Black-and-Gold: Just for the Hel-o-met

1950 Willys Jeepster decorated in tribute to the Pittsburgh Steelers

“The Helmet,” Ray Kasunick’s 1950 Willys Jeepster Steelermobile

The hood ornament is a six inch goal post. It’s planted right where it ought to be, just past the end zone of the white-lined football field spread across the hood of the car. Side mirrors are housed inside enameled half footballs and you’ll find bottle openers mounted on each of the rear fenders. A polished, functioning pony keg is bracketed to the back bumper.

What you’ll notice first, however, is the enormous dome-like roof. In every way–from the rounded ear-protecting extensions, windshield eye cutout, face mask, and team logos*–it is a Steelers football helmet fit for a giant.

grill and hood of 1950s era Willy's Jeepster decorated in tribute to the Pittsburgh Steelers

Goal post ornament perfectly placed for the hood football field

“The Helmet,” Ray Kasunick’s ultimate Steelermobile, came about by a series of chance events.

The Willys-Overland Motors Company ceased to exist more than 50 years ago. Their convertible Jeepster model was produced for just three years, between 1948 and 1950. In the world of classic cars, the Jeepster is a rare breed.

It’s not every day that you inherit three of them all at once. But that’s exactly what happened when an old friend of Kasunick’s moved out-of-state and couldn’t take his trio of classic Willys carcasses with him. So Ray ended up with the lot. Having already resuscitated a pair of pre-war Fords into slick, chopped hot rods, Kasunick seemed like an ideal candidate to bring one of the Jeepsters back to life.

detail of 1950s era Willy's Jeepster showing "HELMET" personalized license plate and mounted bottle opener

The Helmet’s personalized license plate and one of two rear fender mounted bottle openers

By this point, Kasunick’s friend Joe Grimm had converted a mid-60s Plymouth Belvedere into a certified black-and-gold flag-waving Steelermobile. Seen in an undated photograph, the two-tone paint job cleverly outlines the boxy squared-off shapes of the Plymouth. The car’s crowning glory, quite literally, was an oversized Steelers helmet placed squarely at the center of the roof.

The die was cast, the gauntlet thrown down. Kasunick and a small crew of friends spent the next couple years filling his North Hills garage/workshop with paint fumes and bent steel, wood frames and blown fiberglass. The Helmet was on.

two classic cars decorated in tribute of the Pittsburgh Steelers

The Helmet with one its inspirations–Joe Grimm’s mid-60s Plymouth Belvedere Steelersmobile [photo courtesy of Ray and Kathi Kasunick]

Rehabbing an old car from bare metal is plenty of work all on its own. Constructing a high-concept, functioning, street-legal football helmet roof is quite another challenge.

Kasunick, working with his friend Ed Staley, created the form from arched quarter-inch steel rod, chicken wire, foam rubber, and finally a blown-on fiberglass shell. The rough black surface comes from pickup truck bed liner. Paint job details for the Steelers logo and football field on the hood were applied by a very steady, dedicated hand.

polished half beer keg mounted onto back bumper of car painted in tribute to Pittsburgh Steelers

Rear bumper working keg/cooler

The rest of the features–including two rear seats from Three Rivers Stadium, team-specific interior fabric upholstery, and a football-shaped translucent rear window–all fell into place, friends chipping in where they could. The split football side mirrors come from a donated trophy, cut in half and bracketed to the window frames.

A number of the design elements–most notably the shiny keg, but also the twin Penn Pilsner tap handles on the front bumper, mounted bottle openers, and inside door decorations–all point to Kasunick’s past life. If the name is familiar, you probably remember Kasunick’s eponymous beer distributor on East Street, Northside. He recently retired after forty years in the business.

roof of Kasunick Steeler car signed by Frenchy Fuqua

“I’ll never tell.” The Helmet signed by #33 Frenchy Fuqua

Today, Ray and his wife Kathi enjoy taking The Helmet out–to games, to car cruises, and tailgate parties–often including nursing or retirement homes. “Anywhere it can bring a smile to someone’s face,” Kasunick says.

