If you were to make an electoral-style map showing the NFL allegiances in the state of Pennsylvania, the entire western portion would be an uninterrupted sea of Pittsburgh Steelers black and gold.
Well, almost an uninterrupted sea. About 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, a tiny renegade island of blue-and-red Giants fans sits smack dab in the middle of coal and steel country. Welcome to Homer City, hometown of Giants coach Ben McAdoo.
On most football Sundays, the 1,700 residents here cheer for both the Giants and the Steelers. This Sunday, however, things have gotten complicated: McAdoo’s Giants are playing Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers at Heinz Field.
In Homer City, they’ve dubbed the game Big Ben versus Our Ben, and it seems as if allegiances are pretty evenly divided, with some people remaining internally torn.
Angie Capone is one of the conflicted. The owner of Alba’s Bar and Grill says she plans to wear a James Harrison Steelers jersey and Giants logo gloves on Sunday just to cover all bases.
“You want to root for the Steelers, but you want to see Ben do great things in the NFL,” Capone said of McAdoo. “We have people come in and watch the Giants games all the time. I can’t say what’s going to happen this Sunday.”
One thing that’s happening is a good portion of Homer City is headed to Pittsburgh to cheer on the Steelers, the Giants or both. Mike Apjok, who went to high school with McAdoo and now owns a local transport company, has three buses headed to the game and estimates that another 50 or so fans will drive themselves and meet up at a Homer City tailgate. The party will feature a pig roast, turkey fry and plenty of people wearing Steelers and Giants colors.
“We don’t have any rules about who you have to cheer for,” Apjok said. “I’d say everybody going on this trip were born Steelers fans, but 99 percent of them will convert to Giants fans this Sunday. In Homer City, everybody kinda knows everybody. Ben’s family are super-nice people.”
McAdoo’s parents live in the house with the Giants flag flying outside across from Homer-Center Junior/Senior High School. McAdoo was a gritty, undersized defensive tackle on Homer-Center’s district champion football team and his wife, Toni, was a high school cheerleader whom he first met in elementary school.
The son and grandson of coal miners, McAdoo was the first in his family to earn a college degree, graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania summa cum laude in 2000. He went to school on an academic scholarship, living at home and commuting to the school six miles away.
Though McAdoo told the New York media that Sunday’s contest is “just another game,” he was more expansive in a conference call with writers from Pittsburgh, describing how growing up in Homer City made him the coach and person that he is today.
“It wasn’t a steel town, it was a coal town,” he said. “My father was a coal miner and I married the daughter of a coal miner. And, you know, you learn that blue-collar work ethic right away and it’s something that’s ingrained.”
So is loyalty, which is why so many in Homer City seem to be torn about whom to root for in the game. Do they support the team they’ve followed since birth? Or one of their own who has made it to the big time?
“Around here, you’re not open about saying you don’t want the Steelers to win,” said Mark Hilliard, a childhood friend of McAdoo’s. “This is Steelers country and the fans are diehard, but we always pull for Ben.”
McAdoo is arguably the most famous name from Indiana County. The word “arguably’’ is used here because there does seem to be some debate, given that Jimmy Stewart is from Indiana, Pennsylvania, and the town has a museum dedicated to him and holds an annual “It’s a Wonderful Life” parade.
“I would say Ben is equally famous, if not more,” Apjok said. “I am sure that most people in Indiana, Pennsylvania, couldn’t name one movie Jimmy Stewart was in. However, they can name a few players from the Giants and, most importantly, their head coach. We do have a Jimmy Stewart museum here, though maybe after a couple of New York Giants Super Bowl victories, Ben will have one here too.”
Spoken like a true Giants fan.
Jimmy Stewart once said, “I think one day you’ll find that you’re the hero you’ve been looking for.” Some heroes who hail from Homer City and neighboring towns in Indiana County, Pennsylvania:
Steve Demeter (1959-60 Tigers, Indians)
Ralph McConnaughey (1914 Indianapolis Hoosiers, Federal League)
Doug McNulty, 2008-09 Mets
Samuel Kier, “Grandfather of the American Oil Industry”
Ben McAdoo, Giants coach
Jim Nance, Patriots
John Buccigross, ESPN