Tailgaters come from far and wide for Steelers home opener

·3 min read

Sep. 18—Despite the fun happening during tailgating at the first Steelers home game Sunday morning, plenty of folks were serious.

Serious about their food. Serious about their tailgating setup. And certainly serious about the game.

"All right, buddy, that's enough, let's go," said Jackson Hanley's dad as the 11-year-old Atlanta resident gushed about his love for the Patriots.

His father, carrying a Terrible Towel in his back pocket, was not in the mood to hear his son talking up the opposition.

Across the parking lot off Anderson Street, Crystal McLaughlin and Sheldon White of Monroeville arrived at 8 a.m. ready to go.

"We pre-prep all our food and get our gear ready the night before, load up the truck and come down for every home opener," McLaughlin said.

White was working the grill, putting a finish on a half-dozen shishkebabs and a burger or two.

"You got to have burgers, and I like shishkebab for a little variety," he said.

A couple of lots over, Joe Karasek of Baltimore, who arrived in town with his family Saturday night, was setting up his tailgate by 8:30 a.m.

"It's early in the season, and it's still warm, so I brought my granddaughter up," said Karasek as he turned a grill loaded with sausages, onions and peppers.

Karasek might live in Ravens territory, but he grew up in Western Pennsylvania as a Steelers fan.

"We've been fans for a long time, and I got season tickets last year, finally," he said.

Across the lots from about 9 a.m. onward, classic 1970s rock mingled with hip-hop emanating from mounted speakers as Steelers fans put the legs on their grills and hoisted the flag to let friends know where they had parked. And while all manner of items were being cooked, the unmistakable smell of grilled sausage filled the air.

Brian McKay of Plum not only had a spot staked out early, he also had two framed portraits somehow hung on the concrete retaining wall behind him: one of recently retired Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and one of longtime owner Art Rooney, with the classic cigar clamped between his lips.

"When I went to Super Bowl XL, I saw someone with the Rooney poster, but I could never find it anywhere," McKay said. "I had to find the photo online, make the poster and get it printed out myself."

McKay got his season tickets in 2003 from eBay.

"As soon as I saw them, I put down the maximum amount you could bid," he said.

A little closer to the stadium, Matt Pepple of Greenville, S.C., was dressed as 1980s superhero Captain Planet — and had recruited a group of tailgaters from Fort Wayne, Ind., to serve as his Planeteers.

Well, most of them.

"We're still looking for someone to be 'Heart,' " Pepple said. "We're here to save the planet, to reduce emissions to zero and definitely to reduce the Patriots' chances of winning to zero."

Perhaps the best-prepared was John Dusch of Greenfield, who brought his "Mobile Tailgating Unit," a box truck outfitted with everything the tailgater-on-the-move would need, from food compartments to storage for cooking equipment.

"I used to have an old ambulance we did the same thing with," said Dusch, who was setting up at 7 a.m. for his tailgate. "I love the people. Everyone comes together and has a real good time."

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick by email at pvarine@triblive.com or via Twitter .