Mike DeFabo: I’m thrilled to cover the Steelers … and make my grandmother proud

In her 85 years of wisdom, my Italian grandmother, Mommom, has developed three long-standing sports takes.

First: Former Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury ventures way too far out of his crease. Second: The Pirates always leave too many runners on base.

And finally: It’s time for Ed Bouchette to retire.

The first two need no explanation. But the third? Well, when I was coming up through journalism school at American University, my grandmother had this dream that I would one day cover the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Naturally, as a Latrobe, Pa., native who spent many summers watching the black and gold at Saint Vincent College, I aspired to write about my hometown team. But no one tried to speak it into existence more than Mommom, a sports-obsessed Western Pennsylvanian who has been known to watch Pitt football games on TV at her house in Greensburg … while listening to Indiana University of Pennsylvania games on the radio.

I explained to Mommom that journalism isn’t like most career paths. This is a competitive business with only a handful of writers at each outlet. I tried to put it into perspective by giving her an example.

“Look, you know Ed Bouchette,” I said.

Of course, she did. Mommom loved to read his coverage, not just because the Steelers are her favorite team, but also because of his background. My late grandfather was a professor at IUP. Bouchette graduated from IUP and began his career at the Indiana Evening Gazette, so he became the kind of person Mommom hoped to feed ravioli to one day.

“Bouchette, he’s an institution,” I continued. “He’s almost like a Supreme Court justice. Until he retires, the job is his.”

“Well then, it’s time for Ed Bouchette to retire,” she quipped back.

Sure enough, journalism has taken me on the long, winding road I anticipated. After graduating from college in 2012, I spent the last decade letting my career act as my compass.

Starting out, I applied for 100 jobs across the country (and got none of them) before finally taking my first leap of faith into the profession in Fairmont, W.Va. From there, I moved to Chicago to write high school sports features, Indiana to cover Purdue football and basketball, and Michigan State to follow the Spartans’ run to the Final Four. Finally, in 2019, I had the opportunity to return to Western Pennsylvania when I joined the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Each time I called Mommom to tell her I’d taken one half-step up the ladder, she’d be excited for me … at least for a minute or two. Then, she’d repeat her familiar refrain.

It’s time for Ed Bouchette to retire.

Well, it turns out Mommom finally got her wish. After a 50-plus-year, Hall of Fame career, Bouchette did in fact retire this spring.

GO DEEPER

Bouchette: Tales from almost 50 years covering the Steelers and more

And, after spending the last three years as a Penguins beat writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I’m thrilled to announce I’ll be joining The Athletic to cover the Steelers.

At the risk of sounding corny, in many ways, this is a dream job that means even more to my family than it does to me.

Like many who grew up in this area, the Steelers have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. It started at 5 years old, when my brother and I traded for every Neil O’Donnell card we could get our hands on … then ceremoniously ripped them up and flushed them down the toilet after the QB threw away Super Bowl XXX. My mother still tells the story of the time she held punter Josh Miller’s ice cream cone while he signed an autograph for us at training camp. And on Feb. 1, 2009, Santonio Holmes gave me one heck of a 19th birthday present.

As I transition into this new role, the lens through which I view the Steelers will evolve considerably. (I don’t think my editors would be too happy if I continue to spend pregame in the Gold Lot).

But when I’m writing and reporting, my background gives me a certain perspective. I understand that Pittsburgh sports fans aren’t like most. While in some parts of the country they consider a football jersey a Halloween costume, we just call that Tuesday at Giant Eagle.

So what can you expect from me? Hopefully some of you have read my work at the Post-Gazette and already know my voice and my style. For those who haven’t, I’m looking forward to providing a range of coverage. Sometimes, I’ll dive into the X’s and O’s to break down games in more detail. But the stories that really intrigue me — and the ones I can’t wait to explore The Athletic — are the in-depth features that illuminate something previously unknown or unseen about your favorite players, coaches and more.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter @MikeDeFabo and feel free to reach out to me via email at any time. I’ll do my best to be as responsive as possible … at least until someone’s grandmother starts calling for my job.

(Photo: Philip G. Pavely / USA Today)

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