Being deep into the holiday spirit this year, I wanted to give a few gifts to Pittsburgh sports fans. We especially need them after Sunday’s crappy loss to New England.
For long-suffering Pirates fans, an exciting offseason. Baseball fans in New York are eager to see what Giancarlo Stanton can do at Yankee Stadium, Cards fans await Marcell Ozuna, and Angels fans are curious to see Shohei Otani. Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh we have to wait out an injury to minor-league pitcher Nick Burdi. To be fair, the Pirates also signed some Rule 5 draft picks. Although Rule 5 picks are usually AA players who aren’t quite good enough to be considered among an organization’s top 40 players. Well, at least they haven’t traded Andrew McCutchen … yet.
For Penguins fans, some thankfulness. Following a 2-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, social media was abuzz with “Fleury is better than Murray” tweets. Fleury was better that night, and career statistics prove his superiority as well. But what do fans want from Matt Murray? He’s played two seasons and won two Stanley Cups. Be grateful you are not fans of the Capitals, Flyers or Rangers. Since 1975, those three teams have played a combined 126 seasons, and only the Rangers’ Mike Richter, in 1994, has won a Cup. Those teams have seen hundreds of goalies come and go, and not one of them has as much success as Matt Murray.
For fans of the Steelers, more thankfulness. In the history of the NFL, the three coaches who have won more regular-season games than anybody else in their first 10 years are named Don Shula, Joe Gibbs, and Mike Tomlin. Pretty elite company for a coach who is routinely called on by fans to be fired. Maybe fans in Miami and Washington constantly complained about Shula and Gibbs’ “playing down to opponents” and “terrible clock management,” but it seems unlikely. Sure, the standard here is higher than, say, anywhere in Ohio. A great quarterback, running back, and maybe the most exciting wide receiver in history surely help his cause.
For the A.J. Palumbo Center, more basketball fans. This basketball revolution is not being televised, so fans have to get out to this arena on the Bluff to witness it. Coaches Keith Dambrot, of the men’s team, and Dan Burt, of the women’s squad, are quietly assembling very respectable and fun-to-watch programs. The die-hards always show up, but it needs some new blood. Get out there and support these teams; that way you can say you were there before it was cool.
For Pitt football fans, players who want to stay. Two quarterbacks, a key offensive lineman, and the explosive Quadree Henderson are leaving Oakland early. It worked for Joe Flacco years ago, but it’s not a blueprint for success. Kenny Pickett played outstanding quarterback for a game against the then-second-ranked Miami Hurricanes. The performance was so good that he was immediately crowned the next Dan Marino, and every other quarterback on the roster got out of town.
For fans of the Pitt Panthers basketball team, an easier schedule? Or how about a time machine? That way, Pitt could go back and sign Jamie Dixon to an unbreakable lifetime contract instead of arguing that change is a good thing. Really, it’s hard to figure out what this team needs other than starting over.
For the Pittsburgh RiverHounds and Pittsburgh Thunderbirds, a little recognition. It’s tough to get that sports dollar in a football-centric town that has hockey as its sidekick. The Hounds play in a beautiful stadium nestled between the Mon River and Mount Washington. Some of the most talented soccer players from around the world play there. The Thunderbirds sport of Ultimate Disc is immensely popular in Canada, so give it a chance — they were right about hockey.
And finally, for Ryan Shazier, a full recovery.