Steelers fan club adopts Baltimore bar Black and gold fill Purple Goose

November 02, 1992|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer Staff writer James Bock contributed to this article.

Three Rivers Stadium it isn't. But on Sundays the Purple Goose Saloon in Morrell Park may be the next best thing for Pittsburghers who've relocated to Baltimore.

With scores of fans dressed in black and gold, Iron City beer flowing and the Pittsburgh Steelers' fight song playing to the tune of "The Pennsylvania Polka," the Washington Boulevard tavern is almost heaven for these hard-core football fans.

Or at least a bar in that neck of Western Pennsylvania.

"One of the big things I missed back home when I moved here was everyone getting together at the bar to watch the game," said Jim Day, a Catonsville resident and longtime Steelers fan who began the boisterous get-togethers.

Mr. Day, a 43-year-old engineer from the Ohio Valley, founded the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Baltimore after he moved here three years ago.

A friend in California had formed a similar club there with success.

"I came to Baltimore with that idea," Mr. Day said. "It worked for him. I thought it would work for me, too."

About 15 fans showed up for the first few weekly games at a Westminster bar. Now the club numbers about 200 and is growing, attracting everyone from families to fans like 81-year-old John Griffin, a retired Pittsburgh steelworker who lives with his son in Elkridge.

"This group is just fantastic," Mr. Griffin said. "The fans here are great, and they're more friendly than they are in Pittsburgh. We feel more at home here than we did in Pittsburgh."

Mr. Griffin, his son, Bob, and grandson, Rob Jr., were among about 150 fans who packed the Southwest Baltimore bar yesterday to watch the Steelers battle the Houston Oilers for first place in their division.

Fans sat clustered around a rectangular bar and tables that afford views of large and small television screens -- all broadcasting the Steelers game. They booed the referees, taunted Oilers players, erupted in cheers and high fives when the Steelers made a first down, and danced the polka when Pittsburgh scored.

Steelers memorabilia, posters, helmets and footballs collected by tavern owner Perry Hairsine adorned the walls.

"We did this stuff on our own," Mr. Hairsine said of the memorabilia. "You can't ignore 200 people who come in to watch football every week.

"This is like being at the stadium for these fans," he said.

Dave Scopa, a 27-year-old accountant and Pittsburgh area native, said the Purple Goose captures the Steeltown flavor.

"To understand this is to understand Western Pennsylvania. People live and die with the Steelers on Sundays. This sets the tone for the whole week," he said.

At halftime, Rachel Lynn Johnston, a 22-month-old who gives high fives on request, won the fan club's post-Halloween costume contest dressed as a Steelers cheerleader. The prize? A Steelers beach towel.

Steelers Sundays also are popular with the bar help, who wear Steelers T-shirts, sweat shirts and ties.

"Any bartender would want to work that day," said manager Rodney Graham. "[The fans] spend a lot of money here. All of the staff loves them."

The fans' enthusiasm is contagious. Some of the staff, he said, have become Steelers fans and now go on road trips to Pittsburgh.

"We all hate the Redskins," Mr. Graham said. "Even people that aren't fans come in here because they want to watch football with a bunch of people."

The Purple Goose got gloomy in the third quarter yesterday as the Oilers took a commanding 20-7 lead. But Pittsburgh scored two touchdowns in the final quarter to regain the edge as the faithful chanted: "Here we go, Steelers, here we go."

The outcome was in doubt until the final second when the Steelers survived a last-second Oilers field goal attempt to win, 21-20. The fan club danced the polka one more time.

"You're never going to meet more enthusiastic fans," said Janet Amos, who joined the club with her husband, Joe, this fall. "We wouldn't miss a Sunday for anything."

Neither Ms. Amos, 42, nor her husband, 46, is a Pittsburgh native. The couple joined the club at the urging of Kerry Joyce, a Pittsburgh native who moved to Baltimore two years ago.

"We don't have a football team in Baltimore," Ms. Amos said. "Even if we did, I think I would still come here. Everyone is so friendly, and these people are such true fans."

The club has become more than just watching Sunday football. Occasionally, members charter buses to Pittsburgh to catch home games. They also take on other Steelers clubs from the District of Columbia and York, Pa., in softball.

"People in Pittsburgh love the city and love the sports teams just like people here love the city and used to love the Colts," said Paul Farrell, a 29-year-old businessman who moved to Baltimore from Pittsburgh eight years ago. "People come from all over to join us."

For Mr. Joyce, operations manager for a microfilm data entry company, the weekly football games offer a chance to make new friends and "see your favorite team play.

"That's about the best thing you could ask for," said Mr. Joyce, 29. "It's a good way to keep in touch with Pittsburgh and with home."

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