Pittsburgh might be a tough city to hate. The U.S. steel industry is dying a slow death, and so is the city itself. But even that is little joy for me. It gets not even a little reprieve from my hatred. Pittsburgh has seemingly time and time again ruined whatever sport I was watching at the time. The little victory joys for me as a fan seem to be far too spread out.
I am happy the Isles are going to be playing Pittsburgh in the 2013 playoffs. The Penguins have never beaten the Islanders in the playoffs, and I have a suspicion that they will be Sidney Crosby-less for this first round series. The Pens have also struggled getting out of the first round in two of the last three years, losing the opening series to the Flyers and Lightning in recent years. Even the year they got out of the first round, the Senators gave them a huge scare.
But before I start ranting, let me get into my history with Pittsburgh teams. It seems as though early on in my growing appreciation for sports, a Pittsburgh team has always been there in ways to make it worse. I actually didn't start watching sports other then baseball till I was 10-11. The strike (along with being a Mets fan) killed whatever love of baseball I had left. Speaking of the Mets, that's a good spot to start.
I Hate The Pittsburgh Pirates
I don't care that they've been out of the playoffs for 20+ years. Or that they play in a beautiful stadium which no one goes to. Or that the Pirates and Royals are perfect examples of how the MLB fails so badly at parity. I would watch baseball nightly in the late '80s and early '90s. Two seasons before the Mets became the worst team money could buy, they were fighting with the Pirates for first.
The Mets won 6 of 7 to begin April and were within 3 games of the Pirates, with a 3 game series looming with them to finish the season. All the Mets had to do was win one of two remaining games with the Cubs to pull within 3 games. The Cubs were one of the worst teams in the league, so of course the Mets drop both games to the Cubs. I should mention that both games were one-run losses. Sure the Mets didn't sweep the Pirates to finish the season, but they won 2 of 3 games.
The next season the bottom fell out of the team, so the decision was made to bring in some star power with big contracts. That star power? Bobby Bonilla, formerly of the Pirates. Here's a surprise: Without Barry Bonds batting behind him, Bonilla was totally exposed on the Mets. Eventually he was traded as the Mets just had to get rid of him.
He was then signed by the Marlins to a ridiculous contract during one of the seasons they decided to actually be competitive. He proceeded to get one of the most worthless World Series rings this side of Jose Canseco (who has one for his stint with the Yankees) and then was firesaled because Marlins. The Mets decided to pick him up again, only to realize they had traded for Bobby Bonilla.
While the Mets were being eliminated in Game 6 of the NLCS, Bonilla and Rickey Henderson decided this was an excellent time to play cards. Releasing Bonilla following the season, they setup a deal with him in which he is currently getting paid $1.9 million dollars until 2035. So just in case you thought that Rick DiPietro contract was bad, the Mets traded for a player they knew was a cancer and awful, proceeded to buy him out and are still paying the 50-year old.
All of this because Bonilla had insanely overinflated numbers due to his time with the Pirates. If I was more into baseball advanced stats, I'm sure I could do a better job of showing you how overinflated Bonilla's Pirates stats were, but I trust Garik will in the comments below.
I Hate The Pittsburgh Steelers
I know what you must be thinking, the Steelers aren't really a rival of the Jets or the Giants. At least the Pirates play in the NL East. But when I got into football, the Jets tended to suck. So when the playoffs would come around I would cheer for other teams. One of those teams were the 1995 Indianapolis Colts led by Jim Harbaugh. They barely made it into the playoffs and went on a run. They defeated the defending AFC Champ Chargers, and then beat Marty "I can't win a playoff game" Schottenheimer's Chiefs on their way to the AFC Championship game.
It was a David and Goliath matchup. The Colts offensive line was so bad that Harbaugh was bloody and beaten following the Chiefs game. It only got worse against the Steelers defense. The Colts hung around the whole game, losing 16-20 as a Colts receiver barely dropped a last second hail mary pass.
