32 Fans, 32 Countries: Vanessa Hernandez, a Pittsburgh Steelers Fan in Colombia

32 Fans, 32 Countries is a look at the global reaches of the NFL. For this project we have attempted to interview 32 different fans of all 32 teams in 32 different countries all around the world (UK, Canada, and Mexico excluded). As readers will find, the paths to fandom are as varied as the cultures and customs of each country. Check back every day for a new profile. Next up: A Steelers fan in Colombia

By the time Vanessa Hernandez of Bogota, Colombia was eight years old, she and her cousins had to know why their uncle “had to watch” Steelers games over the holidays.

Hernandez’s uncle, who would visit from Pittsburgh, displayed an unwavering obsession that piqued her curiosity. Eventually she and her cousins took the plunge.

“Hey, can we watch the games with you? Can you explain it to us?” Ortiz recalls asking her uncle two decades ago.

Of course he was flattered and willing to describe any play, player or penalty, even if it meant missing a down or two.  Hernandez would soon be hooked.

Beyond her uncle’s influence, Hernandez was drawn to “American” football because she literally hadn’t seen anything like it before. Because soccer’s dominating presence in Colombia is at least as strong as the NFL’s in the United States, and for a much longer chuck of history, one element of the game really baffled Hernandez at first.

“I didn’t understand why they kept stopping the clock,” she says.

But after she grew used to the pacing of the NFL, Hernandez found the game enthralling. She told herself,  “Football is the sport I should be following instead of soccer.”

She also admits that the Steelers donning what Hernandez considers to be a “very cool name for a team” didn’t hurt her path to fandom. .

Now a 28-year-old assistant director for a humorous political show, which she describes as a “Colombian version of The Colbert Report,” Hernandez bleeds black and gold. She spends ample time throughout the weekdays scouring through ESPN.com, Foxsports.com, NFL.com and, of course, Steelers.com for all the latest news and analysis.

But it is Sundays in the fall when Hernandez’s true fandom is publicly on display in Bogota. After securing black tape under her eyes and tossing on her customized Steelers jersey, Hernandez heads to a local pub with three or four friends to root for her team (trying to ignore he fact that one of her close friends in attendance is a Ravens fan). Hernandez is so passionate about the Steelers that she also brings along a football to squeeze while screaming “go go go” at the television, with very much the same intensity as a bettor at the racetrack watching his or her horse power down the stretch.

In Colombia, Hernandez’s fandom, which she describes as “freakish,” is still the exception.

The NFL is still significantly less popular then soccer, and probably tennis and Major League Baseball, according to Hernandez. But she has noticed the Hard Rock Cafe, where her crew has convened for the past four Super Bowls, getting more crowded each season.  And in a modern method of gauging fan bases, Hernandez says the number of engaged, Colombian NFL fans on Twitter has grown exponentially.

But Colombia is still a soccer mecca and Hernandez often deals with naysaying friends.

“They don’t think the NFL is a real sport,” she says. “They just complain that the ball keeps stopping and it’s not exciting.

Ah, the good ole football vs. futbol debate rages on. At least Hernandez picked the right side.

Follow Vanessa Hernandez on Twitter.