Breaking Into the Home of the Pittsburgh Steelers
A stadium hasn’t been constructed yet that can keep me out.
Well, maybe one. More on that later.
This week, I’m visiting Pittsburgh. The hotel and casino where I’m staying are adjacent to the stadium where the Pittsburgh Steelers play their home games. I’d mention the actual name of the stadium, except that the ketchup company which pimped the naming rights isn’t sending me a royalty check, so you’ll just have to try and guess the official name of the place.
I have a fetish for stadiums. Like some kind of sick pervert. Some guys like tits and ass. I get a rise out of triple-deck overhangs and natural grass. As far back as I can remember, I’ve made pilgrimages to every stadium humanly possible whenever I visited a new city. Seeing stadiums up close in person are not only impressive as the architectural marvels they are, they’re also part of history. Exciting things happen in stadiums, especially for us sports fans.
Moreover, visiting a stadium adds a much greater sense of perspective. Watching a football game on television gives the average fan no sense of the actual experience of attending a game. Sure, I’d rather stay at home too, and flip my Direct TV channels back and forth along with everyone else. I also don’t fancy forking over $300 for seats in the end zone. But there’s also a rite of passage of going to games when you can — parking, walking to the gate, taking a seat, tasting the shitty food, freezing your ass off, getting into fist-fights, and witnessing everything first-hand. Otherwise, you really don’t “get it.” It’s the difference between seeing your favorite band live in concert versus listening to a studio recording. Sure, the sound quality is much better on your the iPod. But which is the better “experience?”
Like I said, when it comes to stadiums, I’m a voyeur. I’ve been to past and present NFL stadiums in many cities. By my latest count, this list includes San Diego, Los Angeles (2), San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, Denver (2), Phoenix (2), Dallas (3), Houston (2), New Orleans, Miami, Charlotte, St. Louis (2), Kansas City, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh (2), Philadelphia (2), Washington (2), Baltimore (2), New York (4), and Buffalo. Yes, I really am so sick that I counted each on in my head. I could write a post about every single one of them. That’s 22 out of the 32 NFL cities. Where numbers are posted, that’s the number of total stadiums within each city, so that’s a combined 36 in all — not counting college football and baseball.
Every stadium is unique. That’s certainly true here in the steel city.
If I had to chose a single word to describe the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, that word would be intimidating. It just looks like an inhospitable place, especially for opposing teams. The stadium is purposely open to the elements (as all football stadiums should be), forcing the visiting team not only to overcome the beloved hometown Steelers, but the bundled-up fans and the bitter weather, as well. Indeed, this is a real football city, unlike those frauds who play their home games inside domes on carpet.
Which is one reason I like Pittsburgh and respect the Steelers. Although I’m not a fan, I’ve watched far too many of their games over the last 40 years not to appreciate what this team means to the city and its proud citizens. Here, I’ll tell you a story.
About 15 years ago, Marieta and I entered into the old Three Rivers Stadium (since demolished) where we walked across the field. That was a pretty cool experience standing on the exact same spot where Franco Harris caught the “Immaculate Reception” way back in the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoff Game, which I remember watching at home on television when I was ten-years-old. It was like visiting Gettysburg.
Stadiums give us the gift of memories. I guess it’s a “Field of Dreams” sort of thing. You either appreciate the history and become immersed in tradition, or you don’t. It’s that simple.
About half of the stadiums I’ve visited occurred during the off-season. That’s usually the best time to sneak inside. Sill, it’s not always easy passing through the gates. Sometimes, you have to be creative. You may even have to trespass. I’ll get to that in a bit, too.
Once, Marieta and I went to Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium when we were driving cross country. It’s located right off I-70, so there’s no detour. We entered towards the field through a back gate. A security guard must have been dozing on the job because they all went ballistic when we happened to make it all the way up through the tunnel towards the actual field. As it turns out, the Kansas City Chiefs were practicing that same afternoon, preparing for an upcoming game versus Oakland. It was a closed practice, which meant no one was allowed anywhere in the stands. I guess they thought I might have been spying for the Raiders.
The one and only stadium where I was unsuccessful (entering) was Seattle. I’m still pissed about that. About 15 years ago, I went to the old Kingdome, which has since been torn down. The Kingdome was a real eyesore. Of all the stadiums in football, it might have been the very worst in the league. Boring, in a convention center sort of way. Still, I was in Seattle, so I had to try and sneak inside. I did just about everything and finally gave up when someone threatened to call the police and have me arrested. Years later, I did enjoy watching the demolition of that hellhole on ESPN’s SportsCenter. Hopefully the jerk who kept me out lost his job.
My favorite NFL stadium of all time was the old Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, in Washington. It was way too small for pro football, which is what made it such an exciting place. Every home game during every year sold out. At the time the Redskins played there, the waiting time for season tickets was something like 25 years. I remember the stadium used to bounce up and down when the fans really got into it. Sitting in the stands was almost like riding on a ship at sea. A close second as a favorite would be the old Mile High Stadium in Denver, which is no longer there. The best tailgating I’ve ever experienced took place at Buffalo’s Rich Stadium, with the NY Jets at The Meadowlands as the runner up. But my list is incomplete. After all, I’ve never been to Green Bay.
Now, back to Pittsburgh.
Here’s a memorial to the late Art Rooney. He founded the Pittsburgh Steelers way back in the 1920s. I met his son a few times, since the Rooney Family also owns the Palm Beach Kennel Club, in Florida where I’ve done some work.
Hopefully, the Rooney’s won’t see today’s post and read my story about breaking into their stadium. This happened on Saturday.
The home of the Pittsburgh Steelers is a fortress. Steel. Concrete. Cinder blocks. Wire fences. Almost like a maximum security prison.
