Anyone who has been to Pittsburgh knows that the professional sports scene is...something peculiar. Sure, all teams have their devoted fan base and the less square sociologists have a field day theorizing as to why (when your industrial base is declining while you're being sold a Morning in America, of course you'll flock to a violent team-building organization bent on making you forget your troubles [for a modest fee!]). Still, there's something about Pittsburgh sports that's always seemed more or less unique.
Yeah, the sociologists might have a point. When the steel mills closed down and Pittsburghers had to create a diaspora across the nation looking for work, they brought with them that devotion--and it didn't hurt that the Steelers were in their prime, winning four Superbowls in a five-year period (and the Pirates winning a championship twice in a decade). Pittsburghers acted as highly effective evangelicals for the Steelers and the Pirates (and the fledgling Penguins, too, for that matter) all across the nation and, in many cases, the world.
Anyway, as with most franchises, the Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins all had their ups and downs. As with all things, of course, Pittsburgh had to be unique: the Pirates, once a proud and cherished team, had managed to go over two decades without having a winning season. Not just not making the playoffs, mind you--they failed to win more games than they lost for twenty consecutive years. There were plenty of excuses--the cocaine scandals of the 1980's, financials issues with the small media market, a series of horrible management decisions--but twenty years of failure was absolutely unprecedented in postwar professional sports.
Of course, this year was different, For the first time in recent memory, the Pirates made the playoffs.
A few years ago I implemented a graphic on the side of this blog called the Pittsburgh Pirates Care-O-Meter, a one-off joke that stuck around for a few months and periodically updated. I added it because, while there was a new coach in Clint Hurdle and so there may be some hope, it also had the very likely chance of just begin another huge disappointment for fans. So the Meter was supposed to gauge my level of interest in following the Pirates, and, sadly, spend most of its time at the bottom as it proved to be yet another dismal outing. I didn't repeat it simply because the joke got old, but this year I kind of wish I did just to see it hit the top row.
Once it was clear they were going to have a winning season, Pittsburgh was, of course, ecstatic. While there had always been a devoted fan base, it was anemic enough in recent years to cause consternation amongst the people paid to worry about such things. The owners seemed more interested in cashing the luxury tax check from the Yankees than fielding a decent club. Finally, years of patience, a new coach, and--not unimportantly--a dismal Steelers start made October exciting again for baseball fans. They dubbed it "Buctober," and even though they lost in the first round it was more than enough to showcase an entire new generation the magic of having a talented baseball team in PNC Park.
And just when that heartbreaker of a fifth game against St. Louis (ok, not so much a heartbreaker; it was a bad game for Pittsburgh) ended and hopes dashed, the Steelers finally win a game (against a decent team, no less). Ah, such is the volatile life of the sports fan.
Oh, and did we mention the Penguins are currently 4-1? Just thought I'd point that out.