Packers 31, Steelers 25: Local fans ride game roller coaster

MANATEE -- There are at least two periods in their lives when humans believe they can actually exert influence on a program they are watching on a television.

One is usually when they are 3.

The other is when they become fiercely fanatical, passionately loyal, stubbornly diehard, and exuberantly loud supporters of an athletic team.

Sunday night, fully grown Green Bay Packer and Pittsburgh Steeler fans at two different establishments jumped up and down, built human pyramids, drank concoctions filled with Jell-O and vodka, painted their heads and faces, wore shirts with someone else’s name on them and cheered trying to impact the images on the screens before them.

In the end, the Packer fans came away happy and relieved and the Steeler fans vowed to help their team win next year.

But, according to Sue Shinka, manager of The Bridge Tender Inn, a Packer bar in Bradenton Beach, and Angie Voss, owner of Fanatics, a Steeler bar on Cortez Road, all the fans won because they will never forget the experience.

“Until I came here 14 years ago I didn’t know what a Packer fan was,” Shinka said after Green Bay had gone up 14-3. “Now I know. They are exuberant, loud, die-hard, totally dedicated.”

The Bridge Tender’s top Packer fans may be Len and Eileen Czecholinski of Northwest Bradenton, married 48 years.

“Len married me because I had Packer season tickets,” said a nearly hoarse Eileen at the end of the first quarter in the wildly loud tavern.

Carrie Bertrand wore a yellow Packer golf hat and a Packer T-shirt. She’s from DePere, Wis.

“In Wisconsin, our national news is Packer news,” Bertrand said. “We bleed green and gold.”

Over on Cortez Road, Fanatics also had a Super couple -- Charlie and Belinda Walters.

Charlie’s family, which started American Torch Tip, maker of cutting and welding tips for the steel industry, have been Steeler fans for generations.

“Charlie can’t sit during a game,” said Belinda, whose two daughters, Britney, 10, and Samantha, 9, were allowed by their babysitter to call their parents every half hour to get a game update.

“I would say there are no more loyal fans in the world than Steeler fans,” said Belinda Walters.

Charlie Walters and the rest of the Steeler fans went through torture in the first half, screaming at the images on the screen until they were hoarse. But they gave each other looks like, “We know we will come back.”

And, of course, they did, nearly making up the early deficit.

“I’m a die-hard Steeler fan and this hurts,” said Al Kaufman, who proudly wore his Steeler jersey and held his head high.

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