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hail to the chief

I just groaned imagining all of the times that that headline has been used for promoting or reviewing The Chief. But I’m unimaginative and I recognize this.

I bought the husband tickets to see the aforementioned one-man play about Art Rooney for Christmas. Because I am awesome, about two days after I purchased them, he spotted a billboard for the play and mused, “I’d kinda like to go see that.”

Our interest in the play went beyond the fact that it was about Rooney. The guy who was performing in the title role was Tom Atkins, a Pittsburgh native who has starred in a couple cult-ish horror movies, in particular Halloween III, Escape from New York, and The Fog, which are favorites in our house.

As we were heading to the theater last night, I realized that, despite the Steelers’ season ending in a whimper, there would probably be plenty of people wearing their jerseys. Well…not only were people wearing jerseys, but they were selling Terrible Towels in the lobby. (Sadly, no one twirled one during the performance.)

We sat in our seats and waited for the lights to go down and the theater piped in every popular song that was about or referenced or was even remotely related Pittsburgh, including Mister Rogers’ “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which made me tear up because I’m a sap.

Atkins is a fantastic actor, capturing minute mannerisms and rambling on with stories about Rooney’s upbringing in the North Side.

The play itself wasn’t the most staggering work of genius. And it seemed safe to assume that many audience members were drawn to the theater simply for the fact that the play was about Rooney. And the play was obviously written with a very specific audience in mind, designed and timed to hit certain pressure points. There was nothing universal about it. For a second, I thought that maybe this should bother me, but, as the husband so eloquently put it, “It’s Pittsburgh shit for people from Pittsburgh. Who gives a fuck about anyone else?”

At one point, Rooney shows the film of the Immaculate Reception. I whispered to the husband, “That’s kind of cheating.” For Steelers fans and for most native Pittsburghers, that catch is legendary, part of the lore handed down from generation to generation. It’s almost not fair to show it during a play, as it’s guaranteed to stir emotions in the audience. But watching it was just as thrilling as any other time and hearing “Rooney” describe how he fatefully missed the whole thing and how it sounded like a tornado had hit when the elevator doors opened and he realized that the tide of the game had turned was simply magical.

Near the end, Rooney’s emotions swell and he describes what the Steelers have meant to their fans. I’ve rambled about it myself many times. He described circumstances that were just as relevant today as they were 30 years ago. People out of work, clear skies but dark outlooks. But the Steelers, there, reminding us with every hard-earned victory and every crushing defeat, that Winning. Is. Possible.

Tears stung my eyes as I sat there, in the dark, next to my husband. We’ve been through a lot and we’ve made some mistakes and we’ve landed ungracefully. But it’s possible we can win. Still.

We exited the theater and scurried to the parking garage in the bitter cold, soggy snowflakes covering us. We needed to eat and tossed several options around before settling on Fiori’s, the pizza place near our house that feeds us at least five meals a month.

We sat and ate our cuts and our wings and talked about the play, laughing at some of the anecdotes that we remembered. Soon enough, we had to head back out into the cold to pick up our son.

I grabbed the husband’s hand as I teetered across the slippery cobblestone street that had been around since smoke from steel mills darkened the sky and the Steelers were still a punchline in the world of professional football.

Earlier in the day, I had been sad after hearing about a fantastic career opportunity in California. But I can’t go to California. I must stay here, where the job prospects are much dimmer, because this is my home.

Forget New York. If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere.

Dinner and a show, Pittsburgh-style, with football and pizza. When we pulled up to our, big, old, drafty house, I felt like Pittsburgh royalty.

8 comments to hail to the chief

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