published Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Kennedy: Super Bowl flu is hard to shake

My Super Bowl headache began last Tuesday as a pinpoint of pain between my eyes. By the time you read this on Sunday, the headache will be immense.

This is the price I pay for being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I call it the Super Sunday flu. When the Steelers are competing for a world championship, I'm a wreck.

As you may know, the Steelers are playing today in Super Bowl XLV vs. the Green Bay Packers. These are two of the most storied franchises in NFL history. The Steelers have won six Super Bowls, the guys from Wisconsin have won three. The Super Bowl trophy is named after the great Packers coach Vince Lombardi.

I study the Steelers 365 days a year. I have a Steeler Nation app on my iPhone. My Steelers caps -- I have three -- all have perspiration stains from year-round wear. I have a Steelers "skin" on my MacBook. The sight of Terrible Towels releases endorphins in my brain.

I have several good-luck rituals that I use during Super Bowl weeks.

I believe in lucky numbers, charms and omens. Examples: The fact that I ate black-eyed peas for New Year's dinner and the Black Eyed Peas are playing at halftime of Super Bowl XLV is a good omen. Also, the fact that this is a year ending in 11 -- my lucky number -- is excellent.

I don't mean to sound greedy, but if the Steelers win their seventh Super Bowl championship tonight, it will make my year.

Steeler fans are calling tonight's game "The Stairway to Seven," which adds to my nervousness. The last time the Steelers had a pregame motto, "One for the thumb in '81," it took 25 years to get that fifth ring.

In February 2006, when the Steelers franchise won its fifth Lombardi trophy after that long drought, I was anointed with a two-decades-old can of Iron City beer, which smelled like mud and tasted like burnt licorice. It was one of the happiest moments of my entire life.

This, I realize, is not how sane people should act. Football fanaticism, at this level, can start to unravel the edges of your mental health. But, looked at another way, it gives me a chance to vent some aggressions that most days are locked away inside my mild-mannered exterior.

Being a Steelers fan has its own idiosyncrasies. We draw energy from our aggressive, black-and-gold defense -- not our offense. One of our offensive players -- receiver Hines Ward, a former University of Georgia Bulldog -- actually thinks he plays defense. He once decleated an opposing player and broke his jaw with a blind-side block.

When Steeler linebacker James Harrison said sarcastically this week in Arlington, Texas, that he was planning to put pillows down to cushion the Packers he tackled, he was channeling Steeler greats Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene.

If you don't follow football, Harrison has been fined by the NFL several times this season for vicious (the league says, illegal) tackles. Steeler fans, by the thousands, sent him cash in the mail to help pay his fines. The money was later donated to charity.

As I write, the Packers are favored by a field goal. If that happens, a lot of people with plastic cheese on their heads will be dancing in the streets of Green Bay tonight.

On the other hand, if the stars are aligned properly, the Steelers will win the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.

When I glance at my watch after the game, it will be 11:11 p.m.

And I will have arrived in seventh heaven, indeed.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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