Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Buy Sam a Drink: 2007 Pens vs. 2007 Steelers

Welcome back to the new hit series that is breaking through across the country like it was being blocked by Kendall Simmons circa late last year: Buy Sam a Drink! A big thanks to the Post Gazette Blog ‘N Gold for linking to last week’s edition, and I ought to mention that Mondesi’s House beat me to the punch a little bit by mentioning today’s debate in his notes yesterday. I have been grappling with this issue for a few weeks now, and while it is perhaps pointless to declare a winner, it gets me punching the keyboard with a little more excitement just thinking about.

Summer is nice and all, but we all know that Dave Wannstache has been praying for an Alan Faneca headline while Sam has been busy creating Angelo Esposito on NHL ’94. Thus, it is time to decide…

Winter clothes are needed after the jump.

This article is not meant simply as an escape from talking about the Pirates (on some levels, maybe it is. Actually, hmm, my archive says I have talked about the Pirates, like, twice all summer). Rather, it is genuine expression of how unbelievably excited I am for the upcoming Steelers and Penguins seasons. On the surface, it appears that the Pens season would be the easy choice here, particularly since I have a noted bias towards all things hockey. However, loads of sagacious front office moves will not assure the Pens victory in this debate.

It seems impossible, but the Steelers did actually win the Super Bowl 17 some months ago. Sure, perhaps success is more fleeting in the NFL than in any other league, but virtually every player on the team has a Super Bowl ring, took their lumps last year, and is hopefully ready to rev it up for the fall.

There are, of course, many, MANY questions concerning the 2007 squad. Willie Parker was probably the most under-appreciated player on the team last year, and yet people once again wonder if he can put up big numbers. Ike Taylor got Paid and then (nearly) Laid (off), and you can bet that I will have my eyes shut for the first fade route to the right corner. The offensive line struggled mightilyat times last year, there is a lack of experienced depth at linebacker…and for the sake of everyone’s sanity, I won’t even get started about what Roethlisberger has at stake this year.

And yet one change overshadows them all, a change that has been written about endlessly but one that will not be fully realized until Pittsburghers look to the sideline and see a different man wearing the headset. The Mike Tomlin storyline has had an interesting story arch, to be sure. Much like the “Jerome is from Detroit” storyline, the Cowher saga was so intensely covered that the whole process became a running joke. Eventually the stories about Cowher stopped, the pieces on Tomlin began, and everyone appeared to be coming to their senses about the whole thing.

But it will certainly be undeniably weird to see someone other than Cowher striding along the chalk. For me, I know there will be a “holy hell Bill isn’t on the sidelines” moment. I’m sure there will be one for everyone. After it passes, though, there will only be the same sentiment as always: the Steelers better freaking win.

As has been covered by us and virtually everybody in town, Mike Tomlin appears to be, on paper at least, a perfect fit for the no non-sense, maximum effort – alright, I’ll say it – blue-collar brand of football that Pittsburghers love. I almost wish Joey Porter was still around just so he had someone to answer to. Almost.

Thus, with the Steelers, there is an anxious type of uncertainty surrounding the team, almost guaranteeing an intriguing season. For the Penguins, the only uncertainty seems to be just how high their ceiling is. I have really tried to not get carried away with Ray Shero and his wheeling and dealing. I have tried to remember that it is summertime and that hockey teams are made and truly brought together on the ice in the winter and early spring. But I can’t help it. Everything just seems to good to be true. The man uses a system, sticks to his system, and with the help of Sidney Crosby, has almost instantaneously created an environment of winning for hockey in Pittsburgh. It is practically unheard of. Crosby is calling teammates to congratulate them on signing deals to stay in Pittsburgh. Therrien is having the team up to Montreal. Veterans like Sykora and Sydor are coming in. Gary Roberts has been mythologized to the point of obsession over at The Pens Blog, and I love it all.

Throw in a new arena, a nice little young core of Malkin-Staal-Fluery-Whitney, some goofball role players like Armstrong-Talbot-Christiansen, the best fighter in the league, the best player in the league, and I am pretty sure you have the most entertaining team in hockey, if not best team.

And you know what might be the best part? The window is wide open. Yes, some of the veterans obviously won’t be around much longer, and the young guys are going to start making bank soon. But as proved this past spring, this is a team with a future, a team that is learning, will continue to learn, and is eventually going to combine talent with experience to become a formidable, formidable foe for other NHL teams.

The Steelers don’t have as much to learn, they just have something to prove. I was skeptical at first – skeptical of how veterans that had become accustomed to and perhaps even softened by Cowher’s ways would respond to a new sheriff in town. But I think they will respond, and I am ecstatic to see how they do. I wasn’t able to really watch the Steelers last season because I was overseas, and it is safe to say that I am long overdue for some Steelers football. Fortunately I came back in time to see the Pens go on a surge and make the playoffs, and I think it is safe to say that if it wasn’t for my lack of Steelers-watching over the past year, the Pens might have an easier time winning this debate.

But as it stands now, the Pens have a seemingly uninhibited ceiling while the Steelers have a definitive pedestal to return to. The Pens have places to go, while the Steelers have something to prove. The two franchises are in somewhat different places, but they are both irrevocably committed to winning. I love watching teams with such high levels of promise, and I love watching teams with chips on their shoulder. This fall, we get both.

So you know what? For the first time ever, I am calling a draw. I am just too damned excited about both seasons.

So hey Pens and Steelers!


No comments: