Big Lead Sports Bar



by Koz

The last article I wrote for the site was quite harsh and many of you noticed. I don't consider what I do here to be sports journalism. I have no illusions about my place in the worldwide sports conversation. I'm a fan. That's an important role. Without fans, there are no professional sports. Thanks to technology, fans have a louder voice than ever. I consider it a great privilege to be able to share my thoughts with you. After Game 2, I was in despair.

I was fortunate to be in attendance at the Mellon Arena for Games 3 and 4. When it's all said and done, there will be few emotional experiences in my life that will rival Game 3. The only way I can begin to describe the feeling when Sidney Crosby scored the Penguins first goal of the series is to compare it to Hollywood. You know the climactic scenes in Armageddon or Apollo 13 when mission control is nervously awaiting word from the silent spacecraft to see if the astronauts are safe? You know the pandemonium that ensues when the spacecraft makes contact with mission control to say everything is ok? That sense of joy and relief was what 17,132 experienced when that first puck trickled across the goal line. People were high-fiving, spilling beer, cheering, hugging and some were even getting a little misty-eyed. We had hope.

The crowd noise throughout Game 3 was like nothing I've ever experienced. I honestly have no idea how we stayed that loud consistently from opening face-off to the final buzzer. Game 4 wasn't the same. Maybe it's because the Pens weren't holding the lead the way they had in Game 3, or maybe it's because we were exhausted, but the crowd was more tentative (though still respectably raucous). When it ended in defeat, there was a huge empty feeling that it was the last time we were going to see the team together in person. It was the kind of loss where the lone Penguins star of the game (Hossa) didn't come out for his curtain call. The 17,132 who couldn't be silenced just a few days earlier walked into the Pittsburgh night like a funeral procession.

Then came Game 5. It was what the playoffs are all about. People all over the United States tuned in for the evening news, Jay Leno, and eventually Conan O'Brien but were greeted with the most intense sports scenario on the planet. Before we got to overtime, Marc-Andre Fleury and Max Talbot became Pittsburgh legends. Fleury's toe save on the two-on-one is the kind of stuff that will have children named after him. As the game crept toward the finish with Wings fans chanting for the Cup, I felt like I was sitting with my dying grandmother. Then, with 34 seconds remaining in the season, Talbot tied the game and all of a sudden it was like grandma leaped out of bed and screamed, “Hop in the Cordoba, we're going bowling!”

The overtime was so intense, I forgot what was on the line. In the moment, only winning that game mattered. I had to remind myself, if we lost, it was all over. There would be no more games. I rooted for the Pens, if only for the chance of one more game.

Considering the herculean effort to give us a sixth game, it was even more painful to watch the two soft goals that ended up burying the Pens for good. Late in the third period, just when a comeback seemed impossible, they gave us hope again. Things were coming together so improbably they made you believe. In the final seconds, it seemed impossible the Pens could even generate one more shot, but they did. As the final backhander was launched, you almost knew it was going in – until it didn't.

Game 6 gave Pens fans one last chance to salute their heroes. It was well deserved.

When the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, I cried. I was born in 1981. The Steelers Dynasty of the 70s is my heritage, but they were never my team. After XL, I finally had my own Super Bowl victory to brag about; to buy t-shirts, hats, posters and newspapers. Those tears of joy were for me.

People talk about how young the Penguins are and how bright the future is, but this team will never again take the ice. The 07-08 Penguins are now lost to history. Some could retire. More will leave because of free agency. Nearly 24 hours after the opening face-off of the final game of the 2007-08 Pittsburgh Penguins season, I cried. But I wasn't sad that I couldn't boast as the fan of a champion. I was sad because it hit me that I will never see this team play again. Even a storybook finish to the Game 7 that-never-was wouldn't alleviate that sadness. Of course it's much worse with this empty finish.

This year's Penguins team gave so much to the fans, and in turn, the fans gave a lot to them. I have great respect for all the folks who sat on the lawn to watch on the big screen, for those who stay for the announcing of the three stars, for D-9 and their cowbells, for section F and their banners, and for the guy in the Jiri Slegr jersey in A-14 who screamed his head off every game.

This year for me as a fan has been unlike any other. It started on September 6 when Sidney Crosby delivered my mom's season tickets and called me for the most memorable 90-second phone conversation I'll ever have. I was given the chance to share my love for hockey and the Pens with you, the Mondesi's House readers. This season had great games, heartbreaking injuries, unsung heroes, and blockbuster trades. It lasted longer than most expected but still ended one game too soon.

I am confident the young nucleus of the Penguins will stay together and our captain will raise the Cup over his head at least once in the next decade. Even if it happens every year for the next ten, it won't make up for the heartbreak I feel for this season's team.

Let's Go Pens.


bohica said...

well said koz. your sentiments are echoed all the way down here.

Reggie Dunlop said...

thanks, koz -- i really enjoyed your posts. my favorite line was when avery ended up in the hospital, and evgeni malkin's reaction was, 'if he dies, he dies.' that was classic. see ya next year

ManBearPig said...

Great job Koz. I was critical of your last post, but this one was awesome. You said it right, you're a fan, not a paid journalist. But you're also a good writer and a good addition to Mondesi's House.

ManBearPig said...

Sorry that I said "good" twice in the same sentence. I'm not a paid journalist either.

Unknown said...

I cried when I realized there wouldn't be anymore posts from koz until the end of September.

Koz said...

There is no off-season.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Koz. Don't think the posters were pissed at you last time; we were just focused on Game 3.

BTW, Armageddon is the worst movie of all time, though this Zohan flick will probably put forth a run at that title.

I sat a few rows behind the guy in the Slegr jersey for Game 2 vs Philly and, yes, he's insane. Makes for a good time.