PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — One could argue that the strongest thing about Pittsburgh is the connection shared between the Steelers and Steeler Nation, the countless fans who cheer on the team on through both triumph and defeat.
It’s just the Pittsburgh way.
Regardless of the disappointing playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, one man from Irwin has never been more proud to be a fan.
“I was very disappointed,” said 68-year-old Billy Gradischeck.
Despite the loss, the love that this season-ticket holder and life-long superfan has for the Steelers will never diminish.
“This man puts his whole heart, soul, energy into anything Steelers Nation,” said Zoey Bromwell, Gradischeck’s granddaughter.
Back in the 1990s, Gradischeck spent an entire summer painting a Steelers mural on the roof of his home.
“I spent all summer up there, probably five or six hours a day, painting it all with a hand brush,” he said.
“I got Bill Cowher to sign it, Art Rooney,” added Gradischeck.
But right now, amid an exhausting battle with stage four cancer in the liver and lungs, perhaps none of his favorite Steelers moments will ever match up to what happened Monday morning.
His granddaughter shared his cancer journey on social media, hoping the team he supports would cheer him on. And less than 24 hours later, some encouraging words were shared from some familiar names.
“Wishing you the best Pap! Keep fighting and stay strong…thanks for being a fan!!!” former Steelers punter Jeff Reed said in a Facebook comment.
“Hey brother I know it’s hard but your not in this alone,” former Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier said on Instagram.
“I know that he’s not always going to be here and if I can give him something special like this, I’m going to do it,” Bromwell said.
For Gradischeck, this was just the inspiration he needed to keep fighting.
The retired Army veteran and former volunteer firefighter told KDKA, “James Connor went through cancer. I’m sure it wasn’t the same type, but I wanna be like him. I want to come back and be healthy.”
The family plans on hanging the comments from the players on the wall near a framed picture of the mural.