Big Lead Sports Bar



Basking in the warm glow of the Penguins bouncing the Rangers out of the playoffs, I can't help but be nostalgic.

This playoff victory left me reflecting and analyzing the greatest sports moments of my life. Usually, I don't get this deep into my life unless I'm forced to go into Jo-Ann Fabrics with my wife and kill the time by taking a fat smash in one of the store's public restrooms. [Ed note: hope it's not the Logansport, Indiana location. Things might get messy.]

It forced me to ask the questions, which I pose to you as well:
1. Who do you have a greater allegiance to sports-wise? Steelers? Penguins? Pirates?
2. Who's given you the greatest memories in your lifetime?

That last prepositional phrase in your lifetime is the key to this whole argument.

Since I've left Pittsburgh, keeping the Pittsburgh teams close to my heart had warded off homesickness from time to time. The place of greatest association for me has always been with the Steelers, and why shouldn't it be? Five Super Bowls... a slew of Hall of Famers...the Terrible Towel, et al.

But, for as great as my passion is for the Steelers, they haven't provided me with the greatest memories in my lifetime when I examined things more closely.

Quite honestly, the Penguins, during my lifetime, have that distinction for a 33-year-old Gen-X'er like me, which will surely make Mark Madden's heart proud.

But I'm not looking for anyone's approval, just for the correct answer.

It may be blasphemous, to some, when you consider I was born during the time of the Steelers Dynasty of the 1970s. Hell, as far as my family folklore goes, my Dad had a "heated discussion" with my Mom just before I was born because my due date was to fall on Super Bowl Sunday, which would have been the Steelers first appearance during Super Bowl IX. My Dad was torn as to whether he should attend my birth or watch the game on TV. Luckily, I solved the problem by being born a few weeks after the Steelers 16-6 victory over the Vikings.

But do I remember those Super Bowls very well? Nope. To me, they are NFL Films cinema, filled with the drama you've come to expect, but the emotional chord does not vibrate as strong with me. What I remember are the days of Delton Hall, Tom Ricketts, Weegie Thompson, and Tim "Whoops" Worley, in his pre-taser days, of course.

The Pirates, well, let's just move on to the Penguins...

In 1984, Mario Lemieux arrived, and the arrival influenced my life greater than few things ever would. I picked up a hockey stick and learned to play because he arrived. I got to play hockey in college (albeit on a small level) because of his arrival. I got to cover hockey for some of my early employers because I developed a passion for the sport that started with Sixty-six's arrival.

But when I look back at some of the best and most-memorable moments that were tied to sports, my thoughts are littered with Penguins memories.
  • I still remember the first game my Dad took my brother and I to at the Civic Arena. It was against the Montreal Canadiens, and it was Eat 'n' Park street hockey stick night, which also was the first hockey stick I owned.
  • In 1989, we scored tickets to Game 1 of the Rangers/Penguins Patrick Division semis. We sat at the very top of the arena underneath the luxury boxes there. The crowd roared, and I was whipped into a frenzy. During the said frenzy, I pumped my fist into the air repeatedly and cracked my hand off an I-beam. My hand swelled instantly, but when my Dad looked at it, he said, "you busted it up pretty good. You're gonna have to wait to get ice since the game's about to start." And I did wait to get my hand examined, and in the meantime, I soaked each finger individually in my quasi-cold cup of Sprite from the wonderful people at Aramark.
  • I remember Mike Lange saying "Lord Stanley, Lord Stanley, get me the brandy," as the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup in 1991.
  • A year later, the Pens swept the Blackhawks, and I got laid several hours later for the first time. Yes, that was a good day.
  • I can still see Kevin Stevens face smashing into the ice during Game 7 against the Islanders in 1993. That was also the night of my senior prom where my girlfriend at the time broke up with me because we missed the first two hours of the dance in order to watch the Penguins game. So, that's a Game 7 upset and my chick dumped me. Not so good.
  • When referees called a penalty shot in overtime of Game 4 between the Penguins/Capitals, I kicked a hole in the paneling of the bar which my roommates and I built inside our apartment. As we watched the hours roll by and the beer cans stack up, Petr Nedved eventually scored in the fourth overtime, and even though it was late, we still had beers to celebrate. And went to class the next morning.
  • A year later, I sat at a bar watching Mario Lemieux wave goodbye after the Pens were bounced by the Flyers in Philadelphia.

