CHESTER - Jim Hayes was fond of saying that, as much as he loved the Pittsburgh Steelers, he'd rather watch the game on television than at Heinz Field.
"I've got the best seat in the house when I'm in front of my TV," he told his friend Rich Bowen, 50, of Chester.
Friends and family who attended calling hours for Hayes on Friday found him just that way. The way he wanted to be remembered; as an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
Hayes, 65, of Chester, died Wednesday after a three-year battle with throat cancer.
Rather than lying in repose in a casket, Hayes asked that, for the purposes of calling hours, his body be placed on his favorite recliner. Visitors to Arner Funeral Chapel on Friday saw Hayes sitting in the chair, holding a remote control and watching a Pittsburgh Steelers video on a flat-screen TV. He was covered with a Steelers comforter, wearing a Jerome Bettis jersey.
"It's very different from what the typical calling hours are like, but this is what his wishes were," said funeral director Anthony Bernardi. "If you knew Jim, you'd know this is what he wanted."
Hayes' sister, Sondra Allison, 70, of Hookstown, said her brother left no doubt about how he wanted to be remembered. "He had everything written down explicitly. We have done everything he asked," she said.
Bowen said Hayes' request, though unusual, is characteristic of his gregarious friend.
"It doesn't surprise me because I wouldn't expect anything else from Jim. I think it's awesome he's doing it this way," he said.
Watching Steelers games at the Chester Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6450 was a Sunday ritual for Hayes and Bowen, a Miami Dolphins fan. After Friday's calling hours, friends gathered at the VFW, where Hayes was a social member, to honor him.
"He had his own seat at the bar," Bowen said. "He always had a Steelers jersey on or something Steelers. He was always wearing his Steelers hat."
Allison, his younger sister, said Hayes probably got his love of the Steelers from their mother, the late Esther Hutton Reed. Although Allison never shared her brother's devotion for the Steelers, there were many other things she admired about him.
"He had a very kind heart, a very loving heart," she said. "He was a very well-liked person. No one was a stranger to Jim. He probably knew more people than 20 people combined."
Among his many friends were Chuck Hackett, owner of C. Hackett Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Newell, and his son, Chaz Hackett, dealership vice president.
For the last few years of his life, after he learned that he had throat cancer, Hayes lived next door to the younger Hackett, 29. Hayes worked at C. Hackett until earlier this year.
"Jim was the kind of guy (who) would do anything for anyone. I thought of him more as a brother than as a co-worker," he said.
Hackett said Hayes decorated his apartment in Steelers black and gold from ceiling to floor, filling it with his sizable collection of Steelers memorabilia - jerseys, including an autographed Rod Woodson jersey, bobbleheads, a Steelers toy train, mugs and more.
To watch a Steelers game with Hayes was to become immersed in the world of football fandom.
"You can't talk during a Steelers game," Hackett said. "He would cheer, shout, yell."
Even so, Hayes was never rude to fans of other teams, including Cleveland Browns fans, Bowen said.
"He wasn't the type of person to rub it into your face," he said. "I never heard him say a derogatory thing about another person's team."
Watching Super Bowl XLIII, in which Pittsburgh beat the Arizona Cardinals, with Hayes in 2009 was an emotional experience for Bowen.
"He said, 'This may be the last time I see the Steelers win a Super Bowl.' At the end of the game, he was actually in tears. That's how big a fan he was," Bowen said.
Hayes also was a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Allison said she wrestled with Hayes' decision about how his body would be displayed but, ultimately, had to comply with his wishes.
"I had a lot of heart-to-heart talks with myself," she said. "This is Jim, and this is what Jim wanted. So we decided this is what we would honor. He wanted his Steelers clothes on him because he was ready for a Steelers game."
Allison said her brother's sports memorabilia will be given away to friends, also according to his wishes. Although he didn't have a will, he wrote names on all the things he wanted to give away, she said.
Hayes' remains will be cremated.
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