Tim Benz: 2019 has been one of the worst Pittsburgh sports years
Let’s just skip Halloween.
Fast forward through Christmas and get to New Year’s Eve!
I’m dying to flip the calendar to 2020. Because 2019 has been one of the worst Pittsburgh sports years in recent memory.
In fact, unless the Steelers turn things around and scramble to make the playoffs, 2019 will go down as the first time in 13 years that Pittsburgh didn’t see a single playoff victory from any of its three professional sports teams.
Chew on that. If you are in your first semester of your freshman year of college right now, the last time you went through a Pittsburgh sports year like this, you were starting kindergarten.
The Penguins didn’t win a playoff game while being swept by the New York Islanders in the first round of the NHL playoffs. The Pirates were eliminated by, well, pretty much the end of July. And the Steelers may be staring at 0-4 if they trip up against the Cincinnati Bengals Monday night.
Don’t laugh. It could happen.
That’s on top of the Steelers blowing a 7-2-1 record and missing the playoffs in 2018, which kinda got the downward spiral going for the Pittsburgh sports fan base before the holidays started.
Chris Boswell slipped in Oakland, and it’s been a city-wide downhill turn from there.
This year-long run of disappointment is unprecedented in Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin era. As a tandem, starting in 2007, those two have never missed the playoffs and — until last year — have never failed to, at least, win a playoff game.
So you’ve got to go all the way back to 2006 to see a full season where the Penguins, Pirates, and Steelers all ended a season without a playoff victory.
Yeah, I know Super XL was technically played in February 2006. But the Steelers’ next season ended out of the playoffs at 8-8 on Dec. 31 of that year.
Oh, and you had Roethlisberger’s motorcycle accident that June as well.
Meanwhile, the Pirates limped to a 67-95 record, one game out of last place in the National League Central. And the Penguins’ 2005-06 season collapsed with only 58 points at 22-46-14.
But that was Crosby’s rookie year. He had 102 points. Malkin was on the way for the next season and optimism abounded.
A year later, in their first season together, Nos. 87 and 71 would qualify for the playoffs and win one game against the Ottawa Senators before getting bounced in the first round to start the streak we have enjoyed as a city.
A streak that would stay intact until this year — barring a massive Steelers turnaround the likes of which we have never seen.
I guess 2003 was even tougher. The three pro franchises all fanned on the playoffs that year, too. Making it worse, Roethlisberger was still in college. Crosby was still in junior hockey. And the 87-loss Pirates made the Aramis Ramirez-and-Kenny Lofton-for-Bobby Hill trade.
Those were dark times. Especially if you bought a Hill No. 17 jersey.
Our local sports depression of late, though, isn’t limited to bad win-loss totals.
It’s been the storylines accompanying the teams. The Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown sagas dominated Steelers headlines even more than blown leads, missed kicks and hidden X-ray machines.
Not to mention the quarterback landing on injured reserve in September.
Not only were the Penguins fecklessly swept out of the playoffs by the New York Islanders. But then the Isles were swept away themselves in the next round.
On top of that, the team had to shed popular winger Phil Kessel amidst a litany of stories regarding him feuding with the coach and sulking in the locker room.
Then there are the Pirates. Oh, the Pirates.
We’re used to them losing.
No city is used to ineptitude like this, though. It’s 91 losses and counting for a team that was just a game under .500 at the All-Star break.
On top of that, it’s the disgusting charges against Felipe Vazquez. It’s his fight with Kyle Crick. It’s Keone Kela getting suspended. It’s Crick fighting with coaches.
It’s the whole big mess.
Maybe the Penguins can get off to a good start this fall and turn things around. Maybe Bob Nutting will announce he’s selling the Buccos to a billionaire with free-agent dollars and money to burn. And maybe the Steelers can do the unthinkable and gut their way into the postseason.
Until then, you have fun at the Halloween parties and Turkey Bowl games.
I’ll be camping out downtown getting my “First Night” spot ready. Because I can’t wait to ring-out 2019.