A story of how sports brings people together.
I grew up a few towns south of Washington, D.C.. As a sports fan, I would often get asked what team I root for. The answer was never a favorite of my D.C. sports fans friends. It was always Pittsburgh sports. My friends would often ask why and my answer was always easy. I was raised into it by my grandparents who lived just outside of the city itself. My father is also a fan of the teams, being that he is from there but my grandpa “Pappap” as we granddaughters coined him, was the biggest fan there was in my eyes. He knew it all. So I would always reply to my friends “my grandparents live there.” Last week was the first time I had to use past tense when I got asked that question. Past tense because six months ago my grandmother passed away and two weeks ago today, my grandpa went to join her.
It burns just to even type this out. But this story is to honor the beautiful thing that bonded us, so where do I begin?
It was 2008 when my passion for Pittsburgh sports really began to bloom. My grandpa would call me after every Steelers win and in return I would draw him cards filled with my renditions of the Steelers logo and our favorite players. He was always a fan of the school guys like Mean Joe Green or Franco Harris and my favorite was always the guy known for his locks, Troy Polamalu. In 2009 my grandpa took myself, my grandma, my dad, and my mom to the training camp that altered my life. I was a little girl with a TP43 jersey and a dream. A dream that did not come true but made me realize something entirely different later on in life. You see, I walked into that Steelers training camp confident I would get an autograph from my favorite player, instead I fell just a few feet short in line for that. However, I did get Brett Keisel’s autograph on my terrible towel and that made my father extremely happy as that was his favorite player at the time. So I did what any little girl would do when she does not get her favorite player's signature, I cried until they took me for ice cream. It worked by the way, I got a dilly bar from Dairy Queen.
As I grew older, my bond of Pittsburgh sports with my grandpa grew into something I realized would become my passion in life. This would be my career. Now if you would ask 2012 Delaney what league she would be most interested in she would say football. But then through my grandpa’s help, I discovered the sport that makes you wanna scream at the top of your lunges… hockey. And boy were my Pittsburgh Penguins the brightest bulb in the batch in my teenage years. My grandpa and I were on top of the world in 2016 and 2017 with how the Penguins were doing. I even bought my dad and I Penguins tickets for Christmas in 2017, on his credit card of course. Don’t tell him that. My only regret is that I never bought one for my grandpa too.
Pittsburgh sports made me realize my dreams were woven into the sports industry and that I had a vision for how I can make it in this industry. My grandpa was so proud and I likewise, was so proud to be the granddaughter that worked in the industry he was so impressed with.
So I went to a big football school and pursued a degree in sports. And by big football school, I mean the biggest there is, The University of Alabama. My cousins go to Texas A&M so my grandparents were just so happy to have that many more teams to root for.
Over the years my grandparents would send me news clippings from the paper when The Penguins would win and would send me emails updating me on all things Pittsburgh sports. After my Freshman year of college I actually worked briefly in Pittsburgh for the Pirates where I lived with my grandparents. I am so thankful I had that time. Looking back now, I never knew how important it was that I spent that summer there.
Now I bring you to my senior year of college, where just weeks before my college graduation, my grandma passed away. It was so hard on my family but especially my grandpa, as they had been married for over 60 years. He traveled across the country to see me walk across the stage. Simultaneously, as I was walking that stage at graduation, the Penguins were winning in the playoffs and it felt like perfect timing. Yes, I did watch from my phone during the ceremony… Anyways, the Penguins did not make it much further in their cup run but it felt like my grandpa needed that win that night specifically.
During the summer my grandpa grieved a lot. I would call him often to talk about sports and ask him how he was doing and he would always say “I’m hanging in there, taking it one day at a time.” We had my grandma’s service in August and he was doing better, he was lonely, but he was doing better. In October he had his 86th birthday. I asked him what he wanted, he told me a Penguins ball cap. I made sure I got him a good one and he made sure to tell me he wore it just about every day. We would talk on the phone often about how the Pittsburgh sports teams were not winning too many games and we would analyze the reasons for that. He made me love that city and those teams so much. He made me want to pursue this career. Pittsburgh was a home away from home for me. Not just because of the teams and the bond I felt but the love my grandparents passed to me and how they shared that love for the city with me.
I was planning to visit him for Christmas and surprise him by taking him to a Penguins game. He had never been. I never got to do that.
On November 7th I talked to him about a sewing kit I just sent him to fix a button on his shorts, The Penguins, The Steelers, and that was the last time I told him I loved him and he said those words back to me.
On November 8th he went to bed.
On November 9th he did not wake up.
Also, on November 9th The Pittsburgh Penguins beat The Washington Capitals 4-1 after a 7 game losing streak. Everything inside me tells me that was my grandpa’s sign to me.
As I sit here I am wondering what Pittsburgh is to me now. But at the same time I know it will never be past tense. Sports will always be ours.
Rest In Peace Ken & Esther Galbraith.
I’ll always be your Delaney Bug.
The last voicemail my Pappap ever left me.