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Packers, Steelers are bound by their blue collars

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Start with the names. They are not just familiar, they are closer to iconic. Almost regal.

Yet they are not the names you typically see on your kid's soccer team, or on the high school across town. Bears, Lions, Colts, Rams. Now, those are your homogenized names. Your one-syllable-fits-all names.

The Packers and Steelers are different. These are names that belong in one place. Names that have history and meaning, substance and soul. Packing plants. Steel workers. These are not just logos on uniforms but, rather, statements about people and places.

So, yes, start with the names. And maybe then you'll have a better idea why, in some ways, this is the quintessential Super Bowl. The meeting of two teams, two towns, two fan bases, that represent all of the best qualities of the NFL.

"There might still be some packing house workers left in Green Bay, but not many. I know it's pretty hard to find steelworkers in Pittsburgh these days," said Rob Ruck, a University of Pittsburgh historian who wrote what may be the definitive biography of Steelers founder Art Rooney. "We've lost 100,000-plus of those type of jobs that used to define who people in this region were. And as that mix of working class, industrial-type jobs disappeared, people looked to sports more and more to define who they were.

"There's a parallel between these two teams. These are teams that tell the story of their cities better than any others."

There are a handful of legendary franchises in the NFL. Teams that have both longevity and success on their resumes. The Giants and Bears are two of them. The Steelers and Packers would be the others.

From their first championship in 1929 until the end of the 1960s, no team in the NFL was more decorated than the Packers. And from their first Super Bowl in 1974 until today, no team has won more titles in the modern era than the Steelers. Their busts dominate the shelves at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and their greatest memories are like a highlight reel of NFL history.

But there is more to the story than championships and jersey sales. Fans of the Giants and Bears may be as passionate as any in sports, but there is not the singular identification with a city that you find in Green Bay and Pittsburgh.

These are franchises that correspond to their cities. Unpretentious. Loyal. Blue collar. These are franchises that do not typically make big splashes in the free agent market and, with rare exceptions, do not tolerate boorish behavior on their rosters.

Pittsburgh is the kind of place where Steelers owner Dan Rooney can drive himself to the team's training complex in a nondescript car and walk around without security or pause. And while other owners seem to have pink slips an arm's length away, the Rooney family has not fired a head coach in more than 40 years.

Green Bay is the kind of place where part owners can't even get in their own stadium. The franchise is part of a nonprofit corporation with 4.7 million shares owned by 112,158 shareholders. And since 73,000-seat Lambeau Field has been sold out for 50 years or so, that means a lot of shareholders are watching games from their living rooms.

Shares of the team have been put on sale four times in franchise history — 1923, '35, '50 and '97, with shares costing $200 in the most recent sale — when cash was needed to cover losses or facility expansion. The stock can only be sold back to the franchise and for a fraction of its original cost. Which means it has very little monetary worth, but its emotional value cannot be measured.

You see, Green Bay is about 5 percent of the size of Tampa Bay, and yet Lambeau Field has been sold out for decades. Parents routinely put their names on season ticket waiting lists, but not for themselves. They figure their children or grandchildren might have a shot 50 or 60 years down the line.

"When they built the stadium in 1957, my dad had six season tickets. I sat in those seats for my first game at the stadium, and we still have those same seats today," said Green Bay shareholder Tom Worachek. "We have been walking down the same street to get to the same seats since before Vince Lombardi was here. It's a major part of our lives.

"I told my 11-year-old grandson the other day that I was just about his age when I saw the Packers win a championship for the first time. The '60s were a great time to be growing up in Green Bay with all the championships, but after we won Super Bowl II it was another 30 years before we won again. So I told him to enjoy everything and try to remember everything about this week, because you never know how long before it will come again."

The game means something to people in Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Means as much to them as it did for fans in every other market for every other Super Bowl. Still, I think there's a difference in this case.

For when the Super Bowl excitement is long gone, the passion for these teams will still remain.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Packers, Steelers are bound by their blue collars 01/30/11 [Last modified: Sunday, January 30, 2011 10:29pm]

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