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TFD: A look back at time spent in a Steelers bar in 2006

Posted by: Michael Rand under Vikings Updated: September 26, 2013 - 5:33 PM

The Vikings are playing the Steelers in London, and this sparked AP guy Dave Campbell to remember there used to be a Steelers bar in the Twin Cities (The Starting Gate in St. Paul) and to remember that we once wrote about it. Indeed we did!

We went when the Browns and Steelers were playing, and we spent a half each at a Browns bar (Mackenzie in downtown Minneapolis) and the Steelers bar. Here is a look back at that November 2006 story:

The patrons at Mackenzie, a bar in downtown Minneapolis, had warnings for a visitor preparing to leave at halftime of Sunday's Browns- Steelers game. Watch out for your car over there, they said. Oh, and another thing:

"It smells really bad," Ed Badgley said, laughing.

Mackenzie, you see, is the headquarters for the Twin Cities chapter of the Browns Backers. After watching with them as their Browns took a 10-0 halftime lead, their visitor was headed to the Starting Gate - a St. Paul bar where Steelers fans congregate en masse - to see how the other half of the NFL rivalry lives.

"We love to hate each other," said Connie Ashba, the Browns Backers chapter president, describing the relationship between the two fan bases.

At Mackenzie, the fans - many of them Ohio transplants - are long- suffering. They've endured "The Drive," "The Fumble," Art Modell's move to Baltimore and, now, a second go-around with a Browns team that is 18-40 since the start of 2003. When a flag was thrown on Cleveland's first play from scrimmage, Badgley immediately assumed it would negate a nice gain.

"We're Browns fans," he said in defense of his cynicism. Indeed, it went against Cleveland.

But the Steelers - who a year after winning the Super Bowl entered the game 3-6, just like the Browns - couldn't move the ball. Folks sporting jerseys ranging from Braylon Edwards to Kellen Winslow Jr. started to get optimistic. When Daven Holly picked off Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and ran it back for a TD early in the second quarter, the 40 or so Cleveland supporters turned downright giddy.

"Who are we?" They chanted loudly. "We're the Cleveland Browns!"

Even through the team's failures, they tried to remain upbeat. "At least we'll make `SportsCenter,' " one fan said after a field-goal attempt doinked off the crossbar.

They were ahead by 10 at halftime and considered their visitor a good luck charm. He didn't really want to go to the Starting Gate, did he?

Sorry, that's the plan, came the reply.

"Give them one of these for me," Ashba said, demonstrating a mock punch to the face. Then she laughed and added, "That's a kiss of love."

It was then time for a halftime drive. You have to head southeast to get to the Starting Gate from Mackenzie just as you do to cover the roughly 135 miles between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. In both
cases, there is a noticeable philosophical chasm.

For instance, a white T-shirt with "Browns" written on it awaits inside the Starting Gate. It's there so you can wipe your feet. If that seems makeshift, there's a reason: "We burned all the Browns jerseys," several fans explained. They were serious.

Paul Palmer, one of the unofficial leaders of the 140 or so metro area Steelers fans at the Starting Gate on Sunday, followed the explanation with a diatribe about Cleveland fans that he later regretted. "I was just kidding," he said. "Make sure they know that."

There is no joking about their end of the rivalry, though. After a dismal three quarters, the Steelers started inching back. A Cleveland kick return for a TD was a temporary setback, but soon Pittsburgh was on the march for a winning score.

When Willie Parker caught a flip from Roethlisberger in the final minute to put the Steelers ahead, fans played a Steelers fight song on a boom box. Then Palmer exclaimed, "We're going to burn it! Somebody get me a match!"

The item in question was, of course, the Browns T-shirt. The call almost proved to be premature, but the Browns' last-ditch pass into the end zone fell incomplete, sealing the comeback victory.

A throng of fans headed to the parking lot. Palmer set the shirt ablaze as Steelers fans - ahem - questioned the collective wisdom and sanity of being a Browns fan.

It seemed to be the most fitting conclusion to an immensely enjoyable afternoon with two dedicated fan bases. But, sorry to say Browns Backers, there were only two distinct odors wafting from the Starting Gate as the visitor headed home:

The smell of a Steelers victory and the scent of a burning Browns T-shirt


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