Fan of Steel

Published 11:03 pm Saturday, January 31, 2009

ROME TOWNSHIP — A ticket to the 2009 Super Bowl: $1,950. Parking there for a single car: $60. One man’s devotion to the team that Art built: Priceless doesn’t even begin to cover it.

And yes, that is what Rusty Leep paid to be front and center or somewhere nearby when the first ball is snapped at 6:28 p.m. this evening at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

That’s when the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII in front of a crowd of 72,500.

Email newsletter signup

The Steelers and Leep. It’s been a 30-year love affair that started when Leep was 5 and wanted to be just like an older cousin who was a fan of one of Pittsburgh’s finest exports. But when it came time to cast away the things of childhood, Leep just geared up and started collecting for real.

It began simply. A hat here. A sweatshirt there. Now Steelers memorabilia fills a 1,000 square foot room in the basement of his Rome Township home, where the walls are painted Blitzburgh black and gold.

There’s an uncut Steelers bowling ball, a Steelers refrigerator, a lamp and a pool table.

“I have things in my basement I had as a child. My mother just gave me yesterday a pair of Steelers gloves I wore when I was 6 or 7,” Leep said. “I’m going to give them to my son, (Ready for this?) Steeler.”

That’s right the Leeps 4-year-old is named for dad’s favorite team.

Rusty Leep’s full name is Gary Russell, named in part for his father, Gary. Rusty thought a good name for their son would be Garrett Russell, a continuation of the family name. But his wife, Shawna, had other ideas. She came up with Steeler Russell Leep.

“I don’t know, honey. That sounds a little bit extreme,” Leep told his wife. Then he thought, “Why not. It was weird for a while.”

Steeler had his fourth birthday Wednesday, three days before the big game tonight and has eagerly joined in the family avocation.

“He does. You can ask him. He eerily understands. He knows everything about it,” Leep said. “By naming him Steeler, you might think I forced this on him. But he eats and breathes this.”

Leep was 18 when he got to see his first Steelers’ game in person, in the old Three Rivers Stadium, at 600 Stadium Circle. His college roommate lived in Weirton, W.Va., and would get tickets from time to time. Occasional times grew into a lot of times over the next 17 years.

In fact this season Leep got up to Steel City seven times to see the team play in its new home at Heinz Field. But the field that once was next door still retained its mystique for the Proctorville man.

That’s why one of Leep’s prized possessions are five stadium seats from Three Rivers when the stadium was scrapped and sold at auction around 2000.

“I bought them four years before I ever had my game room,” Leep said. “I knew eventually I would build a house with a game room with a Pittsburgh Steelers theme. Those things sat in waiting. When I did my room, I build a little prop with the stadium seats facing the TV.”

As to who will win tonight, Leep isn’t making any predictions.

“It will be a close game. On paper the Steelers are probably the better team, but when you get in a game, you never know,” he said.

But Leep does have a valuable bit of advice he’s willing to share with any and all fellow sports “fan-atics.”

“Probably the lesson all guys need to learn is make sure your wife gets on board too.”