The Ecstasy & Agony of Juneau's Super Bowl fans

Posted: Monday, February 06, 2006

For Troy "Toby" Portis, the lone Steelers fan Sunday night at PP's Douglas Inn, Pittsburgh's Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks was a win for the underdog. For everyone else, it was an opportunity to throw things at his backside.

Portis, "Toby" to his friends at the bar, was insufferable Sunday and took every opportunity to revel in the Steelers' 21-10 triumph. His coup de grace was in the closing seconds, when he stood along the giant screen in the corner and raised his arms alongside the projected image of Pittsburgh coach Bill Cower.

"As a former Marine, I believe in standing up for the underdog, so here I am," Portis said. "The Steelers aren't really the underdog, they were favored to win. But the opposition in this town is so severe, I had to stand up for them."

Seattle's heart was broken in epic, crushing fashion, and even 900 air miles north, the pain was very real in Juneau.

Fairbanks resident Teri Spickler-Vigesaa, a lifelong Seahawks fan in town to visit her sister and brother, couldn't find a flight out of town in the snowy weather. She was happy to stay.

"I called home and said I couldn't make it back," she said. "I had to be here to watch this game."

Marlintini's Lounge was packed 25 minutes before game time, but an anxious air hung about the mostly Seahawks crowd.

"This is the largest turnout we've had for football this season," said Fred Oleson, 36, a Raiders and Seahawks fan. "There are a lot of Steelers fans in Juneau, and there are a lot of Seahawks fans. This is a monumental game, Seattle making it to the Super Bowl."

Les Cole, a 44-year-old cab driver and a Seahawks' fan since the team's inception in 1976, wore a No. 51 Lofa Tatupu jersey that his daughter gave him for Christmas.

"I've been floating," Cole said. "It's a dream come true. It's what I've been waiting pretty much my whole life for."

The lounge slowly came to life - cheering when the Seahawks took the field, roaring again when they won the coin toss. Meanwhile, security guard Alex Dick strolled about, bating the room with pro-Steelers shouts.

"You gotta do something to get the crowd going," said Dick, a Cincinnati Bengals fan.

Seattle moved the ball well on its first drive. The Steelers looked tight when they took possession. But the crowd still waited, nervously, for the first big play.

Across the parking lot and behind the Airport Shopping Center, the scene was decidedly less tense at the Glacier Valley Rotary's party in the Aspen Hotel. Roughly 50 people - mostly Seahawks fans - gathered and raised $5,000 in matching contributions and silent auction bids. Part of the money will go to the group's annual study exchange.

Petersburg biologist Emil Tucker, Homer legislative aide Katie Shows, Whitehorse physiotherapist Susan Rubinoff and group leader Tish Griffin Satre are heading to Russia's Far East from May 15 to June 15.

"If you're a fan or not, you have to watch the game," Shows said. "It's part of American culture."

Seattle scored first, on a 47-yard Josh Brown field goal with seconds left in the first quarter. At TBG Office Solutions, the secret hangout of Juneau's hard-core Steelers contingent, there was reason for concern.

"I expected a little more (defense)," 36-year-old co-owner Mark Ibias said.

Ibias, his brother, his family and all their Steelers friends spent the weekend moving boxes in the supply store to make room for couches, chairs, a video projector and a makeshift 9-foot-by-7 1/2-foot foam-core screen. It looked like the ideal living room, as long as you were a Steeler fan.

Tod Young runs Integrity Automotive, the shop next door. He and his wife, Teresa, showed up to cheer on Seattle.

"It's a little lonely, but I knew what I was in for," said Tod, 35, a fan since 1976 and a Juneau resident since 1984.

Rene Castro, a 13-year Juneau resident whose true allegiance is to the San Diego Chargers, showed up in Pittsburgh colors. He wore an 11-year-old No. 10 Kordell Stewart jersey.

Lui Fenumiai, Ibias' brother-in-law, arrived in town Saturday on a three-week leave from active duty in the U.S. Army. Fenumiai has been based out of Ft. Stewart (Ga.) for five years and eight months. He's served three tours overseas - once in 2000 in Kosovo and twice patrolling neighborhoods in south Baghdad.

"The (football) games come on at 2, 3 in the morning over there," Fenumiai said. "We'd stay up and watch the game, pull an all-nighter and get ready for patrols the next day."

"I'm wearing the Pittsburgh colors for my brother-in-law, but I really think Seattle is going to pull off the win today," he said. "(The Steelers) aren't looking like they did two weeks ago. Maybe, they've just got jitters."

The nerves went away on Pittsburgh's 11-play, 59-yard, second-quarter scoring drive, and the place erupted when Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger converted an impossible 3rd and 28 with a 37-yard desperation heave to Hines Ward. Two minutes later, Roethlisberger scored. Ibias lept on top of his chair and appeared ready to dive on top of the couch in joy.

Halftime at Auke Bay Bible Church was considerably more restrained. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a student-led group at Juneau-Douglas High School, held its annual Super Bowl gala. About 200 kids showed up to watch the game on a giant projection screen. At the break, they prayed, played games, shared a series of devotionals and listened to a speech by Crimson Bears football coach Bill Chalmers.

Jon Wendel, a senior, won a spirited game of Bear, Ranger, Hunter - a spin-off of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

A few miles northeast, Tom and Sue Ainsworth were holding their annual Super Bowl at their Montana Creek home. They made the turkey. Neighbor Mario Perez prepared three plates of crispy taquitos.

"We have to celebrate," Sue said. "I'm a diehard fan, and we're just really excited the Seahawks are doing this well."

Roughly 15 people filled the room, mostly families or players from the Juneau-Douglas ice hockey team. Another group played pingpong downstairs. Neighbor Michael Svensson, a Sweden native, watched the screen, puzzling over the minutiae of the game.

Everyone looked confused when Pittsburgh running back Willie Parker sprang loose for a 75-yard touchdown on the second play of the third quarter.

"That hurt," Tom said. "But I think the Seahawks are poised to take over in the second half."

A few miles south, Sanders Street was rocking. Cars lined the narrow road. Four children tooted horns and serenaded passing vehicles. Even Keith Pahlke's home, festooned with holiday lights, appeared to be glowing.

But inside, the mood was grim. About 15 people, mostly Alaska Department of Fish and Game employees, had gathered to watch the game. Seattle was down 14-3, and Pittsburgh was driving deep into Seahawks territory.

"Statistically, we had them in the first half," said Pahlke, sporting the rare No. 3 jersey of former Seattle quarterback Rick Mirer. "We were moving the ball well, and then, I don't know."

Just then, Seattle defender Kelly Herndon intercepted a Roethlisberger pass at the 4 and rumbled 76 yards to the Steelers 20. The living room came alive. Four plays later, Matt Hasselbeck found Jerramy Stevens for a 16-yard touchdown. Bedlam ensued. Grown men lept, whirled and high-fived.

"We're serious fans," said a beaming Scott McPherson, a Juneau resident since 1979 and a lifelong Seahawks fan. "The game's not over 'til it's over."

Unfortunately for Seahawks' fans, that's as good as it got.

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com



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