So far, The Helmet has been signed by one Dynasty-era Steeler, Frenchy Fuqua, who included the teaser “I’ll never tell.” Michigan native Fuqua reportedly told the couple, “I need a picture with you to show them how you do it back in Detroit.” The Kasunicks would love to get additional Steelers to autograph The Helmet.

two seats from Three Rivers Stadium used as back seats in a Steelers tribute car

The Helmet’s back seats came from Three Rivers Stadium. Its rear window is a translucent football.

No matter where you stand on boofing, ralphing, summer skiing, and the devil’s triangle, it’s been a rough week all around. It feels a little like the whole country got beat up and no one’s recovered yet. So it’s probably a little pollyanna to focus on sports fandom when there are much more important national discussions going on.

But one of the great things about sport is its ability to unify in a way few other things do [the weather, maybe? is it Friday yet?]. Not everyone likes professional football–and there’s a lot to take issue with–but every type of person does. In this time of such great division, the simplicity of one antique car, lovingly turned into a fantastic, goofy game-day oddity feels like just what we need. Why? Well, just for the hel-o-met.

Ray and Kathi Kasunick in front of their 1950s era Willy's Jeepster painted in tribute to the Pittsburgh Steelers

Ray and Kathi Kasunick in the home garage where The Helmet was built, North Hills


* Yes, The Helmet (the car) has Steelers logos on both sides; the team has the unique helmet design where the logo only appears on one side. The Orbit failed to ask Kasunick about this design decision, but it looks great.

Black-and-Gold: To the House! Steelers Structures

brick building with trophies in the window painted gold with black trim, Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers dojo: Martial Arts Against Street Violence, Homewood

To paraphrase a well-trod cliché, if you build it, they will paint it black and gold.

What’s the point of owning your own diner, butcher shop, or martial arts studio if you can’t serve up those eggs and home fries or break lumber with your bare feet in a building faithfully decked-out in the home team colors? Firing the boss and doing what you want is the American dream! And just like those other local goals–one for the thumb, cracking open a six-pack, and, yes, stairway to seven–dreams really do come true*.

Today, for the start of the 2018 campaign, The Orbit salutes the über-fans who’ve gathered up brushes and tarps to decorate the façades of storefronts and residential exteriors in tribute to their favorite professional football team. Collectively, we’re calling these Steelers structures.

retail storefront painted black and gold, Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers storefront: Lawrenceville

empty retail storefront with cutout of Pittsburgh Steelers football player, McKeesport, PA

Steelers storefront: McKeesport

diner storefront painted black and gold, Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers diner: O’Leary’s, Southside

Sign for Cutty's Candy Store that includes the Pittsburgh skyline and a version of the Steelers logo with the word "Cutty" added

Steelers sweet shop: Cutty’s Candy Store, Homewood

retail storefront painted black and gold, Homestead, PA

Steelers snack shop: S&S Food Mart, Homestead

exterior of Ray's Barber Shop, Pittsburgh, with two homemade Steelers emblems

Steelers barber shop: Ray’s, Shadeland

storefront painted black and gold, Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers dojo: Three Rivers Martial Arts, Brookline

There are plenty of Steelers bars out there–pretty much every decent-sized American city has one (or more). Why, from Mugs ‘n Jugs in Clearwater, Florida to The Peanut Farm in Anchorage, Alaska, there will be no problem with Pittsburgh ex-pats catching the exploits of Antonio, Juju, and the gang any time soon. [There’s a semi-complete list up at SteerersBars.com.]

