The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 3, 2013

VIDEO | Super tradition: Even without Steelers, area fans tune in

Justin Dennis

JOHNSTOWN — It’s not an official day off work.

But it is always a Sunday, so the Super Bowl is as close to an American holiday as any other. And Steelers fans hoping for ring number seven watched from the sidelines this year.

Even though the weather wasn’t pretty – and there was little incentive for Steeler Nation to be glued to the tube   – the “regular” crowd made local sports eateries and bars their seat for the big game.

There was plenty of appetizers, black-and-gold jerseys galore and even some father/son bonding.

At Bigdogz Grill along Bedford Street in Stonycreek Township, Jim and Tyler Hughes settled in over drinks and food to engage in that historic pastime. In fact, they’ve done it every Super Bowl Sunday for the last five years.

Jim is from Mayfield Heights, Ohio, near Cleveland – maybe the “Brownie the Elf” patch on his hoodie is a giveaway. He makes a weekly Bigdogz visit to watch the Browns games. His teenage son, Tyler, likes to join him from time to time, but there’s just one problem.

“He’s a Steelers fan, unfortunately,” Jim said.

Jim came to the area in 1983 – arguably the best time for Browns fans to leave – and a piece of his heart still shivers on the iced-over Lake Erie. The Browns’ career of heartbreak aside, his rivalry with his son keeps the game interesting.

“We get very competitive,” Tyler said.

“We make fun of each other a lot, but it’s all just for fun.

“When the Browns beat the Steelers this year, he got me back for all the years I’ve been making fun of him,” he said. “We’re the only ones in the family that really watch football so this is our time to spend together and bond.”

This year, they’re laughing with each other as Tyler squirms over the 49ers’ potential of six Bowl rings, yet expectantly watches fresh-faced QB Colin Kaepernick.

“San Francisco’s interesting,” Jim said. “They’re young and Kaepernick is a fantastic quarterback. It’s nice to see somebody different, too.

“Coming from Cleveland, I’d be happy to see someone else have as many rings as the Steelers,” he said with a laugh.

JR’s Sports Den, along Oakland Avenue, set out a free buffet, just as it does every Steelers Sunday. When the play clock’s running, it’s easy to tell who’s rooting for San Francisco, or who just wants Baltimore to lose. One harsh reality of the sports bar business, however, is when the home team doesn’t make it all the way.

“I would love to have the Steelers in here,” said Clayton Shank, who’s been co-owner of the bar for more than 20 years. “You wouldn’t be able to move right now.”

JR’s did expect a halftime rush, however, and was set to serve an influx of patrons coming from private Super Bowl parties in the neighborhood.

At Woodside Bar & Grill along Highland Park Road, drink and food specials – as well as free Steelers swag giveaways – weren’t enough to entice fans to brave the steep and powdered white roads of the city’s Moxham neighborhood.

“(Turnout is) decent, but the weather kind of downed it a little bit,” said manager Jay Bean.

“It is better than last year.”

Even though the snow was piling up, there were no power outages to report – but the Superdome couldn’t say the same.

“At least that kept people here longer,” he said with a laugh.

Regardless of who’s in the game, the spectacle – or the commercials alone – are always worth the time.

Sure, the Steelers didn’t make it, but then again, think about how Browns fans – and Jim Hughes – feel.

“We’ll see,” he said coyly. “We’ll see. Every year I say, ‘this is gonna be the year.’ ”

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