(Ed. Note: As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, we're bound to lose some friends along the journey. We've asked for these losers, gone but not forgotten, to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The bloggers who hated them the most. Here is Morgan Langworthy of the Columbus Blue Jackets blog Dark Blue Jacket, fondly recalling the 2013-14 Pittsburgh Penguins. Again, this was not written by us. Also: This is a roast and you will be offended by it, so don't take it so seriously.)
By Morgan Langworthy of the Dark Blue Jacket
We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of yet another equally over-hyped and underachieving Pittsburgh Penguins team.
To truly eulogize the Penguins, one first must understand their native fan base. As hockey aficionados know so well, few teams in sports are defined as much by their fans as they are the players on the field, er, ice. Yankees fans have a unique persona as New Yorkers, the Cheeseheads in Green Bay can be endearing, and then you have a Pens fan. The Penguins fan is unique among its peers, perhaps even more unique than those poor souls in Sunrise who still don’t understand why ice would be used for anything else other than frozen drinks.
While most fans use the championships from a bygone era to compensate for any of “their” team’s recent short-comings, the Penguins fans refuse to acknowledge the NHL, or hockey itself, existed before 1988. The aura surrounding Rob Brown is the only reason Penguins fans don’t completely disown the 1989 season. To many in the Pittsburgh area, 1967 to 1988 were simply years that have no relevance in the universe and only an absolute troll would discuss those 21 years of Penguins misery. Bringing up both Penguins’ bankruptcies, how narrowly they avoided the Chapter 13 “Reorganization of Finances” hatty, their purposely tanked season to draft Lemieux, and the team’s expansion struggles even when expansion teams played in their own playoff bracket is your shortcoming, not the Penguins. Suggesting the Penguins don’t have the same artificial majesty as an Original Six team shows only YOUR ignorance. And with the Penguins fan base of ‘millennials’ growing significantly the past few years, a large portion of the Pens fan base is actually shocked that the NHL existed before 2005. Easy Gary Bettman, the “New NHL” moniker actually confused a lot of people.
The funny thing is, most hockey fans around North America actually WANT to like the Pittsburgh Penguins. Seriously, hockey fans everywhere really want to root for them. Team captain Sidney Crosby and trusty sidekick Evgeni Malkin are the reason the Penguins sell out when they travel to visiting venues.
However, thanks to the advent of digital cameras, Twitter and the stereotypically bitter Appalachia-themed blogs of the Allegheny Valley, hockey fans are exposed to Yinzer Nation.
The Yinzer Penguins fan is a belligerent little cuss hell bent on mocking every aspect of another city’s team, fan base, and arena in order to feel better about theirs. Crosby and Malkin are some of the most curiously acquired the best players in the world. Now that Matt “Knives Out” Cooke is no longer part of the organization, there’s no real reason not to like the Penguins, until you consider the local fan base.
The team itself had a rough start to the 2013-2014 NHL season. Early in the season, the Penguins honored the Pittsburgh Pirates’ season of not sucking by playing a little game of wiffle ball on the ice after practice. As if a preview to the playoffs later in the season, with two outs and the bases loaded, Crosby pops outs and squanders glorious opportunity to play hero. But never fear, Olympic sidekick Chris Kunitz bails out Team Crosby with a two-run homer to secure the lead and the win.
What is often overlooked in this little bit of pre-season FUN is one of the poorest cover-ups in sports history. Emotionally stable James Neal suddenly goes on the DL with a strained oblique muscle the day of the game. But according to one TWEET he did not get a muscle tear similar to the ones that baseball players get from overloading a baseball swing. Back to blogging I go. Oh, it’s not from wiffle ball because hockey players tear obliques ALL THE TIME.
When the Pirates make the playoffs again in 2043, make sure to wrap the barrel of the wiffle ball bat with a roll of electrician’s tape to give it some heft, m’kay?
Despite the litany of injuries to the Penguins’ blue line, the Pens played well in the curiously-named Metropolitan Division. But seriously, we can’t all play the Devils, Capitals, and Hurricanes a combined 15 times a season. Sprinkle in a 5-0 record vs the Blue Jackets mixed with three tune ups against the Sabres and Penguins fans can’t stop talking about the awesomeness of their regular season. Of course they forget that the majority of the games the Penguins played in October and November were against teams that didn’t make the playoffs. Pittsburgh, known throughout the sports world as “Entitlement Town,” couldn’t stop basking in their Regular Season Greatness. The Cup was a sure thing by Christmas time. But why let the party stop there?
The Penguins were bestowed the honor of having their head coach lead the American men’s hockey team at the Winter Olympics. “Disco” (that go) Dan Bylsma was up to his old tricks in Sochi, doing really awesome during preliminary competition; most notably defeating a Russian team that largely was rostered by the Columbus Blue Jackets. And wouldn’t you know it, after beating the Czech Republic early in the medal rounds, Team USA takes on Bylsma’s personality – that of a soulless accountant staring blankly at the floor of a subway train at 5 a.m. and laid some solid turd sammiches on the ice during crunch time in Sochi – crushing the American spirit in the process. Penguins fans slowly began to distance themselves from Bylsma, which is odd for the Penguins fan base to do.
