Congratulations – Pittsburgh Has Already Won
by Ivan Cole
Usually, my writing is directed to Steeler Nation as a whole, but there is at least one way that the community can be partitioned. There are Pittsburgh fans, and then there are Steelers fans. The common denominator for these two groups is the allegiance and devotion to the Steelers.
Pittsburgh fans are most commonly natives, emigres and expats who are committed to the totality of the Pittsburgh sports culture. Beyond the football team, Steelers fans may be more eclectic, with loyalties that reflect the diversity of their backgrounds. It is a principle desire of a sports fan to realize a championship experience. Indeed, one of the key reasons for the existence of such a robust base of Steelers fans who are not tethered to geographic loyalty. This is based upon the past satisfaction of that desire, (Pittsburgh fans will stick with the team regardless of performance) and a reasonable expectation that it will be fulfilled again.
While the ambitions of Pittsburgh fans for the experience of winning a Lombardi Trophy in 2017 is no less than that of their Steelers-only brethren, they can be comforted by the fact that a championship has already been secured. I speak, of course, of the 2017 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
City of Champions
Pittsburgh is something of an isolated city relative to other municipalities that ring the coasts and borders of the country. Consequently, it may be difficult for Pittsburgh fans to fully appreciate both how fortunate and peculiar the city is in the realm of professional sports. In ranking U.S. cities by the number of sports championships garnered, Pittsburgh is in sixth place. The initial reaction might be ‘so what’? But dig deeper and it becomes much more interesting. Included among the five cities ranked ahead of Pittsburgh is New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The rankings are based on the outcomes of five major sports; Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, and Major League Soccer. NYC, Chi- town, and LA not only have teams in all five categories, but multiple teams in many. So, for example, since the rankings include the entire history of professional sports franchises, New York includes the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Giants, Mets and Yankees.
Thus New York, Chicago, and LA, along with the other top ranked cities, Boston and Detroit, have teams in at least four of the five categories. Pittsburgh is the only city with just three. So, when comparing with New York, in baseball it would be the Pirates vs. the Yankees, Dodgers, Giants and Mets. In hockey, a Penguins franchise which is much younger than that of the Rangers, not to mention the Islanders. And the Steelers, who were absolutely hapless in their first 40 years of existence, trail the Giants and the Jets by just two championships.
In fact, the great thing about Pittsburgh’s 16 championships is that 14 of them have occurred during my lifetime, and I’m not that old. This means that Pittsburgh’s Boomer through Millennial cohorts have enjoyed a cornucopia of championship celebrations over the course of 60 years. Five in the last dozen years alone, courtesy of the Steelers and Pens.
And that was topped in the 1970s, when the Steelers and Pirates combined for six, with the climax being 1979, when both teams reached the pinnacle. Willie Stargell and Terry Bradshaw shared Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year Award.
Even more peculiar, in a delightful sort of way, is the entanglements and collegiality of Pittsburgh’s teams, from the front offices through the player ranks. It is a phenomenon that seems more closely associated with what would come from one university’s sports program: Same team colors, shared fan base, players attend each other’s games.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and GM Kevin Colbert regularly drop in on Pirates spring training in Florida and address the team. Penguins center Nick Bonino brings the Stanley Cup to Steelers minicamp. (And Pirates and Steelers players, namely Gerrit Cole and Chris Boswell, get thrown out of Penguins games for overly enthusiastic partisanship. Yes, the Chris Boswell who appears to have ice water in his veins. Ed…) Someone please let me know in the comments section where else this happens.
The city is enjoying a golden age of superstars, Ben, Sid, Cutch. And that is only the tip of the Burgh, so to speak. Imagine Roberto, Franco and Mario kicking around at their peaks at the same time?
By comparison, I live in Washington. They have teams in all five categories, yet trail Pittsburgh by 16-11, and four of those championships are in-ahem-soccer. The last time they had a real victory parade (maybe they had one for soccer, but who would know) was when George Bush, the father, not the son, was President.
So if you are a Pittsburgh fan, you enter the summer with the Stanley Cup in your back pocket, a respectable Pirates team, and a Steelers squad that is (shhh!), healthy, for the time being, and loaded with up and coming young talent.
Some are bound to complain. There will always be swine that don’t comprehend pearls. If you met them in Heaven they would be complaining that the buffet has too many good choices and that it’s confusing. They are incapable of appreciating nice things. But years from now many will come to realize that these are the best of times.
Thanks so much to Ivan for this. I’ve been thinking along the same lines, but haven’t actually put pen to paper, or more accurately, fingers to keyboard. Or at least computer keyboard. I’ve been playing organ/horn recitals with my youngest son in France and England instead. But I’m heading back to the Burgh on Saturday, which, ironically, is substantially cooler at the moment than France, thank goodness, and full coverage, off-season style, will commence next week. Thanks to everyone for your patience!