But one of the worst aspects of the game was a missed penalty on Kordell "Slash" Stewart. Stewart stepped out of the endzone before catching a touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining in the half. Had there been instant replay the play would have been overturned. But replay had been removed and since no refs caught it, the touchdown stood. Without that TD the game might have been very different.
To make matters worse, Neil O'Donnell, the QB of the Steelers, was a pending UFA. Despite a horrible Super Bowl showing (or a conspiracy to make Larry Brown a rich man), O'Donnell was the cream of the UFA QB crop. Leon Hess, deciding he wanted a championship opened up his wallet for Rich Kotite who signed O'Donnell to a horrible contract. Needless to say this era of the Jets didn't work out too well.
When the Jets improved again, it seemed like they always had to go through the Steelers to get anywhere. In 2004 they faced the Steelers in the second round. Doug Brien had to make a chip shot, and he missed, twice. The Jets quickly got rid of Brien and drafted Mike Nugent in the second round, passing over Roscoe Parrish, Vincent Jackson, Frank Gore, Sione Puha and Justin Tuck among others.
During the late '00s the Steelers have made the Super Bowl three times. Two of them ('09 and '06) are filled with calls that would make you think the refs were Steelers fans. The head referee from 06's game against the Seahawks infamously admitted he blew calls to the Seattle Media without even being questioned about it.
To top it all off, they gave us Big Ben, who if he was drafted to any other team in the league would have been a bust by now. But since the Steelers have an insane offensive line that can actually protect him while he runs around like a chicken with his head cut off, he's made himself a career. On any other team, Ben would have been the 2nd coming of David Carr.
I Hate The Pittsburgh Penguins
But really, it all starts and ends with the Penguins. The second playoff series I ever watched was the Islanders vs. Penguins. I remember all the reports of how the threepeat-bound Pens were just going to slaughter the Turgeon less Islanders. That series is still the greatest playoff series I've ever watched. The Islanders had nothing to lose, Glenn Healy and Ray Ferraro were just hot. And finally, VOLEK!
Since then though the teams have gone their separate ways and have not faced each other in a playoff series. Maybe I would have softened on the Penguins, as they didn't become the perennial thorn in the side the Steelers were to the Jets.
But following the '00 season I moved to Jersey and stopped watching the Islanders. I found myself in such a constant state of rage concerning Milbury that I decided to move on. I had started following hockey again, but just out of the corner of my eye until I found Lighthouse Hockey for the ending of the '09 season.
Coming back to the league at the time though, I found there was a new fanbase in Pittsburgh. Quite possibly one of the worst fanbases in all sports. So many of their fans had no knowledge of the team or the sport until Sidney Crosby showed up. Combine that with two of the worst homer announcers in the league, Paul Steigerwald and Bob Errey.
The duo has helped shape and form a fanbase which gives no [Talbots] about the rest of the league. Meanwhile, they bash and persecute everyone else in the league. Of course this isn't just an accident that these two are in the position they are in. It goes all the way to the top, and the top of the stinking carcass that is the Pittsburgh Penguins is Mario Lemieux.
The "Savior" of the franchise is a fraud himself. The Penguins purposely threw games down the stretch to insure that they finished last so they could draft him in 1984. Only 3 points separated the Pens from the Devils at the end of the 1983-84 season. Coach Lou Angotti said he was scolded during a game by GM Ed Johnston because the Pens had taken a 3-1 lead. Taking their best players off the ice, the Pens quickly lost that game 6-3.
Even with Lemieux, the team struggled. They made the playoffs just once in Mario's first few seasons. Not until the additions of Jaromir Jagr, Tom Barasso and 4-time Cup winner Bryan Trottier (hmm, where did he win those?) did the team finally get over the bump and win the Cup. They won it in back to back seasons, until the three-peat was denied by the Islanders.
It seems like forever since then Mario has had something against the Islanders. But before getting into that, let's get into how Mario became owner. See, despite his status as Savior, it was actually Mario who bankrupted the Penguins. As the Penguins former owners worked out deals in bankruptcy court to hold onto the team, Mario was unwilling to negotiate. Eventually he was given partial ownership, since the team was unable to pay him the deferred salary.
