Sunrise residents always brightened on Game Day

Publish Date:

Monday, September 10, 2007

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Steelers fans may age, but beating the Browns never gets old.

That was true in family rooms, taverns and everywhere Steelers fans gathered yesterday to cheer their team to a season-opening 34-7 victory over division rival Cleveland.

And it was equally true at the Sunrise Senior Living Center on Greentree Road in Green Tree, where almost two dozen "seasoned" Steelers fans congregated in the activities room.

Christine Buffkin, the activity and volunteer coordinator for the center, made sure that everything was perfect for the occasion, decking the room with black-and-gold streamers, balloons and banners.

"We love to decorate," she said. "The residents all help. We decorate the wheelchairs and everything."

Like any gathering of Steelers fans, there were pompoms, Terrible Towels, snacks and a big-screen television turned up nice and loud. There were some bottles of beer on ice, but most of the residents preferred a little wine or ginger ale.

The average age of the 80-plus residents at the assisted-living center is about 85, Ms. Buffkin said. The residents have their own units, where they can watch the games if they choose, but for special occasions such as playoffs or the season-opener, the atmosphere in the activities center is particularly festive.

"Sundays are popular days for families to visit, so some residents watch it in their rooms," Ms. Buffkin said. "But this is a big game, and we like to get them more involved. Even the people who don't like football come down for the snacks."

All the staff members at the center wore Steelers shirts, and Ms. Buffkin, sporting a foam Steel-Head girder on her head, filled the role of cheerleader. As game time approached, she turned on a stereo that boomed out pulse-pounding pep songs. It isn't every day you see octogenarians pumping their fists as the boom box urges them to "pump up the volume, pump up the volume."

The kickoff sparked a cheer, but there was some opening confusion: Some of the residents weren't used to seeing their Steelers in white uniforms.

And they aren't used to seeing them lose.

"If they're playing bad, I'm leaving," said Kathleen "Beans" Willner, 75, formerly of Beechview, who was wearing a gold pompom as a wig. "I don't watch them when they're playing bad."

It's a sentiment that makes the fans at the center much like those you'd find anywhere.

Long runs and hard hits prompt rousing cheers. Field goals don't generate much of a buzz. And sometimes, when the two teams are trading punts back and forth, attention wanders and a nap might be in order.

In other regards, however, it's very different. Rather than engage in bitter second-guessing and pontificating to each other, the residents at the center seemed to prefer listening to the television announcers.

Rose Bellon, 93, was comfortable in her seat when a late-arriving resident took the chair in front of her.

"Now I can't see," she grumbled as she moved over to the next chair. She turned to make sure she wasn't then blocking the view of Delores Jackson in the wheelchair behind her.

"You're fine," Ms. Jackson, 74, said, waving her pompom. "And if I can't see, I'll pop you on the head."

In some taverns, them might have been fightin' words, but in the activities room at the center, the remark resulted in laughter.

All around, it seemed like a great way to start the new season. The Steelers won and the residents had fun. As the clock expired, they struck up a chant of "Here we go, Steelers, here we go."

"But this is nothing," Ms. Buffkin said. "Wait until we bring in our Elvis impersonator. This room will be packed."

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