Last night, Sidney Crosby returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins after suffering a concussion nearly a year ago. Today, I return to the blogosphere. What a great day for Pittsburgh sports fans!
Seriously, though, while football is my first love, hockey is a close second. I was born the same year the Pittsburgh Steelers won their first Super Bowl so I’m not really old enough to remember the Steel Dynasty. The first championship I actually experienced as a fan was the Penguins’ 1991 Stanley Cup. And to Tina DiCapula’s ever-lasting chagrin, you never forget your first time.
For those ex-‘Burghers out there, the atmosphere around town was absolutely electric once word got out that Sid was returning. We take our sports very seriously here and there has been no subject of greater importance or which inspired more angst than the condition of Sid’s noggin’. Once the game got underway, Sid rose to the occasion by scoring on his first shot roughly two minutes in. The crowd went absolutely insane and all was right with the world.
Not to diminish the the moment but it’s only the second most memorable comeback in Pittsburgh history. The first belongs to Penguins owner and Sid’s former landlord, Mario Lemieux. In 1997, Mario retired after battling back injuries and Hodgkin’s disease during his legendary career. Three years later, he made a totally unexpected return (they had already retired his number and lowered it from the rafters in an emotional pre-game ceremony). He set up a goal thirty seconds into his first shift and finished with a goal and two assists.
I’m sure some of you are thinking, “I clicked on a football blog and a hockey blog broke out.” Trust me, I know where I’m going with this. Watching Sid’s return had me thinking about Mario. And Mario had me thinking about Pittsburgh athletes in general. Even though we all love the Steelers, I think it’s undisputed that the most celebrated current Pittsburgh sports star is Sidney Crosby and the most beloved ex-player is Mario Lemieux.
I don’t know if it’s a function of football being a team game or the fact hockey players wear less cumbersome helmets so we can see their faces. Regardless, if I had to rank our current athletes in order of popularity, I’d say it goes Sid, then Troy Polamalu and then Hines Ward. After that, you could probably make an argument for any number of players but I’m confident they’re the top three.
However, it’s a little trickier if you make an all-time list. A few years ago ESPN did a “Mount Rushmore of Sports” gimmick asking “experts” in each city to come up with a list of their four greatest sports heroes. I remember writing a piece for the Blog That Shall Not Be Named which I think is worth revisiting. Especially in light of recent events.
Roberto Clemente and Mario are the two no-brainers. I don’t think even the most jaded yinzer would argue with their selection. That’s a Pirate and a Penguin. We need a Super Steeler, don’t we?
Franco Harris? I think he’s lost a lot of his luster in recent years with his constant whoring of his name and association with the Steel Dynasty. Whenever a Steeler is involved in anything, be it the Winter Classic at Heinz Field or Hines on Dancing With The Stars, Franco is there to mug for the camera. Recently, his insatiable desire for publicity hurt him as his impassioned defense of pedophile-enabler Joe Paterno cost him a lucrative job with The Meadows Racetrack and Casino.
Terry Bradshaw? I love Brad but there is definitely a segment of Steeler Nation who have it out for him. Whether it’s his decades long feud with Steeler Nation or his recent criticism of Ben Roethlisberger, he always seems to do something to rile up the anti-Bradshaw contingent. I stand by my feelings that he is still the best quarterback to ever wear the Black and Gold but I’m not certain how many would agree with that sentiment.
If we had to pick a 70s Steeler, the obvious choice would be a member of the Steel Curtain. But who? The man who started it all, Mean Joe Greene? Or Jack Lambert, perhaps the player that best symbolized those teams? How can we forget Jack Ham, one of the finest outside linebackers ever. Or even Mel Blount, who was so dominant he forced the NFL to change rules to make it easier on the offense.
Talk about the Kobayashi Maru.
And what about this current Steeler team? They haven’t been as successful (yet) as their predecessors but two Lombardi Trophies and three Super Bowl appearances in six years is nothing to sneeze at. Who from this team is most deserving of Pittsburgh sports immortality? Jerome Bettis was much beloved but the Bus retired after the first championship. Big Ben was the missing ingredient that finally got Bill Cowher and the Steelers over that Super Bowl hump, yet he remains a very polarizing figure amongst Steeler Nation.
Once again, it’d come down to Hines and Troy. Considering he was MVP of the first win and a big part of the second, I guess I’ll have to go with Hines. Besides, I don’t think there’s a mountain in the Appalachians large enough to carve out all of Troy’s hair.