A Steeled Fandom

By Andrew Malkasian

When you’ve spent a longtime in schools you begin to identify the extent to which kids try to define themselves. Some students gravitate toward hobbies or interests that give them social clout. Some adopt external fashions respective of a particular “scene” they belong to. Others, are simply enthusiasts of the esoteric. For me, i was a bit all over the place. Out more specifically, I was defined by an irrational Steelers fandom.

1995 was a tumultuous year for me. I moved from the suburbs of Philadelphia to south central Idaho and then, as if a scripted tragedy, my father passed away. The year was an inflection point. I was adrift. I needed something that could be my own, that I could not only identify with but that I could consistently rely on.

Then, in January of 1996, shortly after we moved to Idaho, my mom and I were invited to a Super Bowl XXX party. Even before the party, I had gravitated toward the Steelers even yelling with excitement as John Harbaugh’s Hail Mary fell to the turf in the AFC Championship game. But, I wasn’t necessarily a Steelers fan at that point.

As I walked into the party, shielded by the gregarious nature of my mother’s personality, I was struck by the overwhelming – and oddly aggressive – support for the Cowboys that filled the house. Perhaps I was emotionally fragile, but I was shocked by the forced Cowboy fandom. It seemed misplaced, fabricated and off putting. So much so that I viscerally remember my discomfort to this day. So, almost as an involuntary response, I began rooting for the Steelers. Loudly. After the second and devastating interception my fandom didn’t wilt but rather concretized into a two and a half decade long obsession.

Growing up in Idaho, the Steelers gave me something that was all my own. Something romantic, wherein I had no control, no input, and could suspend any rational thought and allow myself to be a fan in the truest sense of the word: a fanatic.

I often feel like a pseudo-fan, an outsider, and a dilettante. I have no family from west of the Susquehanna let alone western PA or Pittsburgh specifically. But, in some cases, that’s beside the point. The Steelers defined my adolescence and defined something that I needed, something all my own.

So, here’s to irrational fandom, overt enthusiasm, esoteric interests, and a “scene” to be a part of. Here’s to the Steel Study.

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