11-17-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
I’ve lived in Pittsburgh most of my life.
Just missed actually seeing and remembering a Pirates Championship, saw two Super Bowl Championships and the Steelers involved in four of them, and watched the Penguins lift the cup five times in three decades.
Since I started covering the Pirates, I’ve of course caught venom from fans and those who call themselves fans for various reasons, and I’ve always kinda put it aside as nothing more than a frustrated base that will change when and if they see a winner. Recently, I’ve started to feel that euphemistic moment may never come. Some have even told me by covering the Pirates, I’m helping the owner, which is silly on its face.
I’m watching a Steelers team with a young offensive line and aging Hall of Fame Quarterback struggle to maybe make the playoffs and seeing a fanbase implode. Even the Rooney’s aren’t safe, they used to be a sacred cow.
Times have changed, I watched this team in the 80’s and you want to talk about stinking?
I’m seeing a Penguins team with an aging nucleus that provided 3 of the 5 cups struggle to stay on the ice and navigate the in and out nature of life with COVID. In fact when news broke this week that the Penguins were indeed on the cusp of being sold, although not finalized, some literally said they hoped with Mario gone the team would finally be willing to move Crosby and Malkin, Letang. Of course had they waited just a bit they’d see Mario will remain involved in a minority ownership role and everything else would remain in place.
Pitt Basketball and Football haven’t gotten a pass either, both coaches have had their head called for on the reg for the best part of their tenure.
Don’t worry though, winning will fix everything right?
I’ve written this before, but maybe in this context it’ll get through. Bob Nutting will be a pariah for the rest of his time as owner. The Pirates might come out of this rebuild and actually pull it off and get the job done, it’ll be to spite Bob Nutting, not because of him.
We have short memories when it comes to sports.
We forget that before the Penguins went on their run in 2016 they started out horribly and many fans called for blowing it up. Turns out they just needed a new coach and message, with a few small and key acquisitions. Look back on that season from our perch here in 2021 and you’ll be hard pressed to see it as anything else. Early that season Bonino was seen as a bust of a signing, “Can’t Play a Lick Nick” I specifically remember being the call.
We forget when the Steelers actually had their defense built to where they wanted it, Ben was lost for a season and suddenly the offense couldn’t do it’s part. We’d rather point out what Mike Tomlin hasn’t won, as opposed to the fact he’s found a way to keep the boat from completely sinking when everything said it should.
When it comes to the Pirates, well, they’ve lost, and lost some more, and not spent and somewhere along the line fans seemed to ignore or forget they were the one team in town that didn’t share the benefit of an equal playing field. Couple that with being cheap as a default and poor decisions and you have a recipe for a very disgruntled fan base.
Watching what has been playing out this year with the other two major sports teams in Pittsburgh, I’m reminded, even winning it all isn’t going to stop Pirates fans from hating this owner.
That’s just the nature of fandom, I mean if we’re rooting for teams, we aren’t rooting for .500. We aren’t hoping for progress. We want winning, and we want it every season. Well, mostly, I actually heard some folks complaining that the Steelers refuse to just stink so they can get a high draft pick yesterday. IN A TOWN WHERE THE SAME PEOPLE COMPLAIN ABOUT THE PIRATES DOING EXACTLY THAT.
I don’t expect fans to be happy sitting through a rebuild, especially when it comes on the back of a failed attempt at bridging from one window to the next. Makes it feel like they’ve been trying this since 2016. It’s not fun watching a MLB product that has almost nothing to hang their hat on.
That said, let’s not pretend as soon as they win (If, I should say) the clouds will part and fans will, out of shear gratitude, populate the stands at PNC for a decade just to pay homage to the culmination of 40+ years of trying to climb back up. It’ll last until the stars that got it done start to fade or get moved, then it’s right back to Nutting, and no doubt how he sold everyone instead of “keeping it together”. They’ll ignore player age, actual performance, returns, and even fiscal realities. It’ll be like winning never happened for some.
I know because we’re 4 years removed from the Penguins winning back to back championships and here we are, right back to the same narratives of early 2016.
The point of all this is pretty simple, if the Bucs pull this off, puff your chest out, but maybe keep in mind how easy it’ll be to tell you they won once in 45 years too. There is simply no path for this fan base to flip the script on how they feel about the owner, and he’s honestly got nobody to blame but himself.
You’re allowed to like all three teams. Being a fan of one doesn’t mean you can’t like another. Comparing how fans interact with all three should show you something though, winning isn’t a permanent fix. Two franchises have expectation of championships, one has an expectation of “trying to compete”. Two have leagues that support true parity and the spreading of talent, one doesn’t.
We have to learn to be happy in the moment. A cap system makes it possible for every team to compete on equal footing but it also makes the idea of dynasties or perpetual winning harder. Even if baseball fixes it’s biggest issue it won’t create championships every year, it’ll just create a feeling of having a chance on opening day more frequently.
You may not get to the point where you can wear your Pirates gear in town and not have some random person make a comment about not believing they had any fans, but I’d like to get to the point where folks aren’t seen as hating the other two if they’re repping one.
My generation in particular are spoiled rotten. As I said, in my close to 45 years I’ve seen 5 championships, lived through 6 if we want to get technical, and while I can look at our Sister City Boston and be jealous, there aren’t many other locales that can boast that kind of proficiency for championships, certainly for a market this size.
Winning will certainly help, but it won’t change a damn thing about how this city feels toward the Pirates Owner. It won’t change the fans who want to revisit mistakes made by GMs who haven’t been here in 15 years. It won’t eliminate the bitterness and misunderstanding of what exactly happened in 2016. But it sure will feel good in the moment.
Instead of looking forward or backward, I encourage everyone to live in the moment a bit, because no matter how you strain your eyes, right now is all you can see.
And that’s the Point.