Much like a congregation comes together at a place of worship, so do pro and college football fans at the modern-day sports bar.
Scan the crowd at Mulvaney's Bunker in West Toledo and you'll quickly discover where each fan's faith lies. From the Pittsburgh Steelers' black and gold to the Detroit Lions' Honolulu blue, they wear their Sunday best.
Fans adorning Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Dan Marino jerseys were huddled up before making their orders last Sunday.The waitress, wearing a Calvin Johnson jersey, was in on the fun.
A typical Toledo-area sports bar boasts dozens of HDTVs, and some even have 80-inch and 3-D models — the Bunker and Frogtown Johnnies, respectively — to lure the faithful to their pews.
The technology is nice, as well as the food and drink specials, but it's the fellowship the fans seek — and, of course, the football.
“It's the camaraderie of getting together,” said Steve Yarbrough last Sunday at Shawn's Irish Tavern in South Toledo.
Yarbrough of South Toledo is the president of the Northwest Ohio Browns Backers, who have been coming to Shawn's to watch the Cleveland Browns since the 2001 season.
One member of the Browns Backers, J.P. Pollauf of South Toledo, who like Yarbrough arrived at Shawn's early so he could get a seat with a clear view of the 72-inch TV in the back of the bar, has been with the group for 15 years.
“It's a good group of people,” said Pollauf, who likes the amount of games he can watch at one time in a sports bar. “You can see what Cincinnati does, what Baltimore does.”
The college crowd on Saturdays rivals its pro brethren.
“Saturdays and Sundays, it just explodes,” said Shawn's manager, Mike Shroyer, sporting a Chicago Bears cap behind the bar.
Shroyer was quick to point out the difference between the two crowds.
“NFL fans are more spread out,” he said. “We'll have everything in here from Raiders fans and even Cardinals fans. But on Saturdays it's Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Michigan.
“And the college fans are a little rowdier.”
A quick glance at the Sept. 11 sports section in The Blade revealed that there were 17 college football games available to watch all day long. And with just about everyone having an HDTV at home nowadays, why even go to a bar to watch the game?
“It's getting away, the atmosphere, the joy of tailgating sort of thing,” said Izzy Ortiz of West Toledo, who watched the Michigan-Notre Dame game last week at M.T. Loonies Pub & Grub in Temperance.
There's a good reason Ortiz roots for Michigan.
“I have to or I'd be sleeping in the garage,” he said, chuckling. “My wife [Celia] graduated from there.”
Celia, who has been married to Izzy for 19 years, said, “He might have been leaning toward Ohio State when I met him, but he saw the error in his ways.”
It's no secret fans in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan love their football, but for some, it just seems to be in their blood.
Take newlyweds Grant and Lauren Harrison of South Toledo — Grant decked out in his Bears jersey and cap, Lauren in her Steelers jersey at Shawn's — for example.
Grant wanted the wedding invitations to have a Bears and Steelers theme. Lauren vetoed that idea, but she surprised her groom with a football-themed cake, which had a groom dragging a bride from the Steelers' side of the field to the Bears'.
“We fight every football season,” Lauren said with a laugh.
Lauren says her whole family roots for the Steelers, so naturally, she does too.
Grant's roots, however, might go a little deeper.
“I was born on Super Bowl Sunday [in 1985],” he said. “The Bears won a year later, and I've been a fan ever since.”
The Bears, by the way, beat the Steelers last year.
“They only play [each other] every four years,” Lauren said, “so he's got bragging rights.”
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