In Pittsburgh, being a Steelers fan is like being weaned, or starting on solid foods; it’s just one of those things that happens. When I was growing up, the steel mills were still operating and there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot to keep people entertained. People turned to the Steelers for entertainment. They kind of seeped into everybody’s existence.
Did you ever tailgate?
Oh, definitely. My sister and brother-in-law still have season tickets and tailgate before every game. There’s such a big crowd, you can start at one end of the tables and walk for an hour, socializing and sampling on down the row. A lot of kielbasa, a lot of stuffed cabbages, certainly Italian sausages and Italian hoagies. Some people bring pastas, some bring pizzas and warm them up on the grill, some set up turkey fryers. They’ve gotten very creative.
Does the Ruta family have a signature tailgating dish?
No, but when I was a kid, if we were going to playoff games when it was really cold, our mother would send us off with a thermos of espresso mixed with a shot of whiskey. We’d sip that to warm us up. It wouldn’t get you tipsy, but it would just burn the whole way down.
If you could be any player on the current roster, who would you be?
I’d be Hines Ward. He’s always smiling, always giving a great effort, and he’s been there since he was a rookie.
What are your predictions for the team?
I’m pretty confident they’ll win their division. If they can get deep into the playoffs, it’ll be a great year.
Which matchup are you most excited about?
I’m excited about the Redskins-Steelers game, that’s in DC at FedEx Field. But boy, if the Steelers lose, I don’t know if I’ll hear the end of it. When I first started at the White House in the late 1970s, the executive chef, Henry Heller, was a huge Redskins fan. He would give it to me bad all the time. He was an old Swiss chef, too. He was 60, so you wouldn’t think he’d have that kind of competitive streak in him. Maybe if the Steelers win that one, I’ll call him up.
Heinz Ketchup: pro or con?
Heinz is the only one! Everybody knows not to buy anything else or bring anything else while I’m around.