Trietley: Pittsburgh fans overrated

By Greg Trietley

I had been told that the fans of Pittsburgh’s professional sports teams are loud, passionate… I had been told that the fans of Pittsburgh’s professional sports teams are loud, passionate and one-of-a-kind, but I have yet to witness this at a game.

I finally attended my first Penguins game at the Consol Energy Center this past weekend. The Penguins had a primetime date with the Buffalo Sabres, a team with Stanley Cup aspirations thanks to a summer spending spree. The Sabres were a marquee opponent on a Saturday night.

I wanted loud Penguins fans screaming in my ears for 60 minutes. I hoped the fans around me would lose their voice by the second period. When Pittsburgh cut Buffalo’s lead to one, I expected an atmosphere you would only find during a third period, down-a-goal hockey game.

What did I get? The quietest crowd I’ve ever not heard.

When James Neal scored his fifth goal of the season in the second period, half of the lower bowl remained seated. Momentary noise brought on by high-definition scoreboard animations died every time the puck dropped and the graphics stopped, even when Pittsburgh went on the power play trailing by a goal in the final minute of regulation.

The last team with a fanbase that quiet moved to Winnipeg.

Fans in the corridors looked like extras from The Walking Dead,” their faces pale and expressionless, their lips softly mouthing, “When is Sidney Crosby returning?”

Sometimes I can’t help but think most Penguins fans are really just Crosby fans. When he’s out, crowd noise evaporates.

And the Consol Energy Center is too darn cozy. Give me a seat with a rusty nail piercing through it so I have to stand the whole game. Give me a low ceiling so cheers from the opening puck drop reverberate through overtime. Consol has no character.

While I appreciate the glitz and glamour of a new rink, what has happened to us? Seats so cushy I think I’m at Brookstone? Strobe lights? Maroon 5 during commercial breaks?

A woman five rows in front of me spent a portion of the second period taking photos of the ribbon banner. I can’t comment on what the season-ticket holders in my row did, since the three to my left and two to my right didn’t show up.

It’s the third home game of the year! It’s the weekend! It’s against Buffalo!

Success has made the Penguins fans in attendance apathetic.

And this phenomenon travels across Pittsburgh sports. Steelers fans at Heinz Field aren’t exempt from criticism. People hear about the hard-hitting, smash-mouth identity of the team’s defense and wrongly assume that the narcissistic, prissy fanbase shares that persona.

Take away exorbitant second-hand ticket prices and dish towels, and what do Steelers fans have? A quiet and unintimidating Heinz Field. Plenty of yellow seats were visible in the fourth quarter of a one-score game against Jacksonville on Sunday. I don’t care that the Steelers are supposed to beat the Jaguars. I don’t care that it’s only October. It’s not an excuse for a bad crowd.

In 2006 American City Business Journals noted that many season-ticket holders don’t bother showing up for unimportant games, and it ranked the Steelers’ fanbase 21st in the NFL (behind Cleveland, Baltimore and Cincinnati).

I feel sorry for the Pittsburgh die-hards that want to attend games but can’t because a season-ticket holder wanted to leave at halftime, and another wanted $200 for a seat in the bleachers.

For many, the main reason to attend a Steelers game is to brag to friends that they went to a Steelers game.

But it’s not all bad news for the quiet fans of Pittsburgh’s professional teams. At least they’re not the Pitt football “high-octane” student section, which borders on shameful every week and is about as energetic as the team’s offense this year.

Last month, Pitt led Notre Dame by five at the start of the fourth quarter. On Saturday, Pitt trailed Utah by a safety with 10 minutes left. In both cases, half of the student section poured to the exits after “Sweet Caroline,” an awful, forced tradition that should be left behind with the Big East.

To the early-exiters, why do you come? Why do you wake up at the crack of dawn, bus to the North Shore, stand in line and fight for lower bowl seats if you’re only there to sing a song your grandmother loves?

You know how long a football game lasts. Did you think the South Florida game would wrap up early? Pitt beat down a ranked opponent on national television, and ESPN cut to a student section of about 100 true fans.

Don’t come hungover. Don’t pour vodka into an iced tea bottle because you think you’re clever. Don’t wear a vibrant “Love Pink” hoodie when you should know by now to wear blue or gold. Learn to keep a beat. If you leave early, you deserve to be heckled and jeered worse than any West Virginia or Penn State fan. At least they fill their student sections, where games are all-day celebrations.

One attendant — I won’t call him a fan — headed for the exits early in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame, but he stopped on his way out. It wasn’t because the Fighting Irish were driving to take the lead. No, it was because “Party Rock Anthem” came on, and he wanted to dance to it before he left.

Just go. And for the sake of everyone, don’t come back.