Search the parking lot at the junction of Reedsdale Street and Casino Drive near the Pittsburgh Sports Works and you’ll soon be met with the rowdy, boisterous cheers of The Hellgaters. But don’t let their menacing name intimidate you. For more than 40 years, this tailgating group has maintained their reputation as the most loyal fan organization of the Pittsburgh Steelers, embracing local and out-of-town tailgaters with their authentic, inclusive Pittsburgh hospitality for which the city has become known.
This feistiness, combined with their hardcore devotion to the black and gold, only adds to The Hellgaters’ allure. Since their earliest game days in the 1970s, The Hellgaters have grown into a tight-knit group of seven core members that drink, play games, grill and cheer alongside nearly 50 other tailgaters who join their tailgating parties at every Steelers home game. The group is comprised of Mike “The Chef” Ginsburg and his wife April, Sue Roberts, Nick “Amish” Roberts, Marty “Evil Marty” Fuchs and the biggest Canadian Steelers fan Elvis Migotto and his wife Patty.
April Bilinski (Photo Credit: The Hellgaters)
For many of these tailgaters, like April, their induction into The Hellgaters has been more than 30 years in the making. April’s parents, along with several other diehard season-ticket-holder Steelers fans, formed The Hellgaters’ original group in the 1970s, bringing their hell-raising style of tailgating to the former Three Rivers Stadium. In more recent years, April took over their tailgating traditions at Heinz Field. She admits that, unlike most fans who claim to be born a Steelers fan, April truly was a Steelers fan since birth. April Lynn, named after her mother’s favorite Steelers player Lynn Swann, witnessed the Steelers’ 1979 Superbowl win at just one day old and has had black and gold pumping through her veins ever since.
Marty is among the more veteran Hellgaters. He had his first tailgating experience with The Hellgaters back in 1986, during a Steelers away game against the Buffalo Bills. It was here that he met Hellgater Jim Botti, who introduced him to The Hellgaters shenanigans, which he has passed on to his sister Sue, a Hellgater since 2006, and her son Nick, who joined the group in 2001.
Elvis Migotto (Photo Credit: The Hellgaters)
But perhaps the most devoted of all The Hellgaters is Elvis, who comes to the group all the way from Ontario, Canada. Elvis has been making the nearly 400-mile trek to Pittsburgh since 1976. But it wasn’t until 1991, after The Hellgaters heisted his cooler of Canadian beer from the bed of his pickup truck parked in the Clark Building lot, that the group invited him to enjoy a few cold ones across the street at The Hellgaters’ tailgate. From that day forward, Elvis has been an honorary Pittsburgher, spending many afternoons tailgating at Heinz Field.
So the next time you’re at a Steelers home game, give a shout to The Hellgaters. They’re hard to miss. Just listen for their iconic Steelers rally songs that include lyrics like, “We’ll tailgate til 6 a.m. When the sun comes up, we’ll tailgate again!” That sums up what this super fan group is all about: good ol’ fashioned tailgating fun.
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Jessica Wasik lives in Pittsburgh where she works as a full-time figure skating coach, sharing her passion with today’s generation of young skaters. A graduate of Robert Morris University with a degree in English Studies, Jessica is also a contributing writer for Allegheny West Magazine. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.