Super Bowl: Green Bay Packers Coach Mike McCarthy splits loyalties of Pittsburgh home
Saturday, February 5, 2011; 12:52 AM
PITTSBURGH - There is no other corner in this city where, some 72 hours before the Super Bowl, it would be appropriate to brace against the chill in a green-and-gold Green Bay Packers sweat shirt. The intersection of Greenfield Avenue and Lydia Street, though, is perhaps the only spot in the country this weekend in which Packer green can mix innocuously with the black and gold of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Across the street at St. Rosalia Academy, a row of lockers is alternately decorated Steeler-Packer-Steeler-Packer. Green-and-gold bows still hang on some of the telephone poles and streetlights, untouched by the hands of Steeler fans.
It is the one place where Tony Faiello could stand Thursday evening in that Packers sweatshirt and a Steelers ski cap and not have to deal with the questions he faced in other parts of town. "Are you confused?" one woman asked. Or, worse, "Are you weird?"
"If we were playing Chicago," Faiello said, "and we lost, I don't know what. But if we wake up, and the Green Bay Packers beat us, I can sleep. I can sleep because I know Mike McCarthy would have won."
Go to Homestead or Hazelwood or Squirrel Hill, the other neighborhoods that border the slopes of Greenfield, and there would be no such response. But Mike McCarthy, the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, isn't from Homestead or Hazelwood or Squirrel Hill. He grew up near the top of Greenfield Avenue in the house where his parents, Joe and Ellen, still live, the one with the "Go Pack Go" sign hung on the door.
He went to St. Rosalia Academy, where his picture hangs in an entryway and on a bulletin board outside the principal's office, where kids this week wore "Rootin' for Mike" T-shirts - allowing them to play both sides of the Mike McCarthy-Mike Tomlin coaching coin. Spend a day or two here, and it becomes clear that McCarthy isn't just from Greenfield. He is of Greenfield.
"When people would ask you where you were from, instead of saying 'Pittsburgh,' you said, 'I'm from Greenfield,' " McCarthy said this week in Arlington, Tex., where he will coach the Packers against his hometown Steelers on Sunday evening. "There was such a pride, and it was such a tight-knit community. It's clearly a big part of who I am today."
This is not a phenomenon that was conjured up in the hours following the Steelers' victory in the AFC title game and the Packers beat Chicago for the NFC title. The dual allegiance to the Packers and Steelers took hold in 2006, when McCarthy became a head coach. The recreation room in the basement of Jim Gregg's home up the hill on Greenfield Avenue from St. Rosalia - where he has coached basketball for 40 years - is decorated the same year-round: wipe your feet on the Packers welcome mat before you take a seat at the table in front of a Steelers place setting.
"The town, it's pretty similar to when I grew up," said Gregg, now 59. "Lot of the same families. Everybody knows everybody. Close-knit neighborhood, very close-knit. Just the people, the people stay in this town. They don't leave the town. They love the town."
So even when McCarthy left, he came back. He went away to college at Baker University in Kansas, where he was a tight end, but one of his first coaching jobs was at the University of Pittsburgh.
His regular stops during that time - from 1989 to '92 - included Aiello's Pizza over in Squirrel Hill and the bar tucked around the corner from the base of Greenfield Avenue. The place, now known as Chasers in the Run, serves $1.35 drafts from 4 to 6 p.m. and the "Run Burger" comes not just with grilled onions and cheddar, but with a pierogi on top. It used to be Joe McCarthy's Bar and Grill, owned by McCarthy's father, and Mike and his brother were once responsible for breaking used beer bottles on Sunday mornings - after church, of course - in preparation for disposal.
On Thursday, with "Gunsmoke" reruns playing on the television and a "Luv Ya Black N' Gold" blanket hung on the wall, it was an oddly comfortable place for a visitor wearing Packers gear.