From Sports Illustrated.
In the four years I've been in Korea I've missed two Pittsburgh Super Bowl wins and two Penguins Stanley Cup Finals appearances. I was a sports fan back home, but absence certainly has made the heart grow fonder, and not simply for Pittsburgh sports.
The Steelers two wins are great because Pittsburgh essentially revolves around football. Even the indier-than-thou kids I knew in high school love the Steelers, and the local newspapers devote considerable space to high school football and where the top student-athletes will be playing college ball. I spent a short time working for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in college, and it was really creepy being around thirtysomethings who talk about 17-year-old boys' stats and measurements, and pass judgement on their futures.
But living in Korea and seeing how fired-up they get for their national sports teams has provided insight into the pride Pittsburghers feel for the Steelers, and vice versa. Pittsburgh was one of the most significant cities in the country until the steel mills closed down, and Pittsburgh's identity during the bad times became mixed up in the Steelers. One reason "Steeler Nation" spans the globe is because so many Pittsburghers had to leave town to find work.
They are would-be steel workers who have improved their lot in life, but in doing so have had to leave Western Pennsylvania, but Western Pennsylvania never left them.The quotation comes from a 22-minute video on "Steeler Nation" from NFL Films that touches on some of that:
I don't think we're at the point where we pack our suitcases full of pierogies and Iron City when we spend a few days out of town, like the stereotypical Koreans who eat nothing but ramyeon and kimchi when they take package tours, but you can find plenty of pictures of Terrible Towels in exotic places. I have one in my apartment, but I always forget to bring it when I visit someplace neat.
The video also gets into Pittsburgh's media obsession with the Steelers and the relationship to football with the city's self-image, something we in Korea can definitely relate to. Here's an excerpt from radio personality Scott Paulsen:
The news coverage of the Pittsburgh Steelers, in Pittsburgh, is possibly the most ridiculous imaging problem I've ever seen in local news. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying it's ridiculous. Let me give you an example. Of course, the big stories this past summer were Hines Ward returning to South Korea . . . and Ben Roethlisberger returning to Switzerland to find his roots . . . These were not only silly news stories, but they were the lead, the lead, the first story on every single newscast.
The Penguins win is significant because only a few years ago they were close to moving to Hamiliton, or Portland, or Oklahoma City, or Kansas City, or any number of places. After a couple losing seasons, brought about salary dumps in turn brought on by wreckless spending in the 1990s, and declining popularity in the US, Pittsburghers generally forgot about the Pens. The Penguins turned it around pretty quickly by drafting Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby.
The success of the Penguins and Steelers demonstrates how much there needs to be a salary cap in baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates are a historic franchise, around for over 120 years, but now they're just known for being historically bad. They haven't had a winning season since 1992, and if they finish below .500 this year it will be a record. Their failures are due to bad trades, bad drafts, and bad free agents, but we can trace a lot of these back to their inability to spend money. The Pirates' 2009 payroll is about US$48.7 million; the New York Yankees' payroll is over US$201 million, and their two highest-paid players will earn US$51 million this season. The Pirates are considered a "small market team," though nobody considers Pittsburgh a small market for football or hockey. Hell, nobody in Pittsburgh even plays ice hockey. But because Pittsburgh can't compete financially with the Yankees, Mets, or Red Sox, there's really no point in them fielding a team at all.
The Penguins were bad enough to be able to draft high, taking superstars with high picks they acquired through trades or through simply being terrible. In hockey and football, players can make big contributions a year or two after being drafted, but there's not such a quick turnaround in baseball. And because first-round draft picks in baseball command such high salaries and bonuses, the Pirates can't even afford to draft the best players available. In 2007 they passed on Matt Wieters because they couldn't afford him and instead drafted the 5th-best pitcher with the 4th overall pick. *cough*
The Penguins also have a connection to South Korea in that the two ethnic Koreans to play in the NHL were drafted by Pittsburgh. Jim Paek played for them from 1990 to 1994, and Richard Park played 58 games for them over three seasons in the mid-90s.
You can find more Penguins photo galleries on their official website, and more links from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Mondesi's House.