Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chicago Bears 40 at Pittsburgh Steelers 23 - September 22, 2013

I spent the weekend in Pittsburgh, one of my favourite destinations. A beautiful downtown core, lots of tourist attractions, and the best baseball stadium in the land. I arrived too late on Friday evening to see the Pirates and Reds open a 3-game series, and it rained all day Saturday, only clearing up a few minutes before first pitch. As this was the last Pirates' homestand of the season, I didn't want to risk being stuck with a useless ticket in the event of a rainout, so I didn't bother heading downtown from my hotel in the South Hills.

Sunday was much nicer, so I finally got out and about, and spent a couple of hours at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. This is part of the Heinz History Museum, and the whole thing can easily take 4 hours if you visit every exhibit. I wanted to get over to the football stadium early, so I concentrated on the very detailed two floors dedicated to sport in the western part of the state. Note that admission is $15, worth it if you include the history part as well, but a bit much if you are only interested in the sports museum. Below is a sculpture of Franco Harris making the Immaculate Reception, a recurring theme on the day.

As I walked over to Heinz Field, the Pirates and Reds were just getting underway. The Reds were already up 5-0 in the bottom of the first, so I skipped the ballgame, as I wanted to watch the NFL games on TV. After all, this is a football trip. Still, I got a rare pic for me: an outdoor shot of a stadium filled with fans.

I continued on to Heinz Field, which was already coming to life about six hours before kickoff. The main attraction at that time was the Tailgate Zone, which takes place in the AE Stage. Inside they have plenty of TVs tuned to the various early games, and outside there is a grill serving decent sausages and burgers. Of course, beer is plentiful, with Coors products going for just $3. I'm guessing for an afternoon game, the indoor seating area might not be so busy since there won't be any games to watch, but it will be a good place to stay warm in the late fall and winter months. Because the Pirates were playing, they opened the tailgate area around noon to encourage fans to get there early and avoid the post-game baseball traffic. When I got there at 2, it was already quite busy although most people were inside watching the Ravens and Texans as you can see below.

As I walked over to the stadium, I noticed several fans, including one Star Wars aficionado who dressed Yoda in Steelers' gear, and one gentleman dressed as the Pittsburgh Pope who was giving absolution to a fellow fan.

The ticket windows didn't open until 5:30, which gave me time to explore the immediate vicinity. Heinz Field's predecessor was Three Rivers Stadium, and it was here that the immaculate reception happened in 1972 (just two months after Roberto Clemente's 3000th and final hit). There is a commemorative plaque and the field layout is embedded in the pavement. Stop by to relive history.

When the ticket windows finally opened, it was immediately announced that the game was sold out, which was odd, as there were seats available on TicketMaster at that time. Before I could complete my online purchase, a lady offered me a club seat at half price ($100). The online seat was $90 and about 100 rows from the field in the upper deck, so I took the club seat instead and lined up with the other fans.

When I entered via Gate B, I found myself standing inside what is known as the Great Hall. This area spans the concourse along the east sideline and contains an incredible amount of memorabilia of the NFL's most decorated team. All six Steeler Super Bowl trophies are there as well as displays for past star players like Jack Lambert. Even the University of Pittsburgh was honoured. You could spend 30 minutes here easily; it is the best in-stadium display I have seen.

I wandered around taking pictures, and ended up on the southwest ramp, from where you can enjoy a great view of downtown Pittsburgh.

The interior of the stadium is notable for its yellow seats. A few shots below:

The game started poorly for Pittsburgh, who turned the ball over on their first possession and eventually fell behind 17-0 after one quarter. That is Michael Bush (#23 running below) about to score Chicago's second touchdown.

Despite turning the ball over three times in the first three quarters, the Steelers made it exciting, drawing within 27-23 early in the final frame. The Bears drove down the field on their ensuing possession and scored on a great catch (after review) by Earl Bennett. It was the second incredible touchdown catch on the night after Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown came up with a one-handed diving tip that he caught in mid-air earlier in the game, which turned out to be ESPN's top play of the weekend. Both catches were in the southeast corner, above where I was sitting. Truly amazing to see these athletes in action from such a vantage point.

Anyway, when the Steelers began their next drive, Ben Roethlisberger (below) fumbled and Julius Peppers recovered and rumbled for a touchdown to salt things away for the visitors. Pittsburgh finished with five turnovers, which meant punter Zoltan Mesko (warming up above) only had to kick twice.

The final score was not pretty. This was the second consecutive game on my trip where the home team, based in Pennsylvania, fumbled thrice and was intercepted twice while not forcing a turnover themselves and lost to an opponent from the opposite conference with a new head coach.

Finally, a game summary that will leave you groaning: The Chicago Bears took an early lead and Pittsburgh couldn't catch up at Heinz Field. (Get it? Catch up at Heinz Field. Bwahahahahaha)



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