But if your local tavern runs the Steelers games on flat screen and imports a case of Iron City Beer for homesick fans, know they’re just doing the bare minimum. Real Steelers bars call to you from the street, wearing their own form of black-and-gold uniform or come bemuraled in crude renderings of trademark-safe generic football players frolicking on the gridiron.

brick building with first floor bar exterior painted black and gold, Brownsville, PA

Steelers bar: Brownsville

black tavern door with gold trim, Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers bar: Gametime Tavern, Spring Garden

exterior of roadhouse bar painted black and gold, McKeesport, PA

Steelers roadhouse: Mellon’s Pub, McKeesport

The fully-committed football fan doesn’t just enjoy a couple dozen games a year. No no no. He or she wants to live football–through the long, cold off season, the extended draft weekend, mini-camp, and boring preseason exhibitions.

One can literally inhabit the football lifestyle in a full-on Steelers house. Why fool around? Let’s go foundation-to-roofline in black-and-gold! The house will pop from the snow and bare trees in winter; in the fall, you’ll be conveniently camouflaged in your game-day jersey.

house painted black and gold, Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers house: South Side Slopes

row house painted black and gold, Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers row house: Lawrenceville

Not every homeowner is willing to go all-in on the black-and-gold, which leads to phenomena of the Steelers porch. This very much feels like a keep-the-peace compromise between one super fan and the rest of his or her (but who are we kidding? it’s probably his) family. That, or said supporter just didn’t want to do the hazardous second- and third-floor work on the extension ladder.

Either way, these awkward “business inside, party on the porch” houses get much respect…but probably not from the home decorati.

frame house with black-and-gold porch, Beaver Falls, PA

Steelers porch: Beaver Falls

house with brick porch painted black and gold, Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers porch: East Liberty

house front painted Steelers gold with black trim, Sharpsburg, PA

Steelers porch: Sharpsburg

Ma won’t even let you paint the porch? Well, there’s still an opportunity for a Steelers garage out back or around the side. The industrious football fan  can decorate a two-car shed in a bye-week afternoon. (Or even more time if his buddies “help”.) There’s no ladder work involved and they’ll look great housing your Steelermobile.

older 2-car garage with doors painted black and gold, Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers garage: Spring Hill

2-car garage painted black and gold, Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers garage: South Side Slopes

At this point, the casual Orbit reader may justifiably assume Steelers structures exist only in the spheres of retail storefronts, watering holes, and home improvement.

And you’d be wrong again! Make no mistake: you’ll have no problem locating the region’s favorite color scheme on factory buildings, car lots, and at least one (former) secret society.

ornamental dome painted black and gold on Dipcraft Manufacturing Company building, Rankin, PA

Steelers dome: Dipcraft Mfg. Co., Rankin

small masonry building painted black and gold, Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers used car lot: Lawrenceville

brick building with cinderblock doorway painted black and gold, Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers ex-secret society: Pythian Temple, Hill District

For those wishing to further pursue additional Orbit coverage of Steelers fandom, see also:


* No, a seventh Super Bowl win has not come to Pittsburgh…yet.

Black-and-Gold: Steelermobiles

car painted gold with black trim, Pittsburgh, PA

Type B: Heinz Field

PANTONE: PMS 1235 C. The bright color is undeniably in the yellow family, but it’s a deep-hued, bold, traffic-stopping yellow. It appears in street lane markers and yells loudest when you really need to pay attention. It’s also rich and warm with a lot of orange–not like those namby-pamby lemon yellows, canaries, and daisies.

Around here, the color is better known as Steelers gold (never “yellow”) and an outsized portion of Pittsburgh’s motorists have special-ordered it from car dealers, then washed, buffed, and shined it in their driveways to preserve maximum luster.

Collectively, these vehicles are Steelermobiles and there exist three distinct categories of dedication.

black SUV decorated with Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates stickers

Type A: Strip District

black and gold SUV with Pittsburgh Steelers logo

Type A: South Side

Type A: Certified Steelermobiles

The prototypic, incontestable, four-wheeled Steeler machine. These are black-and-gold hot rods, pickups, and sport utility vehicles so clearly decorated for Steeler fandom there can be no confusion or argument to the mission of their decoration. These cars exist to win professional football championships–or, at least to convey die-hard Steeler fans to the region’s purveyors of malted beverages, jalapeño poppers, and loaded nacho platters.

