Tri-City fans pack in for big game

Football fanatics across the nation -- especially diehard fans of the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers -- will be glued to their TVs today watching the two teams battle in Super Bowl XLV.

Ben Davis is among those who will be cheering on Pittsburgh as the Steelers attempt to win their seventh championship. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. The game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will be shown on Fox.

Davis has been a fan since the early 1970s, when the Steelers were a "terrible team," but their quarterback, Joe Gilliam, was one of the few black quarterbacks in the league.

His family also supports the Steelers, everyone except son-in-law Andrew Sanders, a self-proclaimed "crazed" Green Bay fan.

Sanders said his 2-year-old son, Jayden, loves Green Bay and will be cheering them on with him at Davis' Super Bowl party, but Jayden might have another idea.

When asked who was going to win the Super Bowl, Jayden raised both arms, closed his eyes and squealed "STEELERS!"

"That's because they brainwashed him," Sanders quickly said.

To be fair, Jayden does sometime give love to both teams by answering: "Green Bay Steelers."

Davis said the Steelers' defense will win the game for them, while Sanders said it will be a high-scoring game led by Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

"Aaron Rodgers is gonna turn Dallas into Mr. Roger's Neighborhood," Sanders said, adding that he's fine if he's the lone Packers fan in the house. "If I'm on my own ... I'll be the only happy one Monday."

Green Bay is bound to have a big cheering section in Washington because many Seahawks fans, still smarting from Seattle's 21-10 loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL, will root against the Steelers.

Steve Beckman, manager at Yoke's Fresh Market in Kennewick, said he's the No. 1 Packer fan in the Tri-Cities. He's been a fan since he was 10, watched his first game in 1968 and has attended at least one Green Bay game each year since 1996.

"Almost anybody who knows me would certainly ask me about the Packers," he said, noting that he's got a signed Packer helmet and piece of Lambeau Field turf.

Green Bay is the only community-owned major league professional sports team in the nation, and Beckman is part of that ownership group. He holds one share of Green Bay Packers stock.

He even had a flight booked to Texas this weekend, but his ticket source for today's game fell through, so he will be watching with friends in the Tri-Cities and is predicting a 35-24 Packers win.

But the Steelers' faithful seem to have a hold on the Tri-Cities. A large group of loyal fans fill a backroom at Jack-sons Sports Bar & Restaurant in Richland -- where a "This is Steelers Country" banner hangs -- to catch every game.

And that's just a small part of Tri-Citians who bleed black and gold.

Kennewick dentist Sean Mathews fits that category, and his status was on display Friday as he grilled "Steeler dogs" on the front steps of his Clearwater Avenue practice.

His office was decked out with black and gold balloons and banners, and his staff all donned Steelers jerseys -- regardless if they're really fans.

Mathews, who grew up in Kennewick, has been a Steelers fan since he was a kid and was influenced by friends whose fathers worked for Westinghouse, a former Hanford contractor based in Pittsburgh.

Mathews went to the University of Pittsburgh for dental school and admits that while the school had a great program, one of its selling points was that he would be close to his beloved team.

"Once you go to one game (at Heinz Field), you kind of feel like you're part of the family," he said. "They call it Steeler Nation for a reason."

Mathews met his wife, Renee, there; and his sons, Gavin, 5, and Tracen, 3, came home from the hospital wearing Steelers' booties and onesies.

"They don't have a choice," Renee said of the boys.

Mathews eats only Pittsburgh foods on game day -- he has had their favorite Pittsburgh pizzeria ship overnight unbaked pizzas to them on game day -- and drinks Pitt-brewed beer, she said.

About everyone at the tailgate party Friday was dressed in black and gold, except for Mathews' neighbor Steve McPeak, a Green Bay fan.

The two watch the games together and support each other's team -- McPeak even wears a Steeler jersey (purchased, of course, by Mathews) when he's not in Packers gear.

"We've only been talking about it (a Super Bowl matchup) for years," McPeak said. "The nice thing is we're civil to each other."

McPeak is predicting a 27-24 Green Bay win, while Mathews said he's "hoping" the Steelers will get their seventh Super Bowl ring.

"It will be a fourth-quarter decision. It will be close to the end," he said, not wanting to jinx his team.