Another year is almost over and, as the fire track Auld Lang Syne says, you may soon forget all of your old acquaintances. But while forgetting them, let’s try to remember all of the biggest Pittsburgh sports stories from 2017. One way to do that would be to read all six pages of my archives on The Incline. That is the ideal way. Another way is to read this quick, 10-item recap.
10. Starling Marte suspended for 80 games
There wasn’t much hope for serious contention by the Pirates entering the 2017 season. The club needed Andrew McCutchen to return to form, Tyler Glasnow to be a Rookie of the Year candidate and pretty much every other player on the roster to have a career year in order to compete with the likes of the Cubs and Dodgers in the National League. So when it was announced in mid-April that outfielder Starling Marte was suspended for 80 games over testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, the 2017 season was all but officially over just a couple weeks after it started. Hope was gone. And while Marte returned and will be back for 2018, hope still hasn’t returned to the Pirates.
9. Another year of Pitting
While the nation fills the holiday season with the excitement of the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl, the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl and other such prestige, Pitt played its bowl game way back on Nov. 24 when the Panthers knocked off No. 2 Miami at Heinz Field. Because of course they did. That’s what Pitt does. Just like they did against Clemson in 2016 and West Virginia in 2007. And while the Panthers were better than Miami that day, they were worse than the likes of Georgia Tech, Syracuse and North Carolina on other days – not to mention the loss-from-the-clutches-of-victory defeat to Virginia Tech — and nearly fell to FCS Youngstown State in their opener. It was indeed another year of Pitting. Tune in next year when Pitt beats Penn State one week after getting blown out by Albany.
8. Andrew McCutchen’s reemergence
The 2016 season was a disaster for Andrew McCutchen. And with him entering his 30s in 2017, the fear was that his prime was over and had been wasted. The latter is still likely true, but McCutchen proved he has a lot of good baseball left in him, bouncing back with an .849 OPS and 28 home runs. Now, since this is the season of giving, it would be nice if the Pirates gave McCutchen some good teammates or a fresh start on an actual contender.
7. Steelers draft James Conner
As far as off-the-field moments go, it’s hard to beat this one:
6. Steelers-Patriots x 2
The Steelers have lost four in a row to the Patriots and 12 of their last 15 meetings, but the “rivalry” – or whatever you want to call it – has taken off over the last year, last month, and even the last few hours. The two teams met in last year’s AFC title game and, as you unfortunately probably remember, the Steelers got routed, 36-17. But that was with Le’Veon Bell out with injury. With Bell back at Heinz Field on Dec. 17, he helped the Steelers beat the Patriots in dramatic fashion.
Only thanks to the NFL’s dumb rules – promptly followed by a Ben Roethlisberger dumb pass – the Steelers, in fact, did not beat the Patriots. And so, if they meet again in 2018’s conference title game, they will likely have to play at Gillette Stadium … and now it could now be against franchise sacks leader James Harrison.
The NFL sure can write a good script. Now if only they could write a catch rule that makes sense.
5. Steelers drama
Antonio Brown’s Facebook live broadcast. Ben Roethlisberger maybe possibly potentially retiring and then not retiring. Le’Veon Bell’s holdout. The national anthem controversy. James Harrison’s departure and fallout. And I feel like I’m forgetting a few dozen. The Steelers generate almost as much off-the-field drama as they do wins.
(Editor’s note: We talked about calling this item this item ‘Steelers adversity,’ but we felt like much of what they’ve dealt with this calendar year is of their own making off the field. We chose ‘drama’ as to not juxtapose Ryan Shazier’s injury to something like James Harrison getting in a media spat with his former teammates. That cheapens what Shazier is dealing with and the severity of his injury. So rather than include that moment in this ranking at all, we felt it best to include the note that everyone is wishing for a full and speedy recovery.)
4. Antonio Brown’s … pretty much every game
It’s impossible to pick Antonio Brown’s best catch. The answer is usually: His next one. And ideally the answer will be: The one he has to win the AFC title game while evading James Harrison, but assuming Brown is back by that point, it will be 2018 anyway.
3. JuJu Smith-Schuster ascends to Pittsburgh sports royalty
He’s great at catching footballs. He’s great at celebrating. He’s great at social media. He’s great at leveling Vontaze Burfict.
I’m not sure which of those is the most important. But I am sure that Pittsburgh getting JuJu Smith-Schuster this year was pretty great.
2. Marc-Andre Fleury cements his legacy
The perfect departure for Marc-Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh would have been retiring as a Penguin with 10 banners in the rafters. The second-best departure for Marc-Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh would have been having him in net when the Pens knocked off the Predators last year. That didn’t happen either. But what did happen – Fleury nearly single-handedly getting the Pens through the first two rounds of the playoffs and giving the city a chance to say goodbye to him – was a pretty nice third option.
Flower will be back in town on Feb. 6. And the ovation he gets will likely make the list for greatest moments of 2018.
1. Penguins win the Stanley Cup. Again.
Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt MurrayMax Petrosky / For The Incline
Not a creative pick, but the only pick. Maybe the Penguins get going this season and show up here again next year. Maybe the Steelers do. Maybe it’s the Pirates. (Ha.) The odds are that 2018 doesn’t bring a championship, which is why we should all be grateful for what the Pens gave us in 2017 and 2016. Hashtag: blessed. Hashtag: Happy New Year which probably won’t be as good as this one was.