The unmatched sports culture of Pittsburgh, the City of Champions

Pittsburgh is a sports town. You can see it in the streets. And every fan in Pittsburgh is everyone you meet.

That’s a line from the old Iron City Beer commercial, and it perfectly captures the mood of the Steel City. From grandmothers to little kids, from Highland Park to the South Side, the entire city gets behind its Steelers and Penguins (and sometimes Pirates.) In how many cities is the local football team always the lead story on the 6 pm newscast? Even for regular season games?

Aside from possibly Boston, there isn’t another city in the U.S. that so rabidly supports its teams. And fortunately, they’ve had a ton of great teams to support. With six Super Bowl trophies, three Stanley Cups, five World Series titles, and one college football national championship, Pittsburgh has earned its nickname “City of Champions.”

The sports teams foster a great sense of community. Go to a mall on a Sunday during a Steeler game and it will be deserted, because everybody’s home watching the game. There’s a lot to be said for that “we’re all in this together” sense of community. Believe me – Chicago doesn’t have it, and neither do most other cities. Even the fact that all three teams wear black and gold creates a sense of community among sports teams that other cities can’t match.

I was recently walking through downtown Pittsburgh on a Friday morning, and the number of Steeler jerseys I saw on the streets was crazy. I’d forgotten that in the Steel City, office employees are always allowed to dress-down on Fridays by wearing Steeler jerseys to work. It brought a huge smile to my face, this level of devotion that I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Pittsburgh is the City of Champions

In the past five years, the city’s teams have reached five championship finals, resulting in three championship parades. Jerome Bettis hoisted the 2006 Super Bowl trophy during a parade:

Jerome Bettis Super Bowl trophy

Three years later, fans packed every floor of a parking garage to get a look at the 2009 Steeler victory parade downtown:

2009 steelers parade

If you go to the Strip District on a weekend morning, you’ll catch the city’s biggest open-air market. It feels like half of the stores sell nothing but Pittsburgh sports merchandise:

steeler merchandise strip district

And it’s not just the Steelers who get all the love. The Penguins have sold out every game for a few years now, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin representing the best young core in the NHL. The Pitt basketball team is a perennial national force and Big East championship contender.

Even the pathetic Pirates get some love. Though they’ve set a record with 19 (and counting) consecutive losing seasons, the baseball team still draws well thanks to PNC Park, which is still considered the nicest baseball park in America, more than 10 years after it opened.

PNC Park

Outside the park are statues of Pirate greats Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, as well as a statue that captures the most famous home run in World Series history, when Bill Mazeroski’s bottom of the ninth homer gave the Bucs a massive upset of the Yankees in the 1960 World Series:

bill mazeroski statue pittsburgh

The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum

A city so rich in sports heritage and tradition needs a proper museum, and Pittsburgh has that with the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, which takes up portions of two floors of the six-floor John Heinz History Center.

pittsburgh sports museum

This museum is best described by simply listing its many artifacts and exhibits. The collections change frequently, but when I last visited, the sights included:

-Jerseys and sticks used by Mario Lemieux and other Penguin heroes
-First base from Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, in which the Pirates defeated the Yankees
-Exhibits honoring local wrestling, boxing, auto racing and high school football legends
-Super Bowl rings, tickets and memorabilia from each of the Steelers’ six championships
-Interactive exhibits for kids to throw footballs and putt golf balls like the pros

They also had a collection of trophies won by Lemieux, including one of his Conn Smythe Trophies for being the MVP of the playoffs:

mario lemieux 1992 conn smythe trophy

If you ever make it to Pittsburgh, do yourself a favor and attend a sporting event. Or at least watch one with the locals at a bar or the nearest Primanti’s.

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10 Responses to The unmatched sports culture of Pittsburgh, the City of Champions

  1. 50+ and on the Run November 27, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    I’m originally from Pittsburgh and will agree that the town is Steeler crazy. However, I have found Steeler fans (wearing Steeler gear) EVERYWHERE! I have a pic of a Maori man from NZ wearing a Steeler jersey; in fact, I have seen them on every continent but Antarctica. Going there next month, so I’ll be on the lookout!
    50+ and on the Run recently posted..And You Don’t Have to Go to the Mall

    • Scott November 27, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

      True, they are everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one in Antarctica – let us know!

    • Sara February 28, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

      I have a friend who is working overseas in Ghana, who told me recently that she saw a local man walking down the street wearing a Jack Lambert jersey. I love Pittsburgh. Check out the local Pittsburgh Segway Tour as well! Especially if you love Pirates Baseball history.

      • Scott February 28, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

        Ghana? That is cool. You see Pittsburgh jerseys everywhere, it’s amazing. Thanks for the Pittsburgh tip!

  2. InsideJourneys November 27, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    Wow, that’s fabulous. It’s so critical for sports teams to have loyal fans. Great post, QuirkyTravelGuy!
    InsideJourneys recently posted..Soulful Sundays: The Folkes Brothers

    • Scott November 27, 2011 at 11:14 pm #

      Thanks, their fans sure are loyal.

  3. Nomadic Samuel December 11, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    The Penguins and Steelers have been on a run for quite some time but those ever happless Pirates are more or less doomed.
    Nomadic Samuel recently posted..Thanks A Million!

    • Scott December 12, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

      That is very true!

  4. Brian M. January 5, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    That Parade looks so cool. It is amazing how sports can bring a community together!
    Brian M. recently posted..The Story of Brandon Crawford

    • Scott January 8, 2012 at 11:53 am #

      I agree!

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