The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that is known for having a fanbase that is willing to travel, though perhaps it is more accurate to say that they have a wide diaspora. Pittsburgh’s flagship football team has roots all over the country, and even over the world, which makes it a common occurrence to see a steady presence of Terrible Towels in enemy stadiums.
That was certainly the case on Christmas evening in Houston, Texas, as the Texans played host to the now 12-3 Steelers. Houston is currently putting the finishing touches on a dismal season that starting out promisingly with their talented rookie quarterback, Deshaun Watson, who suffered a torn ACL months ago.
By the time we’ve gotten to Week 16, the Texans’ roster has been pared down dramatically, with nearly 20 players—many of them huge or notable names—on the injured reserve list. So it is not a great surprise that the turnout among their own fans may have been relatively sparse. Especially on a holiday.
But the extent to which Steeler Nation was represented in the stadium seemed to take even the players by surprise, and it meant a bit more to some than to others. For example, tight end Vance McDonald, who grew up in the state and played his college ball at Rice University—as did Jordan Berry—Tweeted after the game that it “felt like a home game”.
Brian Allen, the rookie cornerback, is another Texas native, although he played his college career in nearby Utah. Now having established a regular role for himself on special teams, he was happy to play again in his home state. “That’s how you turn a away game to a home game”, he Tweeted. “Great turn out. I love this team”, he added.
Even JuJu Smith-Schuster, the California boy, was appreciative of the warm welcome that the Steelers received in Houston. He estimated that maybe three quarters of the stadium, at least perhaps toward the end, was filled with fans of the visiting team.
And why might that have been—other than the lopsided scoreboard? As Texans beat writer John McClain observed, late in the game, the “lower level looks like almost all Steelers fans”. That means, he said, “season-ticket holders sold their tickets. At least my wife gave away her four season tickets”.
As the Steelers fans took over the Texans on the field, Steelers fans took over Houston throughout the stadium. It was a great way for regional fans of the team to celebrate the holiday, the first time the Steelers had played in the city since 2011, and the first time in the state since 2012.
Of course, it kind of comes with the territory when the home team has double-digit losses and the visiting team has double-digit wins heading into the game. But the team certainly took care of business in the game, and the fan base took care of the rest. Will we see how well they travel into Foxboro? In Minneapolis?