PITTSBURGH — This is not the town Michael Waterson described in his poem, “The h in Pittsburgh.” Not by a long shot.
Looking down the Ohio River toward the steel factories that once lined the city, Kansas State basketball fans in town for Thursday’s NCAA Tournament game against Southern Mississippi won’t see what Pittsburgh native Waterson, the poet laureate for Napa County (Calif.), described as “hell with the lid off” — factory smokestacks churning out smog.
Instead, they’ll get to enjoy a city with a revitalized downtown, a gorgeous skyline revealed as they exit the Fort Pitt tunnel and, most importantly, world-famous sandwiches from Primanti Brothers — grilled meat, vinegar cole slaw, tomato slices and French fries stuffed between two pieces of bread.
There are no more steel mills in Pittsburgh. But this town loves sports, and this week the NCAA Tournament is the main show.
“(Pittsburgh) has been great, we’re really impressed with the whole setup,” K-State senior associate athletic director Casey Scott said. “Where we’re staying is right next to the arena and downtown, so there’s a lot to do.”
The Wildcats tip off against Southern Mississippi on TruTv (Cox Channel 64) at 11:40 a.m. Tickets to the East Regional game at the 19,000-seat Consol Energy Center are sold out. The arena, opened in August 2010, is home to the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kansas State took its allotted 350 tickets but didn’t use the extra 200 the NCAA made available — tickets eagerly scooped up by Ohio State and West Virginia fans, two teams with large regional ties.
“This location is kind of out of the way for most of our fan base,” said K-State assistant athletic director Scott Garrett, who’s in charge of ticketing and fan experience. “But we’ve had several regional alumni buy tickets in the last couple of days.”
Some of those alums were at the Wildcats’ practice session on Wednesday.
Wichita native and K-State graduate Mary Alice Chaffin came with her son, Owen, 7, and her mother, Sondra Hodgson, also a K-State grad.
Chaffin and her family moved to Pittsburgh four years ago.
“We didn’t get home in time for the start of the selection show, but when we turned it on we saw the ticker going across the bottom of the screen,” Chaffin said. “And when we saw Kansas State was going to be in Pittsburgh we just started screaming. We were ecstatic.”
Owen held up a sign at the practice session that said “I want to play for Frank” in reference to K-State coach Frank Martin. Martin saw the sign, raised up both hands, walked off the court, signed autographs and talked to Owen.
“Everyone in our family has gone to K-State,” Chaffin said. “My great-grandfather, Ned Hodgson, was class of 1905. I went there, my husband went there … my kid better go there. We’re a K-State family, that’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way it will always be.”