Hats off to Pittsburgh

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Written on 10/09/2009 by Jim Cerny



The latest edition of The Sporting News landed in my mailbox yesterday, and the cover had a picture of Sidney Crosby and Ben Rothlisberger, along with a banner proclaiming Pittsburgh as the best sports city.

And I thought that was kind of cool.

Now, I am big city all the way. Grew up in New York. Have worked in New York, or its environs, my whole career. Currently live in a suburb of Manhattan.

But Pittsburgh has always been one of my favorite stops on the NHL tours I have taken as a broadcaster and reporter. And the city---and its people---deserve to be recognized.

As do the teams of Pittsburgh. The disasterous Pirates aside, Pittsburgh has the reigning Stanley Cup and Super Bowl champions, with the Penguins having reached the Cup Finals two years straight, and the Steelers having won the Lombardi Trophy two of the past four years. Pretty impressive stuff.

That the Penguins are still in Pittsburgh is a great story in of itself. With Mario Lemieux championing this organization through bankruptcy, restructure, and re-birth, Lemieux has, in a way, embodied the spirit of blue-collar Pittsburgh and its loyal Penguins fans.

And it's interesting that Lemieux---who played with elegance on the ice during his Hall-of-Fame career in Pittsburgh---has taken up permanance in Pittsburgh, embracing the city and becoming one of its own, a real hard-hat hero, a transformation that probably took shape when he battled his way back from cancer and several debilitating back woes. I think that---along with his work saving the franchise now that he is part of the team's ownership---transformed Lemieux into a real blue-collar fixture on the Pittsburgh sports scene.

I have always admired the fanaticism of Penguins fans, even if they did go overboard during the 1992 playoffs, threatening Rangers winger Adam Graves for having broken Lemieux's hand with a slash during a playoff series that spring. I was there In Pittsburgh covering that series, and Graves could not step foot outside his hotel without being surrounded by team and league security.

That said, I do admire the passion of the Penguins fans. And I love the atmosphere at The Igloo---or as the corporate types call it, Mellon Arena.

This is the final season for The Igloo, before it gets replaced by a brand-new state-of-the-art arena across the street, and I am going to miss it. The oldest arena currently in existance in the NHL, The Igloo has that quirky spaceship look, with the unique retractable roof for summer concerts. I remember walking up the hill from the Westin Hotel many, many times for skates and games, looking up at this wild UFO-like structure sitting atop the hill, beckoning us all to come see some hockey.

Once inside, the atmosphere at The Igloo has always been awesome. This building can get as loud as any in the National Hockey League. And I can still get chills when I think about the fans chiming in with the PA Announcer during goal calls: "Theeeeee Pittsburgh goal....scored by number 66.....Marioooooo.....Lemieuuuuuux!" Or even the goal calls for Jaromir Jagr, and more recently Evgeni Malkin and Crosby. Neat, hometown fan stuff.

Funny thing about The Igloo, no matter how many times I have been there---and I first covered a hockey game there during the '91-'92 campaign---I still get lost in the bowels of the arena, searching for the locker rooms, media work room, the exit to where the team bus sits.

My partner back in the day when I broadcasted for the Islanders was Chris King. Well, like me, Kinger was a devotee to the cult movie classic "This is Spinal Tap!" If you are not familiar with that "rockumentary" about a fake heavy metal band on the decline, then, well, move along two paragraphs.

But Kinger and I would snake through the underbelly of The Igloo going through wrong doors and down the wrong corridors, trying to find exits or locker rooms, etc. And as we did, we would be shouting "Hello Cleveland! Rock-n-Roll. Rock...and ...Roll!"

Fun times.

Just another reason why the city of Pittsburgh brings a smile to my face, and why it has always been one of my favorite stops in the National Hockey League.

Congrats on The Sporting News honor citizens of Pittsburgh. Well-deserved.

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2 Comments

  1. Patrick Hoffman |

    Tremendous article, Jim. Loved the reference to "Spinal Tap"! Keep up the great work on this blog!

     
  2. Jim |

    Patrick,

    Much appreciated. You gotta' love Tap!! Kinger and I would actually drop Spinal Tap references into our play-by-play broadcasts from time to time.

    My favorite movie ever!

     

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