His influence can be seen on the constant crybaby tactics of Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Pens fans. Sure, they employ Matt Cooke to do Matt Cooke things, but touch their prized Crosby and it's a barrage of idiots yelling how dare you.
One of my most infamous moments on twitter was watching as the writers for some Pens site (whose name I won't give out or link, because it's trash) proceeded to defend Cooke following this hit injuring Ryan McDonagh. This despite the overwhelming "outrage" coming from the same people following the Islanders/Penguins Friday Night Fights. I even heard it from Pens fans when I pointed out the Pens had the most PIM in the league. One fan told me "Oh yea, those hooks, tripping and slashes look like penalties to me."
Why do I say all of this comes from the top of the organization? Because following the Friday Night Fights game we as Islander fans saw the worst of it. As the league handed out huge suspensions to first-time offenders, they proceeded to even fine the Islanders for not keeping control of their players. The Penguins? Sure, the worthless Eric Goddard was suspended for 10 games, but nothing else happened to the Penguins. Coach Dan Bylsma wasn't suspended for allowing Godard to leave the bench, wasn't fined for allowing Eric Godard to leave the bench. You can debate who really let their players go out of control. The Islanders didn't have anyone leave the bench.
The strawberry on top of the cake? Having King Mario come out and say the following:
"The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed." He further added "If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to re-think whether I want to be a part of it."
I just have no words. The league bends over backwards for him. It only suspends Godard, who is meaningless in the big picture to the Pens. He then bashes them. Ignoring the fact that a player leaving the bench is supposed to subject his head coach to suspension and fines for the team. None of those for Mario, but he still isn't happy.
The Penguins are like a combination of the Yankees and the Steelers. They are the evil empire that will be considered Stanley Cup favorites from now till Crosby can't play anymore. But while the Yankees have a hardcore fanbase in and around NYC, the Penguins are more like the Steelers in their fanbase being far flung. Just like no matter what NFL game you go to, there's always at least three Steeler fans in attendance. No matter what NHL game you go to, there's always going to be some jerk off with a brand new Penguins jersey (and probably the one with the ugly circular logo) with Crosby stitched on the back.
These are the worst of the worst when it comes to bandwagon fans. The culture of the Penguins organization from top to bottom seems to be based on growing these type of fans. Now not all Pens fans are like this, I'll give a shout out to PensBurgh who at least are willing to talk and hear each other out, even after we squabble. But there is a big base of clueless fans who just follow the Pens because "they are the best," and that's all they will offer. The day will come that the Pens struggle again, and people will wonder why revenue across the board is dropping, because these are the most fair weather of fair weather fans.
I'd be remiss to not mention the Mario statue. While other players have tended towards statues of them holding the Cup, Mario's statue is an actual action shot from a pointless 1988 game against the Islanders. Rich Pilon and Jeff Norton's asses have never looked better than they do in bronze so close to Lemieux' face. Few people would think splitting two anonymous defensemen was a career-defining moment. But I guess for Mario that makes up for '93 and the fact his days of winning Cups were already over.
I really hate Pittsburgh, the Steelers and Penguins really get my fire burning. From both leagues seeming to bend over backwards for these teams, to the mainstream media swooning over them. I'm sick of it. There would be nothing that would make me happier this year then the Islanders beating the Penguins in this series. It hasn't helped that since so many Pens fans only started watching recently, they don't understand the idea of a rebuild. With all their lottery luck, they were born on third base thinking they hit a triple.
We've heard it all from them, and enough is enough. For all their talk of the Islanders being talentless goons, to hypocritical outrage at Trevor Gillies, I'm tired of it. This round to me, and probably to any Islanders fan who has gotten this far through this post, is like its own Stanley Cup Finals. Knocking off the Pens would take them down a few pegs, and hopefully we'll have a new hero ala Volek (Casey Cizikas maybe?) to constantly remind Pens fans about when they talk about how great they are.
And no, I'm not still angry about this post...