Romance rides the pine when rival teams meet

Setting the scene

Gameday

December 25, 2006|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun reporter

PITTSBURGH -- For most of the year, Tina Vagnozzi and Brian Highsmith are your typical couple in love.

But the romance dies down when football season begins. You see, Highsmith is a Ravens fan, and Vagnozzi is a Pittsburgh Steelers backer.

The couple took their rivalry on the road yesterday to Heinz Field for the game between the bitter AFC North rivals.

Highsmith wore a No. 52 jersey with his name on the back underneath a Ravens coat with a Ravens hat and head scarf. Vagnozzi donned a pink Hines Ward jersey under a Steelers jacket, scarf and hat, and carried a "Terrible Towel."

"We're fine for most of the year," said Vagnozzi, a 31-year-old elementary school teacher from Annapolis. "But the second it starts to be football season, we're at it."

The romance began March 5, 2000, when Highsmith, a 29-year-old mortgage broker currently living in Wilmington, Del., saw Vagnozzi at a nightclub in Pasadena.

During their conversation, Highsmith noticed a silver Steelers medallion hanging on a gold chain around Vagnozzi's neck.

"One of the first things I said was, `What are you doing wearing a Steelers medallion in Ravens country?' " recalled Highsmith, a Baltimore native. "But I overlooked it. There have been stranger alliances."

True, but rooting for their respective teams has led to some unusual Sundays. Highsmith, who has Ravens season tickets, generally goes without Vagnozzi, who stays home to watch Steelers games on satellite television.

When the Ravens are on the road and the couple is at Vagnozzi's house, Vagnozzi retreats to her upstairs bedroom awash in black and gold, while Highsmith stays downstairs in the living room.

Still, love conquers all. Highsmith agreed to accompany Vagnozzi to yesterday's game and spend the holidays with Vagnozzi's family in York, Pa., and Vagnozzi bought Highsmith another Ravens jersey for Christmas.

"He buys me Steelers stuff, and I buy him Ravens stuff," she said. "It kills each person to do that, but we do it for the other person. It's fun."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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