I've been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan since about the first grade. At the time I chose them as my team, the Steelers were in the midst of a run that would see them win four Super Bowls. I idolized the stars from that NFL dynasty: quarterback Terry Bradshaw, running back Franco Harris, linemen "Mean" Joe Greene and LC Greenwood, receivers John Stalworth and Lynn Swann, linebackers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert. Hell, I even followed the supporting cast: Mike Webster, Donnie Shell, Mel Blount, Dwight White. I had both the home and away jersey.
For Christmas one year, maybe 1978 or 79, I received a Steelers stocking cap. Unlike much of my childhood detritus, it's become a cherished keepsake that I have with me to this day. In fact, yesterday morning, in honor of the Steelers playing in tomorrow's Super Bowl XL, I fished the tattered stocking cap from a box in the basement, washed it (probably for the first time in a quarter-century), and put it on my head to parade around the grocery store, bank and drug store during Saturday errands.
As it happens, the Steelers hat recalls one particularly distinct memory that has little to do with football.
It was the winter of 1996 (possibly '97) and I had been living in New York City. Valarie and I were eating at one of our favorite restaurants: Tea and Sympathy, an authentically British hole-in-the-wall in the West Village where they make scrumptious shepherd's pie, Welsh rarebit and scones. After paying the check, we were getting up to leave and began putting on our various hats, scarves and gloves in anticipation of braving the bitter cold outside.
I was putting on my trusty Steelers stocking cap when someone at another table said, 'Hey, that guy has a Steelers hat just like yours.' And I suddenly saw a bald middle-aged man with a white beard fish out his identical yellow and black cap, with a little ball of yarn on the top and a Steelers three-diamond logo, all exactly the same as mine.
Turns out my Steelers cap doppelganger was actually Oliver Sacks, the famous neurologist who has written numerous best-selling books about his patients such as An Anthropologist on Mars, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and The Island of the Color Blind. (Robin Williams played Sacks in the 1990 film Awakenings.) What's even crazier was that I was even reading a book of his at the time.
There wasn't much to our brief conversation. ("Aren't you Oliver Sacks? I'm reading your book! Oh, and go Steelers.") But it's one of those little memories that I cherish, and that I thought of not long after fishing out the cap yesterday from its basement tomb. Somewhere tomorrow maybe the good doctor will take time out from treating brain injuries, turn on the TV, and root on the black and gold.
And, you sure as hell better believe, will I.