing that! Especially if you were wearing Steeler's Black and Gold!

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Sports favorites, huh?

Well, I adore my Buckeyes! Born and raised in Columbus, how could I not? I'll even watch them play basketball, (which is NOT a sport I like).

I am a football fanatic, and as I've said, I've loved the Browns since the late 60's. Good thing since my hubby is from Canton, Ohio, where the football Hall of Fame is!

And I love my Indians baseball. I love the mechanics and the intellect that goes into that game. Oh yeah and the men in such sexy uniforms....ah, Grady Sizemore and Jake Westbrooke!

PJ said...

PJ, you're my kind of girl! I wish we lived closer so you could come over for the Superbowl! I'm dying to know...who is your favourite team?

KJ, I cheer for Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. TB because I lived in that area for many years, was there when the team was formed and have followed them ever since. Indy because I like Peyton Manning. I also cheer for the Panthers because they're the local team but they haven't given us much to cheer for lately. ;-)

In college sports, I'm a huge Florida State fan. GO NOLES!

LilMissMolly said...

I am not an American football fan at all - unless you count what everyone else in the world calls "football" - soccer. I'm a HUGE soccer fan and even have it on my license plate (SCRFAN)!
Now, as far as shedding a tear for sport movies - I'll admit that sometimes I'll shed a tear if it's warranted. I really LOVED The Blind Side. I went to see it with my BFF solely because of Tim McGraw - yes the bathroom scene where he is brushing his teeth made us both swoon - but I have to admit that the story made me cry at the end.

Slush said...

I am in love with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. I live and die with them. Been a fan since I was born... well, not really but my father definitely helped cultivate my devotion over the years. Love Football! But I will admit I follow college ball more closely than pro. Thanks for the awesome post!

Suzanne Ferrell said...

PJ:Indy because I like Peyton Manning

Oh PJ, I adore watching Peyton, both on the field passing the football and in his commercials. He cracks me up!

But when he is on the field it's a thing of beauty to watch, isn't it? Indy is my second favorite team to the Browns, and that's all because Peyton plays for them!

jo robertson said...

The Sacramento Kings are my home team, so I have to root for them, but my heart goes to Utah Jazz player Karl Malone, retired now, but so easy on the eyes.

KJ Howe said...

You guys are just fantastic. I love the enthusiasm for sports demonstrated today.

Suz, I'm a brave girl, always looking for adventure, so I was definitely wearing black and gold!

Jo, I'm all for easy-on-the-eyes sports figures. That's why I like football...for those tight pants!!! LOL

Slush, Nebraska rocks. Talk about talent!

Lil Miss Molly, I also loved Blindside. I love how sports can help someone overcome life's trials.

heidi ruby miller said...

Yay, Steelers!

Dina said...

I'm originally from Chicago but was never really into football until I came to Wi., so I'm a Packers fan, and very happy to see them going to the Super bowl!

Go Pack Go!!!!!!!!