The Steelers are back. Next stop Detroit.

Today was just like re-living the Terry Bradshaw days. The Broncos put up just enough fight to be interesting, but not heart stopping. Sundays back then were always interesting, and sometimes—like the game against the Colts last week--heart stopping.

It was the 70s and the Steelers ruled the NFL. Dallas was the enemy. We lived in Pittsburgh then. We live in Dallas now, and—sad to say—the Cowboys’ only enemy is Jerry Jones. Back then, though, on fall and winter Sundays, if we didn’t have tickets or the game was out of town, we either hosted or attended a day-long celebration of Steelers football that started with brunch; continued through a boozy, hor d’oeuvres and cheer-filled afternoon; and ended with early evening nightcaps that had us home by 10 p.m., tipsy, apologetic to the baby sitter, and—when the Steelers won—content and satisfied that all was right with the world.

In Dallas we have few opportunities to cheer on the Steelers (or the Cowboys for that matter). Unless Pittsburgh is playing Monday night, we don’t see much of our favorite team. Until the playoffs, that is. Watching the sixth-seeded team climb its way to a Super Bowl berth was like a trip back to the 70s, when swinging the Terrible Towel overhead was what Sundays were about.

Today, we initiated our two-year-old granddaughter Riley into the ritual. By the end of the first half we had her saying “Go Steelers” and swinging her Terrible Towel over her head, sort of. She was actually more interested in double (and triple) dipping in the dips that accompanied the potato and corn chips.

She already knows that for great football games, the food is a critical part. For this AFC Championship game, we had the requisite chips and dip, but unlike the old days, we skipped our traditional brunch and instead went with chili after the game. A 2 p.m. start time doesn’t lend itself to brunch.

But being the AFC Championship, we couldn’t have just any chili. This one needed Joe Cooper’s Chili.

Joe’s packs a heat that grows on you. When you first try it, you’ll follow your first bite with a sip of water (or red wine) and a mouthful of corn bread, wondering if you made it too hot. But with each bite, you’ll like it better and better. In fact, the second time you make it, you’ll add a bit more chili powder. It goes well with a heavy red wine, probably since its history is shrouded in the mists of alcohol.

Joe Cooper’s recipe came from my first boss at Rockwell International, Bill Van Dyke. Bill was one of the old hands from North American Aviation that made the trek to Pittsburgh when Rockwell Manufacturing bought North American Aviation back in the late 60s and turned a lot of Californians into Steeler fans.

Bill claimed that an old friend of his from Oklahoma developed this recipe. Who could doubt a boss who would periodically take his young staff out for lunch that could last well into the early hours of the evening? That was in the early 70s when a drink for lunch was de rigueur; two drinks the norm; and three drinks a guarantee that Bill would keep us away from our offices all afternoon.

The original recipe for Joe Cooper’s Chili is written as a narrative. Some excerpts worth are repeating and including in your technique:

“Meat should be good quality lean beef; preferably fore-quarter (chuck); I prefer neck meat (if you could get it off of a 3/5 year-old fat bull, it would be the best)…If you like bay flavor (it is good), 2 leaves 15/20 minutes at start…Too much suet in chili produces unpleasant back-fires…Don’t shy at the large amount of garlic. It is hard to use too much. As with onions, there is no regurgitancy from cooked garlic…Never cook beans with chili. If you want beans, cook them (pintos) separately, with no seasoning except salt…If you like tomato flavor, add ketchup at the table.”

Even if you’re not watching an NFL playoff game, this is one chili worth trying.

Joe Cooper’s Chil
For six generous or eight ample servings

3 pounds of lean beef preferably from a three- to five-year-old fat bull.
¼ cup olive oil
1 quart water (distilled or bottled if your tap water is off)
2 bay leaves
6 tablespoons chili powder
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons water
6 tablespoons corn meal

First: Cube the beef into ½ inch cubes or have the butcher coarsely grind it. Heat the olive oil in a six-quart pot until it is almost smoking. Add the meat and sear over high heat stirring constantly until gray, not browned.

Second: Add the quart of water and the bay leaves and cook at a simmer for one-and-a-half to two hours. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface. Remove the bay leaves after about 20 minutes. Add additional water as necessary to keep the meat covered.

Third: Add the other ingredients—except for the flour and cornmeal—and cook for 30 minutes more at a simmer. These ingredients will make a fairly hot chili. If you like it hotter, add more red pepper. Don’t use Tabasco or other pepper sauces.

Fourth: Mix the water and flour together in a shaker and stir into chili. Add corn meal a tablespoon at a time until it reaches a consistency you like. You can omit the flour and water and just use cornmeal (or vice versa) if you like.

And finally: Serve garnished with chopped onions and accompanied by a good full-bodied red wine. And don’t forget: chili is always better the next day.


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