With the Pittsburgh Penguins just one game away from capturing their fourth Stanley Cup, the pressure for the Steelers to claim their seventh Lombardi Trophy has risen ever higher.
Pittsburgh’s label as the “City of Champions” is not one that is taken lightly. Athletic greatness is expected in this town, and all involved – from the newest fans to the most established stars – know it.
Pittsburgh’s rich tradition of accomplished professional teams is being further woven by the NHL’s Penguins, who hold a 3-2 series lead over the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final. The city of Pittsburgh was ablaze with anticipation on Thursday night for game five in hopes that the Pens would secure their fourth Stanley Cup in front of the home fans.
Nearly 20,000 lined Washington Avenue outside of Consol Energy Center, and thousands more gathered at Market Square downtown to watch. The anticipation of the Cup was palpable throughout the entire city. Too presumptive, to be sure, but exciting nonetheless.
Although the Sharks spoiled the party, winning 4-2 and forcing a game six, the lasting image remains: Pittsburgh is hungry for another championship.
The Penguins are under a mountain of pressure in the final games of the Stanley Cup. They haven’t won it all since 2009 despite housing a world-class core featuring Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. These Penguins were supposed to have reached dynasty status by now, but had been seemingly stuck in quicksand in the postseason for the past five years.
The pressure on the Steelers to win their seventh Super Bowl heading into the 2016 season was already high in the spring. Thanks to the success of the Penguins, it’s only been magnified.
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If the Penguins win the Cup and the Steelers win the Super Bowl back-to-back, it will induce heavy nostalgia. The Pens and Steelers both won their respective championships in 2009 as the “City of Champions” title took full effect. Narratives play a huge role in every sport, and Pittsburgh is especially fond of them.
Should the Penguins hoist the Stanley Cup, the Steelers are pressured to win the Super Bowl in order to match their accomplishment. Should the Pens lose, the Steelers will be pressured to be the team that ends Pittsburgh’s title drought.
That’s how successful Pittsburgh sports team are – it’s only been six years without a major championship and here we are discussing a “title drought”. Oh, how lucky we are.
Moreover, the Steelers have been widely deemed a favorite to win Super Bowl LI, and for good reason. If not for injuries to star players and an untimely fumble in Denver, there’s no telling how far the Steelers could have gotten.
The “championship window” for the Steelers likely isn’t getting any wider, however. Hefty contract extensions are in the team’s imminent future – David DeCastro and Le’Veon Bell, to name a couple – and cap room will be slim. And as phenomenal as Ben Roethlisberger has been, time isn’t working in his favor.
The Steelers enter 2016 with expectations of a Super Bowl. As a result of the Penguins’ return to the Stanley Cup, those stakes have only been raised.