The customary gift on the first day of Christmas is a partridge in a pear tree. No, thanks. I don’t want a pet I didn’t ask for, especially not some dumb bird, and good luck planting a pear tree in Pittsburgh in the winter. A far better gift, and one we will receive this year, is the Steelers playing on Christmas night. So in the spirt of the season, let’s make a naughty and nice list of Pittsburgh sports to help out Santa Claus/old Brett Keisel.
Naughty: People still complaining about the Jesse James touchdown/non-touchdown
Look, you don’t know what a catch is. I don’t know what a catch is. No one knows what a catch is. That is the NFL now. Arguing about it is a waste of time. It’s like getting into an ALL CAPS debate with a Twitter troll. There is no positive outcome. (By the way, I have it on good authority that the top NFL rules official is an egg avatar.)
The most surprising thing about the end of Steelers-Patriots was not the call being overturned, it was people being surprised that the NFL would screw up the end of a great game with five minutes of legal minutiae and debate about what constitutes a catch. That’s how the league works now. It’s great for fans of rulebooks and replay; not as great for people who like actual sports and watching great athletes perform at the highest level. But it’s time to move on from the outrage over that play. Save your energy. It’s the NFL. Rest assured there will be a new ridiculous decision to get upset about soon enough.
Nice: Jim Rutherford
The defending back-to-back Stanley Cup champions are not good. That’s not an attempt at a joke, poking fun at anyone who would argue the reigning champions are losers. The team is actually not good. The Penguins are currently 10th in the Eastern Conference and are behind the Flyers in the standings. Really. The Flyers. A known awful team.
In the last two weeks, the Penguins have lost to the Colorado Avalanche. Twice. That is the most an Eastern Conference team is possibly able to lose to the Avalanche in a single season. And we’re long past the point of being able to say: “Relax. It’s still early in the season.” The Penguins have played more than 40 percent of their schedule. It’s almost closer to late than early.
Because all of the above is true, some Penguins fans have started to complain about general manager Jim Rutherford. And, sure, his offseason moves don’t look so great. The acquisition of Ryan Reaves looked to be a bad move in the summer, and it’s proven to be a bad move in the fall and winter. Greg McKegg — my sweet, Greg McKegg — has been let go and Antti Niemi … my god.
So, yeah, that was all very bad. But I think Rutherford has more than earned the benefit of the doubt over the last few years. The moves to shake up this team have already begun. And more are likely to come after Christmas. Remember: Santa Claus only works one day a year and no one complains about him. Trust that the Penguins’ old man can get his feet out of the fire and fix this team with the right trade.
Naughty: Robert Nutting
If there’s an Ebenezer Scrooge of the Pittsburgh sports scene, it’s Pirates owner Robert Nutting. You can just imagine him saying of the annual baseball winter meetings: “Fielding a competitive baseball team is a poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every 25th of December.”
In just the last few weeks, Nutting skipped out on fan questions at PiratesFest … but did manage to take in a Pitt-West Virginia basketball game that night.
He said he has no plans to sell the team despite reports of outside interest.
And, to cap it all off, he made it clear he has no intention on investing the $50 million windfall the Pirates are getting from MLB Advanced Media into the product on the field:
“Patient, disciplined, focused, process-driven — none of those are popular words, (but) those are the core building blocks for a great organization to be successful.”
If you told me that was a line Dickens wrote for Scrooge, I’d believe you.
Nice: JuJu Smith-Schuster
Smith-Schuster has done everything right in his rookie year. On the field, but even more so off the field.
Last week alone he took 200 kids to see Jumanji and gave an impromptu jersey signing:
If being on the nice list matters, if karma exists, then when the Steelers face the Patriots again, Smith-Schuster will take a crossing route deep in his own territory the entire distance to win the game. (And if being on the naughty list matters, if karma exists, the Patriots will fall in a mine shaft and lay screaming in a dark hole in excruciating pain for days, as rescuers fail to reach their bodies/corpses. Oh, right. I said earlier it’s time to move on from that game. Sorry.)
Naughty: People who tweet at recruits
College football’s early signing period began Wednesday, and Pitt brought in recruits the coaching staff says they are very excited about, thereby extending the streak of coaching staffs claiming they are excited about their recruiting classes to … every coaching staff ever for all of college sports history. (No coach has ever nor will ever say, “well, our class stinks but these are the best kids we could get,” but every year we hope.)
But at the same time, some targeted recruits chose to go elsewhere … causing some super-creepy adults to tweet at them about their decisions.
Let’s go over this one more time, sports fans: It is never appropriate to contact a teenager you don’t know on social media. “But it’s about sports!” No. Nope. No, no, no, no. No. It doesn’t matter. Don’t do it. They make shows about people like you.
Nice: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Andrew McCutchen …
… Phil Kessel, Cam Heyward, Kris Letang, Ben Roethlisberger and the memories of Marc-Andre Fleury in the 2017 playoffs. There’s not a city in America with a more talented group of athletes to watch year-round than Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Being a Pittsburgh sports fan is pretty nice.