Heinz Field rally sends Steelers off on high note
Face paint• Check.
Terrible Towel• In hand.
Steelers beads• Got 'em.
"We're here to send our team off right," said Mary Wright, 37, of the North Side before entering Heinz Field on Friday night with her small army of family and friends.
No game• No matter. An estimated 18,000 fans flocked to the North Shore despite below-freezing temperatures for a Steelers pep rally.
The Steelers are scheduled to depart Monday morning for Dallas, where they will go after their third Super Bowl championship in six years and seventh overall.
"This never gets old. These fans are amazing," said Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney, the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, as he stood on the sidelines with his wife, Pat. Moments earlier, Rooney received one of the most rousing ovations of the night and chants of "Roo-ney, Roo-ney" when he was introduced to the crowd.
Fireworks, Jumbotron highlights, live music and Steelers anthems such as Styx's "Renegade" played over the stadium's PA system revved up the crowd inside Heinz Field. Outside, fans tailgated, started cheers and chants, and posed for pictures at the statue of Art Rooney, which was clutching flowers and a Terrible Towel.
Players, however, were the night's main attraction. Twenty-seven of them — roughly half the team — appeared on a stage set up in the south end zone, at the open end of the stadium. Eleven players got on the microphone.
Pro Bowl defensive end Brett Keisel, sporting his mountain-man beard, sang an a cappella version of the Steelers anthem "Here We Go" before thanking the team's rabid fan base and vowing to bring another Lombardi Trophy to Pittsburgh with a victory over the Green Bay Packers on Feb. 6.
Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison, sporting a T-shirt that read "Hittsburgh," got on the microphone twice. The first time, Harrison played coy — "We're going to go on down there to, where is it, Dallas, and see if we can't get (Super Bowl) No. 7," he said — before hollering "Pittttssssburrrgghh," dropping the mic and walking away.
Later, star running back Rashard Mendenhall stopped talking and started dancing when Harrison began beat-boxing into a microphone.
Reserve defensive lineman Chris Hoke led the towel-waving fans into another version of "Here We Go" to close out the rally at 8 p.m.
For some, the rally was a daylong affair.
Chad and Amy Martin allowed their children Chase, 8, and Olivia, 7, to skip school so they could travel 4 1⁄2 hours from northwest Ohio to attend the rally.
"We've always been Steelers fans, and now our kids are, too. We wanted them to experience this," said Chad, 39, wearing a No. 75 Mean Joe Greene jersey.
The Martins do have at least one connection to the team: Amy, 32, works in the Lima, Ohio, hospital where quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was born.
Bob and Chris Carmichael closed Princeton Auto, a Steubenville, Ohio, body shop they co-own, early to attend the rally with John Gentile, 43, and Denny Talamine, 60. They were tailgating in one of the lots surrounding Heinz Field by 4 p.m.
"This is more important," Bob Carmichael, 45, said.
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