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More than most, Steelers and Packers fans love their teams, even in Kentucky

Transplanted Wisconsinite Amanda Daus has a Packers-themed bedroom in her Lexington apartment that has a life-size cutout of former quarterback Brett Favre and a Packers light switch, football, calendar, blanket and framed art.
Transplanted Wisconsinite Amanda Daus has a Packers-themed bedroom in her Lexington apartment that has a life-size cutout of former quarterback Brett Favre and a Packers light switch, football, calendar, blanket and framed art.

They use words like birthright and obsession, because for fans of the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, football isn't just football.

"It's kind of like a religion," said Amanda Daus, who shares her bedroom with a life-size cardboard likeness of former Packers quarterback Brett Favre. "If you are a Packers fan, you are always a Packers fan."

Being a Steelers fan isn't a hobby; it's "a way of life in southwestern Pennsylvania," said Terry Burkhart, who grew up near Pittsburgh and now heads the Red Cross in Lexington. "It's part of your heritage," said Burkhart, who indoctrinates each of his grandchildren at birth with a Steelers onesie. "It's serious stuff."

It's so serious for Steelers fan Jim Wilkeson that he takes losing badly — very, very badly.

"I don't want to be talked to," said Wilkeson, who is in his third week of wearing Steelers gear to honor Sunday's Super Bowl XLV matchup, which brings together two of the most devoted fan bases in the NFL. "They've only lost one Super Bowl, and I was a wreck."

"It's like losing your dog," said Wilkeson, a Central Kentucky actor who won't audition for plays that will conflict with Steelers' games.

Packers and Steelers followers offer the same reasons for their admiration for the teams. They both praise the steadfast nature of the owners.

The Packers are owned by more than 100,000 shareholders, many of them ordinary fans. The Steelers are owned by the Rooney family, which has run the team since 1933. Fans see each team as blue collar in the best sense of the words — hard-working, no-nonsense and tough.

The Steelers owners "just run it the right way," said fan Mark Turner. "They don't put up with a lot stuff from their players."

"No one person is bigger than the team," said Burkhart, a fellow fan.

Because of the size of the city of Green Bay, which has a population about 100,000, players are held to a certain standard of behavior, said Rikki Starich, who lives in Lexington but grew up a block from the storied Lambeau Field. She learned to ride her bike and drive a car in the Lambeau parking lot. "There is not a lot of the partying and everything you see with other teams," said Starich, who says she talks to her mom back home non-stop during a game. Residents see the players pumping gas and going to Cracker Barrel. A lot of other NFL players "wouldn't last a week in Green Bay."

The level of devotion to the teams rivals the deeply held affection that Big Blue Nation has for the University of Kentucky Wildcats. And, as with the Cats, fans are spread out all over the country.

And they are intent on raising the next generation of fan.

Steelers fan Dave Manuel is making sure his son Bryson shares his passion. The toddler has an array of Steelers clothing, including a helmet, and he already swings his Terrible Towel, the cheering accessory of choice for Steelers fans, while his dad sings the team's fight song.

Manuel said he has had some trouble finding Steelers clothing in Georgetown, where he lives. But he found a woman in Pittsburgh through the Internet who shops for him and sends things his way.

"That's just the way Steelers fans are," Manuel said.

Home games for both teams have been sold out for decades, so seeing a game in person can be a challenge.

Fans find ways to watch the games on TV, sometimes going to extreme measures. While on vacation in Florida, Wilkeson agreed to go to Universal Studios with his family. But he also spent a good chunk of the day in a bar at the park, watching the Steelers. "That's how ridiculous it is," Wilkeson said of his devotion to the team. His prized gold Pittsburgh Steelers watch cost him more than his wife's engagement ring. (Fortunately, she also is a Steelers fan.)

Alicia Hart of Midway is one of the lucky ones who has been to a Packers game. She's from Wisconsin, and her great-uncle has season tickets. (Her brother, by the way, is one of the many team owners and keeps a slab of Lambeau turf in his freezer.)

The physical experience, she said, was miserable. It was freezing. People were packed together. The seats were like wooden benches at a high school game.

But, she said, she would love to go again.

The Super Bowl matchup, to be played in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is one for the history books, she said. The avid fans on both sides are going to make it just that much more fun.

"I think the whole thing that is going to make this such an interesting game," she said, is "the Steelers fans, they are just like the Packers fans."

Fanatical.

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