You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Mon, Sep 13, 2010 : 9:21 a.m.

A Sunday mass of Steeler Nation, Terrible Towels and a pizza buffet

By Richard Retyi

Steeler Nation

Mike (left) and son Jesse Gandley are two of the men who lead Steeler Nation | Photo by Richard Retyi

“What’s your name?” a large gentleman asks my friend Courtney as we stand at the top of the stairs leading to the second floor of Aubree’s in Depot Town. We’re here to join Steeler Nation - a fan group that meets each week to support the black and gold - and watch Pittsburgh play the Atlanta Falcons in the season opener. Neither of us realized we’d be required to bring our papers.

Courtney’s in the clear. She’s originally from Pennsylvania - Monongahela, Penn., to be precise. I’m fairly certain she’ll be able to talk her way in. It’s me I’m worried about. Canadian. No NFL ties. Wearing a hoody with hints of red in it (I swear it’s not Falcon red!).

Steeler Nation 2

Steeler Nation at Aubree's in Depot Town | Photo by Richard Retyi

Lex (the aforementioned large gentleman) looks like he could play on Sunday. He’s huge and intimidating wearing Steeler black. I can see why the Nation put him on staircase duty. Lex asks us a few questions more questions - why we’re here - what our purpose is. I think he can tell we aren’t rabble-rousers (Courtney is wearing a Steelers shirt and I have a delightful grin on my face) but you can’t be too sure these days.

“This is a wholesome environment,” Lex says. “We gotta make sure you’re really Steeler fans.”

Courtney’s agreed to join me for the first weekend of the National Football League season and the kickoff of Steeler Nation - an international organization made up of fans supporting the Pittsburgh Steelers. They gather each weekend across the world (chapters in Europe!) to watch their black and gold gladiators punish the competition. The Washtenaw chapter meets each game-day on the second floor of Aubree’s (technically Sticks) to share food, drink and camaraderie and cheer their heads off. Steeler football!

Pittsburgh Steelers football isn’t just football -- it’s a way of life. The motto is even on the official Steeler Nation T-shirt. Most of them are originally from the Keystone State -- expats living in Southeastern Michigan but still clinging to shreds of their Pennsylvania accents.

Steeler Nation 5

Steeler Nation - a Way of Life | Photo by Richard Retyi

“Dependability, discipline and a high moral standard,” says Mike Gandley, president of the Washtenaw County chapter of Steeler Nation. “That’s what we’re about.” 

Sharing the same hometown as Courtney (this article will now officially come up first when you Google “Monongahela”) Mike grew up in the same small berg named after one of Pittsburgh’s three rivers and located less than 30 miles south of the Steel City. He fell in love with the Steelers when they still played at Pitt Stadium in the 1960s and has followed legends like Mean Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Jack Lambert, Rod Woodson and Bubby Brister (kidding). His son, Jesse, was indoctrinated as well and has been a member of Steeler Nation since his own youth.

Jesse serves as the minister of defense for the organization and remembers watching games at Banfield’s, one of a handful of venues in which the group used to gather.

“We watched games in the basement on a TV with rabbit ears,” Jesse remembers. “There weren’t a lot of us back then.”

The Washtenaw County chapter of Steeler Nation started in the late 80s and, since then, they’ve gathered each week (this is the ninth season at Aubree’s) to watch their boys represent Steeler football. It might not always be pretty and the scoreboard might not get much of a workout sometimes, but it’ll be physical, effortful, and they know their boys will make them proud. Steeler football!

Steeler Nation has grown in popularity -- partly thanks to Super Bowl victories in 2006 and 2009 but also because Sunday afternoons at Aubree’s are a hell of a good time. “Be a part of the band, not the wagon,” reads a large black and gold banner hanging from the ceiling. Everyone is dressed in the primary colors of Steeler Nation.

Steeler Nation 6

Pizza buffet! | Photo by Richard Retyi

Terrible Towels are tucked into back pockets or slung over shoulders, ready at a moment’s notice should one of the Steelers break into the end zone. Steeler fans pride themselves on being one of the most blue-collar fan bases in the NFL, and they might also be the friendliest. Perfect strangers approach our table regularly to say hello, smack high fives or ask us if we’re enjoying ourselves. One guy even waits a good 20 seconds before I finally see his outstretched paw and give him some love. We even get T-shirts!

