As weird as it is to say, when you’re a fan of a very successful sports franchise, it comes with a bit of a burden.
Now, when I say “burden,” I don’t mean it’s a bad thing to watch your favorite team enjoy continued success and be judged by the number of championships it displays in its trophy case. It’s just that, well, your favorite team is judged by the number of titles it wins, which means, as a fan, you expect nothing less than achieving the ultimate victory.
As a Steelers fan, I can attest to this quite well, considering anything less than a championship became unacceptable the moment Chuck Noll led his team to a fourth Lombardi trophy in six years in January of 1980, capping off a decade of dominance in the 1970’s that is perhaps unmatched in professional sports history.
The 21 playoff appearances, 15 division titles, four Super Bowl trips and two Lombardi trophies the organization has achieved since have only reinforced the belief among Steelers fans that, again, anything less than ultimate victory is totally unacceptable.
With their team going for its second-straight Stanley Cup, and fifth since 1991, Pittsburgh Penguins fans have certainly taken up residence in the same arena of high expectations as those who root for the Steelers. With their team employing some of the best hockey players on the planet–including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin–nothing but a Stanley Cup parade is acceptable around these parts (Mike Sullivan is the team’s fourth head coach since Crosby went to his first Stanley Cup Final back in 2008).
Yes, despite their team playing in its fourth Final in nine years and achieving the ultimate success just one year ago, the fans won’t be feeling anything but sorrow unless the Penguins (currently tied 2-2) win the Cup once again.
But you know whose fan base won’t be feeling anything but joy, regardless of how the Final turns out?
- The one that belongs to Pittsburgh’s opponents, the Nashville Predators.
An expansion team who came into the NHL in 1998, the Predators had never won a division title nor advanced past the second round of the playoffs, before entering the 2016/2017 postseason as the last seed in the Western Conference (and, based on overall record, the last seed in the entire NHL playoffs).
When you think of great hockey towns, Nashville certainly never comes to mind. However, after almost doing so last year, the Predators sold out all of their home games at Bridgestone Arena for the 2016/2017 regular season.
- In-fact, the Predators home building, located right smack-dab in the heart of country music, is developing a reputation as the loudest in the NHL.
Maybe that’s why the Predators, despite their nondescript history, rolled right through the Western Conference playoffs and advanced to their first ever Stanley Cup Final.
- When hockey season is in full-swing, Nashville is unofficially dubbed “Smashville,” and it appears the Predators southern fans have embraced the image.
I know one thing for sure, the city is absolutely drunk off of hockey, as the fans are experiencing this kind of run for the very first time.
In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, played at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center on May 29, a Predators fan made news by throwing a catfish on the ice (a tradition at Predators home games) and was removed from the arena, before being arrested and charged with several crimes (all the charges have since been dropped).
Coming into the playoffs with the second most points in the NHL and having to outlast the teams who were first and third in points just to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Penguins are certainly in no mood for shenanigans. Neither are their fans, who are now mocking the love-fest Predators fans are enjoying with their team.
- Ah, but to be that innocent of a fan once more and enjoy something for the very first time.
That kind of feeling usually only happens once.
It did for me 22 years ago, when the Steelers defeated the underdog Colts in the AFC Championship Game and advanced to Super Bowl XXX to take on the heavily-favored Dallas Cowboys, winners of two of the previous three Super Bowls.
As a youngster in the 1980’s, the Steelers dominance of the previous decade seemed almost mythical after the legends began to retire one-by-one and were replaced by a far-less talented group of players.
However, as Noll gave way to Bill Cowher, and he rejuvenated the team and brought the magic back to the fan base, you could sense the passion and the hunger once more.
- I know I was super-hungry for some form of championship-success. And when it finally happened after many years of depressing seasons and excruciating playoff exits, I was simply euphoric.
Again, Pittsburgh was a huge underdog, but I didn’t care. I soaked in every minute of the two-week build-up to the Super Bowl. I read every article I could get my hands on. I watched every news report and special dedicated to the Black and Gold.
- Even though the Steelers infamously came up just short against Dallas thanks to too many Neil O’Donnell to Larry Brown connections, I had the time of my life.
In-fact, other than the euphoria that followed Jerome Bettis, Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward, Joey Porter and Ben Roethlisberger leading the Steelers to their the Super Bowl XL victory in Detroit (the franchise’s first title in 26 years), the Steelers trip to Super Bowl XXX may have been my happiest time as a sports fan.
Sadly, unless the Pirates actually make a World Series appearance before I die (it hasn’t happened since I was seven), I may never get to experience that kind of feeling again.
I gotta tell ya, I’m not sure which fan base I envy more:
- The one with the previous success and high expectations or the one that is enjoying everything for the very first time.
I do know one thing: While Penguins fans won’t truly enjoy themselves unless their team wins another Cup, Predators fans are already at the party and having a grand old time.