By Bill Contz
For the mirror
If you are a sports fan in Pittsburgh, please switch channels now. You won’t like what you’re about to read.
Division champions usually deserve the right to host playoff games. Those teams that do not take advantage and advance into the later rounds are more the exception than the rule.
However, here in Pittsburgh, a city whose sports teams seem determined to build a reputation as a city where post-season outsiders thrive, are commonplace today.
The most recent example of this unsettling suffocation phenomenon came last week when a sloppy penguins club in the PPG Paints Arena lost two games in overtime, lost a 2-1 lead and, despite an incredible 117-78 goal shot advantage, left the stage six games courtesy of a pesky New York Islander team.
Eighteen weeks earlier, Heinz Field’s patrons watched in disbelief as another defeated rival sprinted to a 35-10 halftime lead and an easy playoff win on an icy January night.
Opponent, the hated Cleveland Browns, made their first playoffs in 18 years, heading into the postseason with a negative point difference and a rookie head coach cheering from his Cleveland basement on COVID-19 concerns.
The game was a déjà vu for a Pittsburgh defense who three years earlier had dropped a horrific 45 points to a Jacksonville team that had found their way into the Buffalo end zone exactly once the previous week against the mediocre Bills.
In other words, the Steelers or Penguins didn’t exactly face the eventual Lombardi Award or Stanley Cup champion in those hideous playoff defeats.
Both laid colossal eggs and let the fans scratch their collective heads.
City of Champions? How about the city of underperformers?
The PA speaker should stop playing Styx’s “Renegade” during postseason competitions and take a modified version of the hit from The Temptations instead “I know that I am losing (to) you.”
Both teams’ recent playoff records are painfully illuminating.
Although entering the playoffs in a very physical, competitive division, the Penguins left a poor record of 4-15 in their last 19 playoff games.
Equally alarming is Mike Tomlin’s anemic 3-6 playoff record since the Super Bowl loss to Green Bay over a decade ago, her 11-0 start to the 2020 season is a distant memory.
Both teams have aging stars whose best years are certainly behind them.
While Yinzers argue that Ben Roethlisberger or Sidney Crosby can’t do it alone, the reality is that the former threw four interceptions in the Cleveland loss, while the latter scored exactly one point and zero goals in their last four games against the Islanders.
When their teams need them most – the mark of a Hall of Fame player – neither player is up to the opportunity.
I understand that professional sport is a zero-sum game, but early-round elimination due to home losses, especially after battling for a league title, should be unacceptable.
Yet it is now happening in Pittsburgh with an alarming frequency.
It’s time both companies revised their rosters to actively seek out and deploy younger, hungrier talent.
If they don’t, fans will have to put up with the fact that home advantage (or ice cream) doesn’t really mean much here anymore.
Bill Contz was one of the first offensive tackles on Penn State’s first national championship team in 1982 and played six seasons in the NFL with New Orleans and Cleveland. Contz published a book in 2017, “When the lions roared: Joe Paterno and one of the best teams in college football.” He lives in Pittsburgh.
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