For our blog, though, the trick always amounts to making the post relate to education. It’s a tall order — not like Joe Namath’s Jets beating the Colts or the Giants upsetting the undefeated Patriots or the Saints winning it all last year, mind you. But it’s a challenge nonetheless. Still, I’m up to the task. “How?” you say.
Well, let’s start with the fact that almost every Wisconsin school is going absolutely nutty over their beloved Green Bay Packers making it to the championship game. Classrooms are abuzz with talk, images, and activities that center on the NFC champions.
Trust me when I tell you that schools in western Pennsylvania have fallen prey to the same fanaticism over their adored Pittsburgh Steelers. In fact, this school-based phenomenon occurs with every team that’s made it to the Super Bowl.
This year the good-natured immersion in Packers’ football mania has created a notable conflict for my daughter in her K-4 classroom. Why? Because she is a hopeless Steelers fan! That’s right — she proudly wears the black and gold jersey of the team that threatens the dreams of most every other kid in her class.
Go easy on the little girl. She’s been thoroughly indoctrinated. All she knows is that her daddy, in particular, and even her mommy ”live and die” with the Pittsburgh Steelers — pretty much always have, always will.
It’s not even a choice for us. When you grow up in Pittsburgh, you MUST be a Steelers fan. Just as Wisconsin worships the Pack, Steeler football is a religion in the ‘Burgh. I am not kidding when I tell you that, in hospital nurseries there, newborn babies come into the world wrapped in the Steelers’ signature Terrible Towels. Devotion to the home team is THAT pervasive. Just like here in Milwaukee and throughout the Badger state.
A Little History
Just so you know, Pittsburgh’s love affair with the Steelers began in the early 1970′s. Sure, it came as a result of winning, but there’s a powerful sociological reason, too. Back then Pittsburgh’s economy experienced a major collapse. In the largely blue-collar city, the steel mills were closing left and right, and unemployment skyrocketed. Workers and their families became desperate. The city had lost almost all semblance of civic pride; there was nothing to believe in. Hope barely existed.
And then miraculously, the ever lowly Steelers took their first steps to becoming a dynasty — just like Green Bay I might add. It started with an Immaculate Reception no less. The success of the team gave rise to a much greater hope, and even more miraculously, Pittsburgh turned its economic fortunes around. It literally reinvented itself.
The city has undergone an extraordinary renaissance. It’s become a white-collar economy with a technology focus. There’s plenty of culture, and it’s a destination for tourists and a popular convention site. And it’s clean and safe.
But germane to this blog, Pittsburgh seems to be getting its act together with its schools. Like most everywhere else, the suburban schools there have been successful, but the urban schools have struggled. From what I’ve been told, the Pittsburgh Public Schools have made significant progress the past few years, and the city’s Extra Mile Education Foundation, with its $45M endowment, supports a fair number of ascending urban Catholic elementary schools. It’s been a true difference maker.
Milwaukee could probably take a lesson from Pittsburgh’s educational progress. My understanding is that a team from MPS traveled to the city a while back to discover what is being done. And I’d like to get professionals from our Greater Milwaukee Catholic Education Consortium there to learn how Extra Mile garnered so much foundation support from its community.
My Own Conflict
For the record, this Super Bowl represents a dilemma for me as well. My two favorite football teams in the whole wide world are playing!
You see, when I was growing up in Pittsburgh, the Packers were my favorite team, because they were perennial winners. By contrast, the Steelers were consistently awful, almost an embarrassment. It wasn’t until just after I graduated from high school that the team’s lifetime claim on my football heart took hold. But once it did, there’s been no turning back.
How bad is the affliction? I’ve reached the point where I pretty much must watch the games alone. My emotional ranting would probably terrify even other hardcore Steelers fans, and no child should be within earshot of my utter insanity. Even my wife can barely stand it. She finds it remarkable that I haven’t ended up in a cardiac care unit yet.
But since I’ve moved to Milwaukee, my old fondness for the Pack has definitely been rekindled. I cherish a trip or two to Lambeau each year, because I feel the history of the place. The fans truly know the game, and demonstrate civility. I love Aaron Rodgers as a player and role model. Donald Driver exudes character. Clay Matthews rocks. Charles Woodson leads. Greg Jennings delivers. Believe me, I could go on.
So why my continuing lovefest with the Steelers? Here’s a short story that might help readers understand.
You may know that Packers’ head coach, Mike McCarthy, is a Pittsburgh native. He no doubt grew up idolizing the Steelers. Recently a Milwaukee TV station went to his former stomping grounds to visit the bar his father owned there for many years. Coach McCarthy’s autographed photo hangs on the wall, and the bar patrons talked admiringly about him and what a great job he’s done with the Packers. They’re intensely proud of a local boy made good. The Milwaukee media also talked to some of his family, and they were clearly proud of their Mike.
But I am not kidding when I tell you that every one of the patrons will root for the Steelers, and maybe even some of the coach’s family. The loyalty runs THAT deep. And let’s face it, if the situation were reversed, Packer loyalty would run exactly the same way.
To me, the Packers and the Steelers qualify as the two classiest organizations in all of professional sports, not just football. I honestly will hate to see either team lose. If it’s the Steelers, some of the sting will be missing, but I’ll still be depressed for a little while – probably about a decade. It’s been 15 years since they lost to Dallas, and I still carry that profound grief around.
A Field Goal
Let me leave you with three points (get it?) about football fanaticism and schools:
- Wouldn’t it be wonderful if football fans contributed to schools in the amounts that they spend on team merchandise?
- Wouldn’t it be something if school children were as passionate about learning as football fans are about winning?
- Wouldn’t it be great if the community’s zeal for schooling matched its support of its football teams?
Pick a winner? Not me, I tell ya.