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Part II: "You Would Have Been a Duck"

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland

Kent, OHIO--It was well chronicled in my last article that even the word "Pittsburgh" does not sit well with sports fans in Cleveland. But this second chapter is not about football, the Steelers or anything of the sort. Rather, this installment targets a phenomenon (the exception to the rule) that allows a certain breed of Pittsburgh fans to walk around Ohio without ridicule. My name is Ross Clites, and I am an Ohio resident
and a Penguins fan.

There are many theories as to why Pittsburgh hockey fans do not catch as much grief as their football counterparts. The knee-jerk reaction of most is to claim the NHL rivals the WNBA in popularity. Buying into the "hockey as a second-tier sport theory" shortchanges the fans of the region. Frankly, I feel the Rust Belt is home to the most die-hard of hockey fans anywhere.

The real reason why there is a pass bestowed to Penguins fans is the same that is granted to every Cavs fans sitting at a bar in the Strip District of Pittsburgh. You may not like this person. You may see it as toeing the line of offending your local interests, but there are really no grounds to make a big scene. Rules are rules: if your city is not represented in all the major market sports, then anything you lack is fair game.

The problem with this rule is that Ohio now has a team. Stealing a line from
Major League, "If you haven't noticed, and attendance figures show you haven't," Columbus has had a team since 2000. This puts me in an uncomfortable spot. Though fictional, it is not unlike Coach Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) leading his Ducks against the childhood team he played for. The title of this article is a quote from that first Mighty Ducks movie. Patriarch of the Minnesota-based PeeWee League, Hans (Joss Ackland) tells Coach Bombay that if he were growing up in the current time, "The district lines have been redrafted. You would have been a Duck."

If I were growing up in the current time, I would undoubtedly be a Blue Jackets fan. Even though I lived in the heart of Penguins country for 12 years of my youth, Ohio has always contained my interests. It is the home of my parents and grandparents; I grew up with Buckeyes football, Indians baseball, and was almost destined to attend Kent State--the alma mater of countless relatives.

Subsequently, I carried a feeling of guilt when I went to Nationwide Arena for Penguins vs. Blue Jackets in November. It was uncomfortable sitting in a crowd that contained more Pens fans than those for the home team. If it were a presidential election, the Blue Jackets lost the popular vote in their home state. The poor Blue Jackets had a perfect storm working against them. It was the first game the Penguins played in the state of Ohio since 2006. With the scarce availability for Mellon Arena tickets this was the first chance for the Ohio Penguins followers to see their team, perhaps ever. Furthermore, the distance from Pittsburgh to Columbus was not great enough to keep the Pennsylvanians from traveling with their team. Lastly, as discussed in Part I, there is a bad mix of Pittsburgh fans and winning that really brings them out of the wood work. Even if the game were in Edmonton, because the Pens won the Cup last season, a large contingency of "lifelong fans" would have been present. To top it all off, the Penguins wore their alternate baby blue uniforms, reserved solely for home games. The Blue Jackets were forced to wear road jerseys on their home ice.

I was happy to exit with a shoot-out win and a great overall game. However, I left the arena honestly feeling sympathetic towards Columbus fans. They have a fantastic hockey-only facility in a revitalized part of town. But how can they compete?

They do dodge one bullet by calling the Western Conference home. It is the same reason why a group of Indians fans has never been caught up in a bar brawl for saying something derogatory to Pirates fans; the success of one rarely comes at the expense of the other. That, and the fact the Pirates and Indians both have terrible prospectives. What could they fight over, least valuable third baseman? I digress. That article will come at a later date.

But still, the Blue Jackets are the baby in the League, which is an uphill battle in itself. I know several Columbus residents that have their hockey love rooted deep for someone else. Businesses give their employees tickets to the games--no different than any other town or sporting event--but employees will only go to the game where Columbus is playing their favorite team. That is the current state of Columbus hockey.

Banking on converts is highly unlikely. The team needs a new generation of fans devoid of team affiliation. Like you hear so many politicians say: it is up to the children. It is up to the locals to create a conducive environment for new recruits. Fox Sports Ohio does televise games and the Columbus Post-Dispatch does cover the team quite well (mainly because it has a vested financial interest). Now, they finally have a playoff appearance to build upon. Eventually, the team will fully win over this state.

I may not give up my love for the Penguins anytime soon, but it will make me proud to hear my children are Blue Jackets fans. After all, I would have been one.

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