Koval likes Packers, loves Steelers
Michael Koval is a hybrid football fan.
The 53-year-old Monessen native pledges allegiance to Steeler Nation above all.
But, having lived in Green Bay for the last 32 years, he has become devoted to the Packers, too.
Koval said he came to appreciate what the Green Bay faithful stand for mainly because "The Pack" and "The Burgh" have many similarities.
"The Packers and Steelers are very similar, and their communities," he said. "The cities are very similar in that sense that football is part of your community and who you represent, and it's the little market against the big guys."
Koval has long admired the character of Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers quarterbacks, especially Steel City legend and Hall-of- Famer Terry Bradshaw.
For the last 20 years, Koval has gone to most Green Bay home games.
He said watching Packers legend Brett Favre quarterback the team spurred memories.
"When I saw the first two years of Farve, I kept telling people, 'This is like me watching Bradshaw,''' Koval recalled. "Southern boys love playing the game. They play their heart out and you know they'll give you everything they've got."
Koval's loyalty to his old and new home teams was tested last year, when the Steelers met the Packers in the Super Bowl.
Koval went to the big game in Arlington, Texas, with his son, Michael Gordon, 22; his brother, Joe; and his nephew, Tom Apple.
Green Bay bested Pittsburgh, 31-25.
"It was tough," Koval said. "I loved my Steelers, and I loved my Packers, because it never meant anything when they played each other."
But Koval said watching his son, who was born in Green Bay, celebrate the Packers' win was priceless.
"This was his first Super Bowl, and I know what it means to be a fan and see them win it all," he said. "I was fortunate to see the Steelers do it six times."
Koval said the days leading up to the most intriguing Super Bowl matchup of his life were entertaining.
He said several family members and friends were curious to see which team he would support.
"The whole time, everybody in Green Bay, at work, in my wife's family, were saying, 'Who are you gonna cheer for?' I kept teasing (my son), telling him it was going to be a game-time decision.
"I came out in my Steelers shirt. From birth, it's black and gold. Black and gold 'til the end."
Koval said the thousands of Steelers fans at the game were gracious in defeat.
"This is the only Super Bowl I've ever been to where the Steeler fans weren't upset about losing. It was a weird vibe in the stadium," he said.
Koval suggested the reason behind the reaction was that Steelers and Packers fans share common ground and respect for each others' historic franchises.
A 1976 Monessen High School graduate, Koval played offensive end and cornerback for the football team and was a second baseman on the baseball team.
His father, Joe Koval, was the football team's first assistant coach under head coaches Joe Gladys and Jack Scarvel for more than 30 years.
"Being a Greyhound and being on the football team was something special," Koval said. "What those guys did that I respect is they made men. When I think of a Greyhound, it's about being a good person, a good man, a good father and a good citizen."
Koval graduated from Indiana State University in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in business administration.
He left the Mid-Mon Valley that year to work as a production supervisor with Proctor & Gamble in Green Bay.
"We made Puffs facial tissue," Koval said.
After one year there, Koval worked for five years with Fabio Perini S.p.A.
"I sold capital equipment to make toilet tissue and kitchen tile in Latin America," he said.
Koval then moved on to the Paper Converting Machine Co. in Green Bay.
"The interesting thing here is there are two companies in the world that make toilet paper and paper kitchen towels," Koval said. "One is headquartered in Green Bay and the other in Lucca, Italy, the tissue capital of the world. They all have plants in Green Bay, because that's where all the machinery was developed."
After 18 years with Paper Converting, Koval switched companies once again.
For the last nine years, he has worked for Schreiber Foods Inc., in Green Bay, where he is vice president of packaging.
"We are a $5 billion private-label cheese manufacturer," he said. "If you're at a Subway, you're eating our cheese. You wouldn't know it because we're a private label."
Koval said Schreiber makes supermarket brands of cheese and also supplies Wendy's and McDonald's.
Koval said being a Packers fan has provided him with memorable experiences.
Discussing the difficulty in obtaining Packers season tickets, Koval said he found a way to secure a seat in historic Lambeau Field.
"My wife's family has season tickets. Some people marry for love, some for status. Some people marry for season Packers tickets," he joked.
Koval said one of his most precious Packers moments was witnessing the invention of the Lambeau Leap. When players score at home games, they jump into the stands to celebrate with the fans.
The game was on the day after Christmas in 1993, the third-coldest ever at Lambeau Field.
"It was the most fun I ever had at a game," Koval said. "My wife didn't want to go because it was minus-24 degrees."
Koval and his wife, Debbie, a Green Bay native, have been married for 27 years.
They have two children; Michael Gordon, and Maria, 19.
Koval returns to Monessen at least once every two years.
He said the various ethnic influences he experienced growing up there paid off in his career.
"Being exposed to that all my life, when I traveled to other countries, it didn't bother me to hear other languages, try other foods," he said. "You can compete against people that went to bigger schools that don't have that day-to-day exposure.
"It was going through hard times to get to good times. Anyone that has anything in the Valley, you had to work for it."
Koval's family is of eastern European descent.
His father died seven years ago. His mother, Elisa, lives in Indianapolis, Ind.
When he comes back to Monessen, Koval visits family and friends, mainly his cousin, Tamara Como.
Koval said he is still a sucker for glazed donuts and chocolate cupcakes from Keystone Bakery.
"I miss the food," he said. "My cousin laughs because when she visits me, she brings Keystone Bakery here. When I smell it, I go back to being 10 years old. I will always be proud to be a Greyhound and Steeler for life."