When Andrew met my parents for the first time sixteen years ago, it was nearing the end of football season during winter break from college. I figured they'd ask him the standard get to know you questions and was relatively unalarmed and unworried about the entire situation. Yet, here we were, standing in my parents' dining room, having entered the house only moments before and my father, a Pennsylvania native who raised me as a Steelers fan, immediately asked in a very serious tone, "So, Andy, you're from Cleveland? Does that mean you're a Browns fan?"
Andrew admitted that yes, he was a Browns fan even if that didn't quite align with my family's sports leanings. The Browns were, after all, one of the Steelers longtime biggest rivals. We all had a good laugh, realizing my dad was only halfway kidding about the seriousness of his question, before moving on to other conversation.
As Andrew's visit progressed, we made our way to my aunt and uncle's house for a Christmas gathering with my dad's entire side of the family-- all Pittsburgh Steelers fans. As it happened, the Steelers were playing that evening after our Christmas dinner, and prompted by my grandfather, we made our way, one by one, from the dining table to the living room to watch the game.
It wasn't until about a quarter into the game when my uncle asked Andrew if he was a Steelers fan. Before Andrew could respond, my dad loudly announced, "No, he's from Cleveland!" Now outed, Andrew endured a serious razzing from my entire extended family for the remainder of the game, all good natured and in fun.
Over the years, Andrew has stuck to his guns and I mine. We refuse to change allegiances. We both have celebrated home wins and endured away losses at games in both Pittsburgh and Cleveland. We've enjoyed beautiful, sunny, 60 degree December weather at Heinz Field and suffered through the coldest Steelers vs Browns matchup in history at FirstEnergy Stadium with a wind chill of -10 degrees.
When we first moved to Baltimore, we watched the games at Max's Taphouse in Fells Point-- one of the few places we knew we could count on the bartenders to put the Steelers and Browns games on TVs next to each other at the bar. Our tab name to this day, twelve years later, on our Max's receipts still always say "Pitt/Cleve" even though we don't make it to Max's nearly as often and rarely for football games. Just yesterday, while strolling into Max's for a pint for our weekly Wednesday happy hour date, the bartender announced with a hearty laugh to other patrons sitting at the bar, "He's Cleveland and she's Pitt! Now THAT has to be an interesting marriage dynamic!"
In November, the Steelers and Browns played each other on Thursday night football. During the last few seconds of the game, a bitter rivalry unraveled into one of the most violent scenes ever to unfold in the NFL when Browns defensive end Myles Garrett ripped the helmet off of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and proceeded to club Rudolph in the head with the helmet. Andrew and I went to bed in quiet shock that night immediately following the game.
The next night, we decided to go to a local pizzeria to order a take out pizza. We sat down at the bar to grab a quick Natty Boh while we waited on our pie. Still fresh in the news cycle from the night before, the TVs surrounding the bar showed the helmet incident replay on repeat. Finally, Andrew and I discussed what had unfolded, he saying that it should never have happened, and me loudly replying, "You are absolutely correct, and that is the hill I will die on!"
Realizing my voice had gotten louder due to our passionate discussion, I began laughing and went on to joke, "After all these years, THIS is the game in the rivalry that will finally cause the divorce!" The bartender, having just passed by, stopped dead in her tracks. She turned, looked at us in a concerned manner, and quietly asked, "Is everything ok?" Andrew and I turned and looked at each other, burst into laughter, and reassured her that all was well.
While we both may think the other's taste in football team is quite questionable, we have certainly had our fair share of good laughs over the years as a result. And no, this rivalry won't cause a divorce, but quite the opposite. You see, even if we may not see eye to eye, this rivalry has most definitely formed a lot of happy memories of time spent together enjoying a sport that we both love.