NILES - When Pat Sandella's health started to deteriorate in 1983, her son, Kevin, had an idea to keep her mind off of the pain - follow the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Ashtabula native was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and now suffers through more than that - osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and diabetes. In order to help Pat, Kevin, a security guard at the Ashtabula County Medical Center and a part-time worker for the police department in Ashtabula, suggested that she watch the games with him on television.
"My son is the biggest Steelers fan there is," Pat said. "My son was the one who got me in with the Steelers when I got sick. He said, 'Mom, you need to focus on something. Start watching the games with me.' That's what got me going on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tribune Chronicle / Matt Wagner
Jack Lambert holds a jersey and shakes hands with Pat Sandella, 62, of Ashtabula on Saturday at the Eastwood Mall.
"When I get down, he gives me a story about one of the Steelers and tells me, 'You got to hang tough, Mom.' "
This was the message that Pat received from former Steeler and 1990 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Jack Lambert when he signed autographs at the Eastwood Mall Center Court on Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. Lambert signed a jersey that Pat brought with her and wrote on it, "Hang in there."
That wasn't all that Lambert did for the 62 year old. Pat couldn't get up to the stage where Lambert was, forced to sit in a wheelchair in front while her husband got the autograph and spoke to Lambert. After signing the jersey, the 1974 Kent State graduate walked off the stage, shook Pat's hand, gave her a hug and kissed her on the cheek.
It was a nice gesture from a man many consider to be one of the toughest players during his time and perhaps ever in the National Football League
"Super special," Sandella said of the kiss. "My son's not even going to believe it. Worth all the pain."
Sandella is one of the many individuals who came to get that autograph from the Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker, known for missing his four front teeth that became an iconic picture of the vaunted Steel Curtain defense during the 1970s.
Lambert declined to speak to local media, but his promotors said they were happy with the turnout.
"It was a real good turnout," said Rob Hatch, one of the promotors of the event. "I think some people were shocked by the price, but at the same time, they're getting what they paid for. He spends the time with them, he's letting them take the pictures, so it was good in that respect. People seemed to be happy coming off the stage."
A couple of those happy individuals were Arlene Bieda, originally of Sharon, Pa., and Darlene Treharn of Howland, 48. The mother-daughter pair are big Steelers fans and were delighted when they walked off the stage.
"I grew up watching him," Treharn said. "Picture of him sitting on his helmet with the towel over his head with his teeth out, that's what I grew up with. That was Sundays at our house."
Bieda flew into town from Texas, where she now lives, to complete a task she set out to accomplish a long time ago. For Mother's Day in 1980, Bieda received "The Pittsburgh Steelers: A Pictorial History" by Pat Livingston, and she since tried to get every Steeler who played on all four Super Bowl teams in that 1970s to sign in the book.
Lambert was the last signature she needed to retire the old, tattered book from long journeys to get the elusive autographs of past Steelers greats.
"When L.C. Greenwood signed it at the Southern Park Mall, he said, 'Where did you get that picture?' " Bieda said. "He looked through the book. I walked away, and two boys followed us and said, 'I have a pickup truck. I'll trade you for that book.'
"I wouldn't leave this book with anybody."