Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mom of Steel

It takes a special woman to be the mother of a Steelers fan.

My mother was just that for half of the 60 years that she lived.

This is my first Mother's Day without her.

My mother was no ordinary Mom of a Steelers Fan. Only she could make a fond memory out of the infamous Phil Luckett game.

In 1979, my mother's life was at halftime. Little did she know how different her second half would be. Her firstborn was becoming a Steelers fan.

Piled under the tree that Christmas were a Steelers coat, a Steelers winter hat, a Steelers sweatshirt, Steelers gloves, a Steelers mini-locker, an aluminum Steelers wastebasket, Steelers pencils, Steelers notepads and these Steelers action figures with flexible arms and legs, removable helmets and a full set of uniform-number decals.

Of course I was still young enough to think that Santa Claus brought all those black and gold trinkets. But it was mom and dad.

Growing up

Not long after the Steelers defeated the Rams in Super Bowl XIV, I read a newspaper article about some Steelers players (can't remember who) considering retirement. It made me sad. I went to my mother and told her that I might not like the Steelers anymore.

I think she pretended to take me seriously in that lovingly patronizing manner that parents employ when children think they're talking about something important.

I'm glad she didn't take me seriously.

Eventually I overcame the shock of that article, accepted the reality that athletes don't play forever and remained a Steelers fan, even though it would be another 16 years before they returned to the Super Bowl.

In those intervening years, the Steelers' mediocrity allowed me to keep my interest within reason and get started on a somewhat normal life that included Little League, high school, college, my first job and my first apartment. That was followed, unfortunately, by my first (and hopefully last) layoff, and a move back in with mom.

The Steelers rescued me from total despair while I was out of work by recovering from a 3-4 start and reaching Super Bowl XXX against the Cowboys.

My sister's boyfriend at the time was a Cowboys fan, which at least gave me someone to watch the game with.

I taped the game, left the TV on and went to my sister's.

My mother, who was a nurse, was about to leave for work that night when she noticed that the TV was on. She wondered why it was on (even though I told her I'd be taping the game) and shut it off.

I forgave her.

After all, would I really have wanted to watch Neil O'Donnell throwing the ball into the waiting arms of Larry Brown over and over again?

The Steelers almost got back to the Super Bowl two years later. I assure you my mother had no inkling that the Steelers were a win away from the Super Bowl, much less who they had to beat to get there. That's why it's purely coincidence that she was blasting and dancing to a John Denver cassette when I went to visit her the night before the Steelers played Denver in the AFC championship game.

I forgave her for that, too.

Not long after the Steelers lost that game to the Broncos, certain non-Steelers events conspired to make me very unhappy with my life. By the fall of 1998, I was in a dark place.

Thanksgiving was coming up and the plan was for me to have dinner with my mother, who by now was divorced and living alone.

I told her the Steelers would be on TV, so I could watch them after having dinner.

Knowing the doldrums I was going through, my mother knitted me a black and gold scarf to cheer me up I while watched the Steelers.

We all know what happened. The Steelers lost in overtime to the Lions in a game marked by a controversial coin flip. It was the start of a season-ending, five-game losing streak.

Who knows the depths I would have sunk to without that scarf.

Scarves aren't needed in Orlando, which is where I took my mother in 2002 to see her beloved big brother, Joseph, who we affectionately called, "Uncle Junk."

The Steelers had a Monday night game at home against the Colts while we were in Florida. I watched the game in my uncle's living room. The Steelers comfortably won the game 28-10.

Nonetheless, being the Steelers fan that I am, I felt the urge to curse at certain points during the game. Out of respect to my aunt and uncle, I tried to keep those expletives under my breath. I guess I didn't do a very good job, because mom was cracking up.

Glory days

While my mother was supportive of my Steelers fanaticism, she said it would be a "cold day in hell" if she ever went to a football game. So I can't complete this tribute without talking about her appreciation for baseball ... and Neil Diamond.

In 2004, when the Red Sox ended their 86-year drought and won the World Series, I worked at a newspaper in Rhode Island and covered the first two games in Boston. It's a tradition at Fenway Park to play "Sweet Caroline" in the middle of the eighth inning.

During Game 2, when it was playing, I called my mother on my cell phone so she could hear it.

The following year, my mother said she wanted to see the Red Sox while they were champions. It was apparent at that point she didn't have many years left, and who knew when the Red Sox would ever win the World Series again?

So I figured what better day to take her than Mother's Day. The Red Sox lost on a chilly, drizzly afternoon. But after the game, all mothers were invited onto the field to walk the perimeter of the hallowed Fenway Park turf.

Two Mother's Days later, in 2007, I was driving from New York to Rhode Island to visit my mother, and listened to the Red Sox on the radio. As I crossed the border from Connecticut to Rhode Island, the game seemed rather uneventful. The Orioles led 5-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. But as I got closer to my mother's, the Red Sox started rallying.

As I exited I-95 (which is called Route 95 in Rhode Island) onto the streets of Pawtucket, just minutes from my mother's, I wondered if I would have to A) Sit in the parking lot and wait until the end of the game, or extra innings, before going into my mother's building or B) Make a beeline for the TV upon entering my mother's apartment, which, believe me when I tell you, she wouldn't have minded at all.

It turns out the Red Sox, like the true champions they proved to be that year, completed their six-run rally when I was about a block from my mother's. On one hand, that comeback would have been a nice moment to share with my mother. On the other hand, I'm amazed at how perfect the timing was.

Like the Red Sox, the Steelers accompanied their "long-awaited" championship with another one three years after it. I know my mother watched at least some of Super Bowl XLIII, because when I called her during the marathon pre-game show, she asked me why the Steelers stayed at an undisclosed hotel the night before the game. She wondered if there was some kind of a terrorism threat.

I explained to her that Super Bowl teams customarily change to secret hotels the night before the game to avoid getting into trouble. We now know that was especially necessary for the Steelers with guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes on the team. Hell, Eugene Robinson looks pretty good now compared to Roethlisberger.

Mom passed away on Jan. 28, just as the Steelers' reign as Super Bowl champions was down to a precious few grains in the hourglass.

The Steelers were succeeded as champions by the Saints. Mom's probably met a lot of those where she is now. And I'll bet they let her play John Denver as loud as she wants.

Mike Batista

1 comment:

  1. That's just a great post. Losing a parent is hard, but you have great memories.