How and Why This San Diego Sports Fan Chose the Steelers
"“I understand that you’re from San Diego and are a huge fan of both the Padres and San Diego State’s football team. But why in the world do you cheer for the Steelers? Shouldn’t you be a Chargers fan?”"
I will admit that I get these types questions and comments all the time from curious people. I cannot say that I blame them, especially because there are not very many out there with the same type of “fandom combination” like me. But because it is Chargers Week, I thought that it might be fun to explain how and why I became a die-hard fan of these teams over the course of my childhood.
Young me in my Padres gear during the late-1980’s. Mandatory Credit: The Di Tolla Family Photo Album.
As I alluded to before, I was born in and spent a large part of my formative years in San Diego. While I did the usual for fun and weekend outings like the Wild Animal Park and Mission Beach as a kid, my favorite childhood memories were unquestionably spent at Jack Murphy Stadium as I rooted on the Padres and San Diego State’s football team.
When I look back after all these years, “The Murph” was like a home away from home for me. From April until September, I went to Padres games as some of the best talent of that era (Roberto Alomar, Fred McGriff, Joe Carter, Gary Sheffield to name a few) played for the Friars and Tony Gwynn was putting together his Hall of Fame career. Granted, there were “firesales aplenty” that many Padres fans from my generation were unfortunately treated to during that era when basically every talented player not named Gwynn was shipped out of town. But because I loved baseball so much and still do, just going to enormous amounts of games and learning the nuances of the sport with my Dad were enough to sell me on the Padres. The sports fun for me however was not over when baseball season ended each year. No siree.
From September until November/December, I was witness to an incredible era of Aztecs football. For those unfamiliar with the team or who played for them during the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, I watched players like Marshall Faulk, Darnay Scott, and Patrick Rowe put up video-game numbers against their W.A.C. foes in some of the most exciting college football games I have ever seen (52-52 tie in 1991 against B.Y.U. remains my favorite).
In fact, I can still remember when my heart sank when the Steelers chose Charles Johnson in Round 1 of the 1994 Draft, and not Scott. Outside of when the organization passed on Brian Urlacher for Plaxico Burress, the move remains one of my least favorite Draft moments and I still wonder how awesome Scott would have been in Pittsburgh instead of Cincinnati. And hey, I will admit that I was probably was one of the few (if only one) on the “Will Blackwell & George Jones” Bandwagon during the late 1990’s after the Steelers selected two former Aztecs (later busts) in the 2nd and 5th Rounds of the 1997 Draft.
Yet as interested in the Aztecs and Padres I was and still remain to this day, I never became a Chargers fan. In fact, I basically never had a chance to become one. Because my parents were not Chargers fans (Dad: Broncos, Mom: Steelers), the Chargers were never a relevant topic of discussion in my house when it came to professional football. To me, the Chargers always were “The Murph’s” “other occupant” that I never went to see, and thus basically had no interest or desire to follow.
Me at 2 years old and showing my “Steelers” pride. Mandatory Credit: The Di Tolla Family Photo Album.
Due to the fact that I have always been a bit of a “Mama’s Boy,” and numerous members of my Mom’s family were Steelers fans, I inevitably chose them as my favorite professional football team to root for instead of the Chargers. Guys like Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Carnell Lake, Darren Perry, and Barry Foster became my favorite players to follow on Sundays. Plus it was a huge treat to watch future Hall of Famers Dermontti Dawson and Rod Woodson shine and excel as well. Luckily for me as a young fan, the Steelers started to improve and build a core of solid players in the late 1980’s who inevitably helped to lead the franchise some real success during the 1990’s. So while there were terrific players in my own backyard, I could have cared less about guys like Junior Seau or Leslie O’Neal because they did not wear the Black & Gold or the Black & Red.
Probably the biggest example of my indifference towards the Chargers can be illustrated in how I felt during the aftermath of the ‘94 A.F.C. Championship Game. Although it stung to watch one of the biggest upsets in Conference Championship history, Pittsburgh’s loss to San Diego not faze me in the same manner that the other postseason meltdowns eventually did under Cowher. As crushed as I was, I figured that it was a heck of a lot less painful to deal with than if the Steelers had lost the week before in the Divisional Round to the rival Browns. Plus, it was not like the Chargers had won anything recently, and I sure did not want to see Steve Young or the 49ers win their 5th Super Bowl title either.
I guess the best way I can express my feelings about the Chargers is that that I have always seen them as a team like the L.A./St. Louis Rams: No large rivalry to speak of, and no distaste of the team or franchise in any way. When the Steelers play them, I hope Pittsburgh wins in dominant fashion, but I certainly will not and do not despise them in the same manner that I do like some of Pittsburgh’s more common and Divisional/former Divisional opponents (Baltimore, New England, Denver, Cleveland, Tennessee, Jacksonville, etc.).
No matter how odd the combination might seem to many, I am proud and have always been proud of the teams that I have rooted for over the years. In fact, I currently hold a Staff Writer position at Fansided’s Padres-themed site “Chicken Friars.” But just like the Padres and the Aztecs, there has always existed and will always exist an equal place in my “fandom heart” for the Steelers.
Anyways, I hope you readers enjoyed my little trip down “Memory Lane.” I for one cannot wait to see whether or not the performance in Baltimore was a one-game fluke, or a turning point for the 2012 team. Plus, congrats. on the possible axing of Norv and A.J., Chargers fans. Hopefully the Spanos family will come to their senses and hire some non-incompetent boobs this offseason.
Here’s to a great game, and Go Steelers!