By Michael Jones
Feb. 2, 2009
TAMPA, Fla. – Terrible Towels twirled and Raymond James Stadium rocked as the Steelers rolled Sunday night to a victory in Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals.
But hours before Santonio Holmes hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, anticipation swelled at tailgates near the stadium as game time approached.
The Corrigan family kicked back at their pickup truck that proudly displayed a sign asserting that Tampa was now Steelers Country. Joe Corrigan, 66, of Sarver, Pa., was tailgating and holding a reunion with his two sons, Sean and Patrick, both of whom left Western Pennsylvania for jobs elsewhere.
"I'm excited," said 39-year-old Sean Corrigan, who now lives in Atlanta. "It's always been a dream of mine."
The overwhelming force of Steelers Nation left an impression on the family.
"I'm amazed how few Cardinals fans are here," Sean Corrigan said.
The fans from Arizona, looking tan and happy to just be at the Super Bowl, made a decent showing this weekend, but were easily outnumbered. Patrick Corrigan, 35, who recently moved to Denver, still was unimpressed.
"When you see them, they have brand new jerseys with the price tags still hanging off," Patrick Corrigan joked about the recently growing Cardinals' bandwagon.
That didn't matter to their father as he kicked back an Iron City beer on the roof of a parking garage overlooking Raymond James Stadium. He was just glad to be here after his wife broke her leg last week but still encouraged him to travel to Florida for the game.
"When this came up, I said let's not miss this opportunity," Joe Corrigan said.
William "Tripp" Kline and his wife, Suzanne, said their flight from Pittsburgh to Daytona Beach was packed with Steelers fans. The couple from South Franklin Township said their US Airways crew even played the "Here We Go" fight song over the plane's intercom.
"From what we can see, the flights are jam-packed with Steelers fans," William Kline said. "We're just going to soak up the whole atmosphere at our tailgate. Take in all the pageantry."
While the Klines were in Florida to enjoy the game, Phil Eonda, was all business. The 49-year-old Tampa police detective, formerly of North Franklin Township and a 1978 Trinity High School graduate, was working security at the city's convention center. His shift was supposed to end at 5 p.m., giving him time to head home and watch the game.
"The chance of this happening was remote," Eonda said about the Steelers coming to his adopted hometown for the big game. "I'm glad they made it, and they're here."
The game wasn't only attracting people from the City of Pittsburgh. Fans from all around Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere partied in the shadow of the stadium. A crowd of fans from Centre County stood in the parking garage and chanted the Penn State fight song as they twirled their towels. Others traveled from Somerset, Johnstown and Harrisburg to represent the black and gold at the parking garage.
Overcast skies in the morning eventually gave way to sunshine as tailgaters more accustomed to freezing temperatures relished the warmth. Mark and Melanie Melfi, of Toledo, Ohio, went to Detroit for the Super Bowl festivities three years ago and were greeted then with snow. This time around, however, they sported sunglasses and short sleeves.
"The weather is totally different," Mark Melfi said. "The atmosphere in Detroit, because it was so close, was great, but it couldn't handle the crowd."
"It was just different then," Melanie Melfi added. "We hadn't won a Super Bowl in, what, 25 years? There was that hunger, and we just weren't going to lose that game."
They couldn't find tickets to Super Bowl XL, but watched it at a Detroit bar. This time around, though, they scored tickets on eBay a few days after the Steelers defeated the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game.
"After Detroit, we told ourselves we should've gone," Mark Melfi said. "This is just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Hopefully not for Steelers Nation.
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