My sister and brother-in-law, Steeler fans from Northeastern PA, planned a trip out to visit while their team was in town to play the Cardinals. They’ve been out to visit on several occasions and even had the opportunity to see the 49ers, Eagles, and Steelers play here in the past.
With the Cardinals in a rebuilding year led by a new coach and rookie QB, tickets should have been plentiful – and cheap. Adding to that, the Steelers, while in the hunt, aren’t exactly setting the NFL on fire either. They have many of their top players are out with injuries. There should be deals to had on tickets, right?
As soon as she said she was coming out back in early September, we started to look for tickets. The “get-in price” for four in the upper corners of the end zone were going for $250 each. Ouch! As it got closer and the season unfolded, we both agreed that this would be way too much to spend on what would likely be a mediocre matchup. We decided to keep an eye on tickets and play it by ear.
The prices held stable throughout the following months, with the other Cardinal home games going for a fraction of the price. The Rams the week before and the Browns the following week were going for the bargain rate of $40-50.
Clearly, the Steeler fan base had a major impact on ticket prices. We had agreed that we wouldn’t spend a lot on tickets, but we would do what we could to experience the gameday atmosphere.
Even as late as Friday morning, ticket prices remained high. We still held out hope that the prices would drop as kickoff closed in. Later that day, I received a call from my buddy who said his company seats became available at a bargain. We scooped them up and we were locked in for the game!
On Saturday, we decided to check out Harold’s Corral, aka Heinz Field West, located about 45 minutes north of us in the small town of Cave Creek.
The normally sleepy town of Cave Creek comes alive on Steeler game days. Harold’s bills itself as one of the largest Steeler bars in the country, hosting 500-600 Steeler fans each – just to watch the Steelers play on TV. This weekend would be different.
Today, Harold’s was hosting a Steeler Block Party from 2-7pm with former players like Mel Blount, Merril Hoge, Louis Lipps and Santonio Holmes in attendance. The free event would take place inside and outside the cowboy-themed restaurant.
By the time we arrived at about 1:30pm, the place was already packed – with police on hand to direct traffic. Parking was limited and black and gold were pretty prominent!
When you arrived, a gentleman sporting a SB XLIII ring handed you a Steelers Nation Unit coozie and a raffle ticket for prizes later in the day. I don’t know who he was, but he was kind enough to let kids wear the gigantic piece of jewelry and pose for pictures.
Inside, the tables were full and it was wall-to-wall Steeler fans. This place even sells pierogies, pepperoni rolls and IC Light to help make yinz feel at home. We sat down and grabbed a bite and beer.
But outside. WOW! Without walls, the fans were spread out all over the property! I was told they were expecting between 1500-2000 people today. I later learned that over 3,000 attended!
They even had these two Steeler-themed rigs parked up on the hill. I don’t know who owns them but they are decked out in Steeler colors and images.
After hanging out for a bit, it was time to head back home and start to prep for the tailgate tomorrow’s big game.
Click on the image below for a great video recap of the block party event.
One thing I don’t like about NFL games is that they limit tailgating in stadium lots to 4 hours. While it might seem like a long time, it’s not. You have to consider setup and tear down time along with time to walk and enter the stadium and get to your seat.
Timing the entrance into the lots is critical if you want to get a good spot and maximize tailgating time. Fortunately, we were one of the first to be able to enter the coveted Orange parking lot.
Within 30 minutes, the wide-open, clean grassy area just west of the stadium would be transformed into a tailgating paradise. I always say that this has to be one of the best tailgating venues in the NFL. If you know of another, please let me know.
Our spot today was located next to a company-sponsored tailgate that included a DJ, prize giveaways, a decorated Christmas Tree and a huge buffet. You can see how large of an area they prepared – and the Christmas Tree at the far end.
Looking around at the tailgates, I was optimistic that the Red Sea would Rise Up and be represented. It seemed like it was mostly Cardinal fans with the exception of a couple of tailgates near us, like the one below. Of course, I don’t know how many Steeler tailgates were serving Yuengling. Our was!
The overcast skies mostly cooperated, but we did get a few sprinkles. Thankfully, we had our popup like many others on the Great Lawn.
There were plenty of Steeler fans milling around. A couple of them stopped in our tailgate and we got to chat. They were visiting from Ottawa Canada and were enjoying our “warm” weather. We, on the other hand, were not, considering the cool, damp conditions. One of the guys, Tom, said this would be the 23rd NFL stadium he visited. As a Canadian, that’s pretty impressive! Most Americans could only dream of experiencing that many venues.
Pop quiz: What’s the oldest trophy in professional football?
After a quick tear-down, it was time to head inside. Once at our seats, it was very obvious that the Black and Gold were well represented! We were very close to where the visiting team entered the field. When Coach Tomlin came out, he just looked around and stared in amazement at the amount of black and gold – and Terrible Towels.
As kickoff neared, I thought we’d see more of the Cardinal fans, but the visitors continued to dominate the stands. Including the lower levels which are usually some of the most loyal home fans.
The game turned out to be very competitive. The Steelers, led by 3rd stringer Devlin “Duck” Hodges jumped out to 10-0 lead in the 1st Quarter, thanks in part to an 85-yard punt return for a TD, but the Cardinals battled back in the 2nd to tie it up at 10 with less than 2:00 to play. The Steelers put up another FG as time expired to take the lead at the half 13-10.
There were a few Cardinals fans in the house, including this unique character sitting right in front of us. He was highlighted on the video board on several occasions.
Pittsburgh extended the lead in the 3rd with another TD to go up 20-10, but the Cards responded again with another touchdown of their own to close the gap to 20-17.
With time running out the visitor put up another 3 to go up 23-17 with 1:47 to go.
But now, a Cards TD could steal the game. Could there be more magic at State Farm Stadium?
On the final drive, the Rookie QB, who had already thrown 2 picks and been sacked 3 times, had his worst drive of the day – and perhaps the year. 1st down. Sacked. Loss of 5. 2nd down. Sacked. Loss of 7. 3rd down. Incomplete. Finally, 4th and 22 and his 3rd and final INT on the day to end the game.
Cards lose 23-17 and drop to 3-9-1 while Pittsburgh improves to 8-5. The road doesn’t get any easier for the Steelers with the Bills Mafia visiting Pittsburgh Sunday night!
I’ve been to plenty of games and I can’t think of any other that had more visiting fans than home fans. The Pitt vs Penn State game in Pittsburgh last year was the most unbalanced I can recall in recent years. This was on a whole other level. I’d estimate ~70%+ Pittsburgh fans. Amazing.
In the end, it turned out to be a great weekend of football-related activity! College Football Championship games on TV, a massive Block Party and another great day of tailgating at State Farm capped off by what turned out to be a decent game. All while spending time with family!
Stop wondering. Start wandering!
For more background on Harold’s, click on the image below.
Quiz Answer – The Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup! The trophy has been awarded since 1909 – over 110 years!