On the field, Pittsburgh opens the scoring with a field goal (the place erupts!) but both teams are struggling to move the ball on offense. We dig into the buffet, which is delicious (I’ve always loved Aubree’s pizza, but I’ve never had their delicious wings)! The Steeler lead is still 3-0 late in the second quarter, but no one is getting bored - they’re great! What other football crowd applauds the defensive coordinator when he appears on TV? Steeler Nation chants “Defense!” and stomps their feet on opponent third-down plays and even when it’s knotted 3-3 at halftime, no one complains about conservative play-calling or a lack of scoring. Steeler football!

Pittsburgh is breaking in a new quarterback to start the season after the suspension of their tarnished golden boy Ben Roethlisberger. They applaud new QB Dennis Dixon when he shows up on the screen but they really give their hands a workout when safety Troy Polamalu gets some face time. The most blue-collar fan base in the NFL cheers madly for a player who had his hair insured for $1 million with Lloyd’s of London. Steeler football!

Atlanta pulls ahead 6-3 and a horn blows to get the crowd going. Steeler Nation loves to yell “Heeeeaaaaath” when tight end Heath Miller makes a reception and they hilariously boo a highlight of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning throwing for a touchdown in a game two time zones away. The Steelers tie it up, Atlanta pulls ahead with another field goal and Pittsburgh ties it again - six field goals in 60 minutes of play. No touchdowns. Steeler football!

Steeler Nation 3

The agony... | Photo by Richard Retyi

Steeler Nation is accommodating to newcomers, but don’t show up in a Browns jersey. “The worst thing you could wear would be a Webster Slaughter jersey,” Jesse says. “I hate that guy.” 

Feel free to show up if you’re a Steeler fan or have the makings of a true Steeler fan. Mike, Jesse, Lex and the rest have seen a lot of bandwagon fans in their day, and they’ll sniff you out pretty quickly. Be prepared to shout at the TV (good things and not so good things).

We’re witness to the longest field goal in Heinz Field history, beloved wide receiver Hines Ward passing the 11,000-yard receiving mark and the first overtime game of the 2010 NFL season. 

Heading into overtime, fans order one last drink in anticipation of extra football. The Pittsburgh defense stops the Falcons, taking over on the 50 yard-line, and on the first play Steeler Rashard Mendenhall runs the length of the field for the touchdown. Steeler Nation explodes. They jump up and down, wave their towels in the air and grown men run around the bar hugging friends and high-fiving complete strangers (even me!). The final score is 15-9 but I wasn’t bored once. Steeler football!

Steeler Nation 4

The Ecstasy | Photo by Richard Retyi

After it’s over we shake hands, exchange a few high fives and walk down the stairs and into a sunny afternoon. Steeler Nation still clings to me (in a good way). I grew up with no strong allegiance to any NFL team, but after this weekend, I might have jump on the Steeler bandwagon. Or join the band if they let me play the triangle.

(Richard Retyi writes the bi-weekly(ish) column “Lie to Your Cats About Santa” and, though he grew up just 45 minutes from Buffalo, N.Y., hated Jim Kelly and thus hated the Buffalo Bills. He’s a lot more likely to cheer for the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. Read more of his work here or e-mail him at and make him feel good about his life.)


Richard Retyi

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 1:46 p.m.

@r treat: I work for the University of Michigan athletic department but I LOVE Steeler fans. Maybe they're the kind of fans you'd hate if you're a Browns or Ravens fan but a fan base you'd love in your corner. Plus black and gold are flattering colors on almost anyone.

r treat

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 1:37 p.m.

Steeler fans remind me of buckeye fans, loud people who have to wear their jerseys everywhere they go. I was at the doctor on a tuesday and saw two different guys wearing their faux uniforms for their appt. Lol!


Sat, Sep 18, 2010 : 11:36 p.m.

Simply put - the Pittsburgh Steelers have a tradition of being a champion and why would you root for anything else? I'm born and raised in Michigan and grew up ('74) worshipping the Steelers. All I did was read the history, watch Super Bowl after Super Bowl. I always wish the Lions could be a competative organization but they will never achieve the success of the Steelers. By the way - just smile and wear a Steeler jersey and you can play as much pool in that bar as you want. Simply put.


Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 4:50 a.m.

Good, just another reason to avoid this dive of a bar! I never cared for that crowd anyhow. I know it's a nice "local" neighborhood watering hole for many, but I've never liked the crowd or the food!


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 3:26 p.m.

"The majority of Steeler Nation seemed to hail from Pennsylvania or at least have strong ties to the state, so there aren't a lot of bandwagon fans." maybe not at this particular event but looking at merch sales of all Football teams Steelers are #2 in rank. By the fact they are a small market team, it would stand to reason that there are plaenty of "bandwagon" fans. I don't know why that stated in a negative way though.