Whether my best memories are with the Penguins or Steelers -- hell, even the Pirates too -- it all really doesn't matter. In the end, I'm still a Pittsburgh kid at heart who's looking for new memories and ways to still feel like I did when he was at home.


Unknown said...

Nice job on this entry...made me nostalgic too. I never leave comments, so for me to do so, you had to write a pretty great piece. Well done and keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Great story Jason. I can easily say the Penguins are my overall favorite team. Apparently I watched Game 4 of the stanley cup finals but I wouldnt remember since I was only 3. I really hope the PENS do make it to the Finals, if all goes well I'm probably going to head up to take in the jubilation.

Anonymous said...

by virtue of being 4.5 years older than you, I am fortunate enough to have been 9 years old when the Family and the Steelers brought home BOTH championships that mattered to the Steel city.

It occured to me as I was watching the Road Warriors of 2005 take the Bus back to Detroit that the complete evolution in the Media actually made winning Super Bowl XL MORE enjoyable because

A. I was an adult and appreciated it more after 20some years of watching other folks win after winning 4 in the first six years of watching football.


B. I lived near Dallas and rubbing in their faces made it THAT much sweeter.

I will say that Mario and Jagr and the Two cups in the 90s prepared me to really appreciate the Pens of the 21st Century...

Problem is...Gary Bettman killed hockey so I NEVER see the Penguins on TV except on Sundays, since I work nights and Versus isnt even on my cable at the restaurant.

AJ said...

Two strange coincidences:

My high school girlfriend also broke up with me the night of the game 7 loss to the Islanders. She informed me before the game that she was going to her prom with one of my friends instead. Then David Volek put the icing on the cake for an absolutely perfect night.

The night of the Pens/Caps 4 OT game, I went to the bar to watch it on quarter draft night. The bar closed, so I went to a friend's house off campus and continued to drink until Nedved scored. After the game, I placed a call to Stan and Guy on the post game show and somehow sounded sober enough to make it past the call screener. When Stan said my name, I asked them "what would have happened if the Zamboni ran out of gas?" They promptly ended the show without answering the question.

nuthinhere said...

The Steelers. I'm a wee bit older than you. I was 10 in 1979 when both the Steelers & Pirates won championships. I love the Pens, but the Steelers have given me more memories. I missed seeing both Penguin Stanley Cups (except game 4 against the Blackhawks) because I was stationed overseas and had a odd work schedule.

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

I've gotta say it's a toss-up.

I mean, right now if I chose a team, I'd say Penguins just because I'm caught up in that moment.

Ask me during a Steeler playoff game, and I might say Steelers.

Then again, the first sport I watched and my first favorite sports team was the Pirates, even though they've really only given me 3 years of moderately successfull baseball in my lifetime.

There are a lot of Steeler fans in Tampa where I live, and that initially made me less homesick. The Steeler club I go to every week to watch the games is a lot of fun.

But, as a sport I've always liked hockey a tad bit more than football, even if I have no 300 person club of people to watch the Pens with (and it's a shame because with some effort I could probably get some of the people from the Steeler bar to hang out and watch the Pens too, but only the ones that weren't assholes and defected to the Lightning in 04).

Eh, I'll just say I like all 3 equally and leave it at that.

Unknown said...

I am too older than you and got to enjoy the Steelers superbowls and the Penquins Stanley cups. GREAT MEMORIES...all of them. Great story..thanks for sharing. Sorry about the dance and your girlfriend. I can remember being in a bar watching Kevin's face eating the ice that night too! Ouch...will never forget that!

sshisheng said...