To fit this category, the vehicle must be fully painted in the Steelers black-and-gold color scheme. Typically there’s a base coat of one with significant detail accents in the other. These often take the form of sporty racing stripes to reinforce the athleticism of the Durango or PT Cruiser.

Additionally, the owner needs to have decorated his or her ride with the team name, insignia, and/or other after-market über-fan branding in a (semi-)permanent fashion. Those clip-on game day window flag attachments ain’t going cut it.

black and gold Hummer in front of single-family frame houses, Arnold, PA

Type B: Arnold

black and gold Ford Mustang in front of gray wall, Arnold, PA

Type B: Arnold

Type B: Black-and-Gold Road Warriors

These vehicles are almost entirely of the Steeler gold color, but with enough black detail work that we can assume the color selection was no coincidence. They must also be outfitted with Pennsylvania plates and be located in metro Pittsburgh or be spotted in one of the Heinz Field parking lots. Otherwise, it just starts to get too iffy.

Type B Steelersmobiles won’t, however, have the explicit labeling that’s required to be A-1 prime. We imagine that’s where a lot of spouses have drawn the line. Honey, you can have the bright yellow color, one might say, but you don’t get to put your football stickers all over my brand new Grand Cherokee. If only congress could achieve this level of compromise.

black and gold vehicle, Pittsburgh, PA

Type C: Friendship

convertible Volkswagen Beetle painted gold, Pittsburgh, PA

Type C: Steelers Beetle, Bloomfield

Type C: Goldenrods

The vaguest of the bunch. Type C Steelermobiles are painted predominantly in our old friend PANTONE 1235, but with no other identifying visual. In any other metropolis, the lollygagging ne’er-do-well spotting this vehicle on the street would simply remark on its garish electric orange-yellow paint job and move along. But in metro Pittsburgh, that particular color takes on a very special meaning.

This one brings up all sorts of psychological questions. Did the owners of these vehicles choose the color simply because they like bright yellow? Or instead because they’re die-hard football fans? Would they consider themselves in the category of the former, yet be subconsciously swayed to the latter by the pure osmosis of Mike Tomlin’s juju? It’s a heady subject, indeed.

black and gold Smart car, Pittsburgh, PA

Type B: Mendelson “Steeler Heaven” mobile, East Liberty

Smart car painted black and gold for A-1 Transit, Pittsburgh, PA

Type A: [Steelers logos on other side], East Liberty

As we know, correlation is not causation. Also, there are plenty of gold/yellow cars owned by people outside of Allegheny County who couldn’t give a damn about professional football. Some will dispute this whole theory. It’s a pretty weak frame to hang an investigation on, sure, but hear this blogger out.

The sheer volume of local cars and trucks tricked-out in electric Steeler gold makes this a phenomenon worth our attention. The dozen or so photos collected here are but the tip of the iceberg–there are so many Steelermobiles around town that we simply stopped bagging them after a while due to the incredible overload of options.

black and gold sport utility vehicle, Pittsburgh, PA

Type B: Lawrenceville

Ford Mustang painted gold with "Serious Issues" decal, Pittsburgh, PA

Type C: “Serious Issues 2”, East Liberty

Gone are the days (sigh) where the true faithful hand-painted their pop-up campers and shaggin’ wagons in team colors for the Sunday ritual. [Yes: we’re doing our best to collect these as we see them, but they’re few and far between.]

