PITTSBURGH — Casey Hampton can hear the chant. It never fails.
Regardless of the venue. Regardless of the weather. Regardless of the circumstances. Preseason or the Super Bowl. Heinz Field or Houston.
If the Pittsburgh Steelers are leading late in the fourth quarter, the sound of “Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go!” while thousands of Terrible Towels twirl will reverberate inside the veteran nose tackle’s helmet.
“Our fans are going to stay until the end,” said Hampton, who has watched the phenomenon since his rookie year in 2001. “They’re going to ride with us. A lot of times, especially when you’re winning at the end, when the home fans clear out they’ll still be there doing their thing.”
It happened Sunday in New York during Pittsburgh’s 24-20 victory over the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants. At a stadium typically swathed in blue, the roar for the Steelers grew so loud at one point quarterback Ben Roethlisberger actually had to put his hands up to ask for quiet.
Coach Mike Tomlin wasn’t joking when he said recently the self-appointed “Steeler Nation” is everywhere.
Whether it’s folks traveling from Pittsburgh to watch the black-and-gold or western Pennsylvania transplants who fill their nearest NFL stadium when the black-and-gold visit is unclear.
What is clear is the backing the Steelers and other marquee NFL teams receive when they don their visiting uniforms is growing.
The explosion in the secondary ticket market combined with the league’s ever expanding popularity and just plain old family ties means for teams like the Steelers, Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, home-field advantage isn’t limited to game days where the players wake up in their own beds.
The ubiquitous Terrible Towels mean the support that greets the Steelers on the road is a little more visible than most, but Pittsburgh isn’t the hardest road ticket in the league according to brokerage site Stubhub.
Even with the Cowboys stumbling to a 3-5 start, watching them on the road will cost about $196 a ticket if you go through Stubhub according to spokesperson Joellen Ferrer. The Steelers are the second-most expensive at $190.
It’s simple supply and demand. The brighter the name, the more difficult the get. The Giants, Cowboys, Packers, Steelers and Bears are the five toughest road tickets in the NFL for Stubhub customers.
All five have a proud history littered with championships — 20 Super Bowls and counting — and dozens of Hall-of-Fame players, teams whose fandom is handed down generation to generation or in the case of Brad Stoller, from wife to husband.
The 48-year-old Stoller grew up in Indiana rooting for the Cowboys long before the Colts fled Baltimore for the Midwest. Dallas was at its “America’s Team” zenith at the time, the franchise’s mix of on field success and steady stream of national television appearances making the Cowboys pretty easy to keep up with in a time when fans outside NFL markets were at the mercy of the local TV station to see what game would get beamed into their living rooms on a given week.
The combination of Jerry Jones’ arrogance and his wife Amy’s lifelong devotion to the Steelers led Stoller to switch allegiances. Now he runs a Steelers Fan Facebook page that features more than 98,000 likes from all over the globe.
There are over 1,500 Pittsburgh Steelers bars scattered across the country, with high concentrations in retirement destinations like Florida, Arizona and Southern California, as the fans who watched the Super Steelers win four Super Bowls in the 1970s gather to enjoy the latest renaissance that’s seen two more Lombardi Trophies added in the last seven seasons thrust in by satellite.
“What I’ve found, there’s a tremendous number of people, maybe they grew up in Pittsburgh, but somewhere there’s a connection with Pittsburgh,” Stoller said. “They may live in Florida today, but when their Steelers are around, they try to make it to the game.”
Stoller tries to make a handful of games every fall. Tickets are easy to come by if he’s willing to pay the premium. The three-hour ride from Lafayette, Ind., to Cincinnati has become an annual pilgrimage for both Stoller and Steelers fans from Western Pennsylvania and Ohio who can’t get into the perennially sold-out home games.
When Pittsburgh beat the Bengals last month, Stoller estimates 40 percent of Paul Brown Stadium came dressed in some variation of black-and-gold. The lack of steady home presence for one of the league’s underachieving franchises — Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game in 22 years— allows Steelers fans to overwhelm the market.
Every game in Cincinnati follows a similar pattern. The Bengals fans arrive chanting “Who Dey.” Then Cincinnati starts to falter.
“In the fourth quarter it gets real quiet before the Steelers start driving,” Stoller said. “Then we start chanting ‘We Dey.’”
The experience is worth the hit to the wallet, though Stoller allows there is one thing about going through Stubhub that bothers him.
“The unfortunate thing for people is that tickets are always three times higher priced for the Steelers, then as soon as they leave, you want a ticket to a Bengals game the following week and they can’t give ‘em away,” he said with a laugh.
It’s hardly a phenomenon unique to Cincinnati. Jacksonville, Kansas City and the New York Jets — who have two combined Super Bowl titles among them — struggle to keep home fans interested when things go south.
Need proof? Tickets for the Bengals-Chiefs game on Nov. 18 start at $7.
Yes, $7. A decent meal at any stadium will cost you double that.
Compare that to the $26 minimum when Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos play in Kansas City the next week, a cost that is likely to go up if the AFC West-leading Broncos continue to roll.
“Most (Stubhub sellers) are season ticket holders who want to recoup some of their initial investment,” Ferrer said. “They want to retain their season seats and have that camaraderie but they realize they can also resell their tickets when the big team comes to town.”
All that selling can have a significant impact on the game.
When the Denver Broncos stormed past San Diego last month, the crowd at Qualcomm Stadium began roaring “defense” when the hometown Chargers tried to mount a late rally.
“It’s impressive because there’s a select few teams in the NFL that have that,” Denver tight end Jacob Tamme said. “And down in the lower level, you know? So, not only is it impressive but it’s one of those things that you can feed off of on the road, so that’s a pretty unique thing.”
Living on the other side of the coin can be a rude awakening.
Detroit Lions defensive tackle Corey Williams used to get a kick out of seeing foam Cheeseheads scattered through the stands wherever the Packers played during his four seasons with Green Bay from 2004-07.
“It was amazing to go into the stadium and the majority of the Packers (fans) were there and to hear them yell, ‘Go Pack Go!’ louder than the home team fans was kind of fun,” Williams said.
Now he sees the green-and-gold army invade Ford Field every winter and braces for a hostile environment in what’s supposed to be friendly territory. Yet he’s come to expect it. So has Hampton, who knows a sea of waving yellow hand towels await the Steelers when they travel to Cleveland in a few weeks.
“You know they’re gonna be there,” Hampton said. “I can’t explain it. It’s just always been that way. And you know, we’ll take it.”