Saturday, August 21, 2010

Heinz Stadium Opener

(News-Herald, August 19) Last Saturday I found myself in Heinz Field at the Steelers’ pre-season opener, despite my total lack of NFL fan credentials. This wasn’t just my first trip to Heinz Field, but the first time I’ve ever seen the Steelers play live and in person. We went down early, parked the car in a nifty garage, and strolled about before grabbing supper and approaching the stadium, where we were cheerfully admitted despite our shocking lack of black and gold clothing.
Heinz stadium is pretty awesome all by itself, complete with its view of the city skyline. The jumbotron shows all, though my game-viewing companion and I agreed that the special effect that involves ketchup pouring out of two giant bottles to cover everything in a thick red layer of what is probably meant to be ketchup, but could well be blood—well, that’s a teensy bit disturbing.
Of course, Heinz is only the most obvious product placement. On the big screen McDonalds kept insisting that they were loving it, “it” presumably being that last play. A bright display strip runs all the way around the stadium so that people who accidentally try to watch the game still have sparkling ad copy in their field of vision.
Not that advertising waits for the stadium. For blocks in every direction, folks selling black and gold paraphernalia compete for sidewalk space with more traditional beggars. “Game day hat!” “Veteran!” “Don’t pay full price inside!” “Need medicine for my wife!” My personal favorite: “Why lie? I want a beer!”
We had won tickets at the Barrow’s Casino Night for the fancy shmancy Club Level. Club Level seats are ordinary nosebleed seats, but through the door behind them one enters the Club Itself.
This area looks like a cross between an airport lobby and the food court of a large mall. There are a variety of food-selling spots, multiple bars, high-seated tables and big comfy chairs, with a television screen roughly every two feet; it’s a perfect place for people who want to go to the game without actually going to the game.
I was not going to leave without trying some stadium food, so we headed into The Club and promptly got in line behind the Worst Customer Ever. This woman and her two children arrived at the counter after what must have been a twenty-minute wait, but apparently it had not occurred to them to consider what they might order when the blessed moment of truth finally arrived.
So they proceeded to discuss their foodal options at length, with Mom assuring her charges that they should take their time to really think deeply about this weighty choice. At one point (I am not making this up), Mom sent the hapless counter person to fetch the bag that the nacho chips came in so that the family could peruse the list of ingredients.
By this time the rain had become serious and a few thousand people were pouring into The Club, but Mom was apparently determined to teach her children the life lesson that when you are trying to decide whether or not you want relish on your hot dog, other people shouldn’t mind waiting for you.
I may sound a bit ranty, but the couple behind us was ready to start throwing things, starting with colorful language. I consider it all part of what enhances the stadium experience and makes it superior to watching at home. Also, stadium fries taste like amusement park fries, which is good.
The unanswered question of the night was how the crowd would respond to Big Ben. We saw lots of 7 jerseys, but I have no idea how it compared to previous years. Opinion in our section was divided between a loud-mouthed guy who yelled, “We’ve got your back, Ben” and another loud-mouthed guy who that Ben was a [insert not very nice word here].
Getting into and out of the area was far easier than I expected (though at least a third of the 55,000+ people didn’t come back after the rain delay). I didn’t get to hang with any obnoxious drunks, though the Big Screen periodically gave us a number to call if other patrons were displaying “intolerable behavior.” The crowd was really loud, but not intolerably so.
Overall a fun outing, entertaining even if you’re not exactly a major NFL fan. Or as Ronald McDonald said as he was smothered in a sea of blood-hued condiments, “I’m lovin’ it.”

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