Green Bay fan from Hempfield named to hall of fame
Rick Steele may live in the heart of Steelers Country, but his heart is in Titletown, USA.
Although he lives 700 miles from the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, Steele lives and breathes the Green Bay Packers.
He and his wife, Kristi, have been to 18 Packers games since their first in 2003. Five rooms in their Hempfield home are decorated with green-and-gold memorabilia. They are even the first household outside of the Green Bay area to have Packers carpeting installed.
And they named their son, Brett, now 6, for legendary Packers quarterback Brett Favre.
His fanaticism paid off when Steele, 39, a technology education teacher in the Penn-Trafford School District and co-owner of Steele's Driving School in Greensburg, was named the 14th member of the Green Bay Packers FAN Hall of Fame on Tuesday at Lambeau Field.
"It's quite an honor. To be this much in love with something and to be recognized that you're that much of a fan, it's really special," Steele said during a phone interview after the announcement.
Steele was selected by fans from 10 finalists during a voting period that ran from Jan. 1 through Feb. 5. More than 100,000 votes were cast.
Steele received 37,275 votes, beating out runner-up and self-proclaimed "Mayor of Lambeau" Rick Wiltzius, a Wisconsin resident, by nearly 3,500 votes.
Steele found out he won during a news conference in the media room of Lambeau Field. He gave a speech beside the president of the football team.
"I'm still in shock over the whole thing," he said.
Steele is the third person from outside of Wisconsin to be named to the FAN Hall of Fame, which the football team started in 1998. His win gets him four club seats to a 2012 Packers home game, a $500 Packers Pro Shop gift certificate, a road trip for two to a 2012 Packers away game and a one-year subscription to Packers Plus and Packer Insider.
He will have his name permanently displayed in the Packers Hall of Fame.
But he said his wife's name should be on the plaque, too.
In fact, Steele's love for the Packers started with his wife, a Ligonier native who became a Packers fan as a child.
Rick Steele was only a casual football fan until he married in 2001. He preferred college football over the NFL, though he rooted for the Steelers.
"Once we went to Green Bay, that all changed," he said.
In 2003, the couple went to a game at Lambeau Field for the first time, and Rick Steele was hooked.
"The history, the tradition" was what impressed him, Steele said. "When we first started following them, they were not in the midst of a winning streak. But honestly, it was something magical."
They've attended Packers games and fan fests. Taken vacations to Green Bay. They've decorated their den, living room, bathroom, Brett's bedroom and a garage bar in Packers gear.
Rick and his wife have not missed watching a Packers game -- either in person or on television -- since their wedding.
It hasn't always been easy.
Last year, when the Packers were facing the Steelers in the Super Bowl, a Pittsburgh television station did a piece on the family, which includes daughter, Alyssa, 13, who is not into football.
The reaction from some Steelers fans was disturbing.
"People wanted to find out where we lived," Rick Steele said. "They wanted to burn down our house. Kristi was a little uneasy thinking what was going to happen. But we made it through and ended up winning the Super Bowl and that kind of died down."
In fact, when Steele found out he was one of 10 finalists chosen by the Packers for the fan vote of the Hall of Fame contest, he got a lot of support from local folks.
He reached out through Facebook and through his colleagues, students and parents at Penn-Trafford.
"I really feel the community got behind me in that respect," he said.
He also got support from fellow members of the Packers Partners Club of Champions, the team's fan club. Three members who live in Wisconsin agreed to help Steele with paper ballots in the contest. He had never even met two of them.
"I think when people read my story and looked at my collection, they saw I was a die-hard Packers fan," Steele said.
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