Two weeks ago, when the Steelers won the AFC championship and secured a spot in Super Bowl XLIII, more than 250 fans cheered the team on at O'Brien's. The five-time champion Steelers are facing the Arizona Cardinals, a team making its first trip to the Super Bowl.
For game day, O'Brien expects more than 1,000 people to pack his bar as fans of both teams travel to Tampa to take part in a weeklong celebration that culminates with the Feb. 1 game at Raymond James Stadium.
For Pittsburgh fans, it's almost like a homecoming. A review of fan Web sites lists more than 30 bars in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk and Pasco counties that are Steelers-friendly.
Many have special events planned this week, as well as private parties, reserved seating and other fan perks on game day. Pittsburgh sports radio personalities will be broadcasting live from O'Brien's and Tank's Tap Room, another Steelers bar on Dale Mabry Highway.
"They're really pushing us as the Pittsburgh Steelers' headquarters in Tampa," manager Damon Cornelius said. "We've been getting a lot of phone calls from people who live in Pittsburgh."
Pittsburghers know that wherever they go, Steelers Nation will welcome them. One of the reasons for this phenomenon is, indeed, the exodus from the region of young adults during the early 1980s. But from 1990 going forward, there are a number cities that boast a much more substantial out-migration. The California Diaspora isn't the artifact of the recent real estate meltdown. Californication is a domestic migration almost as old as the great Pittsburgh purge:
Complaining about Californians is an old tradition in the Rockies; but it is reaching a new intensity. Five million people who were born in California now live outside the state. They are America's second-biggest domestic diaspora, after New Yorkers, and the most noticeable. California is by far the most populous state in the West—and still growing rapidly. It has become a demographic machine, drawing in foreigners while disgorging its own population across the deserts and mountains. In the process, it transforms those areas.
The reason you don't read about shrinking cities in California is immigration. The high visibility of Steelers Nation is not the result of "high taxes, union dominance and lousy schools". If Pittsburgh attracted immigrants like it did in its industrial heyday, then we wouldn't get such specious analysis about the population problem. Regardless, fans of California sports teams aren't taking over visiting stadiums like Steelers Nation regularly does.
I'm not suggesting that everyone should celebrate the Steelers and embrace the sports mania. However, Pittsburgh's domestic diaspora is a unique economic asset for the region. I've yet to find another city in the United States that could expect such strong returns on its export of talent. The party in Tampa is representative of this potential and is worthy of Pittsburgh pride.