Have faith: Pittsburgh sports' dark days will end
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Blame the Steelers.
That's what Sidney Crosby did Friday afternoon. Meeting with the media for the first time since Dec. 12, he said the shocking end to the Steelers' season in Denver a week ago led to increased scrutiny of the Penguins and the fairly widespread speculation that there's some sort of rift between him and the organization -- including his teammates -- because of how long he's taking to come back from concussion-like symptoms. He said the notion of a rift was "far-fetched" and that it was "ridiculous" he had to talk about it.
Crosby was absolutely right.
Not so much about the speculation. That's fair. The Penguins' room might not be on the verge of collapse, but at least some teammates are wondering if and when Crosby is going to play again this season. They wouldn't be human if they didn't.
Crosby was right about the scrutiny. It hasn't just increased on the Penguins since the Steelers loss to a mediocre Denver team with a bad quarterback. It also has intensified on the Pitt men's basketball team.
What the bright light has revealed isn't pleasant.
Had the Steelers not lost, we might not be so worried that the Penguins lugged a six-game losing streak before winning at Florida Friday night, 4-1.
Had the Steelers not lost, we might not be fretting so much that Pitt has lost six games in a row, the latest a 62-57 defeat at Marquette Saturday.
Had the Steelers not lost, it wouldn't seem like the world here was ending.
It's all the Steelers' fault.
There's no doubt it has been a brutal week. The Steelers' No. 1-rated defense somehow managed to allow Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow to throw for 316 yards and two touchdowns and run for 50 yards and another touchdown. Tebow needed just 11 seconds of overtime to bounce the defending AFC champions from the playoffs with an 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. The Penguins played abysmally Tuesday night in a 5-1 home loss to the Ottawa Senators, the fifth defeat in its ugly streak. A playoff spot is hardly guaranteed. Pitt lost at home Wednesday night to Rutgers, 62-39, the worst loss in Petersen Events Center history and one of the worst in school history. Pitt's streak of 10 consecutive trips to the NCAA is finished, barring a miracle.
How bad has it been?
I actually heard two people say the other day they were looking forward to baseball season.
All this is especially jarring because of where the Pittsburgh teams were a year ago. The Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens Jan. 15 in an AFC divisional playoff game, a big step toward their appearance in Super Bowl XLV three weeks later. Fifth-ranked Pitt beat Seton Hall to go to 17-1 and went on to win the Big East Conference championship. The Penguins were a serious Stanley Cup contender despite Crosby being diagnosed Jan. 6 with a concussion that coach Dan Bylsma called "minor."
Things can change quickly in sports, can't they?
I'm guessing we'll survive.
You think it has been a rotten start to the new year? You either weren't around in the 1980s or you weren't paying attention. The whole decade was lousy. The Steelers missed the playoffs six times. Their No. 1 draft choices included Mark Malone, Keith Gary, Walter Abercrombie, Gabe Rivera, Darryl Sims, John Reinstra, Aaron Jones and Tim Worley. The Penguins had eight consecutive losing seasons and missed the playoffs six times. They did get it right in the 1984 draft, though, with a kid named Lemieux. The Pirates missed the playoffs every year. Even worse, the Baseball Drug Trials in 1985 brought great shame to Pittsburgh. Pitt football had much success early in the decade and the basketball team late, but there was a feeling that both programs underachieved. Anyone remember Barry Goheen?
I gotta tell you, a couple of bad weeks are nothing.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero said the other day the team will make the playoffs. It's a nice thought. Any team with a world-class goaltender has a big shot. But, really, for Marc-Andre Fleury's sake, wouldn't a healthy Crosby, Kris Letang and Jordan Staal be nice?
Pitt also will be back, although maybe not this season. Next up for the Panthers is No. 1 Syracuse Monday night.
Hide your eyes.
But Jamie Dixon is too good of a coach to let the program slip too far for too long. Seven-footer Steve Adams is on the way from New Zealand. The Pitt people say he's off the charts. So do a lot of other basketball people.
The Steelers will be better next season as long as they're healthier. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is their Fleury. Never ever count him or his team out.
Fight through these dark times, Pittsburgh.
They will not last.
First Published January 15, 2012 12:00 am