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Gorman: Loyalties to natives torn

| Friday, Jan. 28, 2011

Pittsburghers are nothing if not provincial, celebrating every accomplishment with a connection to the city as if it is our own.

Angel-voiced America's Got Talent star Jackie Evancho?

She's ours, from Richland.

Archbishop Donald Wuerl elevated to Cardinal?

He's ours, a St. Mary of the Mount graduate.

They win, we win.

Yet Mike McCarthy is as Pittsburgh as they come, a guy who not only hasn't forgotten his native Greenfield but also gives back generously. The son of a retired police officer and firefighter who owned a bar in The Run — they don't come more blue collar than that — has led the Green Bay Packers to the Super Bowl.

There's just one problem.

"If they weren't playing the Steelers, then everybody would be rooting for the Packers," said Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch, a Homestead native and Steel Valley graduate. "They would be big Mike McCarthy fans, big Tom Clements fans. Those are guys you root for — until they're playing the Steelers.

"When you have people who are loyal to their teams, they're going to be loyal."

Here, the loyalty is to God, country, family and the Steelers.

Not necessarily in that order.

Batch has experienced this firsthand. He was the Detroit Lions' starting quarterback during the infamous "heads-tails" coin-flip flap in the overtime victory against the Steelers on Thanksgiving Day 1998.

"You know your family and friends are rooting for you," Batch said, "but they say, 'You're the enemy. We want you to do well, but we want our Steelers to win.' And they're open about it. That's just how it is. You have to deal with that."

Bruce Gradkowski has watched his son and namesake, the former record-setting quarterback at Seton-La Salle, play against the Steelers four times. Gradkowski has taken good-natured ribbing from Steelers fans for wearing Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders jerseys to Heinz Field.

"The guys in the end zone were stroking me," admits Gradkowski, who said his wife got it worse. "Debbie was getting Terrible Towels waved in her face up in the 500 level - you know her, though; she'll go right after them - but it's been real classy around here. The Pittsburgh fans like to give it to you, but they don't try to harass you or rough you up like some other towns."

But the roots run deeper than McCarthy for Green Bay, creating pockets of Packers fans all over Western Pennsylvania. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin played at Washington & Jefferson. Tight ends coach Ben McAdoo played at Homer City and Indiana (Pa.). Defensive quality control assistant Scott McCurley played at Mohawk and Pitt. Clements, a former Canevin standout, is Green Bay's quarterbacks coach after a stint with the Steelers.

"If Tom was a player, we'd probably be pulling for the Packers. But this is still Steelers country. We have black-and-gold days on Fridays before the game," Bishop Canevin football coach Bob Jacoby said. "The younger generation is taking more satisfaction in the Steelers. I think the older generation can take satisfaction in either one."

While Jacoby was sharing stories of coaching Clements, fellow teacher Duke Tomasic revealed that he had taught McCarthy at Bishop Boyle in Homestead. That's Pittsburgh; big city and small town all in one.

Meantime, Greenfield is unabashedly pulling for The Pack.

McCarthy still drops our dialect into casual conversation and loves to talk about his old neighborhood, so tight-knit that his grade school and church and football and baseball fields and basketball court were all within walking distance of his home — and all without wandering off Greenfield Avenue.

How can you not root for him?

Well, except for that coaching-the-enemy thing.

"It's got to be the biggest thrill for that guy. He's got to be so fired up and tickled about this," said Gradkowski, recalling his son passing for 308 yards and three fourth-quarter touchdowns in the Raiders' 27-24 victory over the Steelers in December 2009. "That's the thing: they want to see the hometown kid do good, but they don't want him to beat the Steelers."

McCarthy gives Pittsburgh a can't-lose proposition in Super Bowl XLV.

He wins, we win. Even if the Steelers lose.

Funny, but somehow I don't think Pittsburghers will see it that way.

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