According to OU enrollment records, over 12,000 of the university’s undergraduate enrollment are residents of Ohio. Many students, in turn, come to campus repping Ohio football pride. The only two Ohio teams from the National Football League are the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals. However, as students from the neighboring state of Pennsylvania, many of OU’s Pittsburgh Steelers fans still find ways to support their team.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
Many football fans cite their childhood families and hometowns as the reason that they support a certain team. For Chloe Maushart, her love for the Bengals came from her dad.
A senior studying integrated mathematics, Maushard said her family has had season tickets for Bengals games throughout her childhood. Some of her favorite memories are going to the first home game of each preseason with her dad and sister. She said her family would hang out in the shaded section of the arena and visit the pro shop for souvenirs.
“It was really just a fun way to get us together and get us going into the games before my parents felt we were old enough to be at the actual games,” Maushart said.
“As we’re tailgating, he goes ‘Chloe, if we win this game, you’re getting ‘Seat 2’ tattooed on you.’”-Chloe Maushart
Maushart said her dad has had season tickets in the same section for many years: Section 344, Row 7 in Seats 1, 2 and 3. Her dad would frequently split the tickets among family and friends, with their family friend Tom attending the most with them in her adult years.
She said Tom would often sit in Seat 2 of their section. During the 2021 season, each time he came to a game, the Bengals would lose. In hopes of better luck, Maushart and her dad moved Tom to the section’s third seat.
Confident in their decision, Tom made a deal with Maushart if the Bengals won the game.
“Tom is a massive jokester,” Maushart said. “As we’re tailgating, he goes ‘Chloe, if we win this game, you’re getting ‘Seat 2’ tattooed on you.’”
“As I got older, it took more of a role in my life because we would go to the games and go down to the tailgates,”-Bridget Burkett
Coincidentally, the Bengals had won the game. The following week, the Bengals won another home game with Tom in Seat 2 and Maushart in Seat 3.
A few days later, Maushart tattooed the section and seat number on the back of her neck.
Similar to Maushart, Bridget Burkett, a junior studying special education, has been an avid Cleveland Browns fan since her childhood. She said she had four older brothers and Sundays were spent watching the Browns games in her house.
“As I got older, it took more of a role in my life because we would go to the games and go down to the tailgates,” Burkett said.
Burkett said her family loved the team so much that her cousins and brothers purchased a bus and painted it orange, white and brown in support of the team.
“Every Sunday morning, we go down on the bus and tailgate in the (stadium) lot,” Burkett said.
After moving to Athens for college, Maushart said the community of Browns fans differed greatly from her hometown. She said many of her friends are either Browns or Bengals fans because many of them reside in Ohio.
“There's still a little bit of a disconnect,” Burkett said. “It’s just a football game to some people, but back home, if (the Browns) lost, your whole Sunday was ruined. The whole week was ruined.”-Bridget Burkett
She said she also believes many people root for the Bengals in Athens because it is the hometown of their quarterback, Joe Burrow.
“I have a lot of friends who are lifelong Bengals fans like I am, but there’s also a lot of bandwagon fans or people who are fans because Joe is from here, and it seems like a natural fit to root for his team,” Maushart said.
Maushart said, especially during the 2021 season, that she encouraged her friends to support the Bengals as they succeeded during the playoffs.
“I think it just helps because even (with) the bandwagon fans, it creates that camaraderie where you want to have that experience of excitement,” Maushart said.
For Burkett, she feels as though Browns fans are not as invested in the game on campus as residents in her hometown are.
“There's still a little bit of a disconnect,” Burkett said. “It’s just a football game to some people, but back home, if (the Browns) lost, your whole Sunday was ruined. The whole week was ruined.”
Fans Flock to the Bars
With rival fanbases come separate territories. Different NFL teams frequent different Court Street bars to watch the games. Student and local fans even “designate” bars to watch their teams’ games at.
For Bengals fans like Maushart, she said she would often go to Courtside Pizza, 85 N. Court St., and Cat’s Corner, 110 W. Union St., to watch the games. She said Courtside, specifically, had an “uplifting community” of Bengals fans who attended and supported their team.
“It was really awesome,” Maushart said. “It was surrounded with Bengals fans, even the bartenders. Even if they might not have been a big Bengals fan, everyone was there for the camaraderie.”
David Cornwell, owner of Courtside Pizza, said the bar and restaurant was previously considered a place for Browns fans because of many of its workers. However, it may have shifted because of the student fanbase.
He also said that Joe Burrow’s parents, Robin and Jim, have previously visited Courtside Pizza to give the bar a ball from a Bengals game. He said that might have also contributed to the shift.
Nevertheless, Cornwell said the fanbase in the establishment can shift based on the success of either team.
“We were packed for the Browns game (in) the playoffs,” Cornwell said. “If Cincinnati were in the playoffs and had success, we’d be full of Cincinnati fans.”
For Browns fans such as Burkett, she said she often goes to Stephen’s On Court, 66 N. Court St., and Cat’s Eye Saloon, 12 N. Court St., to watch the team. She said one of her best experiences was at Cat’s Eye Saloon, where they held a watch party for the 2024 playoff game versus the Houston Texans.
“It definitely felt more like I was at home because they had a little tailgate set-up of food and everyone was very welcoming,” Burkett said.
For Steelers fans, there is only one bar on campus that they might call home. Walking into Lucky’s Sports Tavern, 11 N. Court St., one will notice the Steelers’ season schedule hanging by the door. Memorabilia and other decorations are spread out across the bar, and you may even find a bartender wearing a jersey behind the counter.
Shawn Ritchie, one of the owners of Lucky’s, was surprised to hear that the bar was still considered a Steelers bar on campus. He said he has noticed fewer students from Pennsylvania attending OU and going to Lucky’s to watch the game.
“I grew up being a Steelers fan and my family is from that area, so (Lucky’s) just became a Steelers’ bar,” Ritchie said. “Now, those days are gone.”
Ritchie said the bar was previously considered to be a large Steelers bar and was even noted as one on Iron City Beer cans, a Pittsburgh brewing company.
Ritchie said he also feels as though fewer students go out to bars and restaurants on Court Street to watch games because of accessible technology.
“Anyone can watch every game from their house, so I just think the technology has transitioned away from actually going to a sports bar,” Ritchie said.
As the Steelers, Browns and Bengals have all lost their respective games in the playoff round of the NFL, students and residents alike look for new teams to support.
Maushart admitted she cannot root for the Baltimore Ravens in “good faith,” as they are the only team remaining in the AFC North division. Because she also dislikes the Kansas City Chiefs and the Detroit Lions, she said she is rooting for the San Francisco 49ers.
Cornwell and Burkett, on the other hand, said they support the Detroit Lions in the final playoff games.
“(The Lions’) fanbase is also similar to the Browns,” Burkett said. “(They are) very energetic, exciting and they’re just a good team to watch.”