Steelers fans were firmly backing the 49ers

BRENDON EGAN
Last updated 05:00 08/02/2013
Ray Lewis
Getty Images
RAY'S LAST RIDE: Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis brings the Vince Lombardi Trophy into M&T Bank Stadium.

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OPINION: Before I've even had time to sip away on my first Budweiser, I'm instantly reminded of the disdain shared between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens American football teams.

It's Super Bowl Sunday and I'm in Joe Mama's bar in the Oakland area of the city, right next door to the University of Pittsburgh.

I'm over here to spend a couple of days with rising New Zealand basketball star Steve Adams, the half-brother of two-time Olympic shot put gold-medallist Valerie Adams.

He's expected to be a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA draft, and plays on Pitt's college hoops team.

Tonight it's all about the gridiron for me, though. I've always been a keen observer of the NFL. I remember racing home from high school on the bike to watch the second half of Monday Night Football - back before that great invention called My Sky was ever created.

I've been eagerly anticipating Super Bowl XLVII. For the first time in my life, I'm watching America's biggest sporting event live in "the land of the free and the home of the brave", rather than being stuck back in New Zealand, working in the office.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens have a bitter rivalry when it comes to American football. They're divisional rivals in the AFC North and there isn't much love between them.

To make matters worse, the Ravens are playing in the Super Bowl, the Steelers are not, and the mood in the bar reflects that.

It was a horrible season for the proud Steelers' franchise, who have won two of the past eight Super Bowl titles, and are usually one of the sides to beat, come the business end of the season.

They won only eight of their 16 games this season, and missed the playoffs for just the second time in the past six years.

The Pittsburghers in the bar all seem a little bit depressed and are firmly in the San Francisco 49ers camp for the game.

One woman points out that she couldn't stomach the sight of Baltimore celebrating a Super Bowl victory, all summer long.

Another chap belts out that he doesn't support murderers, a reference to retiring Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis' links to a double murder in Atlanta in 2000.

I don't have a favourite NFL team but, during the playoffs, I've definitely been on the Ravens' bandwagon. Love him, or hate him, I've got a lot of time for the larger-than-life Lewis.

The man has nearly become as famous for his pre-game squirrel dances and stirring motivational speeches as his bone-jarring defence and is right up the top of my list when it comes to characters in sport.

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I also love a good sports fairytale. Lewis, who stepped away after 17 seasons in the NFL, looked to have played his last game, earlier in the season, when he tore his triceps.

He recovered from the injury in time for the playoffs and, every week the Ravens advanced on to the next round with a win, I felt like I was riding the emotional rollercoaster with him.

As both the lone New Zealander and Ravens' supporter at the bar, I feel like a bit of an outcast but I decide to stick around and soak up the experience.

It's a dream first half for Baltimore, who run in three touchdowns, to take a 21-6 advantage into halftime. The bar becomes eerily silent when Jacoby Jones returns the second half kickoff for a record-tying 108 yard touchdown to blow the Ravens' buffer out to 22 points.

Beyonce's halftime show was so darn impressive, the power then switches itself off on one side of the New Orleans Superdome, prompting a 33 minute delay and another round of drinks.

That was the cue for some of the Steeler fans to call it a night. The ones who stayed certainly witnessed a treat with Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers finally cranking into gear and hauling themselves back into the contest.

By the end of the third quarter, they've quickly cut the Ravens' deficit back to 28-23 and it is well and truly game on.

The 49ers finish the stronger of the two sides but Baltimore does just enough to hold on down the stretch, winning 34-31, to clinch their second Super Bowl in the team's history.

A few Steeler fans are gracious enough to clap the Ravens and congratulate them on their surprise run to the Super Bowl title. They were seeded only fourth in the AFC for the playoffs and pulled off upset away victories over both Denver and New England to progress through to the big dance.

For the majority, however, the talk quickly shifts to the looming NFL draft in April and what areas the Steelers need to address via free agency.

The black and gold Steelers' machine not only want to atone for their dire 2012 season but also gain revenge on the Super Bowl champions and return to the top of the AFC North pecking order.

Next season can't come soon enough and they'll be ready and waiting, baying for Baltimore blood.

- The Southland Times

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