See, there is a creepy level of assumed familiarity that exists between the mouth-breathing Penguin die-hards and the players on the team. Fans casually use the player nicknames, as if drawing from the imaginary days when they shared a stall next to “Nealer” in juniors. To suggest the casual Pittsburgh fan doesn’t dine with the team after every game reveals only your ignorance to the world of hockey. Further fostering the idea of relative intimacy, the team’s super fan twitter accounts drops “Geno, Duper, and Sid” all the time, and not for the sake of saving characters. A team’s success in competition is supposed to define the team, but the fans define the Penguins identity to other markets. That is why so many people jump at the chance to root against the Penguins. It’s not that most people don’t like the Pens, it’s that they don’t like Penguins fans. (Crosby whining like a little kid with a fat lip doesn’t help ingratiate the team either).
Sadly, moving the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Eastern Conference has meant more opportunity for Yinzer Nation to crawl out of the coal mine, steel mill, or some environmentally destructive PPG facility in time for the mouth-breathing automatons of Western Pennsylvania to make the trek to Nationwide Arena and hue the arena air with the stench of Frito Lay cheese and diet Mountain Dew.
The Penguins fan is so easy to spot upon arrival at the visiting arena. Aside from the shabby footwear and ever present grey sweatpants, look for that most conspicuous feature of the Penguin fan - the snug fitting size 58 Penguins jersey simultaneously reeking of body odor and self-loathing. Like the D-Day stripes of a World War II-era aircraft, you can tell if the jersey has been to Civic Arena should the faded gravy stain run full-length down the front of the jersey and not just appear as spots. This visiting Penguins fan is neither humble nor gracious.
While one can assume the visiting Yinzer is a connoisseur of the accoutrements offered at “Giant Iggles’” free sample day or the grease-laden food trucks littering the parking lots of Heinz Field, they waste no time ripping on your arena’s food, facilities, and comfort. Mitchell’s Steak House is a barnyard trough compared to the Golden Corral Prime Rib buffet in Heritage Park.
(I highly recommend Mitchell’s Steak House, if you have the means.)
An opposing team can appreciate an obnoxious fan base, though, if it retains some degree of civility, dignity, and understands the game of hockey at rudimentary levels. Sadly, this cannot be expected of a Penguins fan. The Penguins fan is so insecure that it is unable to tell when a blog is trolling its own fan base, that it is too stupid to understand satire, and it lacks the required set of chromosomes to recognize when it’s actually being trolled. Maybe it’s the banjo music, maybe it’s the collapse of the US steel industry, but the Penguins’ fans project their many, many shortcomings onto opposing teams and their fan base. Then, like that awkward time with Uncle Billy in the dark corner of the basement, they suppress memories of the Penguin’s tumultuous past – no one can ever know. While I’m sure there are plenty of nice people who have moved to Pittsburgh from more civilized parts of the world, it is difficult to imagine the Penguin’s without conjuring images of their Crisco-fused local fan base. And let’s be honest here, the greatest thing anyone from Pittsburgh has ever done is discovering Lois Einhorn’s Penis. LACES OUT, DAN!
As the Penguins resumed play after the Olympic break, a majority of opponents remaing on their schedule were poised to make the playoffs. Their record the last two months was a mortal 11-9-3 and they entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the much inferior Columbus Blue Jackets. Pens fans will whine about man-games lost to injuries and something about best intentions leading to the ‘slide.’
Really? Look what Babcock was able to do in Detroit with nothing but a folding examination table and the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Perhaps feeling threatened by the self-appointed 5th Line, Penguins fans were quick to begin mocking the Blue Jackets. Most notably, they began making fun of the Blue Jacket’s attendance numbers for this season. The irony being that there was no mention at all of the Blue Jackets out-drawing the Penguins in attendance from 2000 to 2007. Perhaps 2004 is one of those suppressed memories too. You know, when the Penguin’s average attendance was slightly over 11,000 per game - good for dead last in the NHL. Re-runs of Voltron drew higher numbers than a Penguins home game in 2004.
But hey, the Blue Jackets suck now. Only in Pittsburgh can a team who earns a spot in the playoffs suck. Often pointing to the fact that the Penguins were 5-0 during the regular season series, the Penguins were unrelenting in their assault on Blue Jackets fans and the city of Columbus up to and during the Playoffs.
The opening series against the Blue Jackets displayed many of the presumed kinks in the Penguins armor for the entire world to see up close. Marc-Andre Fleury did not once show that he still (EVER?) was a goaltender that championships can be built around. Like a divorcee with a therapist-suggested blog, Fleury’s issues with mental toughness were aired to the sports world BY THE PENGUINS FANS THEMSELVES. Who freaking does that? And the only time Marc-Andre Fleury and the word “balls” are used in a sentence together is when it’s mentioned how Gary Bettman forgot to take Fleury’s balls out of the hopper during the 2005 draft lottery.
