Is it too much to ask that the Winter Classic be about hockey?
I am certain that I’m the only person around for miles who is bothered by the fact that Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris have to join Mario Lemieux and an Army veteran to drop the ceremonial puck at the start of this weekend’s game. We’re hosting the biggest deal the NHL has outside of the Stanley Cup playoffs — it’s a much bigger deal than the league’s all-star game — and we still have to have the Steelers involved? Really?
The Steelers even intruded on tonight’s HBO 24/7 episode. Does anyone really give a shit that James Harrison thinks he can skate?
I don’t have anything against Bettis or Harris — OK, that’s not quite true, but still — and I have no misconceptions about who the big dogs of Pittsburgh sports are; I’ve lived here for 16 football seasons, and believe me, I understand. Bettis and Harris will also do a charity shoot-out thing in between periods — something that will benefit youth hockey programs in Pittsburgh and D.C. — and that’s OK. But to start the game? Don’t we have some hockey legends around who can help out with this instead?
The bigger point: I think this town spends plenty of time revolving around the Stillers. Is is not possible that we could have just one sports event that doesn’t involves Terrible Towels, Steeler jerseys and old NFL players?
Nationally, hockey is kind of treated as a stepchild, relegated to minor cable networks and the back pages of the sports section. But that’s not the case here. The Penguins do the best job of the three franchises in terms of taking care of their fans, and they’re rewarded by an unusually loyal and knowledgeable fan base in return. How good can we be? When the Stillers and the Pens won championships within just a few months of each other a couple years ago, more people showed up for the Penguins’ downtown victory parade than for the Steelers’ event.
Hockey fans here are different. They are better. And they deserve an event, a whole weekend even, when the focus is on their sport and nothing more. And if the Steelers — who should be prepping to thump my Browns on Sunday afternoon — want to be involved, they can watch the game like the rest of the hockey fans in town.