Mike Sullivan Embraces Pittsburgh Along with The Cup

When Sullivan showed up in December and began going about the business of delivering to the city its fourth Stanley Cup, he also found out what Pittsburgh sports are really all about.

Mike Sullivan previously knew Pittsburgh as just another NHL destination. As a player, as an assistant coach or as a head coach in the league, he would contemplate “Pit” –that’s how Pittsburgh is referenced in NHL circles – whenever it showed up on the schedule, but only then and never as something more than the merely the home of the Penguins.

The changed beginning in December, when Sullivan showed up and began going about the business of delivering to Pittsburgh its fourth Stanley Cup.

In the process, he found out what Pittsburgh sports are really all about.

“For a small city, it’s a big city as far as a sports town,” Sullivan gushed regarding his new home on the ice on Sunday night in San Jose. “And I’ve grown to really admire and respect the support that all of the major sports teams get in the city, and then how each team supports each other.

“What a thrill it is to be a part of that fraternity.”

If there was a hint of regret attached to the march of the Penguins through the Rangers, Capitals, Lightning and Sharks this postseason, it was that the Stanley Cup Final had required a sixth game in San Jose.

“We were so moved by the showing in Game 5 when we were at home and had the opportunity to try to win it at home,” Sullivan maintained. “I know our guys played their hearts out to try to make that happen for everybody.”

By everybody, Sullivan meant the largest crowd in CONSOL Energy Center history inside, thousands more gathered outside to watch the broadcast on a big screen that has traditionally hosted such gatherings, and still thousands more at Market Square, where another big screen had quickly been set up to accommodate the overflow crowd once the traditional venue’s capacity had been saturated.

Welcome to Pittsburgh, coach.

The crowd inside for Game 5 had included Bill Mazeroski.

Why wouldn’t it?

Maz authored the home run that had delivered the last major championship that had been won within Pittsburgh’s city limits, the 1960 World Series.

Maz is in the fraternity.

So are former Steelers Brett Keisel and Heath Miller, and current Steelers Antonio Brown and Ryan Shazier, all of whom attended home games during the Penguins’ championship run.

So is Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who has been spotted at CONSOL Energy Center sitting on the glass, wearing a Mario Lemieux No. 66 jersey and waving a towel.

The only other fraternity that has this much fun was in “Animal House.”

The Pirates recently wore Penguins jerseys on a trip to Colorado.

The Penguins wore Pirates hats and played whiffle ball on their home ice just prior to the 2013 National League Wild Card Game (the “Cueto Game”).

And Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury skated in a uniform that included a Steelers helmet and a Terrible Towel just prior to the teams’ last two Super Bowl appearances.

It’s a fraternity that shares much more than just a rabid fan base and an affinity for Black and Gold.

In Pittsburgh these days, it’s “We are Fam-a-lee” times three.

Sullivan was moved enough by that fraternal aspect of sports in Pittsburgh he’s come to understand and appreciate that he broached the subject minutes after having won the Cup.

Is it that way in Philadelphia?

Is it that way anywhere else?

“Some of the other places I lived didn’t stack up championships in the ways that we do here in Pittsburgh,” said Tomlin, who coached in Tampa and Minneapolis prior to coming to Pittsburgh in 2007. “It’s tough to draw the parallel.”

It was easy to get on board, Tomlin added.

“I’ve been here so long now that I’m a Pittsburgher,” he said. “And that’s what Pittsburghers do, man, they support one another.

“They root for and cheer for championships.”


Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section