Dare I say, you almost brought a tear to my eye. I being 4 years older also remember all those moments. But standing on the lightbox on Forbes Ave in Oakland witnessing total bedlam for both Pens Stanley cups was probably the most memorable.

Thanks for a great piece, even more proof of Pittsburgh's greatness.

Unknown said...

This will be a lame answer, but I'd say I pull for the Steelers and Pens pretty equally. The important parts of each teams' seasons come at different times of the year, and so it's not like we have to decide between getting excited for a Steelers playoff game or a Pens playoff game. I don't know. If you forced me to answer, I'd guess I'd give the Steelers a slight edge, but it's slight. And it bears nothing toward my feelings about the Pens, who I grew up loving too.

Jason Marz said...

I am right were you are the Steelers memories are more for older folks. Gen X-ers remember the Pens in the cup years. Staying up to all hours of the night for the games in 1996 and 2000. Going nuts in the streets after winning the Stanley Cups.

okel dokel said...

Nice job, this really made me think about who holds the top spot.

I grew up a big Pirates fan; I saw Roberto Clemente make a diving catch and throw a guy out at third at my first game. Yes, it was Forbes Field and yea I am old. The strikes of the nineties killed baseball; it is dead to me.

The Penguins have special place as I watched a really bad franchise turn into something really special when they drafted Lemieux. I saw his first game, with fellow draftees Doug Bodger and Roger Belanger. Roger Belanger whatever happened to him. My Father bought season tickets and held them until the 1990 All Star game where Mario scored four goals. They won the cup the next year and I told him the curse was finally lifted when he sold the tickets.

However, it is the Steelers that I hold in the highest esteem. I remember listening to the Immaculate Reception on a transistor radio and the thrill of watching them dominate the NFL in the late seventies and early eighties. The fear they put into the opposing team's quarterback was something to behold.

I may bitch and moan about them but I follow their every move. No matter what their record I watch every game and hate it when I cannot.

Unknown said...

I was in the newspaper business in the late seventies-early eighties and I covered the Steelers during their amazing run of Superbowls. I was in the locker room, on the sidelines and at the press conferences. I got to experience all of it...totally awesome. Years later I was at the Steelers offices one day with my good friend Alby Oxenreiter. We had just taped a commercial for my "Worst Avid Golfers Tournament" and Alby needed a favor from the Steelers. This was the year that the Steelers were playing an exhibition game in Ireland. Alby asked the Steelers' p.r. guy if they could take a picture of the four Superbowl trophies without the plexiglass cover over them (which distorted the picture). He hemmed and hawed, wrinkled up his face and finally said "okay" but, get this, it would take all four of us to lift off the very heavy glass over the precious trophies.

Of course, I was very willing to oblige and the cover was so large and heavy that it barely cleared the trophies and the ceiling above them. After their cameraman took the pictures for Alby's station, I did what any red-blooded Steeler fan would do: I got down around the trophies and put my arms around all four!!! Sadly, in the heat of the moment I didn't get a picture taken of me at that wonderful of the most exciting moments in my life! If I had, I'd put it up right here.

As far as the Pens, a great memory happened during the All Star Skills competition and old-timers game about 20 years ago. A friend gave me superbox seats and I had little Raul and Ramon Mondesi with me. In between periods, Ramon said that he had to go to the bathroom, so I took both boys down the very narrow hallway. While en route to the restroom, we passed a guy in the hall and I did a doubletake. I said, "Do you boys know who that was?" "No Dad, who?" said little Ramon. "That was Gordie Howe, Mister Hockey himself!" Raul, ever the skeptic and tired of my past hoaxes said, "Why do you always do that Dad? That's not Gordie Howe".

As we went into the tiny restroom I kept insisting that it was and we argued back and forth. As we made our way back, I even said, "If that guy's still there, I'll prove that's him."

Alas, when we got to that box area, the man was gone. However the door to the box was open and there was a woman standing there. Not to be deterred, I said to her, "Excuse me ma'am, there was a man standing here a few minutes ago and I thought he was Gordie Howe and my sons didn't believe me. Do you know if that was him?"

