Monday, December 27, 2010

Fish or (Technical) Fouls


Ah, Pittsburgh. Used to be a great baseball town, we hear. This statue of Bill Mazerowski touching home plate after his famous walk-off homer in the 1960 World Series (avert your eyes, Yankee fans) is one of the hallmark moments in Pittsburgh sports history. (Of course, the statue sits outside PNC Field, where the Pirates currently play. The homer was hit at Forbes Field, which no longer exists).

But Pittsburgh is all about football nowadays. "This is Steeler Country," read signs in just a few backyards I drove by today. Roethlisberger and Polamalu jerseys adorn just about every other guy (and girl) you see around town.

It's maybe even more of a hockey town now. The Penguins have been big ever since the days of Lemieux and Jagr, straight through to today and Sidney Crosby. The Winter Classic will be held at Heinz Field on New Year's Day, as crews continue to prepare for it. Snow and/or cold weather isn't what's worrying the event's organizers. It's the threat of rain on Saturday that could put a big damper on the event.

Basketball? Never thought of Pittsburgh as a big hoops town. Heck, their most famous pro product are the Fish (who did, of course, save the city). But college basketball certainly has a nice following in these parts, thanks to the success of the Pitt Panthers over the years.

Up against Monday Night Football (Saints-Falcons) tonight, I wonder what Pittsburgh-area viewers will prefer to watch. For that matter, I wonder what most sports fans will choose. Actually, I know the answer, and it's not college hoops.

I'll never understand the landslide popularity the NFL enjoys in this country. I get that gambling and fantasy league tracking has a good part to do with it. ESPN's non-stop NFL adoration plays a huge role, too.

But I know which game I'd choose to watch tonight -- and it has nothing to do with the fact that I'm covering it.

Jim Calhoun made a very salient point yesterday when explaining why he doesn't like playing two days after Christmas. He wants the game to get as much exposure as possible, and putting it up against Monday Night Football and in college bowl season isn't a great idea.

Of course, the NFL will still be rambling on for another six weeks or so, and the college bowls don't end 'til about February either, it seems. But he's got a point: a marquee game like this should stand on its own, not have to fight with the NFL and the American sports viewing public's slavish devotion to it.

Especially here in Pittsburgh.

***P.S.: Officiating crew of Jim Burr (!), Ed Corbett (!!) and Jeff Clark tonight. What are the odds Calhoun picks up his first 'T' of the season tonight?

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