Richard Retyi

Mon, Sep 13, 2010 : 8:46 p.m.

The majority of Steeler Nation seemed to hail from Pennsylvania or at least have strong ties to the state, so there aren't a lot of bandwagon fans. As for the TVs... the game looked fine to me. On all gabillion of them. Seriously, there were a ton of views. Check it out.


Mon, Sep 13, 2010 : 7:39 p.m.

I'm not a Steelers fan. I just picked the wrong place to play pool on a Sunday. I like college ball and laughing at the ongoing tragedy that is the Detroit Lions, mainly. But, again, Sticks is an awful place to catch a game. The reception on the tvs in awful, and they are all conventional non-flat screen non-HD. That's backward in today's day and age, just like cultish slavish & weird to a team that plays over 2oo miles away in a different state and city also seems. I dunno. I guess I always hated that kid who wore the Cowboys or Steelers jersey to school because, well, a big bandwagon lets everybody ride.


Mon, Sep 13, 2010 : 4:30 p.m.

When your on top people will always to discredit....Most times it happens from a victims stance because their team...If you had a less than great time at the nation while you were here to watch a Steeler game then it must have been a Bad Game...BUT those that just drop by between 1 and the time that the second game starts then you should know that the bar is only open upstairs at that time is because we are all others it is closed i.e.(CARDS/POOL/OTHER FOOTBALL VIEWING). THE bar is open to the public the second game but don't get bent out of shape if our celebrating disturbs your focus while playing cards or playing pool.. "Its Just Our Way of Life" SELF-RIGHTEOUS CHAMPIONS NO... APPOINTED CHAMPIONS FROM THE MAN ABOVE... STEELERS FANS are all over the world thanks to the disbanding of the Steel Mills..."GENERATIONS HAVE BEEN BORN AND RAISED CHAMPS." WE HAVE SOMETHING TO BE A FANATIC ABOUT. We have been where Detroit City(not the Lions.. Different Topic this article is about Championship Football Swagger) is and have overcome through some tough years... JOIN US AT THE CLUB FOR A ULTIMATE STEELER FAN EXPERIENCE.

Bob Needham

Mon, Sep 13, 2010 : 4:06 p.m.

(Comment removed because it was in all caps)


Mon, Sep 13, 2010 : 2:29 p.m.

I agree with pizzaman...this "club" acts like jerks on Sunday. They take over the whole floor of the bar and act not only like they own it, but that no one else can come up there either. They are small inbred clique that doesn't welcome passersby. We made the mistake of trying to play pool up at Sticks one Sunday, minding our own business... when they were "holding court" and we never came back after the "warm" welcome from "Steeler Nation". Ah well, jokes on them: the reception on the conventional tv's is horrible up there, and there's no plasmas or HD.


Mon, Sep 13, 2010 : 2:25 p.m.

Those people are annoying and self-rightous. What an easy call to go for the Steelers in Ypsi. What takes real balls of steel in this State is to be a Lions fan on Sunday.

Richard Retyi

Mon, Sep 13, 2010 : 2:01 p.m.

@Phillip: Whoops. Dumb error on Mr. Ward's name. I must have had Heinz Field on the brain. @Pizza Man: I didn't see any of the negative interactions you mentioned experiencing. Steeler Nation is open to newcomers, but they are a diehard fan club, so yes, it does help to arrive wearing black and gold instead of the hated orange and brown of Cleveland. It's for Steeler fans, not necessarily casual fans of football (there's only one game on the 10,000 TVs on the second floor of Aubree's and that's the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. someone).

Philip Santini

Mon, Sep 13, 2010 : 1:51 p.m.

It's Pittsburgh...

Pizza Man

Mon, Sep 13, 2010 : 1:21 p.m.

No surprise that they don't talk about the other side of the story. I am at Aubree's on Sunday nights for Euchre. One night I walked upstairs to see what the score was. I got to almost the top of the stairs, just far enough to see the big screen TV. I asked what the score was, big mistake. A man said to me, "if you have to ask that you are not a Pittsburg fan". I just wanted to know what the score was. So I asked again, "what is the score?" The guy said to me that I better get the hell out of there before he kicked my ass! How rude! "Steeler Nation is accommodating to newcomers?" A friendly place my ass! Don't go up there unless you have a Pittsburg jersey on. Never ask what the score is either. Don't go to watch the game if you just want to watch a football game. This is for Stealer fans only! Be forewarned.

Philip Santini

Mon, Sep 13, 2010 : 1:03 p.m.

Heinz Ward???