Like the players on the field, the bleacher crowd has moved on to a whole other level of box seat business professionalism now–factory-perfect paint jobs, mass-market team-official decals, license plate holders, and trailer hitch covers. Like punk rock apparel sold in chain stores at the mall, the fans have come out of the closet and parallel-parked their fleet of high-gloss war machinery right out front for everyone to see it.

black and gold pickup truck, Pittsburgh, PA

Type B: Lawrenceville

gold pickup truck, Pittsburgh, PA

Type C: Lawrenceville

Ram pickup painted in Pittsburgh Steelers black and gold

Type A: [with “Lord of the Rings” license plate frame and team logo trailer hitch] Bloomfield

Jeep painted gold with black details and Steelers decals, Hyde Park, PA

Type A: Hyde Park, PA

Jeep painted gold with black convertible top

Type C: Route 28, headed south

Jeep painted gold with black convertible top, Pittsburgh, PA

Type C: Bloomfield

front grill of a 1970's Cadillac with "DUBL YOI" Virginia license plate

Type B: DUBL YOI [Tribute to late former Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope], Schenley Park

Black-and-Gold: Here We Go / Random Acts of Fandom

car painted gold with black trim, Pittsburgh, PA

black-and-gold car, Heinz Field

With as bold a stroke as the custom paint job on a classic car–or as subtle as the jimmies on your doughnut–sides are taken and armament drawn. For it is here, dangling from front porches and stacked in the pop & chip aisle of Giant Eagle, that the enemy is engaged, troops fortified, and the City of Pittsburgh prepares for its annual fall campaign toward world dominance on the turf and sod battlefields of the AFC North.

doughnut with black-and-gold jimmies

doughnut with black-and-gold jimmies, Dunkin Donuts

Today it begins. Families bid tearful goodbyes to the husbands, brothers, and sons they’ll not see for the next four to five months–depending on how things go in the playoffs–as living rooms and finished basements are converted into makeshift bunkers where the foot soldiers of Coach Tomlin’s standing army perform isolation drills, practice daylight depravation exercises, and go on full intravenous diets of molten cheese and malted barley.

matching graves with Steelers logo, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Steeler graves, Allegheny Cemetery

Yes: ladies will be there, too–right to the end. We haven’t forgotten the mothers, sisters, and daughters who populate these same bleachers, tailgate parties, and La-Z-Boys of conflict. According to one well-passed-around story, “Pittsburgh has, by far, the largest base of NFL fans who are women”*. But–and this is just a hunch–we think most of those women will have the good sense to go back to the rest of their lives after the clock runs out on Sunday afternoon. Men? Not so much. We’ll see you guys in February.

one gold and one black lawn ornament flamingos, Pittsburgh, PA

black and gold flamingos, Woods Run

Oh, sure, the guys on the field getting paid the big bucks get all the credit, but who’s really winning these championships, huh? I’ll tell you, who, jack. It’s the lady who locates one black and one gold yard flamingo for the little grass patch in front of her house in Woods Run–no alarm system needed.

It’s the fourth-grader that spray-paints a set of tin cans black and then carefully strings them together as a mummy-wrapped Steeler robot. In New England they probably just buy pre-assembled Bradybots from China because everyone cheats anyway.

robot ornament made from tin cans, painted black with Steelers logo, New Kensington, PA

tin can porch robot, New Kensington

You want to talk about a Steeler fan? Just look up on the hillside, there’s a house there with yellow-gold painted walls and black trim on the roofline, window and door frames. Yeah, there’s probably a Jeep or maybe a big Ram pickup in the driveway with the same color scheme. No one drives a car that’s orange and brown. Those are loser colors.

house painted black and gold, Pittsburgh, PA

black-and-gold house, South Side Slopes

standpipe connector on apartment building painted black with gold Pittsburgh Steelers cap covers

standpipe connector, Shadyside

A Steeler fan has a long, long memory–one that goes way back to the cold, bleak pre-Noll era when Sundays weren’t so optimistic, and Cleveland [shutters] might still have a chance to make the playoffs. There’s the ex-pat–now relocated to Virginia–who has to contend him- or herself with the occasional drive home in a dynasty-era black Cadillac. The Rock probably had one like this before he had to hock his Super Bowls rings in the divorce settlement. The vehicle’s other ornament is a cryptic custom license plate that’ll only make sense inside Pittsburgh radio range: DUBL YOI.

front grill of a 1970's Cadillac with "DUBL YOI" Virginia license plate

deep cut: DUBL YOI, Schenley Park

steelers ornaments in front yard of home, Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers frogs / Steelers logo mosaic garden stone, Mount Washington

Whether today is the first of a season of Sundays spent with your keister on the couch or you couldn’t give a hoot about the galoots in the boots, The Orbit hopes you can still enjoy the annual spectacle of your friends, neighbors, and country(wo)men flying those most glaring of high-contrast hues, losing their minds over a fake-punt, dropped catch, or blown coverage, and head-bobbing to the throbbing monotony of this year’s re-write of “Here We Go”.

