Penguin envy

I was going to win even if the Pens had relocated, but they truly belong perched on the Hill

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KANSAS CITY - The city sits on a bluff astride a famous river. Its people are among the friendliest in the United States. As sports fans, they live and die with every down their NFL team plays, and they support their baseball team, even though experience tells them it is an exercise largely without hope.

Pittsburgh native Thomas W. Butch is president of the financial services firm Waddell & Reed Inc., based in Overland Park, Kan., with offices across the United States, including in Foster Plaza and Monroeville (

At first visit, outsiders' misperceptions of the city, borne of aged but lingering reputations, are quickly vaporized. They marvel at its vibrancy, its downtown renaissance, its natural beauty. It is, they realize quickly, a special place with a high quality of life.

Welcome to Kansas City.

The Penguins' recent flirtation with my adopted city brought inevitable barb-trading between residents of the Steel City and Cowtown. As a lifelong Penguins fan who spent most of my life in the former and the past seven here, I felt the emotional pull of both possible outcomes. I couldn't imagine Pittsburgh without the Pens, but surely would have been waiting outside the Sprint Center to be among the first to secure season tickets if they had decided to come here.

I first had Penguins season tickets in 1972 -- Section D25, right beside Bob Woytowich's Polish Army in D24. The total cost for the 20-game plan was $30 -- $3 per game with a 50 percent student discount. I am guessing that I have attended 350-ish Pens games in my life, even managing now to get to a few each year.

My Pens legacy stretches from Ken Schinkel to Pierre Larouche to Mario Lemieux to Sidney Crosby; from Les Binkley to Marc Andre Fleury; from Eddie Shack to Evgeni Malkin; from Bugsy Watson to Dave Burrows to Steve Durbano to Ron Stackhouse to Paul Coffey to Sergei Gonchar. I remember Ace Marcus, Harry, the PAP line, the heartbreaking OT loss to the Islanders and the gutty, ear-splitting 1992 comeback playoff victory over the Rangers in Game 4 after Mario's wrist was broken in the previous game -- probably the most thrilling professional sporting event of my lifetime (and I was at the Immaculate Reception game). And of course the Cups and much, much more.

The thought of all of these memories -- and a Pens team now likely to be potent for a decade -- coming to my doorstep in KC was enticing indeed. Nonetheless, I ultimately concluded that the Pens belonged in Pittsburgh.

This was less magnanimous than it was genetic. As any Pittsburgh expatriate would tell you, our sports allegiances are encoded in our DNA. Even the thought of driving eight miles to the Sprint Center -- versus flying 925 -- to see the Penguins in action was not sufficient to sway my belief that they belonged perched on the Hill atop Pittsburgh.

Now that that outcome is secured, I would only tell you that Kansas City would have been the best possible adoptive home for the Pens. In fact, it is strikingly similar to the 'burgh. It is no more a backward cow town than Pittsburgh is a polluted post-industrial waste site. Just change the occasional "yinz" to an occasional "y'all," substitute KC's world-class BBQ for Pittsburgh's world-class Italian, and modify your inbred disdain for Philadelphia to a similar rivalry with St. Louis, and you would sometimes swear you are in the same place.

So, Pittsburgh, love your hockey team and support them for the civic treasure they are. Love them even when there is not someone on the ice with the name "Lemieux" or "Crosby" stitched on their sweater. Wish KC a hockey team in the future and come to a Pens game here. You will be glad you did.

And look for my car in the parking lot in the successor to the Mellon Arena. It will be the one with the Steelers plate on the front, and the Kansas plate, with the Penguins frame, on the back.


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