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Steelers Md. official unhappy with Steelers fans

Legislator calls game, visit to city 'frightening'

Thursday, January 24, 2002

By Jan Ackerman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It's unlikely that a high-ranking Maryland legislator will be touting Pittsburgh as a great place to visit anytime soon.

In fact, Thomas E. Dewberry, speaker pro tem of the Maryland House of Delegates, vows to never set foot in Steelers land again, not after the way he and his 16-year-old son were treated at Sunday's playoff game between Pittsburgh and the Baltimore Ravens.

"No experience in the world could have ever prepared my son and I for the horrific treatment we received from an overwhelming number of football fans in your city," an irritated Dewberry, who represents Baltimore County, wrote in a letter, on House of Delegates stationery, to Mayor Tom Murphy this week.

"Shortly after disembarking from our car, the so-called fans began harassing, embarrassing, abusing and intimidating us. ... They used disgusting and vile language that would have made even the most hardened sailor blush (or gag)," wrote Dewberry, who also faxed the letter to Steelers President Dan Rooney, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and the editors of newspapers in Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Such rowdy behavior was news to Nathan Harper, assistant chief of operations for the Pittsburgh police. He said fan behavior at Sunday's game was good, "a little bit milder than say, the Cleveland game."

"There were no arrests. The crowd went in orderly and went out orderly," said Harper, who had plainclothes officers stationed around Heinz Field and uniformed police on bridges and around town.

Steelers spokesman Ron Wahl termed Dewberry's experience "an isolated incident. We were told by all law enforcement officials that the fans were on excellent behavior."

After the Steelers beat the Ravens at Baltimore's PSINet Stadium last month, Wahl said, "We got several letters complimenting how well behaved our fans were."

And that was after Ravens' defensive lineman Tony Siragusa had challenged Steelers fans to follow him into the bathroom after the game.

Dewberry said Siragusa was only joking. But he doesn't agree with Wahl's assessment of Pittsburgh fans.

"People were getting into our faces, staring at us, provoking us," said Dewberry. "My son was absolutely frightened. It was a hopeless feeling to see fear in his face and know that I could do nothing about it."

Dewberry said he had been to playoff games in Baltimore and regular-season games in Washington, D.C., and Tampa, Fla., and had never seen such poor behavior.

Dewberry said in a telephone interview that he and his son, Steven, drove to Pittsburgh Saturday with William H. Cole IV, a legislator from Baltimore City, and Cole's father, William Cole Jr., and stayed at a hotel in Monroeville. After breakfast, they drove into the city, parked Downtown and walked across the Roberto Clemente Bridge to the stadium.

Wearing purple Ravens jackets, Dewberry and his party were harassed during their walk to Heinz Field, inside the stadium and on the return trip, "even after your team had pummeled the Ravens."

Harper said Dewberry should have reported the harassment to police.

Dewberry said he didn't see any police.

Driving back to Baltimore, Dewberry said he commiserated with other Ravens fans at a fast-food place in Breezewood.

"Everyone was exchanging stories of the same nature: How frightening the whole experience was," he said.

Murphy is at the Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C.,, but his spokesman, Craig Kwiecinski, said, "Pittsburgh is a wonderful and friendly city, and we hope he will consider returning in the future to enjoy Pittsburgh's true hospitality."

Dewberry said he wasn't looking for an apology. He said he wanted to tell Murphy, as one politician to another, that the NFL playoffs are "a time and opportunity when the whole country is focusing on your city."

"I know, in elected office, how hard we work to put a positive face on our community. I just wanted him to know that he somehow has to get across to some of these football fans that it was totally inappropriate behavior."

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