May all your towels be terrible and may we still get three points off Chris Brown’s toe. Let’s go out there and teach Cleveland a new lesson in losing.

brick building with cinderblock doorway painted black and gold, Pittsburgh, PA

Pythian Temple doorway brick-over, Hill District


* “Pittsburgh leads nation in female NFL fans”, NFL.com, Sept. 12, 2007.

See also:

Vex Ed: A Contest for a New Pittsburgh City Flag!

flag of the City of Pittsburgh

(Current) flag of the City of Pittsburgh. Can we do better?

The flag–any flag–should be a glorious, triumphant emblem that trumpets the twin messages this is who we are and you’re here now. It’s raised high above government buildings and hangs formally inside legal chambers. And–if you get it right–the public takes the flag into their own hands.

With a good flag, loyalists adopt its design as their own–flying it freely from front porches and attaching plastic decals of it to windows and bumpers; they paint it on garage doors and wear it in the form of track suits. Kindergarten teachers will instruct young patriots in the art of creating facsimiles from finger paint and popsicle sticks.

American flag made from recycled wood, Apollo, PA

No one makes these for the city flag. Homemade 28-star American flag, Apollo

When we talk about the flag of the City of Pittsburgh, we’re clearly not at this level of either fandom or familiarity. Do you know anyone not named “the mayor” who owns a Pittsburgh city flag? Do you ever see it flown in your neighbors’ yards or waved at public events the way people hoist the rainbow flag, Steelers banner, or the Jolly Roger? If we hadn’t included the image Pittsburgh’s flag [above] would you even be able to describe what it looks like?

My guess is you’ll answer no to each of these questions–and that’s a shame. Pittsburghers love their city and we should have a city flag we’re equally proud of.

flag pole with miniature flags of Italy, USA, and Pittsburgh

Hey: somebody’s flying it! Flags of Italy, USA, and Pittsburgh, Panther Hollow

So what’s wrong with the flag we have? Let’s start with the colors. In Pittsburgh, we accept high-contrast black and gold as natural bedfellows–like french fries and ketchup, or french fries and sandwich meat, or french fries and salad greens. The extra addition, however, of the blue and white detail in the central checkerboard crest is what really sends this palette from reckless driving into fatal collision. Nowhere should these four colors intersect–not even in Cleveland.

While the background black/gold/black vertical sections are a nice, simple, bold presence, they’re directly at odds with the completely useless design-by-committee noise in the middle of the flag. Here, a cartoonish tri-turreted castle–looking like the packaging for a child’s play set–awkwardly either floats above or balances tenuously atop the curlicue formality of the city crest.

detail of the center design in Pittsburgh's city flag including three-tower castle and crest with eagles and blue-and-white checkerboard

Detail: “A triple-towered castle masoned Argent” and “a fess chequay Argent et Azure, between three bezants bearing eagles rising with wings displayed and inverted”

Putting aside questions about why the City of Pittsburgh is represented by a medieval European-style fortress, its pairing with an embellished coat-of-arms inherited from William Pitt is particularly dissonant. [These are referred to as “a triple-towered castle masoned Argent” and “a fess chequay Argent et Azure, between three bezants bearing eagles rising with wings displayed and inverted,” respectively.]

This combination creates chalk and cheese design elements that not only have nothing to do with each other and are scaled in odd proportion, but look like they were rendered by entirely different hands. Mercifully, there isn’t any text to not be able to read in the crest, but from any distance I dare you to find anyone who can make out those “eagle-fronted bezants” flapping in the breeze.

