August 7, 2008

Mario Lemieux Week Day 4: How I Became a Penguins Fan

Since I started Going Five Hole last October, my Penguin fandom has kind of oozed through more and more in some of my posts. I guess it was obvious when I did a game recap of every Pens playoff game from this past season. Now that I have a Facebook and Myspace page set up and am able to connect to hockey and Pittsburgh fans from all over the world, the one prevalent question that pops up is always this:

"How does a guy who's born and raised in New York become a Penguins fan?"

It's actually quite simple. I fell in love with the logo at a very early age.

I grew up in a house on Long Island, New York with two older brothers who love hockey, so it was an easy transition for me to go from Transformer-loving kid to hockey-crazed little monkey. One brother is a die-hard Islanders fan and the other was a Rangers fan, but became so disgusted by MSG's treatment of Messier in the late-90's and letting him go to Vancouver was the last straw. He gave up all hope on the Blueshirts and began rooting for the Canadiens, a team he's always followed.

Apparently, my brothers failed in converting me to one of their teams.

Back in the mid-late 80's, I remember being excited when the Rangers/Islanders/Devils would play the Penguins. It was my only chance to flip on SportsChannel (remember that?) and see my team and the skating Penguins logo. I don't remember when the first time I saw the Penguins logo was, but I know that my love for the team has been festering for over 20 years now.

When the Pens won their two Stanley Cup's in 1991 and 1992, I was probably the only 10 and 11 year old to have the official Cup t-shirt on Long Island. Hell, I was probably the only person to have one in New York state. See, I had a connection that allowed me to get some great Pens stuff over the years. My aunt,who worked for JCPenney at the time, had a friend who worked in one in Pittsburgh. When my aunt told her friend about her Penguins-mad nephew, she was extremely nice enough to send me Pens-related paraphernalia over the next few years. To this day, I still have the Penguins '91 Cup Wheaties box, the numerous magazines with Mario Lemieux on it, as well as a ton of newspaper clippings and full issues the day after the Pens won both titles. And of course, the famous "One From the Heart" on video. I felt like I was living in Pittsburgh even though in reality, I was about seven hours away.

I didn't have favorite players. I had one favorite player and that was Mario.

Like many young sports fans, I migrated to my teams' biggest star, Mario Lemieux. I was mesmerized at a young age at how he made the game look so easy. When I would play street hockey in the driveway with my older brother, I'd always pretend to be like Mario. Sure, I was playing with a Mylec stick and was about a foot and a half shorter than number 66, but that didn't stop me from trying no-angle and bank shots to score. Mario also followed me into the bedroom. (No, not in a Chris Hansen kind of way). My side of the bedroom was adorned with Lemieux posters and pictures ripped from various hockey magazines. It practically looked like the inside of PenStation, the team store at Mellon Arena.

My trek to Pittsburgh for Game 3 of this year's Stanley Cup was a long time coming. It was my own personal pilgrimage to Mecca. Driving up to the arena, it brought me back to my childhood and all those games watched on television, yet being so far away from Mellon Arena. It took me 27 years to get to Pittsburgh and the day and a half spent there reinvigorated my passion for the Penguins. It was a thrill to finally see the Pens in person where they were the home team (well, aside from a game in Washington last October when half the arena was pro-Pittsburgh) and to be to cheer a goal and not hear myself because the building was rocking.

It's hard to replace your idol. Mario's been gone from the ice for two and a half years now and while Evgeni Malkin has taken Lemieux's place as my favorite on-ice player, Gino will never be able to stir the feelings I had when I was a young like #66 did every time he touched the ice.

Ballhype: hype it up!

6 comments:

Brian said...

Excellent article. To add to it, while you had Lemieux pictures/posters on your side of the room, mine was adorned with ones of Gretzky.

Quite the interesting decor. And don't forget those Lemieux 66 mock practice jerseys I got you, complete with the "C".

And that pic is a testament to the awesome hockey games played in the old driveway.

Maybe next time I'm back to NY, we can talk the owners of our old house into letting us "rent out" the driveway for a few hours.

No Kari Takko shots allowed, though. LOL!

Beaded Banners by Bonnie said...

So.......all I have to say is DON'T be a stranger to Pittsburgh and let hubby and me know next time you are in town!

Breeze said...

I can relate to your story. Though I grew up in the 'Burgh, I also had an affinity for the Habs, and the reason was simple--at the first Pens game I ever saw live, they played the Canadiens. My dad bought a pennant from each team for me to hang in my room. For years, those were the only two teams I knew anything about.

My knowledge and appreciation of the game grew in parallel to the rise of the Penguins in the late 1980s, so I naturally gravitated toward them and left the Habs behind.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Though I now make my home in Florida, I still follow the Penguins closely--watching the games, reading the local Pittsburgh papers' coverage, and even decorating a wall in my family room with photos of the '91 and '92 Cup teams.

Oh... and as I type this, I'm looking at my collection of Penguins pucks on my office shelf--which include one each from the Cup championships. :)

Loser Chris said...

I knew there was a reason we get along. As a lifelong Pens fan who grew up in California and now lives in Texas, you practically did live in Pittsburgh compared to me.

LCSLarry said...

Leahy,

I'm glad to see that Mario Lemieux is being honored like he should be. Mario was the greatest ever! Done and done!

He always seems to get the brush when these talkin' suits, like Keith Jones and Brian Engblom, mention the greatest players ever and always leave 66 off the list.

It's Gretzky and Messier and Howe and Orr, and Lemieux gets treated like the adopted stepbrother. When it's quite clear that he was better than all of those guys.

Better than everyone. Ever!

So, as a Pens fan, I appreciate you taking the time to honor "Le Magnifique" the way that he deserves.

Keep up the great work.

p.s. Your fantasy baseball team still blows...

christophergates said...

Sean,

I was at that same Pens vs. Caps game! I go every year, and it's always the same - more Pens fans than Caps fans. What an amazing environment.

~Chris @ pittsburghpucktalk.com