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November 1st, 2004

I’m on an airplane leaving Pittsburgh. I just got the bum’s rush from the 1902 Tavern I’ve been frequenting all week. I wonder how much money I dropped on the floor in that place. I’m not sure why they kicked me out. One thing I’ve learned over my many times many years of life is that when you get kicked out of a bar as a transient it’s time to leave the whole damn town because more than likely your instincts and behavior are deteriorating.

It’s been a harrowing and disturbing week in this great land of ours and the only good thing I can really say about it is that I made a swiftboat full of money on the Pittsburgh Steelers. I bet large on the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday in their football contest against the New England Patriots. I flew to Pittsburgh to watch the boat come in from the shore. Being back in Pittsburgh brought back some wonderful memories.

I almost lost my life the last time I was in Pittsburgh. The year was 1972; it was Christmas Eve Eve. I was in Pittsburgh covering the divisional playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and the Steelers. The night before the game I was with my old friend and colleague the Houston Harold. I remember we were drinking at The Original Oyster House. We were talking about how the Steelers weren’t going to be able to handle the lightning fast Oakland WR named Cliff Branch. “I wouldn’t count on that.” The man next to us said with such conviction that I thought he might have a trunk full of vacuums. His name was Gary Pupnick, he was a member of the Three Rivers Stadium ground crew. He was a strange looking man, kind of looked like a pirate, wearing a yellow frock and had a pair of mutton chops that would have given ol’ Scoop a full head of hair if placed on my bald head. When Scoop Miller and Houston Harold were together, we’d seemed to just stumble into a huge scoop and the scoop that Gary Pupnick dished up would have served the entire state of Rhode Island.

He leaned in close and whispered, “Ya see, the tarp over there at the stadium, it ain’t exactly covering the whole field.” It was freezing that night and what Gary Pupnick was telling us was that the field was going to be too icy for a Northern California offense to handle. A handful of boilermaker’s later we were on the phone with our respective bookies making $10,000 plays on the Steelers.

I woke up the next morning with Oyster Breath, a headache and my entire bank account bet on a team that had NEVER EVER won a playoff game in their 40 year history. I drank about two pots of coffee in the lobby of the hotel before Houston Harold stumbled into the room. I was so hopped up from the coffee and nervous from the bet that I suggested we run to the stadium. Houston Harold had a better idea and that was to head to the 1902 Tavern and have some drinks to calm the nerves. We were sitting at the bar when kickoff approached. We decided to watch the game on a small black and white television in the bar.

The score at Halftime was 0-0 and we weren’t feeling any better about the bet. Things then began to look up after a couple of turnovers and a couple of field goals gave the Steelers a shaky 6-0 lead. With about three minutes to go the Raiders started their last gasp drive. With every first down I felt a pang in my heart as the Raiders moved the ball to the Pittsburgh 31 yard line. On the next play Oakland quarterback Kenny Stabler snaked his way into the end zone on an improbable and ridiculous scramble. With 1:07 left in the game Oakland had taken a 7-6 lead. As George Blanda made the extra point I left the bar in a daze and crossed the street to my hotel. I took an elevator to the top floor and made my way to the roof. I sat on the edge and could see Three Rivers Stadium in the distance. I stood on the edge contemplating the loss $10,000 and in my stupor I wondered if that was the price of my suddenly fragile life. I lit up a cigarette and looked into the frozen Pittsburgh air and wondered how I had wandered so far from home. I began to feel dizzy when I heard a thunderous eruption from Three Rivers Stadium followed by 10 minutes of silence. I stood mesmerized in a state of caution and hope. Then again the stadium erupted and minute’s later people streamed out of Three Rivers Stadium in a state of euphoria that I’ve never witnessed from such a high place.

Yes, this was the day that a feeble throw on 4th and 10 by Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw was headed toward a Steeler named John “Frenchy” Fuqua. The ball and the games most feared hitter, Raider CB Jack Tatum arrived simultaneously. Tatum, laid out Frenchy and sent the ball sailing through air towards Franco Harris’ waiting arms. Franco “Jesus” Harris made the immaculate reception just an inch off the carpet and ran into the end zone giving the Steelers their first playoff victory in history.

I raced off the roof in search of my colleague. Crossing the street through a spontaneous parade I thrust myself into the 1902 Tavern. Houston Harold was on the floor next to his bar stool holding a sign that read “Franco Saves.”

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