She said, "Well I should know...he's my husband!" Then she yelled into the booth, "Gordie, would you come out here please? These boys don't believe that you're Mister Hockey."

At that, Gordie Howe came out and proceeded to put Ramon in a headlock and also to give your own Raul Mondesi a headlock and facewash! He also autographed their all-star program. It was one of my most memorable moments ever and I didn't even get a facewash! Now that's how superstars are supposed to act!

jar66su said...

great post. my wife (to-be) thinks it's strange that lemieux has played such a big role in my life. whatev.

Unknown said...

Jason, I loved the post.

I'm not buying all the comments that say that the Pens are the most important team to them though. I think it has to be just that everyones wrapped up in this team. I am to, and it's becoming hard to remember liking the pirates and the steelers this much, but I know I must have.

I remember thinking in 2005 "I hope the Penguins stay in Pittsburgh, but I wouldn't trade a super bowl for it." I'm sure much of Pittsburgh agreed with me then even if they've switched band wagons now.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

I'm with you. Steelers are #1, but the Pens have delivered MORE memories in my 31 years.

While I'm a football fan first and foremost, Mario is my favorite athlete of all time.

Also, my junior prom was the night of Game 7 vs the Islanders back in 1993. We were at the then Hyatt (now Marriott) across from the Arena. I only abondoned my date for the 3rd period and OT...much to my dismay.

I feel we're on the verge of something special with this group of Penguins and can't wait for the next series to begin.

Koz said...

My brother and I decided a couple years ago we'd be willing to kill a drifter for a Super Bowl championship and a Stanley Cup.

For me, the Stanley Cup is priority #1. The Super Bowl trophy was huge because with the NFL popularity in America it gives you major bragging rights. Of course, living in Indianapolis, it figures those rights only lasted 12 months until the Colts won the very next year. That was really annoying.

As for the Cup though... I'm still willing to follow through on my end of the deal. For their sake, I hope no Flyers fans wander near my apartment this week.

DarkHelmet said...

Pitt panthers. The 13-9 win over wvu that kept them out of the national championship honestly gave me more joy than super bowl xl. There's something about your alma mater and the rivalries in college that adds a whole other level of emotion.

AbrahamNunezPlays9Positions said...

I gotta go with the Steelers only because I have been to every home game since I was like 10 (26 now). But now that I think about it, the Steelers have broken my heart so many times. Attending 5AFC championships and losing them all except one really sucked, but I will love the Steelers no matter what.

I must say though, the Pens have given me more memories in the past 20 or so years. The first hockey game I attended was New Years Eve in 1989 when Mario scored 5 goals, every possible way. When the Pens won their first cup, I was in Georgia for my aunt's wedding, we left the reception to go to a bar. It took some scmoozing with the staff to get me in, I was only 9 or 10. We had to explain to them that we were from Pittsburgh, and they were the only place with a sattelite dish around. I remember counting down from 59 seconds with my family. When they won the second cup I was at home, my mom let me stay up late to watch. When the game was over, the firehouse about a mile from my house put on all their sirens for a couple minutes as my dog howled along with it. It was fantastic.

I have many more memories but I just realized that nobody really cares about them so I will stop. But I just want to say, great piece, really brought back some memories.

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

I agree with burgher john that some people may be saying Penguins because they're the bandwagon du jour these days.

However, around the time of Super Bowl XL I said the opposite of what you said. I remember saying that I'd trade the Super Bowl championship to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh. I actually said that to a couple of people.

Someone mentioned Pitt, and I guess that makes it a 4-way tie for me. Not to sound completely retarded, but these teams are like my kids. I can't say I really like one more than the other, although the Pirates are like the alcoholic son that shows up for Thanksgiving shitfaced trying to pass off a prostitute as his new girlfriend to the family.

My favorite Penguins moment was probably watching them win the Cup on the big TV in my old basement with my Dad. I remember my old man getting off the couch and do the same dance he does when he gets a hole-in-one at miniature golf.