Stamatakis: City born of steel? Please

By Nick Stamatakis

Pittsburghers love to talk about how tough they are. Iron City Beer, pollution and years of… Pittsburghers love to talk about how tough they are. Iron City Beer, pollution and years of recession supposedly make us a gritty cut above.

But I think us Pittsburghers often turn out to be quite wimpy. Our self-image doesn’t match reality. Just consider how we handle winter weather.

Yes, I am aware that we manage snow better than, say, Washington, D.C., or Baltimore, which shut down after only a few inches. I am also fairly confident that Miamians and Los Angelinos would find Pittsburgh winters completely unbearable.

But when you compare Pittsburghers to residents of cities that have similar winters — Boston, Chicago, Denver — we aren’t gritty at all. We are probably just as feeble as Philadelphians, whom former Gov. Ed Rendell decried last year as emblematic of the wussy attitude: “We’ve become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything. If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game?” he said after officials decided to postpone a Philadelphia Eagles game because of anticipated snow. We aren’t exceptional at handling hardship.

As I write this on a random Wednesday afternoon, for instance, a prediction of 1.5 inches has produced 69 evening school/church cancellations, according to WTAE’s website. And often all that’s required for a two-hour delay in many school districts — coming from my own primary educational experience in an area school district — is morning temperatures beneath 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

I don’t mean to sound like a grumpy old man, but these aren’t statistics that show any significant hardiness. And although I realize that some cancellations merely reflect the fact that the city demonstrates pathetic plowing abilities and route prioritization skills, I wouldn’t expect a city truly born of steel to delay school because it’s 5 degrees outside.

We therefore need to rethink this image if we want to be honest with ourselves. After all, it comes from a time when many people in the city worked at jobs at which there was a literal risk of being killed by a flaming bucket of fire. It doesn’t quite fit a city where the most perilous part of the average citizen’s typical day is instead driving through the Fort Pitt Tunnel or going to a Pirates game.

Of course, this isn’t to say we are as “dainty” as New Yorkers with their huge fashion industry or Seattle residents with their mocha drinks, but we need to stop pretending we have some kind of island of an old-school, rub-some-dirt-in-it mentality if we don’t actually display that kind of behavior.

Pittsburgh is a feeble city now. What draws people is health care and education. Life moves slower than on the hyper-competitive East Coast.

This discussion can’t continue, however, without mention of the Steelers, the single largest contributor to the blue-collar mystique. If you watched or read any of the media’s coverage of the team in the two weeks leading up to the last Super Bowl, you would believe that the team breathes traditional sensibilities and boasts such a history of success because the team telekinetically absorbed the city’s values. The “Blue-Collar Bowl” turned into the most overused Pittsburgh moniker since Snowpocolypse.

But I believe the relationship is actually more of the opposite of the one portrayed — the team pours into the city if anything, not the other way around. It’s the Rooney family that displays the no-nonsense attitude toward management — don’t forget how they traded Santonio Holmes as soon as he got in trouble. It’s the team’s values, not the city’s values that make the Steelers the Steelers. And the particular resonance the team has with its city’s fans isn’t a result of the city being somehow extra virtuous. It’s because any city would immediately attribute a local sports team’s greatness to itself.

After all, few people credit Pittsburgh values to the failures of the Pirates. And when the Penguins were bad at the beginning and middle of the last decade, it was never a reflection of good blue-collar values. The Steelers have just always been good — well, at least since the merger of the two leagues — and a magic connection was somehow created.

So despite all that the Steelers represent and despite the city’s past industriousness, we need to look at who we are as people. We are not the blue-collar people born of steel that perhaps we once were.

We are modern, hard-working and maybe a bit more delicate than we would like to admit to our friends in Cleveland. Just as wussy as any other city that has similar weather, but about a million times more awesome nonetheless.

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