Less is more. Same flag, less crap.

Less is more. The same flag, without the crap.

Pittsburgh Orbit will never advertise itself as a design shop, but even without the background and very limited fake-Photoshop skills, the simple removal of the junk in this flag’s trunk–that being the ridiculous castle and crest–seems like an enormous win. We’d fly that thing off the H.M.S. Orbit with pride. Further streamlined down to the bare minimum square of one each black and gold halves may be even better.

flag of the City of Pittsburgh with center details removed and reduced to two vertical black/gold sections

Even less is even more…maybe. Two-tone black/gold square.

Something clearly needs to be done around here. There were grandiose plans: a design contest! with celebrity judges! a big-reveal gala event! we could even pitch it to the city! Meetings were taken with, you know, a media partner and real designers. But…ah, hell–that’s a lot of work and you try finding a local expert in vexillology. Heck, just try pronouncing it!

All that said, the simple goal remains to come up with a banner that Pittsburghers will recognize, identify with, and fly proudly from their eves and stitch to the seats of their pants.

SO, here’s where you, dear reader and creative acquaintances of dear reader, come in. We’d love to see your submissions for a redesigned flag for the City of Pittsburgh. This blogger has no idea whether The Orbit‘s audience would support such an effort, but we’re crossing fingers and, like Casey Kasem, keeping our feet on the ground, and reaching for the stars.


Note: This contest has ended, so we’ve removed the submission details. You can see the results at our follow-up story Vex Ed: Designs for a new Pittsburgh flag (Oct. 8, 2017).

proposed flag with gold planet on black field with text "ORBIT"

Hey, it’s an option!


Background/further study:

Sudden Death, Over Time: Steeler Graves

gravestone with Pittsburgh Steelers football helmet, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Robert K. James, Allegheny Cemetery

In the great Autumn campaign that is each of our lives, we’ll inevitably begin to feel those last seconds of the final game tick off the clock. We can all hope to make it deep into the playoffs–heck, some may even get lucky enough to reach this preposterous metaphor’s Super Bowl. But even with the very best “clock management,” we’re all heading toward a long long off-season in the sky at some point.

matching graves with Steelers logo, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Stacy and Stephen Slanina, Allegheny Cemetery

Forever, the Purple One reminds us, is a mighty long time. It’s likely, though, that The Prince was not thinking about funeral arrangements when he urged us all to “go crazy.” So I’m sure it’s with no small amount of consideration that most folks choose the design and ornament of a gravestone–either for oneself (if he or she likes to plan ahead) or for the loved one the family is burying (more likely?).

Why, there’s the stone itself, available in any number of shapes, sizes, finishes, and flourishes. There’s the text–a full name, sometimes with a favorite nickname, birth and death dates*, and then any manner of other possibilities: pithy epitaphs, Bible verses, embedded portraits, etched images both representational (occupations, avocations) and ornamental (flowers, angels, religious insignia).

grave marker with Steelers logo, St. Michael's Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Jack W. Springer, St. Michael’s Cemetery

If the deceased happened to champion a particularly well-loved, black-and-gold-hued eleven, chances are maybe better than you’d think that the emblem of said N.F.L. franchise will end up etched into his or her headstone. This act of committing and commemorating the deceased to eternity as a devoted Steeler fanatic lets the living know that while still tripping on this mortal coil he or she bled (hopefully not, you know, all the way out) black and gold.

gravestone with Pittsburgh Steelers flag, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Marie and Jim Coyner, Allegheny Cemetery

It’s a curious choice. Steelers fans would never admit it, but sports franchises are transient things. Pittsburgh has been fortunate to never have one of its teams skip town, but we’re only 80-some years into professional football history–there’s still a lot of time for a lot of things to happen.

