New Northsiders take Steelers fandom to a new level
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Gene Smolko has been a Steelers fan for 60 years, and his wife Maria Smolko for 47.
Steelers memorabilia plasters the walls and shelves of the Smolko family room, including a unique 2009 Superbowl puzzle, Steel Curtain figurines, Superbowl magazine clippings, Steelers clocks and much more.
A Tupperware bin in the Smolko home is filled with Steelers jerseys with throwbacks of Antwaan Randle El, Rod Woodson and Ziggy Hood.
But perhaps the greatest testament to the Smolko’s dedication, is their home on the Northside, where they moved seven weeks ago to be in the same city as the team they love.
Gene, 68, and Maria, 65, lived in Lancaster, Pa for 25 years before they made their decision in 2009 to move to Pittsburgh after a series of visits centering around their love for black and gold. .
“The Steelers brought us to Pittsburgh, and the city kept us here. I have fallen in love with the city,” Maria Smolko said.
Before making their decision, Gene and Maria visited the city a few times every year to attend Steelers training camp and a regular season game.
In 2009, Gene and Maria’s visit made their decision for them. After walking around the city for two days, Gene and Maria were set on Pittsburgh.
“I can remember, it was September, my birthday weekend,” Maria Smolko said. “We were standing on the North Shore looking at [the] city, looking across the river, and I said, ‘I want to live here, this is where I want to live.’”
One of Maria’s co-workers bought their house in Lancaster and made their dream a reality.
Gene and Maria moved to the top floor of Allegheny Center apartments in the Northside on June 3 of this year.
Now that Gene and Maria are retired, they walk four or five hours a day all over the city, from the Strip District to Station Square.
Maria said that her neighbors are so friendly. She said that she is falling in love with the Northside, and that she cannot stop praising the city.
Although Maria’s dream is to meet Jerome Bettis, she and Gene have been attending many Pirates games and recently met Steelers’ defensive end, Nick Eason.
“Two years ago, my son met [Jerome Bettis] and got his picture taken with him,” Maria said. “My son brought it home, got in enlarged and gave it to me. He is the one who got to meet him, but before I die, I’m gonna meet that man.”
In 2005, when the Steelers made a playoff run, Maria surprised her husband with a seven-foot Christmas tree, decorated with gold ornaments with the players numbers painted on them.
Maria adds ornaments to the seven-foot Christmas tree each year.
“When we got married 47 years ago, I was going to either become a Steelers fan or football widow so I became a Steelers fan,” Maria said. “My daughter always says, ‘well it was born in us, it is a part of the genetics.’”
Maria and Gene have two children and six grandchildren, all of which are devoted Steelers fans.
“The city opened its heart and I’m at home, I feel like I’ve been here forever,” Maria said. “I can’t put in words how much I love my new home and the people here.”