A great deal is being written this week about Sunday’s Superbowl XLV matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers. The two teams have quite a lot in common:
They’re two of the oldest, winning-est, and above all most loved teams in America’s favorite sport (sorry baseball, I love you too, but it’s hard to argue with the ratings). On the technical side (bear with me here), both teams employ the 3 – 4 defense, rank first and second in defensive passer rating, and feature first round draft pick quarterbacks. For those who are less statistically oriented, consider these facts: both teams favor home grown players (the Steelers feature 18 out of 22 starters, the Packers 20), both coaches are in their fourth season with their teams, and you’d be harder pressed to find a fanbase in any sport more loyal than either of these two (except, of course, Red Sox Nation).
Statistics tell us that these teams are perfectly matched. ESPN, Sports Illustrated and every other commentator will be more than happy to elaborate on that, but they’re all missing one crucial point: these are the hardest working teams in the NFL.
It’s true, the numbers prove it. Passes completed, interceptions, passes defended, yards per attempt, and so on and so forth – but that’s what the commentators are there for. I’m not just talking about how hard they work for their astronomical paychecks, I’m talking about what these two teams represent to their fans and to a country that is still reeling from the Great Recession, and it begins with their names.
The “Pack” were founded in 1919 by Earl “Curly” Lambeau, who borrowed $500 from his employer, the Indian Packing Company, to buy uniforms, under the condition that the team be named for its sponsor. (By the way, the Packers are still the only non-profit, community owned major sports team in the United States and they boast the oldest team-name in the NFL.)
The “Stillers” were founded in 1933 and are the oldest franchise in the AFC. Originally named the Pirates, the team changed its name to the Steelers in 1939 and adopted the “Steelmark” logo at the recommendation of Cleveland-based Republic Steel in 1962. It’s yellow, red and blue ‘astroids’ represent the ingredients used in the manufacturing of steel: coal (yellow), iron ore (red) and scrap steel (blue).
There are no other teams in the NFL (or MLB, NBA, or NHL, as far as I know), who are named after an industry as these two are. It seems perfect, then, that in this month of anemic job growth and baffling unemployment numbers (see today’s data), these are the teams who will be playing on the big stage.
In the course of conducting interviews for Over Fifty and Out of Work, we have travelled to both Green Bay and Pittsburgh, embraced Cheeseheads and shaken hands that have wielded Terrible Towels. From paper mill workers in Green Bay to a restaurant manager in Detroit to steel workers in Weirton, WV, our interviewees are those fans, and it is altogether fitting for our project that these are the teams that triumphed through a long snowy football season to play under the lights in Dallas.
The hard work put forth day after day searching for jobs, networking, and interviewing; the risks taken to reinvent, retrain, and reeducate; the hardship endured – both financial and psychological; these are the values that Americans in general and baby boomers in particular deserve to be proud of, and I for one will think of this year’s Superbowl not just as a great show and a chance to drink some home brew, but as a celebration of the qualities that make us proud of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors. Go ____ers!