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WARRENTON — Some come from Vancouver, others come from Portland, one routinely makes an hour drive from Seaside. Most make their way from a combination of places in between, but they all come for the same reason: to support and share their love for a football team based more than 2,600 miles away.
Since 1982, Steeler fans have been making a Sunday pilgrimage to Bubba’s Sports Bar, located at 78 E Harbor Street in Warrenton where they can gather, laugh and watch their coveted team ‘on the big screen.’ On a typical fall, football Sunday, dozens can be expected arriving as early as 9 a.m. The ages and demographic vary, but a shared passion for a team in black and gold is the common thread that binds them and brings them back each week.
Steelers bar is born
The bar didn’t begin with a “Yinzer,” an affectionate term reserved for people of Pittsburgh origin, but instead started with an Oregon native who became enamored with the team during the 70s amid a heyday run of three Super Bowls.
“This used to be a flower store at one time,” said owner Robert Fulton as he walked by the walls lined with Steeler memorabilia stretching through generations. Among the jersey, posters and pictures is an iconic image of Jack Ham, an almost hallow image in Steelers’ lore. A mix between a snarl and grimace looking back through a thick, black facemask has become the stiff upper lip mentality that endured in Pittsburgh fans following the collapse of the steel industry. While many had to move from the rust-belt to find new work, what remained ingrained what a passion and identity with the team that bore their identity, the Steelers. In turn, bars dedicated to the black and gold have risen across the country with the sprawl of their fans. Fulton first opened the bar in 1982, an idea that originated with his wife, Cheryl.
“We had Fultano’s Pizza for years and then she was the one that said ‘We should open a bar,’” Robert said. “I said ‘OK, if we do, we’re going to do a Steelers bar — I’m all for it — I’ve loved them since the ‘70s.” In 1984, two years after opening the bar, Fulton flew back to Pittsburgh for his first Steelers game and it galvanized his love for the team.
Friends and football
While bars aren’t typically known for being open during breakfast hours, the lights are on business is bustling at 9 a.m. on a typical fall Sunday. On game day, the bar is ground zero for fans clad in black and gold gathered together to watch the game. One man regularly makes an hour drive from Seaside to sit before two giant big screens in the back of the dim-lit bar. He had been coming ever since he heard a familiar jingle on the radio, one that ends with “Where the Steelers are always on the big screen.” A simple sentiment, it isn’t lost among fans who frequently find their favorite team is seldom seen because of a combination of coverage area and time zone differences on the west coast.
“I was driving a U-Haul on my way to moving down here when I heard about (the Steelers bar) on the radio,” said Jeff Mikesell, who was among the fans watching a game on Sunday, Dec. 11, versus Buffalo.
“I got home and said, ‘My god there’s a Steelers bar out here on the coast,”’ Mikesell said. Each Sunday during the season since, Mikesell makes an average 50-minute drive to watch his beloved team surrounded by friends that share the same passion.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m up here,” said Mikesell who was born and raised in Pittsburgh before moving to the west coast. Mikesell’s dedication isn’t unique as fans regularly travel to watch the game.
“We get fans that come down from Vancouver, Portland — all over,” Fulton said.
“It’s just amazing how many people show up at Bubba’s because they know it’s a Steeler bar.” Over time, the bar has gained acclaim and was even visited by Steeler royalty including the owners of the team, the Rooney family. Each year the Rooneys now invite Fulton and some friends back for a game and have affectionately dubbed them the “Oregon Boys.”