With the holiday season upon us, I thought it would be a good time to look at all of the ‘major’ local teams and see what the best gift would be for each team. From championship-level (Steelers) to awful (Pirates), from stable (Pens) to scandal-ridden (Penn State), right now Pennsylvania runs the gamut of sports experiences. Let’s look at what each team should ask Santa for this Christmas:
PIRATES: A shiny, brand-new owner with deep pockets and a desire to win. Let’s face it, the current ownership group has had plenty of time to show that they care more (or at least as much) about winning as they do about profit – and the cold hard facts indicate that with this crew, it has been and will always be profit first, winning second. They know they have a nice racket due to revenue sharing and publicly subsidized facilities, why jeopardize that revenue stream by spending a few million dollars while trying to (gasp) WIN?
As Mario Lemieux proved with the Pens and Terry Pegula (PSU alum) recently proved with the Buffalo Sabres, there ARE ownership candidates out there who want to win and will give the proper support to make it happen…let’s just hope someone makes a ‘Godfather’ offer to the Nuttings and they get out of the baseball business.
As a side note…the Pirates DO serve one very important purpose for Pittsburgh fans – they keep us humble and appreciative. The Pens have been a top franchise for six seasons, and were arguably the top franchise of the 90’s as well; the Steelers have had exactly ONE losing season in the last twelve, along with three Super Bowl appearances; PSU football has had one dry spell in the past 50 years (although I see some rough years ahead). It’s easy to get spoiled and come to expect greatness. The Pirates remind us for six months every summer that we should enjoy our great teams, because it can and will end.
PENGUINS: Sidney Crosby, symptom-free, with a more concussion-resistant helmet. As someone recently pointed out to me, today’s NHL helmets are more or less the same helmets they’ve been using for 20 years – yet the players are on average bigger, stronger, and faster than ever. Time for a better helmet, and former NHL player Mark Messier is spearheading an effort to build a better helmet. Yes, I’m sure if this initiative succeeds he will profit from it – so what? If Messier making a few more bucks leads to increased player safety, pay the man.
As for Sid, this latest setback is in many ways more alarming to me than the initial concussion, because the latest hit was so innocuous. If this is the level of contact Crosby can now withstand, I have grave concerns about not just his career, but his lifestyle. I think he and the Pens are taking the right steps and certainly he has the right to try to work through all this as long as he thinks it’s worth it – and I think most of us underestimate how ingrained a sport has to be for someone to play it at that level – but if his absence is prolonged and/or he suffers another concussion after this, I will not blame him one bit for choosing retirement. Let’s hope that I’m wrong about all that; and that he will return next week and lead the Pens to another Cup. You know I’ll be watching closely.
PENN STATE: Time, and the right leadership. Penn State is on the verge of choosing a new coach, and the word is that a lot of strong candidates are wary of the job because of the scandal hanging over the university. Hopefully, a coach with strong moral character and good PR skills will be found to help bring the university out of this situation. Time heals all wounds, and it will take a lot of time – years – before the specter of Sandusky finally is left behind. In the meantime, let’s hope that this leads to a thorough reevaluation of how the university conducts its business – good can come out of bad things, if those involved have the strength and courage to take a hard look at themselves and fix what went wrong.
PITT: A non-weasel head football coach. I wrote about this in my last column, but seriously, could Todd Graham have acted any more disgracefully last week? He was denied permission to interview elsewhere (understandable since he had served only one season of a multi-year contract), yet left anyway – and TEXTED his departure to his players rather than arrange to meet with them face-to-face! Since letting Dave Wannstedt go in 2010, the university has botched two hires in less than a year. Time to put character at the top of the list of requirements…of course, had they done that, they probably would never have fired the classy Wannstedt. Sometimes winning really isn’t everything…success with honor should be the goal, one as important as the other.
STEELERS: Ah, the infamous quandary – what do you get the team that has everything? Seriously, it’s tough to find a glaring need for the Steelers, a team with great ownership, stable coaching, a rabid fan base, decades of success, and a roster with few holes.
I can’t think of a ‘WOW’ gift for the Steelers like I can for other teams, but they would benefit from a few stocking stuffers: a worthy successor to Dick LeBeau, who will almost certainly retire in the next two years; depth at safety, as both Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are getting a little long in the tooth; a competent backup QB, because Ben on one foot is better than Batch or Dixon on two feet ; perhaps most importantly (and as usual), a real upgrade on the offensive line. The line is better than it was in years past, but there are still far too many obvious breakdowns and penalties.
Now, for you, my readers, I hope that you get the gift of a warm fire, a loving family, health, happiness, and a long life. Remember that our beloved sports are a diversion, not an obsession, remember that balance is the key to life, and enjoy every day. Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and I’ll see you in 2012 as the Eye previews the NFL playoffs.
Dave Glass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.