30 Years: Penguins, Steelers have reached the top; will Pirates follow?

Part of the 30 Years, 30 Changes series on the Pittsburgh region

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In 1983, the Penguins were the laughingstock of the National Hockey League, but one horrendous season (16 victories in 82 games during the '83-84 campaign) transformed the league's most moribund franchise into one its most successful.

With the No. 1 draft pick in the 1984 draft -- attained by virtue of the worst record in the league -- the Penguins drafted Mario Lemieux, who led the franchise to its first two Stanley Cup championships as a player in 1991 and '92 and their third as team owner in 2009.

The face of the franchise now is Sidney Crosby, another No. 1 overall draft pick who became the youngest captain to hoist the Stanley Cup in '09. Mr. Lemieux was the Conn Smythe winner (MVP of the playoffs) in '91 and '92, but he also played an inspirational role as a gray-bearded executive.

In a text message to the players on the morning of Game 7, Mr. Lemieux wrote these words: "This is a chance of a lifetime to realize your childhood dream to win a Stanley Cup. Play without fear and you will be successful! See you at center ice."

They did later that night. The Penguins won more world championships in the past 30 years than any other pro sports team in the city, one more than the Steelers, who added the fifth and sixth Lombardi trophies to their showcase.

The Steelers, who won four Super Bowls in a six-year span in the 1970s, ended a 26-year drought without a Super Bowl in 2006 when head coach Bill Cowher led his hometown team to a 21-10 victory against Seattle in Super Bowl XL. Ben Roethlisberger, at 23, became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.

Three years later, Mr. Roethlisberger engineered a last-minute touchdown drive to lead the Steelers to a 27-23 victory over Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII. At 36, head coach Mike Tomlin became the youngest coach in NFL history to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory.

The Pirates did not add any World Series trophies in the past three decades, but they did win three consecutive National League eastern division titles from 1990-92.

Then came 20 consecutive years of losing -- the record for the longest string of losing seasons in the history of North American professional sports. But the losing streak ended late this summer as the Pirates chased their first World Series title since 1979.


Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published October 6, 2013 4:00 AM


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