PittStart- the beginning of a University of Pittsburgh student’s college experience.
I was ecstatic for my PittStart, as I was chomping at the bit to make any sort of jump I could into college life. I couldn’t wait to get my first taste of Pittsburgh as a college student, and to finally complete my transition out of high school. Just like the vast majority of college-bound high school seniors, I was already thinking ahead to the many wonderful, life-changing, and exciting experiences college would be sure to bring. That being said, I came up with the crafty idea of choosing an early PittStart date- June 15th and 16th- which would allow me an early jump into college life, and a chance to register for classes early. It was, in my mind, a foolproof plan.
I departed for my PittStart on the morning of the 15th from my hometown of Cheltenham (a northern suburb of Philadelphia) with just me and my lovely ’95 Buick Regal. I was making fantastic time, and found myself at the Pittsburgh exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in four hours and change (I won’t specify my exact travel time, just in case anybody reading this post happens to be a Pennsylvania State Trooper…). I paid my toll, and took the ramp to Interstate 376 (the road into the city of Pittsburgh). I took off down the highway, happy as a clam. I was doing sixty-something without fail for a few minutes until I hit a brick wall of traffic.
I was afraid that this might have happened. I switched on my 90’s-style car radio, and began scanning the channels. It only took me a few seconds to reach a station broadcasting the death sentence I was expecting…
“…bumper to bumper on about every major road within the city limits. These Penguins fans are coming out in droves, and it’s really a sight to see. Seeing this many cars out on the road, filled with yellow-and-gold sporting fans, gives me just as many chills as seeing Crosby tie Game 6 against the Flyers, Letang rocket that OT winner in Game 3 against the Caps, or watching Talbot stun the Wings in Game 7.”
Of course, these weren’t the exact words I heard, but I couldn’t hope to remember what exactly was said, because my mind was on the verge of exploding. I couldn’t take it anymore. It hadn’t even been a minute, and I was already infuriated. The oasis of college now felt like it was millions of miles away, because each mile I drove was bringing me further away from that oasis. I saw the next four years of my life flash before me, and among all the great things I saw, there was a faint buzz of doubt. It sounded like the Penguins goal horn.
At that point, I was on the verge on going mad. I couldn’t take it anymore because I, unlike everyone around me, was a Flyers fan. A really, really, big Flyers fan…
Complex imagery and climactic, exaggerated narratives aside, this is, in essence, how my life as a Flyers fan in Pittsburgh began. While I had been excited to begin my time as a student at Pitt from the second I sent in my enrollment deposit, I had always been dreading the idea of coming to Pittsburgh, the home of my team’s most hated rival, the Penguins.
My move to Pittsburgh was one laced in irony. Prior to 2008, the place most deserving of the title “Philadelphia Sports Hell” would undoubtedly be Philadelphia itself. With the city stuck in a 25-year title drought, Philadelphia sports fans were living in pain and frustration, as their four major sports flopped time and time again in key situations. Finally, though, in 2008, the Phillies World Series championship brought the city out of its living hell, and all seemed right in the world.
Over the next nine or so months, the other three Philadelphia teams were knocked out of their respective playoffs. The Sixers were knocked out in the first round by the Magic- but I never really cared too much for the NBA. The Eagles were upset in the NFC championship by the Cardinals, who went on to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers- who the Eagles had beaten in the regular season. The Flyers, meanwhile, were stuck playing the Penguins in the playoffs for the second straight year, and again lacked home-ice advantage due to a sloppy regular season finale in which they allowed the Rangers to make a surprising comeback victory. The Flyers were steamrolled in the first game, and shockingly upended in comeback fashion in the second game, but they managed to stay in the series, coming back home down 3-2 for Game 6.
That Game 6 marked my damnation into the new Philadelphia Sports Hell. I was attending the game, and I knew it would be the biggest of my life. The Flyers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, and, long story short, they blew it (don’t fret; you’ll hear plenty about this game in the posts to come). The Penguins won the game 5-3, leaving all of Flyer nation stunned. This victory ended up being a huge boost for the Penguins en route to a Stanley Cup title.
All of a sudden, Pittsburgh now had two titles that year, and we still only had one- and, to make matters worse, both had come at our expense. The one title we had barely even mattered. If you are to point out to a resident of “titletown” that the Pirates haven’t won a title- or even had a winning season- in years, they’ll simply reply, “I don’t like baseball.”
So now, a new Philadelphia Sports Hell began to take form, and I was headed right for it…