Sidney Crosby, arguably the best hockey player ever to come out of Cole Harbour, NS, was contained by the lowly Blue Jackets water bottle destroyer Brandon Dubinsky. Crosby could not reach the goal sheet in the series against the Blue Jackets causing Penguins and apologists everywhere to insist that he was playing injured. NEWS FLASH: Everybody in the Playoffs plays injured (but why spoil the narrative?). But assuming the reason Crosby hasn’t scored against the bush league Jackets was because of an injury, and because the Jackets suck so badly the injury must be severe. Crosby must have been undergoing a physically taxing experimental medical treatment for a truly unspeakable medical condition - because the Jackets suck.
The true psychotic instability of Yinzer Nation became both gloriously and horrifically visible in social media after the Jackets battled back to win Game 4 of the series. Penguins’ blogs and popular Twitter accounts read more like the comments section of a Fox News article about Obamacare than hockey talk. Bylsma was getting fired and Fleury would not be back with the Penguins after his contract expired. Heck, they’d both be lucky to still be under contract for Game 5. In 7 short days, the zit-sucking Blue Jackets had gone from being losers, to a team that could ultimately get Bylsma fired and Fleury exiled. What a delicious clown show the Pittsburgh media would have been had the Jackets won that series and #Pens social media would have melted like those German dudes at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Alas, Evgeni Malkin goes Highlight reel on Columbus in game six to will the Pens to victory closing out the series.
Seriously, has someone started a “Did Crosby score a playoff goal against the Blue Jackets” twitter account yet?
The Penguins drew the New York Rangers for the second round of the playoffs. Free of those nefarious Blue Jackets, Penguins fans assumed another glorious victory over a Blue shirt team whose transplanted nucleus was a handful of Blue Jackets players that even Columbus didn’t want anymore. And thus the Pens Logic continues unabated: The Blue Jackets suck, so should the Rangers… Pens in five.
Crosby was immediately added to the list of Masterton finalists by scoring his first, and only goal, of the 2013-2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Penguins looked as if they might actually pull off a series win in five games, but it was not meant to be. Not unlike their counterparts in the stands, the Penguins lacked the hunger to consume trans-fats the conviction to beat a well-motivated and emotionally charged Rangers team. Leading the series three games to one, the Penguins failed to win a single game over the next three contests.
Every possible Yinzer neurosis on full display for the hockey world’s benefit. The Penguins, despite their omnipresent triumphalism, have still only won a single Stanley Cup while rostering Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
No Eulogy is complete without openly observing the grieving process for such a bandwagon-full, and quite frankly, sad fan base. In their grief, Penguin fans are consuming themselves and we all get to watch. Like nine-year-olds who expect to play in the NHL, the Penguins fans actually believe this team will win the Stanley Cup EVERY year. But they failed to do it, again. Thus, the Kubler-Ross stages of grieving were hilariously exhibited after the Penguins were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs by the New York Rangers.
Denial – The Refs were horrible, Crosby’s hurt, Fleury felt bad for Marty St Louis, and Neal forgot to take his Tuesday pills.
Anger – Fire Bylsma. Deadspin sucks.
Bargaining – Fire Bylsma, but Keep Shero, and set up a ‘Tortorella’ proof perimeter around Pittsburgh.
Depression – Half of the team is Free Agents. Anyone who is under contract has a no-movement clause. What happens if we fire Shero? Oh… Oh no. We’re in this mess for a while, aren’t we?
Acceptance – We won Back-to-Back Cups in 91-92 and Lemieux’s deferred salary from 1996 doesn’t count against the cap.
And while the Penguins fan base grieves huddled around the closed casket funeral of the 2013-2014 Penguins, we offer no solace. It’s not that we can’t offer solace, we simply chose not to. It’s a “won’t” thing, not a “can’t” thing.
We flip through the handout at your funeral and all we can do is laugh.
We laugh that Jiri Hrdina has won more Stanley Cups as a Penguin than Sidney Crosby.
We laugh that despite all the Yinzer belligerence, Evgeni Malkin is now eligible to play in the IIHF Worlds with Alex Ovechkin.
We laugh that the Penguins are stuck with a wilting flower in goal for another season, and not even Garth Snow would consider a trade for him.
We’ll send a bouquet of black roses to the bereft mothers of Yinzer Nation complete with a sympathy card that simply says, “YOU SUCK.”
And we’ll remember to bring a dehumidifier to next year’s inevitable premature funeral because you hags breathe through your mouth so badly that the windows are starting to fog over. No wonder the ice at Consol Energy Center is so bad.
About the author: as a child, Morgan’s family moved to Northeast Ohio in the early 80s from the east coast, at which time his only exposure to the NHL was through a 2.5 hour drive to Civic Arena. Morgan is now a regular contributor to the Dark Blue Jacket blog and is the producer/analyst on the Blue Jackets-centric Distinct Kicking Motion “DKM Hockey” Podcast. Unlike Pens fans, Morgan understands and appreciates satire.