When I was a teenager, a couple of sports teams from Pittsburgh won a World Series and a Super Bowl, and suddenly the Steel City was the City of Champions.
Today, it's moniker that is more than applicable to the whole state - in a period of eight months, Pennsylvania teams brought home three of the four major-league championships and one of the top minor trophies, starting with the second World Series title for the Philadelphia Phillies last October.
If you include NCAA action, Penn State's NIT basketball title represents all of the major sports. Add the Lions' Big Ten football championship, not to mention all the other playoff teams that didn't last to the end, and that's a whole lot of winning between New Jersey and Ohio.
Sentinel photo by JEFF FISHBEIN
Willie Marshall, left, the American Hockey League’s all-time leading scorer, congratulates Hershey Bears’ Alexadre Giroux after presenting him with a championship ring Saturday at Giant Center in Hershey. Looking on are, from left, former Bears Mitch Lamoreaux and David Fenyves, and general manager Doug Yingst.
A few months after the Commissioner's Trophy arrived, the team that sought "one for the thumb in '81" was carrying the Vince Lombardi trophy off the field for the second time in four years, and with it expanded to a second hand when it came to championship rings.
But the sport that brought two new banners to the Keystone State unfurled them in back-to-back openers over the weekend, as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Hershey Bears celebrated.
It's interesting that the Penguins were completely overlooked back in the 1970s, since they were at least a resident of the City of Champions. But that was a lean decade for one of the NHL's original expansion teams, which briefly flirted with bankruptcy while the Steelers were on top of the world.
With talented young players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin poised to etch their names on Lord Stanley's Cup again, the Penguins could become the next dynasty in black and gold.
Today it's the Pirates who take a back seat. Having grown up listening to the feats of Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bobby Robertson and other Pirate greats on the radio, it's sad to see the current misfortunes of the club. Legendary sports writer Frank DeFord observed earlier this year that it's no coincidence that, in today's market, a small city can win two titles in sports that have revenue sharing, which baseball refuses to implement - but the current management team of the Bucs at least seems to have a plan in place to try.
The Steelers took time to become the team we see today as well. My generation and its predecessors recall the era before Chuck Noll was coach, when the Steelers could well have been confused with the modern Detroit Lions.
The Fightin' Phils were said to have chased the A's west with their National League pennant in 1950, but it was more than 30 years after that before the Phillies were World Series champions, and that was almost three decades before the second one.
In Hershey, the Calder Cup win was one for the ages.
Expansion was slower in hockey than other sports - recall, until 1967, the American Hockey League was as large or larger than the NHL - the top-tier minor league on ice has long garnered more respect than Triple-A baseball. And since the NCAA serves as the de facto minor league for football and basketball, the AHL continues to be an organization whose championship is at least a step closer to its major-league counterpart than most others.
The ceremony in Giant Center Saturday wasn't unlike one held in 2006, and the banner was different only in that it was emblazoned with the number 10, representing an AHL record for titles by one team.
But it was a special team - four of its players earned rings four seasons earlier, and a few more than that had been to the finals in 2007. Despite the era of free agency - not to mention European- and Russian-league competition for talent, some 20 of last year's Bears are back, at least with the Washington Capitals organization.
But if there is one reason I don't expect another team - or another title - as special as this one again, it would be what I thought of as the marquee moment of Saturday's celebration: when Alexandre Giroux got his ring. Giroux last year scored goals in 15 consecutive games, a league record held for nearly 20 seasons by NHL legend Brett Hull. He had points in 22 straight, 60 regular-season goals and 75 total - all team records.
Stepping forward to present the ring was former Bear Willie Marshall, the AHL's all-time leading scorer, whose number hangs retired in the rafters.
It was the moment I'll long remember.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.