Saturday afternoon, I pulled up to the side of the stadium on a cold and blustery day with temperatures in the low 30s. The Steelers played a road game just a few days ago, so there’s nothing happening here today, although it was used for a Pitt Panthers college football game the day before.
I can tell from the outset — this isn’t going to be easy.
I walk around the outside and circle the entire outer walkway which rings the stadium. Not a single entrance is open. Every gate is padlocked. However, the Steelers do have a gift shop on the east side of the big grandstand, which is open to fans. I enter. Here’s my shot.
The gift shop which sells Steelers merchandise has a walkway which is barricaded off and designed to keep traffic going only to and from the store. That means, you can enter under the grandstand. But you can’t actually enter the stadium or see any part of the field because it’s completely fenced off. Worse, there are two security guards standing around watching.
Like I said, this is going to be a challenge. Maybe as bad as the Kingdome back in 1996.
I browse the store for a bit and notice that the area on the way out has some glass doors. There’s a sign posted: PITTSBURGH STEELERS TICKET OFFICE
It’s Thanksgiving weekend. Besides, there’s no tickets for sale. They all sold out months, if not years ago. Still, I see this as pretty much my only shot.
As I leave just about ready to depart the stadium, I reach for the glass door to the ticket office. I fully expect these doors to be locked. Incredibly, it’s open! And there’s no one inside. I feel like G. Gordon Liddy.
There’s another glass door, which is the actual entrance to the ticket office. Those doors are bolted shut. So, this looks like a dead end.
Then I notice a metal fold out chair — which is unoccupied — with a bunch of newspapers folded on the seat. There’s also a stack of coffee cups and a trash can filled with litter. Guy’s a real pig. Obviously, this is where one of the security guards is usually stationed. He must be slacking.
That’s when I spot an elevator. What the fuck. This is pretty much it. I’m drawing to one out.
The elevator door opens. Holy shit, I’m now inside Fort Knox.
I step inside and there’s so many buttons that I don’t know what to press. There’s so many levels, I have absolutely no idea where to go. So, I just push one of them randomly and the elevator lifts off.
Next, the elevator door opens about halfway up, which seems to be on about the middle part of the deck where all the luxury suites are located. I get off, but notice that everything is gated and locked. I hear some commotion downstairs. One of the security guards has apparently spotted a trespasser. Just as I get back on the elevator again, I hear someone shouting “heeeeeeeeeeeeeyyyyyyyyyy………………”
The door shuts. I punch the button to the top floor. I need to get as far away from the security guards as possible.
The door opens. Now, I’m on the upper deck of the stadium.
It’s wintertime here, and you can certainly feel that fact when standing outdoors perched on the upper deck of a vacant stadium. The wind here just seems to blow a little harder and colder when you go way up high like that.
Sure enough, I’m headed straight for what’s become pro football’s excursion of Mount Everest. I walk slowly up the tunnel. I begin to see the yellow seats. I walk out and alas, there it is. I’ve reached the summit.
I look around for a few minutes and take a few pictures. I suspect my time is running out fast. It will be any minute now before the guards come bursting up the tunnel only to confront me with a rude series of questions. I might even be in trouble.
Fortunately, I make it back to the elevator just in the nick time. And here’s the part of the story that I’m most proud of.
In this spot, I’ve got to act like a completely lost dumb shit tourist. Otherwise, they’re going to be pissed knowing they were outfoxed. They’ll probably be pissed off anyway. Sure, this is the most excitement they have most of the time of what must be a mind-numbingly dull job, trying to keep jokers like me from breaking in, sending them off on some wild goose chase through the stands.
Like I said, I reach the elevator. Trouble is, I now hear it coming. The fact it went to the bottom and is headed back up is a bad sign. I suspect the guards on coming up on this trip. So, I walk around the corner and kind of stare off into space, looking out over the parking lot. I figure they might see me, and if they do — so what? I assume a standing position acting like someone caught in a daze.
Sure enough, the guards step off the elevator. I can’t quite hear what they’re saying, but they’re obviously up here on a man hunt. They run off and go up the ramps outside onto the upper deck. Here’s my chance to escape.
I hit the button and the elevator door opens instantly. Ding!
I scurry inside, while the Keystone Cops are presumably searching every row of the upper deck of a 75,000-seat stadium.
This is James Bond kind of shit.
Well, the elevator reaches the bottom level and the door is about to open. Hooray! I’m home free! I beat the bastards! Now, all I need to do is make a bee-line through the glass doors and head straight back to the car.
The elevator door opens up. FUCK ME.
There’s a big black man standing there in a security guard uniform with a couple of silver bars attached to his collar. I guess he’s the captain. This must be the supervisor.
Oh shit. Now, I’m in serious trouble.
“What are you doing in here?” he asks. “You’re not supposed to be in here, this is private property!”
“Huh? What? I was just…….”
“YOU STAY RIGHT HERE!”
The guard pulls out a walkie-talkie and announces something like “I got him.”
Nice detective work, sir!
We jaw back and forth for about two minutes and meanwhile the other two deputy dogs fumble down the elevator and finally manage to reach ground zero.
The case is solved!
Medals and promotions for everyone!
I finally announce I’ve had enough of this and explain I just wanted to the see the stadium, which of course is all true. I guess there’s some merit to the old adage about when not knowing what to do or say, just tell the truth. That’s easy.
Amazingly, I’m not cavity searched or cuffed and arrested. So, I make my way back to the car, with some cool photos and an even better story to tell.
And so, the Seattle Kingdome still remains my only defeat.
Next Up: A visit to Penn’s Brewery