Call it what you will. 2011 has been an extraordinarily painful time to be a fan in Pittsburgh. Shall we start at the beginning?
It's December of 2010, and we are drunk with happiness. The Penguins hadn't lost a game in a month and the Steelers were unexpectedly rolling towards a playoff berth after a tumultuous offseason. HBO was in town filming 24/7 in preparation for the Winter Classic. It was pretty much sunshine and kittens at that point.
And then the ball dropped.
Go to hell, Times Square.
Jan 1, 2011:
On National Hangover Day, the Penguins played host to the Crapitals at Heinz Field in the Winter Classic. The atmosphere was incredible and the stage was set for a hallowed chapter in Penguins history. Little did we know.
I'm normally not one for drama or superfluous adjectives, but this is a seminal moment in Penguins history. This hit, coupled with Victor Hedman's less vicious shot several days later, left Crosby on the sidelines for the rest of the season. Yes, Crosby has skated with teammates, run through some drills and flashed his omnipresent smile. But the fact remains that since the Hedman hit, nobody has laid a hand on him. The Penguins have been all but mum on Crosby developments. The smart money says Crosby will get healthy and back to normal over this extended summer, but it's not something that's given at this point. Penguins fans may have to face the fact that Crosby may not be the same. Is it likely? No. But it's certainly not impossible.
Oh yeah, the Pens lost the game too.
February 4th, 2011:
In a 3-2 comeback win over Buffalo, the Pens suffered another freak accident when Andre the Giant...I mean, Tyler Myers fell awkwardly on Evgeni Malkin's knee, tearing his ACL. Even then, we really had no idea how long the Penguins would have to go without the services of both Crosby and Malkin. This is the point where the Crosby Watch truly gained steam.
February 6th, 2011:
Watching the Steelers lose Super Bowl XLV was like getting head-butted in the balls by Zinedine Zidane. The Steelers were outplayed and outcoached from the start. Hell, the Packers lost half their secondary in that game and still beat us. Truly, it wasn't as close as the score would indicate. No excuses on this one. Green Bay deserved that win.
February 11th, 2011:
If I were Dan Bylsma, I would have shown the team this video before Game 7. This was nothing but childish retaliation for the Brent Johnson/Rick Dipietro fight the week prior (which is really the best thing to happen sports-wise this year). Just despicable the whole way around. Trevor Gillies turned into a household name, and were it not for Max Talbot's keen eye, Matt Martin would have been just as vilified. This wasn't a hockey game, it was a street fight. Hands down the low of the entire season in the NHL.
March 19, 2011
In one of the most bizarre endings in tournament history, #1 seed Pitt was ousted by #8 Butler. With slightly over two seconds left, and Pitt up 69-68, Butler's Andrew Smith made an easy layup off a great pass from Shawn Vanzant. Game over, right? Wrong. In a completely mindless play, Butler's Shelvin Mack dogged Gilbert Brown around midcourt, eventually fouling Brown with 1.4 seconds left. Butler's fanbase collectively poop themselves. Brown makes the first free throw (after some back and forth chat with Mack), tying the game at 70 all. The next sequence would etch itself into Pitt's ignominious basketball history.
Brown shoots. Off the rim.
Butler's Matt Howard rebounds
Nasir Robinson's left arm.
Howard sinks a free throw to win.
I'm one of the few Pittsburghers who will defend Robinson here. First of all, it's a high pressure situation, and Robinson wants to win the game. He wanted that rebound badly. His crime was one of passion, and while it's staggering, it is defensible. Robinson took the blame after the loss, but it certainly wasn't deserved. Pitt squandered opportunities all game long. Regardless, it stands as one of the most painful losses in the program's history.
This Bolts-Pens series was just so tough to swallow. A week prior to the Game 7 loss, the Pens were flying high after James Neal's Double OT winner to put the Pens up 3-1 in the series. Most thought the Lightning would fold, and the Pens would be 2nd round bound. Not so fast. Tampa's third line (including new enemy Sean Bergenheim) took over the series, and Dwayne Roloson did what he had to do.
The whole thing culminated in one last flurry of action in Game 7s waning seconds. The season died where it was born; the choppy ice of Consol Energy Center, surrounded by a winded but hopeful Pens faithful, anxious for another day.
So where is this all leading? One would ask (and rightfully so) if things could get any worse. That question is always dangerous because the answer will always be yes.
But we're Pittsburgh; we face the present with steely resolve, and the future with cautious optimism.
Because really, could things get any worse?