Liz Fantino accounts for the 0.03 percent of the population of Brackenridge, Pa., that filled in the circle next to "Pacific Islander" during the 2000 census. That was around the time my baby sister became a big football fan.
Since the borough that is the hometown of her husband sits along the Allegheny River, 20 miles up the road from downtown Pittsburgh, of course the Steelers are her team of choice.
Her fervor for the black and gold rates somewhere between intense and rabid.
She’s the kind of fan who calls me up because she’s so excited about her Steelers leading a game … in the first quarter.
She’s the kind who wears jerseys during every game. She’s got a Troy Polamalu, of course. "But I’m mostly a Heath Miller girl, that’s what I’ll be wearing for the Super Bowl. And I’m getting a (James) Harrison for my birthday," she tells me. "Chris Kemoeatu, love him. Whenever one of our other guys gets pushed around, he’s always the first one there to back him up."
THERE’S ONE Steelers shirt she won’t don anytime soon, though. Nor will her kids Jennifer, Jeremy, Elmer and Joey, who are all also Pittsburgh fans. Elmer has one hanging in his closet, and that’s where it’ll remain Sunday during the Super Bowl.
You probably guessed it, No. 7, that of the quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. As I do, Liz wonders why more people don’t discuss whether Roethlisberger should be in prison rather than if he should be in the Hall of Fame.
"Do I believe the allegations? Yes, 100 percent," she says, referring to the sexual assault accusation (not the first against him) in Georgia last year that resulted in no incarceration but a four-game suspension from the NFL.
Does she believe he’s changed? "I’m skeptical."
By no means is she alone. Many Steelers fans, especially women, find themselves in an awkward position of hoping for a Super Bowl win while loathing their team’s starting quarterback. The perfect solution for them would be fan favorite Charlie Batch replacing him and winning the game.
"All my friends feel the same way, even before," she says. "(Roethlisberger) always acted like he was above everybody else and treated people badly. He’s never out in the community anymore, but maybe that’s good. When he was, he was a jerk. He was a raging (expletive) a few years ago at a school district event with little kids."
JOHN, MY BROTHER-IN-LAW, paints houses throughout the Pittsburgh area. Not just any houses, millionaires’ houses. They’ve included those of Antwaan Randle El and Matt Spaeth. John said both Steelers treated him with consideration and warmth and appreciation of his being a fan. Spaeth even introduced him to his next-door neighbor, Maurkice Pouncey.
John also painted Roethlisberger’s house a few years ago. He has no basis for a first-person judgment of his favorite team’s quarterback either way, for a simple reason: "I wasn’t allowed to talk to him."
Apologists will say Roethlisberger paid his debt with the suspension, and now all of a sudden he’s a good person. And, as we keep hearing, "He’s a winner."
Liz isn’t buying, at least not yet.
"Hey, I’m all about second chances," she says. "But it took just one game back for a lot of the fans to forget about that girl in Georgia and all the other stuff. That sucks."
Like other wayward athletes, Roethlisberger has to earn his redemption off the field, not on it. That’s regardless of how many times he helps bring the Lombardi Trophy to Pittsburgh. Though not surprised, I’m proud my sister, the Steelers fan, sees that so clearly.