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, five Stanley Cups, five World Series titles, and one college football national championship, Pittsburgh has earned its nickname “City of Champions.”

steeler merchandise strip district

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.

Championships won by Pittsburgh Sports Teams

Penguins: Stanley Cup Champions 1991, 1992, 2009, 2016, 2017
Steelers: Super Bowl Champions 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2005, 2008
Pirates: World Series Champions 1909, 1925, 1960, 1971, 1979
University of Pittsburgh: College Football National Champions 1937, 1976

*In the case of the Steelers and Pitt football, those championships were won early in the following season. For instance, the Steelers won the Super Bowl in January 1980, but that was considered the 1979 season.

Pittsburgh is the City of Champions

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

Jerome Bettis Super Bowl trophy

Three years later, fans packed every floor of a parking garage to get a look at the February 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.

And it’s not just the Steelers who get all the love. The Penguins sold out every game for years, winning a few Stanley Cups along the way, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin representing the best core in the NHL.

The Pitt basketball team was a perennial national force and Big East championship contender, and still makes an occasional impact in the ACC.

Even the pathetic Pirates get some love. After an American professional sports record of 20 straight losing seasons, the baseball team broke through with three playoff berths in a row, starting in 2013.

But they didn’t manage a single series victory, and now they’re back to losing again. Still, the team still draws well thanks to PNC Park, which is still considered the nicest baseball park in America, more than 20 years after it opened.

PNC Park

Outside the park are statues of Pirate greats Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.

There’s also 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 city of champions
A statue commemorating one of the greatest moments in the City of Champions – Bill Mazeroski’s 1960 home run.

The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum

A city so rich in sports heritage and tradition needs a proper museum, and the City of Champions 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.

If you do plan to go to Heinz Field, aka Acrisure Stadium, check out our guide to attending a Steelers game first. It will tell you everything you need to know about tickets, parking, hotels, and other things to do in the area.

And for something more global, consider swinging over to check out the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning while you’re in town!

Also read our controversial analysis of whether Pittsburgh is part of the Midwest or the East Coast.