Penguins sweep back to Stanley Cup final
The sweep is on ... Geralyn Holby of Irwin, left, and Nicole Agulia, right, hold their brooms and cheer the Penguins in game 4 against Carolina at the Jumbotron at the Mellon Arena Tuesday night.
Share with others:
Last night, just before closing, Betsy Robinson, manager of Hometowne Sports in Station Square, began moving some of the shop's stock away from the front door. She and her co-workers then set up a display table for the latest in black-and-gold fashion.
The T-shirts go on sale this morning: "Pittsburgh Penguins -- 2009 Eastern Conference champions."
"First thing [this] morning, if we're conference champs, we have the official locker room T-shirts and long-sleeves coming in," she said. "They will be here bright and early, probably by 9 a.m. Office people will stop in on their way to work."
Hometowne Sports is not alone. Dick's Sporting Goods and other retailers already are rolling out the paraphernalia.
That's because sports fans wear their hearts on the sleeves. And the common thread is that Pittsburgh's fans once again are backing a winner.
"We do get a lot of traffic from people just shopping in the mall," Miss Robinson said. "But when the teams are winning, we definitely see an increase in people purposely coming in saying, 'I need Pens gear,' 'I need a Malkin shirt,' 'I need a Crosby jersey.' I hate to say it's like a bandwagon thing, but the better the team, the more people start wearing the merchandise."
For the 2,000-plus fans gathered outside the Mellon Arena last night, watching on the outdoor screen as the Penguins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row, it wasn't just about a one-night high. Sports fans in Pittsburgh have been riding a wave of success that started in February with the Steelers' Super Bowl victory, then carried through the University of Pittsburgh's men's basketball team's run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Harry Munson, 21, and his friend, Matt Sloan, 21, both of Castle Shannon, rallied the crowd by waving brooms, signifying the Pens' four-game sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes.
"This is probably the best time to be a sports fan in the city of Pittsburgh," said Mr. Sloan, a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
"There's going to be a Steelers parade and a Penguins parade in the same year for the first time," predicted Mr. Munson, a student at Community College of Allegheny County. "My dad has told me what it was like. Like, 1976 was the Steelers' best year. And then in '79, the Steelers and the Pirates both won it. That was a great time."
"Now it's our turn," Mr. Sloan said.
Lauren Mitchell, 38, a landscaper from West View, said the winning sports teams seem to make people happier and daily life more fun.
"It's awesome to be living here right now," she said outside Mellon Arena last night. "It's like one season goes right into the other, like bam, bam, bam! There's always something going on. The excitement. The hair on your arms stands up when they're playing.
"When the Penguins or the Steelers are playing for the championships, it's a lot easier to get out of bed in the morning," she said. "When they lose, it's too depressing.
"But now, people see each other on the street, in the Giant Eagle, and it's all 'Go Pens!' There's just a buzz. I couldn't imagine being in a city where you don't have teams like this, the feeling like this. We're a comeback city, a fighting city."
Bill Leonard, 50, of Bethel Park, seated outside the arena with his 16-year-old daughter, Hillary, recalled the city's previous incarnation as The City of Champions.
"I've lived here all my life," Mr. Leonard said. "Through all the Steelers' Super Bowls, the Penguins' Stanley Cups, the Pirates winning. I've been to a few Pitt basketball games. I just love Pittsburgh sports."
Winning teams, he said, not only have a way of making residents forget the bad economy, they stimulate the economy.
"I'm in sales," he said. "This is always a good topic to start off with. No matter what season, we've got a good team. We're lucky."
Mike Welsh, 31, of Bridgeville, manager of Steelhouse, a sports bar and restaurant at Station Square, can attest to that. Open less than a year, Steelhouse has giant images of Pittsburgh's sports heroes plastered on its walls.
"The whole city is either up or down when the sports teams win or lose," he said. "When the Steelers lose, we're slow for the whole week. Until the next game.
"And when the teams are down, people get nervous. When the Penguins weren't winning, people didn't rally around them. But when they're winning, they all get on the bandwagon. It makes them feel like winners."
First Published May 27, 2009 12:00 am