Steelers opener today bring back inspiring memory of 2003


First Posted: 9/7/2013

Somewhere around 11:30 this morning my brother Bill and his daughter Masha will be heading to Cuz’s sports Bar in Exeter to stake out a claim for viewing the Pittsburgh Steelers first game of the season. My brother attends a lot of Steelers games in person but when he can’t, Cuz’s is probably where he’ll be. See, Cuz’s isn’t just any sports bar. It’s a Steelers sports bar. You have to see it to believe it. And for sure it will be rockin’ today.

I will try to join them, for at least the first quarter, and thoughts of that bring up memories of a game my brother and I attended in Pittsburgh in 2003. The Steelers came back in the fourth quarter — in the snow — to win that first-round post-season game over the Cleveland Browns 36 to 33, but surprisingly it is not the game itself that I remember most. True, it’s hard to forget 60,000 black and gold clad fans going berserk in a steady snowstorm as their team rallies from behind, but my thoughts of that weekend go to an experience far less boisterous but even more powerful.

First, though, I feel compelled to explain that I am not a Steelers fan. Oh, I root for them quite abit. Mainly because of my brother and his family, my brother-in-law Paul and his family, and a friend Rick Notari who used to write sports for this paper. And a little bit because I met Lynn Swann back in the summer of ‘71 on the campus of Southern Cal when he was an unheard of sophomore. That day he told me and my friend Danny to remember his name because he was going to be famous.

I’m a Green Bay Packers fan, however, and have been since I was a little boy. And, although I did not admit it that day, I often root for the Browns because they are my Uncle Eddie’s team.

Unlike my brother, I don’t get to a lot of pro football games. Two years ago my wife surprised me with a trip to Green Bay to see the Packers play the New York Giants in a post-season game. Fabulous weekend, but not only did the Pack get upset, for which I earned the label jinx, but we also had a flight cancelled and had to spend a night in Detroit.

Prior to that, I had attended Super Bowl VI (Uncle Eddie took me) in New Orleans, an Eagles-Vikings game in Philadelphia (I won the tickets) and a Cowboys-Eagles game, also in Philly. That last one was interesting. My son was 10 at the time and a huge Cowboys fan. He was dressed in Cowboys gear from head to toe. Eagles fans started harrassing us at breakfast. “But don’t worry,” one guy said. “We’d never hurt a little kid. We just take it out on his dad.” The Eagles won, thank God.

Now to that 2003 game. My brother called me on a Friday afternoon saying he had two tickets for the Sunday game on a bus trip that was leaving Saturday morning. How could I say no? We stayed at the Hilton near the stadium Saturday night and that brings me to the story I want to share.

I was at the packed lobby bar Saturday night trying to order a drink when I struck up a conversation with a dignified gentleman sipping a white wine. It was the usual small talk: Here for the game? Steelers fan? Where ya from? “The Northeast,” he said. “Philadelphia.”

But this was no Eagles fan. Hardly. Turned out he was in town at the request of then-Steelers Coach Bill Cowher to lead the team in prayer prior to the game. He was stationed in Pittsburgh for 13 years, he said, and had become good friends with Cowher.

I asked Rev. John Galloway (no need for the title reverend, he said, or doctor, although he held a PhD), to join us, a party of about six, and he obliged pointing out he was waiting for his wife who would be glad to join us too. After introductions and a little chat, he stood up and said, “Here she comes now. I can see her caretaker.”

That’s when he explained that his wife had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). “It’s been only eight months,” he said, “but she cannot walk, feed herself or talk.”

Susan arrived in a wheelchair holding a laptop. But before any of us could even begin to feel sorry for her, she became the life of the party. She was attractive, and animated and a pure joy to be around. Using the laptop to communicate, she was the center of every conversation. She “talked” so much that she drained the battery, but that didn’t stop her. She continued to converse using sign language and spelling out words in the air with her fingers. Figuring out what she was trying to say turned into somewhat of a game and she’d laugh and give a thumbs up sign whenever we got it right. We all fell in love with her.

Of course, the next day we credited the reverend for the Steelers miraculous comeback.

I tracked him down during the week and spoke with him on the phone. He said his message in his talk with the Steelers had been “patience.”

“When you have patience,” he told them, “everything always works out.”

I do, of course, remember Lynn Swan. But I think about Susan Galloway a lot more.

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