Bob Dvorchak finds a Steelers outpost in Pirates' City ...
BRADENTON, Fla. – What better place to find some Steelers’ fanatics than a cozy neighborhood tavern called Fanatics Sports Bar & Grill? The twist, of course, is that it’s located near the Gulf Coast of Florida about a 40-minute drive south from Tampa.
To walk in is to enter an outpost of Steeler Nation, with patrons in game jerseys and other garb playing pool, throwing darts or feasting on wings. The walls are adorned with player photos and other memorabilia.
Come Sunday, a crowd of about 1,000 rabid fans is expected for a tailgate party and a chance to watch the game inside or in a 30-by-50-foot tent in the parking lot. Cases of Iron City and I.C. Light have been stocked.
"If the Steelers aren’t playing, it’s completely dead in here on a Sunday afternoon it January. You could hear a pin drop," said owner Angie Voss. "But we’ll have an overflow crowd this Sunday. I’ve never seen any fans as dedicated as Steeler fans."
One fan who will be there on Sunday is Therese Gratton of Bridgeville, who was transferred to Florida by her employer, Champ Sports Merchandise.
"I asked around if there was a place to watch the Steelers, and I found Fanatics. It feels like home," she said. "You hear more yinz than y’all. The Steelers are our soul food. This week has been like Christmas Eve. Sunday can’t get here soon enough. You may not even know the person sitting next to you, but we all have one thing in common – the Steelers."
One couple has merged their love of the Steelers with their love of each other. Desi Johnson of North Braddock was in Fanatics one Sunday screaming above the crowd. She got the attention of Mike Johnson of Bradenton, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"See that girl?" he told a buddy. "I’m going to marry her one day."
Sure enough, after meeting in the tavern, they traveled to Pittsburgh last season for a Monday night game against the Ravens. He popped the question, and she accepted.
"I had never been to Pittsburgh, but when I was a kid, my room was painted gold with black curtains. I saw Terry Bradshaw play and I was hooked," he said.
Their Jack Russell terrier is appropriately named Myron. They just got a 50-inch flat screen TV for home, but they’re more than happy to join the crowd to watch on one of 15 TVs.
"I fell in love with the color of the uniform," he said, sporting a Dermontti Dawson game-worn jersey.
Chuck Habora, 39, was born in Bradenton and moved back after spending time in California. He has no ties to Pittsburgh other than football.
Bradenton and Pittsburgh are sister cities. It’s where the Pirates hold spring training, and there are plenty of baseball fans around. But with the success the Steelers have had, football Sundays take on a life of their own.