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Steeler loyalties put to test for Jets families

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Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011

Tiffanie McCullough usually roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not this week.

On Sunday, the Wilkins woman will wear green and white and scream her head off for the New York Jets.

Who can blame her• Her younger brother, Jason Taylor, who played football at Woodland Hills High, is a starting linebacker for the Jets.

"I am a Jason Taylor fan," said McCullough, 38. "I want the Steelers to win when they're not playing him. We have some family members who are big-time Steelers fans, but when it comes to my brother playing the Steelers, we show up at the games to support him."

Loyalties are straining across the region this week with the approaching AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field. Fans from Aliquippa to Deep Creek, Md., are forced to choose between a hometown favorite and loved ones playing for the opposition.

For the most part, the Jets are winning.

Not with Frank Namath, 73, of Chippewa, brother of famed Jets quarterback Joe Namath, the Beaver Falls native who led the team to its only Super Bowl win in 1969. Frank Namath said he's a Steelers fan through and through.

"The only way I would be rooting for the Jets is if Joe suits up," Namath said. "My wife called him this week and told him the same thing. Joe can still move the ball, but at 67, I don't think he'd be much of a threat."

Football runs in Aileen Gilbert's family.

Her son, Sean Gilbert, played 10 years for four different NFL teams. Her grandson is Jets All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Aliquippa High School graduate playing in his second consecutive AFC title game. Gilbert said she never liked the Steelers.

"My personal feeling is the Steelers fans are a little bit over the top," she said. "I know people who will be wanting the Jets to lose, but Darrelle knows people support him, and that's all that counts."

One of his biggest supporters is Aliquippa Quips Coach Mike Zmijanac. Zmijanac might consider his former player a friend, but he's still pulling for a Steelers win.

"I'm rooting for the Steelers and hope Darrelle has four interceptions and 23 tackles," Zmijanac said.

In Wilkins, the game is splitting the Taylor family. Georgia Taylor, 57, said her sisters are fervent Steelers fans, but this game is different with her son playing.

"They still support him," Taylor said. "I think, right now, they're really excited about the fact that he has gone as far as he has. I'm sure they will hate to see the Steelers lose on Sunday, but it won't be like the Steelers losing to Baltimore. It will be the Steelers losing to their nephew."

Georgia Taylor's youngest son, Noah, 21, who plays football at California University of Pennsylvania, was stuck in the middle during the Jets' divisional playoff game against the New England Patriots two weeks ago. Rob Gronkowski, a Woodland Hills graduate and one of Noah Taylor's best friends, plays tight end for the Patriots.

Noah Taylor said his brother Jason and Gronkowski kept texting him with trash talk about the other. Noah Taylor went to the New England game with another Jets fan.

"He's sitting there yelling at me because I'm sitting there cheering for Jason and I'm cheering for Rob," he said.

Jim Sweeney, 48, of Deep Creek, Md., played 16 years in the NFL, the first 11 with the Jets. But he played his last four years as a Steelers offensive lineman.

Sweeney, who grew up in Beechview, said his childhood idols were Steelers. He wouldn't offer a prediction for Sunday's game, but said it would be good for him no matter the outcome.

"I'd be happy if the Jets make it, but I'll also be happy if the Steelers make it," he said.

Darryl Revis, 44, of Aliquippa said his son idolized the Steelers while growing up. Darrelle always imagined himself playing in Pittsburgh, and fingers were crossed in Aliquippa four years ago with hopes the Steelers would draft him out of the University of Pittsburgh.

His dad foresees a Jets win on Sunday.

"My prediction is the Jets by 7," he said. "But it's going to be a tight game. It's just amazing to have a son on that level. He's an awesome kid."

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