Steeler fans remain loyal in Cowboy country
They traded lake-effect snow for mild winters and Primanti Bros. sandwiches for chicken-fried steak, but it never occurred to these Alle-Kiski Valley expatriates to swap football teams.
"I'm a diehard fan of the Steelers," said Heath Thimons, who lives in the Dallas suburb of Allen, Texas. "Cut me, and I bleed black and gold."
Even though Thimons was a child when his family moved from Harrison to Texas, he never grew out of his loyalty for the Steelers.
"I don't miss a game," Thimons said. "I have a huge Steelers collection at home. I love my Steelers."
His children, especially his 9-year-old son Reece, also have been raised to cheer on the Steelers — even though they've never lived in Pennsylvania. Although his wife, Jessica, was raised in Boston, Thimons said he's successfully fought off the corrupting influence of her family of New England Patriots fans.
Thimons said Reece wears Steelers jerseys to school a lot: "He's just as diehard as me."
His daughter, 6-year-old Hailey, isn't as fanatical, but Thimons notes she's a bit too young to sit through a full football game.
"There really are a ton of Steelers fans down here," Thimons said. "Of course, there are a lot of people down here who don't like us, too. There's lots of trash talk going on."
Kim Pelini from Kittanning
Kittanning native Kim Pelini said she was surprised by the number of Steelers fans her family encountered when they moved to Texas two years ago. Pelini, her husband Rick (a New Castle native) and daughter Rebecca also live in Allen, Texas.
"Shockingly, we run into a lot of Steelers fans," she said.
Pelini said an even bigger surprise was that many of those fans don't originate from Pittsburgh. Last summer while visiting Oklahoma City, the Pelinis met a couple of Steelers fans who've never been to Pittsburgh.
The Pelinis kept in touch, and the couple will be visiting them in Texas to watch the Super Bowl on Feb. 6.
"Once you get them in your blood, they just stay there," Pelini said of the Steelers.
When the Pelinis adopted a new dog 1 1/2 years ago, they named him Rooney after the owners of the Steelers franchise. Other name possibilities were Hines and Lambert.
"He looks just like a Rooney," Pelini said. "He has a Steelers collar, bowl, jersey, everything."
Pelini said her family joined the Southern Steel Fan Club, which gathers every game day at the Austin Avenue Grill and Sports Bar in Plano, Texas.
John Erdeljac from Oakmont
Oakmont native John Erdeljac said his family also watches games at the Austin Avenue bar, which isn't far from their Plano home.
"The big thing that amazed me when we started to get involved with (the fan club), when you're watching in the bar, you quickly feel like you're back in Pittsburgh," said Erdeljac, who moved to Texas in the early 1980s.
"It's hard to find a native Pittsburgher in the crowd," Erdeljac said. "Pittsburgh fans come from all cross the country."
Erdeljac credits the Steelers' success during the 1970s coupled with the region's working-class roots for the team's resonance with outsiders.
"People just seem to like that work ethic and what Pittsburgh's all about," he said.
Of course, Erdeljac runs into just as many Texans who don't root for the Steelers — and are less than thrilled the team will be competing in the first Super Bowl to be held at the new Cowboys Stadium.
The Erdeljacs considered renting a motor home to tailgate near the stadium during the big game. When Erdeljac's wife, Celeste, called one rental business, the owner hung up on her upon learning she was a Steelers fan.
"That's what's great about the Steelers — people are passionate whether they dislike them or love them," he said.
The Erdeljacs haven't decided where or how they'll spend the Super Bowl, but they plan to make a day of it.
"We're trying in some way to feel a part of it," he said.
Chuck Woods from Harrison
Chuck Woods, an attorney in Dallas suburb of Richardson, Texas, hasn't ruled out attending the Super Bowl in person.
Woods was born in Harrison and grew up in Mount Lebanon. Moving to Texas nearly 30 years ago hasn't diminished his love of the Steelers — even in the face of adversity.
"The Cowboy fans down here hate the Steelers," Woods said. "We beat them twice in the Super Bowl — they don't like that. Plus, we're neck and neck with (Super Bowl win) records. They're very anti-Steelers down here."
Woods has attended a few Cowboys games over the years, but he hasn't yet been to a game in the new stadium. He hopes next Sunday will be his first.
"I'm trying like heck to get tickets," Woods said. "I'm passing the hat, entering all the free giveaways, asking my clients."
Woods has an offer for any Valley residents planning a trip to Dallas next week: He'll provide the place to say, the food, the transportation. "Just give me a ticket."