PUNXSUTAWNEY — Do you know how many touchdown passes Ben Roethlisberger threw in the AFC championship game against Baltimore, Jan. 18, 2009, off the top of your head? Well, local Pittsburgh Steelers trivia expert Mike Stello and several of his competitors know, and can recall the information in a lightning-quick manner.
Stello has competed in the McDonald's Steelers Trivia Challenge four different times, with his three-person teams having been selected from hundreds of participants each year.
The event is sponsored by McDonald's and hosted by KDKA sports personality Bob Pompiani. The tournament is taped over one weekend in May, and they pick 18 of the three-person teams to compete.
The 18 teams compete all day Saturday in six different first-round matches, with the winner of each advancing to Sunday's semi-finals. The two semi-final winners advance, and the third wild-card spot is offered to the highest scoring of the four semi-final losers.
This year, KDKA is airing the challenge each Saturday night at 11:30 p.m., immediately following the news. Last week was the first week that the Challenge appeared on KDKA. Stello's team this year was called Punxsutawney Polamalu.
"The first two years I did this, we were called the Ground Chuck Noll Hogs," Stello said. "But the last two years, we switched it, and it's been Punxsutawney Polamalu."
Punxsutawney Polamalu's first-round match will air tonight at 11:30 p.m. on KDKA.
Stello has come close to tasting victory in the past on the Challenge, finishing second in the finals his first two years competing. In his second year, it came down to the last question.
"It came right down to the last question," he said. "We were down 10 points, and the final round questions are worth 20, so if we would have gotten it right, we would have won."
In his third competition, last year, Stello's team again made it to the semi-final and finished fifth.
Stello returned to this year's competition with new teammates, something he's getting used to.
"I've been on this four years and had four different teams, believe it or not, due to scheduling problems and things like that," he said.
This year, Stello's teammates were Bob Long, who Stello said many Punxsy folks may recognize as the FedEx guy, and Nick Digilarmo. "Bob is really, really knowledgable about the Steelers' history, and Nick knew a lot of the newer stuff, so we made a pretty good team," Stello said.
Each round of the Trivia Challenge runs by the same format: Five rounds, with points being awarded for correct answers and taken away for incorrect ones.
The first round is 10 questions worth 10 points each, and is a race against the other teams. The third round is similar to the first, except it is a picture trivia round, and the fifth, and final, round is the same format, except the ante is upped to 20 points each question.
The second and fourth rounds are 10 questions each, as well, but each team gets 10 questions and doesn't have to compete against the other teams in the speed-round fashion.
Members of the winning team are not permitted to compete in future Trivia Challenges.
Asked what sparked his interest with the Steelers' trivia challenge, Stello said that he's always liked trivia of all sorts.
"I like this type of thing," he said. "I've passed the 'Jeopardy!' test twice out in California, but I haven't been called yet. I've been in a lot of these contests, and there's a lot of speed involved. Plus, I absolutely love the Steelers."
One may think that preparing for something like 'Jeopardy!' would be more difficult because of the vast amount of categories, but the smaller sample size also means the questions are much more specific.
"You have to know everything all the way back to the inception of the Steelers, in 1933," Stello said. "In a way, it's harder than the 'Jeopardy!' audition was."
All three team members were thrilled to be chosen as one team among hundreds to participate.
"Our team was thrown together so rapidly that Mike and Nick didn't even know each other," Long said. "But, we were training really hard, and we had the time of our lives. It was a first time experience for Nick and I, and we still talk about what a good time we had."
Check out Punxsutawney Polamalu on KDKA tonight at 11:30 p.m. If the team wins, its next televised game will be Aug. 27 after the other four first-round matches air. The finals will air Sept. 10.