By BRAD KELLAR
It almost sounds like a mad scientist’s psychology experiment; take a bus filled with rabid Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers fans on their way to the Super Bowl, strand them on a frozen North Texas highway for several hours in the middle of the night and watch what happens.
As it turns out, they all got along great.
The “Super Bowl Unity Bus” was loaded with 18 Packers fans, who came all the way from Wisconsin, and 16 Steelers fans hailing from Pittsburgh. The two groups came together in Memphis Friday morning, according to tour bus owner George DeBolt.
“As far as I know, this is the only bus with both Super Bowl team supporters riding together,” DeBolt said.
From there, it was supposed to be about a six-to-seven hour trip into Greenville, where the charter was to stop for a reception at Landon’s Winery downtown before heading to their local headquarters, the Best Western Monica Royale Inn & Suites.
But the winter storm which hit the region Friday morning meant that the bus was able to make it to just east of Mount Pleasant on Interstate 30 by about 4 p.m., and then that was about it for a while.
Traffic on the ice-covered highway came to a standstill, as the bus fell in with hundreds of other vehicles waiting on sanding trucks and wreckers to clear the path.
“The last six hours was a little bit hairy,” noted Steelers fan Ed Morrissey. “It looked like a parking lot.”
Rather than arriving in Greenville during the early evening as planned, the bus didn’t make it to the hotel until almost 1:30 a.m. Saturday.
But the close quarters didn’t pit the two groups against each other. Instead, all of the fans said they enjoyed the experience.
Both parties regrouped in the hotel’s lobby Saturday morning for breakfast, team chants and photos before heading into the Metroplex for the day to take part in pre-game pep rallies and sight-seeing.
“We talked about our players, we talked about our teams,” said Packer backer Maxine Beach, who proudly wore her Green Bay Jersey and Super Bowl XLV ticket around her neck. “We had the most awesome bus driver and tour guide. They both did an amazing job under pressure.”
Not all of the fans came directly from the opposing teams’ home bases. Aaron Golding is a retired school teacher who lives in Los Angeles, but who grew up in Pittsburgh and who still has family there.
“When I heard about this bus ride, I couldn’t pass it up,” Golding said, adding he didn’t have a ticket to the game as of Saturday. “But I’m looking. Go Steelers!”
Lifelong Packer fan Wendy Smetana also didn’t get a ticket to the game, but she wasn’t going to let a little thing like that stop her from traveling to support her team.
“I waited 66 years to go to a Super Bowl,” Smetana said, before relating her intricate numerology-based theory on why the Packers are destined to win Sunday. “This was on my bucket list and I am going to have a great time!”
Kyra Nipar was dressed from head to toe in Steelers colors Saturday. She also wasn’t going to miss going to the Super Bowl, even if it meant leaving her newlywed husband back in Pittsburgh. Nipar said the pair were married in July, but that she was able to get only one ticket to the game. Even so, her husband understood and insisted she attend.
“I knew I married the right guy,” Nipar said.
Before their arrival, Milton Babb with the Greenville Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau sent the group materials promoting the city which will be their temporary home.
“I sent them our promotional materials which show fields of bluebonnets, green meadows and blue skies,” Babb said, although what the fans found on their arrival was anything but that idyllic scene. “But if they read the brochures, they will have seen one of our slogans: ‘Welcome to Greenville; it already feels like home.’ They just might not have known to take that literally in terms of weather.”
The fans were again scheduled to visit Landon’s Winery downtown upon their return to Greenville late Saturday night.
DeBolt praised the Best Western and general manager Mary Merritt for being able to handle a raucous crowd of football fans arriving in the early morning hours.
“This is the only hotel that could have hosted this bus,” DeBolt said.
Merritt found herself in the middle of the combined fans Saturday morning and was included in several of the photos destined for albums in Green Bay and Pittsburgh.
“You people are phenomenal,” Merritt said. “They are really loving each other.”