Heinz Field was electric on Thursday night, fans more than fired up as the Steelers defeated the Tennessee Titans, 40-17, to remain in first place in the AFC.
There likely wasn't any who was as excited as Navy Senior Chief Officer Ralph Anderson, who is originally from Homestead, Pa.
Anderson was the team's ATI Honoree, and it was a bit of a special night for him. Anderson is retiring after 26 years in the Navy, and this served as an 'unofficial' retirement ceremony for him. And when he took the field, the fans gave him a reception and welcome he never could have imagined.
"That was…oh …very moving," said Chief Anderson, his voice still filled with emotion on Friday morning. "It was very moving. I am so blessed. Just to be in the tunnel at Heinz Field, and retire there at home, it was unbelievable. That was God's doing. It was truly a blessing to work with the Steelers and have this happen. As I was standing there waiting, it was something I couldn't have even dreamt of.
"And the reaction, I didn't realize Pittsburgh had so much love for the military and the veterans until planning for this. I was like wow, I get it. But it's a whole different understanding when you experience it. The Steelers treated me absolutely Class A.
"This is something I was most humbled by. To come home and be recognized and appreciated, it's more than I can put into words. We spend more time away from family because of our service, and we don't mind doing it. To know I was honored was one thing, but to do it with my family there was very humbling."
Anderson was joined on the field by his blood family, including his two brothers and his son Warren Anderson, as well as other family in the stands. He was also joined by his military family, and when he took the field they lined up to honor him in their dress whites, members of his elite unit, Special Warfare Group 10.
"I knew they would be there. I wasn't sure how it was going to really be like," said Chief Anderson. "But when I saw the formation, and preparing to come out, and then the smoke and lights, they told me to take my time coming out, this is your moment. I can't put it into words.
"My Terrible Towel I had with me for my entire career. I had it since my second year in the Navy. It's been to war zones, it's been everywhere I traveled. And I wanted to have it with me there."
Chief Anderson has operated in 21 countries, has been deployed nine times, and has participated in four major operations, including mobilizations in support of Desert Storm & Shield, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and New Dawn.
For all of his dedication and service, and as a part of the Steelers Salute to Service game, the team decided to take the manner in which they were honoring Chief Anderson one step further. Just when he thought the ceremony was over, former Steelers defensive lineman, and former Marine, John Banaszak came out of the tunnel and surprised him with a trip for four to Super Bowl LII. Chief Anderson's reaction was priceless.
"Let me try and get it in words," said Chief Anderson, who jumped for joy on the field and plans on taking his brother and son with him. "It was unbelievable. It was heart-stopping. This is something I don't think there are words to describe it….the gratefulness and indescribable joy is the best way to describe.
"I am hoping and praying the Steelers are there. Oh my God. Afterwards we were saying what if the Steelers go. I was joking and telling them if the Steelers go, you can plan my funeral service the next day because if they win, I am doing to die. That would be my life's testimony. That would be so incredible.
"I am just pinching myself and sending up thanks to God every second. I got up earlier this morning than expected thinking this has not happened. This is wow. This is something that is beyond any expectation that I had. This has been the most wonderful trip in my entire life. To do it with my family and son, wow."
Honoring Chief Anderson was part of the team's overall celebration of their Salute to Service game. It included honoring all branches of the military from pregame ceremonies, to halftime activities and an emotional dedication of a POW/MIA 'Chair of Honor.'
"The Steelers have always had a connection with the Armed Forces," said retired Four-Star General Michael Hayden, a Pittsburgh native and Steelers season ticket holder. "I can remember when I was in Guam in the early 1970s, I went down to what they call 'Invasion Beach' to sit there because I knew Dan Rooney's uncle was killed in the battle for Guam. The relationship of the Rooney family, the Steelers team, and the City of Pittsburgh with the Armed Forces has been constant. It's something I experienced my entire life."
General Hayden said he was pleased to see the team's Salute to Service video, which is a testament to how many players have family members who have, or continued to serve in the military.
"I am not surprised," said General Hayden. "I have watched the Steelers for a long time. Knowing the type of players the Steelers draft, and the quality of individuals that they have in the locker room, the character of the players, it doesn't surprise me so many of them come from military families and have those type of blood lines."