SUPER BOWL XLV: Black and gold blood courses through veins of longtime Steelers fan
PRESCOTT VALLEY - Kurt Dembaugh was destined to become a rabid Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
For as long as he could remember as a child growing up in Pittsburgh, his parents, Rita and Fred Dembaugh, had season tickets to Steelers games at legendary Three Rivers Stadium.
"When you're born of Pittsburgh parents, you have black and gold blood in your system already," said Kurt, 46, this past week while proudly wearing a Steelers jacket and cap in anticipation of his team's appearance in today's Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers.
If his dad weren't taking his friends with him to contests, Kurt would tag along with his parents to Three Rivers, which was demolished in early 2001 and replaced later that year by the plush Heinz Field.
Kurt's favorite childhood memory as a Steelers backer came at age 11 on Dec. 23, 1972, when the then-40-year-old franchise won its first-ever playoff game at Three Rivers.
Although Kurt watched the contest on TV at his grandparents' house, it was in that game that Steelers iconic running back Franco Harris made the "Immaculate Reception," a last-minute, shoestring touchdown catch on a deflected ball that handed Pittsburgh a 13-7 come-from-behind victory over the Oakland Raiders.
Kurt said that toward the end of the contest, his dad and his buddies had become so disgruntled with the outcome to that point that they began walking out of the stadium. But his mom kept the faith - remaining in her seat near the end zone where Harris would score the winning TD.
"She actually saw him (Harris) catch the ball - and it didn't go off the turf," Kurt said. "And she was screaming, 'Franco has the ball! Franco has the ball!' And all of the sudden, they (dad and his friends) all turned around and just erupted."
Despite losing the AFC championship to the Miami Dolphins the next week, Pittsburgh's win against the Raiders marked a turning point for a franchise that had suffered through four decades of futility dating back to its founding year of 1933. The Steelers went on to win six straight AFC Central titles while capturing an astounding four Super Bowls from 1975-80.
In fact, the Immaculate Reception is such an important piece of the city's history that a life-size statue of Harris completing the reception stands at Pittsburgh International Airport.
This afternoon in Dallas, the Steelers are looking to break the franchise's National Football League all-time record for Super Bowl wins by making it seven victories in eight appearances dating back to 1975.
Kurt is so infatuated with the Steelers that he estimates he has more than 150 pieces of team memorabilia inside his home in Prescott Valley.
Among other things, Kurt has old cans of Iron City Beer, which was crafted and named in honor of the Steelers, as well as several jerseys, pins, signs and beads.
But his most treasured possession is an original gold-colored "Terrible Towel" from the mid-1970s. Fans have been waving these towels, which now have more of maize tint to them, in the stands ever since then as a rallying cry.
Kurt said he was at the game when Hall of Fame Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann first ran out onto the field flashing one of those towels.
"We had them on our belts and we all yanked them out," he said. "We waved that Terrible Towel every time the Steelers made a good play."
As he grew older, Kurt no longer had the luxury of going to games with his parents, who split when he was 16 and didn't renew their season tickets.
But Kurt, who worked construction jobs in Pittsburgh, and his pals still hung out at Three Rivers all the time.
"Every single week we'd buy scalper tickets - it was just part of your paycheck," he said. "During football season, it was automatic that you were down there every Sunday."
On game days, Kurt cherished tailgating at Three Rivers. He, like many other longtime fans, were concerned several years ago that some tailgating traditions would fade when Heinz Field opened. However, after Kurt had relocated from Pittsburgh to Arizona several years ago, he took his son, Jacob, to a game at Heinz and was pleasantly surprised to see that those customs had remained intact.
To this day, on "Steeler Sunday" in Pittsburgh, Kurt said there are two things you do - go to church and watch the game afterwards with a group of people at someone's house.
"It's almost a weekly ritual," he said.
For more than a decade now, Kurt has watched all of the Steelers games on DirecTV, oftentimes with Jacob, who is now a young adult.
For today's Big Game, Kurt will take in all of the action on a big screen at Buffalo Wild Wings in PV. He's picking Pittsburgh to edge the Packers by a field goal.
"It's going to come down to offense in the last minute of the ballgame," he said.
While at Buffalo Wild Wings, Kurt, the PV-based Arizona Adrenaline indoor football team's defensive coordinator, will spend part of the day promoting the reconstituted franchise, which will play its home games at Tim's Toyota Center. The Adrenaline begins its 14-game season Feb. 26 on the road before returning to Tim's for its home opener March 13.
"Being that the Steelers are in the Super Bowl, and now this is my first professional coaching position, this game means a lot to me because I've been coaching for 25 years now," Kurt said. "It's going to be electrifying."