by Brian Hoffman
The first time Megan Buriak saw a live football game of any kind she was sitting in a club level box at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The next one she sees live will be the Super Bowl.
Megan was one of four family members who attended the Steelers home game with the Cincinnati Bengals on November 20. Also along were her two and a half year old son, Caulder, and her mother and father in law, Carol and Jim Buriak. They were guests of the Steelers and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, also known as TAPS.
Megan is the wife of the late Jimmy Buriak, a Salem High and Roanoke College graduate who was a naval Air Crewman 2nd Class and Rescue Swimmer stationed in San Diego, CA. Jimmy was part of a six-person crew in a Loosefoot 616 helicopter that went down off the California coast in August of 2021. He was just 31 at the time of his death.
A lifelong Steelers fan, Jimmy came by it honestly. His parents, Jim and Carol, grew up in Johnstown, PA and and are big Steelers fans. Jim came to Salem 40 years ago as a trainer at Roanoke College, and he liked it so much he stayed. After his retirement the college named the training facility in the school’s Cregger Center “The James Buriak Student-Athlete Training Clinic.”
When the TAPS people informed the Steelers of Jimmy’s love for their team they invited his widow, son and parents to attend the game against Bengals last Sunday. Although Megan didn’t grow up a Steelers fan, she heard plenty about them from her husband and in-laws.
“Every holiday Jimmy would buy her some kind of Steelers item,” said Jim. “I think she’s finally starting to become a Steelers fan.”
She should, because she was treated like royalty at the game. Before the kickoff she attended a gathering that featured a Military Band and lots of food. Then, Megan and Jim were invited down to the field for pregame warmups and a surprise she’ll never forget.
“Mason Rudoph (Steelers quarterback) came over to talk to us and presented Megan with two tickets to the Super Bowl,” said Jim. “It included flight, hotel and tickets, a total surprise.”
Megan will need the flight, because between now and February she’s moving from San Diego to Virginia Beach. That’s fine with Jim and Carol as now they’ll be a lot closer to their daughter-in-law and grandson. The Buriaks also have a daughter, Laura, who was married just this month in Savannah, GA.
While Jim has seen many football games at Acrisure Stadium, formerly Heinz Field, the game on November 20 was the first time Megan had ever been to a live game.
“Her high school didn’t have a football team and she’d never been to a live game before,” said Jim. “She watched games on TV but never live. Her first live game of any kind was a Steelers game and her second is going to be the Super Bowl!!”
The only thing that could have made the day better was if Jimmy had been with them and the Steelers had won the game. Cincinnati won a shootout, 37-30, on a cold and windy day in Pittsburgh.
“They lost but it was a good game,” said Jim. “We sat in the field box and that kept us warm, but watching a game from inside is so different. I like to be out there where you can hear the sounds and feel the air. That’s football.”
Megan never sat through a game in the cold and that won’t be the case for her second game, either, as it’s likely to be nice in Arizona in February. She won’t need her Pittsburgh hat, scarf, hoodie or whatever that she received over the years living with a family of Steelers fans.
CLIFFORD ENDS UVA CAREER
Instead of suiting up for the big Virginia Tech game last Saturday Glenvar High graduate Josh Clifford was at a funeral in Florida. It was the saddest possible way to end his college football career at the University of Virginia.
Josh was a standout wide receiver and defensive back for Glenvar while playing for his father, Kevin Clifford, and has been a member of the Cavalier football program for the past five years. He didn’t appear in a game his first two seasons but in 2020 he appeared in four games and in ’21 he got on the field in two, earning a scholarship after starting his college career as a preferred walk-on. This year, under a new coach, he was starting to see some real playing time when the season was suddenly stopped due to the shooting on campus that took the lives of three of his teammates. You know about it by now, there’s no use going into details.
Kevin and wife Dede were planning to be on the field for “Senior Day” the week of the shooting for the game with Coastal Carolina that was cancelled. The Tech game, a week later, was up in the air but when funerals for two of the deceased players were scheduled for last weekend there was no reason to play the game, nor should there be.
Kevin and Dede were able to attend most of Josh’s games during his college career despite Friday night Highlander games just about every week of the fall season. It’s sad the games Josh will likely remember most are the ones he didn’t get to play in, and that goes for everyone on the UVA team as they struggle to deal with this senseless tragedy.
When something like this happens it really hits home that football is just a game.