L.C.'s various business interests (coal and natural gas marketing, corrugated packaging and fulfillment, etc.) keep him checking computer monitors at his office in nearby Carnegie, Pa., several hours a day; then he plays golf. How does it feel to watch the Steelers now? "I try to be in the gym on Sunday afternoon, so I can watch while I'm working out," he says. "I'm all tensed up. Since I stopped playing, I've never been able to figure this out: the idea that there's nothing I can do about it. This player I'm watching is such a great player, what is he thinking? I coulda...." So he sweats it out.
L.C. at 6'6½" is 15 or 20 pounds up from his playing weight, which ranged from 225 to 233. He says, "These kids are too big! I looked at one of them, 350 pounds. That's too big to be an athlete. They just walk into the weight room, and walk out on the field. How the hell are you going to bend over?"
Yeah! Giants walked the earth in my day, and they could also run the earth. Case in point, the Immaculate Receptor himself. When Franco Harris was 32 and still carrying a football for a living, he told me, "The hole is never where it's supposed to be." Now at 62 he tells me, "I loved playing football. Now I love business. The competition changes all the time—where's the opening?" Franco's bakery business sells nutrition-laden, trans-fat-free doughnuts to public schools and retail outlets. In another venture he markets workout towels and, for the military, socks made of bamboo viscose and silver nanoparticles, which you can use for 60 days before they smell bad. And he chairs the board of directors of the Pittsburgh Promise, which provides (with seed money from the UPMC) college scholarships of up to $10,000 a year to all students at Pittsburgh public schools who achieve a 2.5 average and a 90% attendance record.
Franco studied food science at Penn State. "Twelve years ago," he says, "I knew I was going to have trouble with inflammation and trouble with my brain," so he became a vegetarian. Now he'll eat a little chicken or fish. And every morning, for 12 years, he has eaten blueberries. His joints and his brain are O.K. so far.
Maybe I should write this whole story as an apology to you, because the current Steelers aren't what they were in my day," I told Kirven. "Not that I'm trying to compete, I'm just being—"
"Passive-aggressive," said Kirven. For the first 58 minutes of the Ravens game we sat in the stands, way up above the end zone, with other fans. In my day Steelers fans were just beginning to sense that their team could actually win, and they were beside themselves. They organized their own subgroups: Gerela's Gorillas (led by a man in a gorilla suit) for the kicker, Roy Gerela; Dobre Shunka, said to be Polish for good ham, for Jack Ham; and Franco's Italian Army, once blessed in person by Frank Sinatra. Now what Steelers fans do is wear Steelers stuff. In fact, I did not see on the streets of Pittsburgh, in the course of a week, six or eight people go by before at least one appeared wearing a Steelers jersey or shirt or hat. And on game days ... how shall I describe it? Once I was on a clothing-optional beach in France. You would see a naked person changing a tire, a naked person wiping a baby's nose, a naked person shaking her finger at a misbehaving dog. So it was in Pittsburgh on game day, only instead of naked people, it was Troy Polamalus. Here a Polamalu bonking into a revolving door, there three Polamalus throwing a Frisbee. "Nice dog," you say to a Polamalu walking a hassling pug.
"You should see him in his Polamalu sweater," the walker replies.
Polamalus everywhere but on the field. The electrifying safety is injured; Roethlisberger is injured; so many wide receivers have been injured that the team will resort to signing 35-year-old former Steeler Plaxico Burress. This has had an effect on the Steelers' play. Wave our Terrible Towels as we might, as the Huge Electronic Screen commands us to GET ENERGIZED, eventually somebody is going to spill his beer on himself so he has to stop yelling "Get funky!" and go get two more beers just in case. In his absence we notice that the Huge Electronic Screen is yelling DEE-FENSE! louder than the crowd is.
And the Steelers lose to Baltimore 13--10. Playoff chances fading. Kirven and I are in the locker room. Reporters surround backup quarterback Byron Leftwich, who stepped up for the injured Roethlisberger but failed, after a great start, to carry the day. Off to the side, an insecure rookie receiver, David Gilreath (whom the Steelers will cut in a week), is trying to reach around reporters to get at his locker.