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  • I love Pittsburgh for expressions of fan love like this. I am truly living in a fan culture, where sports and music...and hair...are all brought together in bizarre collectible gear.

    Only in our region would a pastiche of a Led Zeppelin t-shirt be used to reference a local football team's drive to win a seventh Super Bowl ring -- and combine it with the hirsute features of a few key players (Troy "Head and Shoulders" Polamalu and Brett "Fear the Beard" Keisel) to make a statement. This is over-the-top fan apparel, because it makes absolutely no sense to anyone who doesn't avidly follow the Steelers or who was born in the last 12 years.

    Of course, such a person would be unthinkable in today's sports-and-music saturated pop culture -- but this is especially the case in our region, where the Steelers games are broadcast over the airwaves by WDVE -- a classic rock station which probably still plays "Kashmir" at least thrice a day. The Steelers, simply, rock.

    The t-shirt is ingenious. Sure its combination of references are self-evident to everyone in Pittsburgh and that's the charm of this t-shirt. Polamalu and Keisel are ICONS, and whether it's Troy's hair in TV commercials or Brett's beard shave for charity, many people will be familiar with their hairy fame. But it's also a very strange shirt. In, say, Lawrence, Kansas, or somewhere in the far reaches of Finland, I'm sure this shirt would only seem like some strange garb worn by some kind of nutty religious cult ... which in a sense, is precisely what it is.

    And it makes me wonder.

    One of the reasons this appeals to me so much is that when I saw it, I felt like I was thrown right back to the 1970s, when the Steelers AND Zeppelin had emerged as hugely popular icons. The return of the Pittsburgh Steelers as a sort of dynasty team -- marked by personality traits like excessive beards and crazy curls that DARE an opponent to tug them -- is but one expression of this cultural return to the strange days of the 70s. It's not just the re-popularization of "long hair." From movie remakes that keep rehashing the now canonical films of the 70sm to crises in the Middle East and all the economic struggles that we're facing worldwide, I often feel like I've been thrown back in the 1970s all over again by mass culture.

    Sometimes I like it. But I also am savvy enough to know that economic strife often makes us more nostalgic for a "better time" -- and sometimes we're manipulated by merchandise that appeals to that.

    But this is one for the fans, using that nostalgia to also highlight a contemporary novelty and channel the love for the sport into support for the team as we head into the playoff season. it's been a long time since we've rock-and-rolled like this, even if we have done it time and time again. And there's nothing wrong with remembering the laughter.

    Has anyone written the song to match the shirt yet? If not, I know they soon will ...

    And as we wind on down the road /
    headed right to the Super Bowl.
    There limps a player we all know /
    Who's injured but still wants to throw /
    'Til everything turns black-and-gold. /
    And if you play it very hard /
    The ring will come to you at last. /
    When ball is foot and foot is ball /
    To have some hair and let it grow....

    And they're grow-ow-ing a hair-air-way to seven.

    ***
    You can watch a local TV news story about this shirt online.
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