Three words: Nothing like Detroit.
The NFL puts on a big party at the Super Bowl every year for the media, friends and family of the NFL and many of the football greats I grew up watching. Not this year. I guess the economic downturn is catching up to the NFL as well. Perhaps Congress can give them a bailout. This year’s party felt very scaled back from the one three years earlier. The only football great I ran into this year was Mel Blount. I love Mel Blount, but is that all you got, NFL?
That’s not to say I didn’t have fun. The band was great and the food was excellent. I did manage to run into some interesting folks. Here are some notes from the night’s festivities.
Show Me the X-rays --- I ran into some of the medical team for the Steelers. Dr. Freddie Fu, chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Pitt, and his wife Hilda, were both there. Dr. Fu refused to answer any questions about Ben’s ribs or Hines Ward’s knee (I was only asking in jest, I knew no one would ever talk about it.) He referred me to Steelers orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Robin West, who also refused to speak on the topic. She then referred me to Dr. Jim Bradley, the Steelers head orthopedic surgeon who repaired Willie Parker’s broken leg. Dr. Bradley said he couldn’t answer because it would be a “HIPAA violation.” Then he added, “but if you draw me in your blog, can you give me more hair?” I told him I don’t even give myself more hair. “Well, then how about a pony tail?” Maybe, but I want to see Hines Ward’s X-rays first.
Romeo Wears Red --- Hilda Fu, who I know because we are both on the board of the ToonSeum in Pittsburgh, introduced me to her friend, Tara Ridge, a UPMC physical therapist who works with Dr. Fu. Tara happens to be dating Mike Miller, the wide receivers coach for the Cardinals. Ooooh, I thought. Forbidden love at the Super Bowl! This is the NFL’s version of the Capulets and the Montagues. “Does it cause friction when you root for the Steelers?” I asked her. “Oh, I’m not allowed to root for the Steelers,” Tara said with a straight face. “That’s right,” agreed Mike, “that would be a deal breaker.” As it turns out, Tara roots for whatever team Mike is working for at the time. Wow, that’s devotion.
I suppose it was easier when Miller, a Plum native, was working for the Steelers under Ken Whisenhunt. Then Tara could root for the Steelers without fear. Mike’s best friend is Lou Spanos, assistant linebacker coach for the Steelers. Lou hails from Keystone Oaks. Lou and Mike both started as interns for the Steelers in 1994. To see them together on Friday night, you wouldn’t know they were gearing up to scrap it out on Sunday. “My wide receivers are going to have a tough time against the number one defense,” Mike admitted. “When you have players like Polamalu and Harrison … add that to Hall of Fame coaching … you get one tough opponent.”
Holy Steelers --- Father David Bonnar was also in attendance. He will say mass for the players at the hotel before the big game. I asked how he balances religion and sports, especially in a city that views football as a religious experience. “I’m a Roman Catholic priest and I am a Pittsburgher, so naturally, I’m a fan of the Steelers,” Bonnar said. “Many of the ingredients are the same,” he said, “both have symbolism, ritual and community.”
Blount Force --- As I mentioned, the only NFL great that I spotted at the party this year was Mel Blount who shared a story about how he and P-G sports reporter, Ron Cook, were driving down a back road in Georgia when they came upon a rattlesnake. Mel beamed as he retold the story of how he got out of the car, stomped on the snake’s head, put it in a burlap sack and stuffed it in the van behind Ron’s seat. Ron had gone south to interview Mel about the youth home he was starting there. Mel said Ron kept looking behind his seat nervously. Mel had to keep assuring him the snake was dead.