While the Pittsburgh Steelers did get one home game during the preseason, Sunday’s week-two matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders will be their first opportunity to play a meaningful game in front of their fans since the end of the 2019 season. And they know it’s going to be loud, no matter who’s coming to town.
“Man, I’m excited. I saw one thing where it was like, Raider Nation, we’re about to have our black and silver on them”, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said earlier today about playing in front of fans. “And I’m like, that’s not gonna happen here. This isn’t like the Chargers where everybody goes and has a home game. When you come here, it’s black and gold all day, so I’m excited to see it. It’s been a while”.
The Steelers, of course, had just such an experience playing the Chargers in 2019, a game in which Devlin Hodges—recently signed to the Ottawa Redblacks in the CFL—started for the first time in his career. There is no ambiguity as to which fanbase was better represented in that stadium.
That is not going to happen in Pittsburgh any time soon. The Steelers have one of the most dedicated fanbases in the NFL, and that includes their ample willingness to take their team to task for any perceived failing, whether real or imagined, but they’re going to be there on Sundays without fail.
“I know we’ve missed it dearly. It’s such an advantage as a defense. When an offense can’t hear, and they’ve got to waste a timeout or they’ve got to take a penalty, we thrive on that”, Heyward said of the impact of having a favorable crowd back behind them. “Sometimes you get too jacked and then you get out of whack, but it should be pretty fun”.
Throughout the NFL, stadium attendance was utterly negligible, with many teams playing the entire year without permission to welcome fans into the stadium due to local regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Encouraged primarily by the rollout of vaccines, stadiums across the league are pretty much open at full capacity, though some have more stringent regulations than others. At Heinz Field, the only requirement is that you bring a mask to the stadium, which must be used in any outdoor areas, but not in your seat while watching the game, even if it is encouraged.
Coming off of a very impressive win against the Buffalo Bills, I would expect that the stadium will be packed on Sunday as the Steelers helped to quiet some skepticism surrounding the team heading into this season. If they can roll out a few early wins, who knows where that might lead?