Even the most casual football fan knows that Pittsburgh is Steelers Country. The iconic team helps define the city and, regardless of its ups and downs, is among the NFL elite.
There will be ups and downs aplenty, as well as lateral G-forces, airtime and inversions – lots and lots of inversions – when Steel Curtain, the record-breaking, Steelers-inspired roller coaster opens at Kennywood, the amusement park just outside of Pittsburgh, in 2019. The highly anticipated ride will be part of a new football-focused land called, aptly enough, Steelers Country.
“We really wanted to make a splash with our next roller coaster,” says Nick Paradise, Kennywood‘s director of public relations, explaining the decision to forge a Steelers connection. “To our knowledge, this will be the first permanent [park land and ride] dedicated to a sports franchise.”
By partnering with the beloved hometown team, Steel Curtain (which is the name first bestowed upon the Steelers’ legendary defense in the 1970s) will undoubtedly make a huge splash. But the potent thrill machine will be scoring points in its own right.
It will stand 220 feet tall, making it Pennsylvania’s tallest coaster (and one of the tallest in the country). Interestingly, Phantom’s Revenge, another Kennywood coaster, is arguably taller. Although it only climbs 160 feet, it drops 228 feet into a ravine at the hilly park. Because of its longer drop and other factors, Phantom’s Revenge hits 85 mph, which is faster than Steel Curtain’s forecasted speed. But at 75 mph, the new ride will be plenty fast.
Steel Curtain’s most notable features (other than its tie-in with the Men of Steel) will be its inversions. It will send passengers racing head over heels nine separate times. That's more than any other coaster in North America. Among the elements that will throw passengers for a loop will be a banana roll, a “Top Gun” stall (in which riders will experience zero-G sensations while hanging upside down for a few interminable moments) and a corkscrew that, at 197 feet in the air, will be the world’s tallest inversion.
When Phantom’s Revenge first opened in 1991, it was known as Steel Phantom, and it included four loops. Over time, navigating the loops at such high speeds made for a dicey ride experience. In 2001, Kennywood removed the inversions and gave its headlining ride a new name along with a new lease on life.
“Steel Phantom was a thrilling ride, but it was also a pretty rough ride,” acknowledges Paradise. So why is Kennywood not only including inversions on its new high-speed hypercoaster, but doubling down by setting a record for the most inversions? The park spokesman says that ride engineering and technology have improved, and Steel Curtain should be considerably more comfortable than Steel Phantom. He adds that guests have been clamoring for an intense, inversion-filled coaster, and the new ride will fit the bill.
After Steel Curtain’s wobbly passengers regain their equilibrium, they could head over to the Steelers Experience, a building packed with drills and activities that will mimic an NFL training camp or scouting combine. There will be a "Run the Route" obstacle course, a “Touchdown Celebration,” in which fans can do their own end zone victory dance, and a facsimile of the entrance tunnel at Heinz Field that would allow guests to experience the roar of a Steelers crowd.
The new land will also include midway games (at least one of which will likely involve tossing a football) and a gift shop to load up on Steelers tchotchkes. The End Zone Café will offer game day goodies (pierogies, perhaps? or PeppeRooney pizza?), while the Tailgate Patio will serve up the kind of grub that fans chow down on in the stadium’s parking lot.
While the Steelers have tremendous cachet, Kennywood has been an area landmark for generations. Bringing the two together would appear to be a match made in Pittsburgh’s version of heaven. Dating back to 1898, the National Historic Landmark was founded by the Monongahela Street Railway Company and is one of a handful of the country’s remaining trolley parks. Among its historic rides are three wooden coasters – Thunderbolt, Racer and Jack Rabbit – all of which first began thrilling passengers in the 1920s.
Kennywood’s local audience would surely want to huddle with the Steelers. But might the tie-in be a double-edged sword for the park when it extends its marketing beyond Blitzburgh? Would folks from, say, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Cleveland or, heaven forbid, New England want to make the trek to ride a coaster decked out in the Steelers' signature black and gold colors?
“New England might be a tough sell,” Paradise says with a laugh. But the world-class coaster should be a draw regardless of fan loyalty. Besides, he adds, “As much as the land will celebrate the Steelers, it’ll also celebrate the game of football.” And that’s something that transcends rivalries.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pittsburgh Steelers-inspired roller coaster to open at Kennywood