Are there graves in Baltimore or Brooklyn or Hartford with Colts, Dodgers, and Whalers logos carved into them? I doubt it, but only because those moves all happened before the relatively recent phenomena of having one’s passions preserved in stone**. But what about St. Louis–are there fresh graves just set with Rams insignia marking them? Possibly…maybe even probably. What an indignity to give one’s afterlife to a team that just high-tailed it back to Los Angeles.

gravestone with Pittsburgh Steelers logo, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Roman L. Bryant, Allegheny Cemetery

It makes you wonder if this happens everywhere. This blogger can certainly imagine the same level of devotion from fans of the Boston Red Sox or Montreal Canadiens or Green Bay Packers. But what about Cleveland or Cincinnati? They’ve got their own rabid fans, but are there Browns and Bengals graves? We sure hope not–life on earth following these teams was already Hell, why take that misery with you?

upright gravestone with Steelers logo, Highwood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Frederick J. Brown, Highwood Cemetery

What about even more marginal sports territories? Is there anyone in Seattle or San Jose that cares enough about the Seahawks or the Sharks to tattoo it on a gravestone? Does most of North Carolina, Florida, or Texas even know they have hockey teams? What monument maker could carve the offensive Cleveland Indian or Washington “redskin” into stone in good faith? I don’t even want to look at the terrible Anaheim “mighty duck”, let alone get buried under it.

gravestone with Pittsburgh Steelers logo, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Jeffrey L. Turner, Allegheny Cemetery

All that said, the good people of Pittsburgh are quite comfortable with this option. It wouldn’t be my choice, but I’m glad it is for some. Studying the cemetery is like anything else where we see changes in culture reflected over time. In many ways, future generations will know more about us now from these Steeler graves (as well as the other custom designs and embedded images) than we can derive from their much more opulent 19th century ancestors. At least, they’ll know we (Pittsburgh) sure liked football. On that, they’ll be correct.

gravestone with large Pittsburgh Steelers football helmet, Highwood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Kevin Washington, Sr., Highwood Cemetery


* Coming across the occasional stone with no death date is always intriguing. We assume these are just folks who plan farther ahead than Orbit staff, but you never know.
** You’ll note that all photos are from graves dating from 2002 onward. We don’t know when monument makers began offering these kind of options, but almost all of the custom personal interest imagery seems to come from the 1990s-present.

Black-and-Gold: On the Fence

black and gold section of picket fence with hand-painted messages to the Steelers

Lawrenceville

To football spectators–from the die-hard to even the most casual/occasional game-watchers–the practice is so common it’s become cliché. Cameras trained on a small group of fanatics in the stands. One dude (and yes, it is almost always a dude) with a giant poster board cut-out of the letter D, his buddy right next to him with a matching section of picket fence. The pair are very excited to be on television. D-fence. Very clever.

So with this familiar rebus haunting NFL crowd shots every Sunday, Monday, and Thursday* throughout autumn, it’s no wonder Steeler faithful would consider their own side yards and front porches as prime opportunity for a black-and-gold home improvement makeover.

Here then, on this opening day of the Steelers 2016 campaign, The Orbit salutes those fans who’ve taken up post-hole diggers and sacks of concrete mix, lattice board and exterior enamel all in preparation to defend our fair city from the attack of marauding Bengals, Browns, Ravens, and (eesh) “Patriots”. Here, indeed, we go.

row house back yard fence painted black and gold and decorated with Steelers signs, Pittsburgh, PA

Bloomfield

side yard and fence with sign reading "Steeler fans", Pittsburgh, PA

East Deutschtown

side yard with chain link fence decorated with lifesavers, Steeler colored rope, and flowers, Pittsburgh, PA

Marshall-Shadeland**

black and gold fence and jungle gym, Pittsburgh, PA

East Deutschtown


* I don’t know if this particular act of fandom shows up as often at high school and college games, but if so, yes: every single day of the week, August through January.
** It was suggested that this may not, in fact, be a Steeler party yard, but with the Steel City lifesaver and black-and-gold rope, we think it qualifies.