I can hear you already: Please, not another boring year-end sports wrap-up. Not another banal, treacly rehash of the heroics of the Steelers, or the miracle season of Freddy Sanchez.
Never fear: You won't find that type of folderol in this column. Thinking back on the high and low points of the 2006 Pittsburgh sports calendar, I found my mind wandering to the sports stories which didn't happen, but which I wish had taken place.
And so here are the 2006 sports stories that should have been. Starting with the Philadelphia Flyers becoming the most woeful, pitiful franchise in the National Hockey League.
Oh, wait, that already happened.
[[production: the items below should be bulleted somehow. I've used dashes, but I'm sure you can find something better]]
-- In an effort to keep the Penguins in town, the City of Pittsburgh rejects the casinos, rebukes Gov. Ed Rendell and undertakes a visionary program to raise money for a new multipurpose facility by selling official "Joey Porter's Dog Ate My Pony" T-shirts. When asked for a comment, young Mayor Luke Ravenstahl states, "They may be expensive, but you get something for your money. It's a bigger bang for your buck than slots."
-- In a related story, Mario Lemieux un-retires, crosschecks Jim Balsillie so hard his Blackberry shatters, and promptly re-retires.
-- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice steps down from the Bush administration and is named the new NFL commissioner, replacing the retiring Paul Tagliabue. Players union rep Gene Upshaw is ambivalent about the move, citing fears that Rice may declare war on the Canadian Football League in a futile search for Ricky Williams' weapons of self-destruction. On the upside, he's glad to have a sistah on the other side of the bargaining table for once.
-- Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger trades in his Suzuki for a Volvo, citing the Swedish car company's stellar safety record.
-- After mandatory daily practice rounds of free-throw shooting, the University of Pittsburgh basketball team sets a new NCAA record for shooting efficiency from the foul line. Jamie Dixon is named Sports Illustrated Man of the Year.
-- In response to the Sports Illustrated "God's Linebacker" cover story on Ray ("Stab for Jesus") Lewis, God smites the Baltimore Ravens in a fiery hailstorm of smoldering soft-shelled crabs. Only QB Steve McNair's life is spared. In response, new NFL Commissioner Condi Rice moves the Colts back to Baltimore, where they belong. She also promises a new expansion franchise to Indianapolis. (She offered Indy the Arizona Cardinals, but the Chamber of Commerce turned her down.)
-- R.J. Umberger, a Pittsburgh native son and the only viable young talent on the Philadelphia Flyers, demands a trade to the Penguins, promising he'll move to left wing to play on Sidney Crosby's line. The move immediately makes the Penguins a mortal lock for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
-- Jerome Bettis opens a multipurpose facility in his hometown of Detroit, featuring bowling lanes, a dance hall and an all-you-can-eat-buffet. This ensures another round of "Jerome is from Detroit" stories. And "Jerome once bowled a perfect game" stories. And "Jerome's so nimble even with that burgeoning belly flesh" stories. Luckily, those never get old.
-- Major League Baseball institutes a shocking new revenue-sharing policy, whereby overpriced players are awarded to small-market teams. The Pirates land Johnny Damon, Alfonso Soriano, Curt Schilling and Chris Carpenter. Pirates GM Dave Littlefield attempts to bar the entry of the new talent, claiming the team is better off with Humberto Cota playing centerfield than with Damon. But Jason Bay and Ronnie Paulino bring Littlefield to his senses -- reportedly with baseball bats. The Pirates are poised for their first pennant run in the age of e-mail.
-- Penn State University Athletics join the Big East. Venerable coach Joe Paterno is quoted as saying, "What was I thinking? Pennsylvania's not in the Midwest." Meanwhile Penn State's men's basketball program, after considering the new schedule, simply forfeits all conference games for the foreseeable future.
-- And lastly, Steelers linebacker Joey Porter announces he will march in front of Pittsburgh's Gay Pride Parade in June 2007, although he insists on carrying a Terrible Towel in lieu of a rainbow flag. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?