PITTSBURGH, Pa. –
—The noise afterwards,
It rises up like a storm,
As if you were the Thunder God himself.
Proximo to Maximus the Gladiator—
Like a scene from “Gladiator”, the roar of adulation rang from Erie to Allentown and from Scranton to Akron. No mere coliseum could match it. Conquering heroes were returning home, and this is Pittsburgh.
When you play Pittsburgh, you play the whole city – so the whole city showed up.
They started lining up along the parade route at 4:30 a.m. They sat on window ledges, they clung to rooftops, they lined 3 long miles of roads 25 people deep just to get a glimpse of their heroes. Their beloved Pittsburgh Penguins had won the Stanley Cup, and now the fans could share the joy in a city-wide celebration.
“I saw it on television. It looked so cool,” admitted 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel. “I’m not a huge hockey fan, but what a scene. It looked like the whole city was there.”
Actually, more than that: The population of Pittsburgh is around 305,000. But there were an estimated 350,000 fans stretched out along the Avenue of the Allies and Stanwix Street, buoyant hearts every one, made all the more ardent by the heroics of their team. All decked out in Pittsburgh’s trademark black and gold, they carried inflatable Stanley Cups, plastic Stanley Cups, tinfoil Stanley Cups. There was even a guy with a goal on his head with a lamp that lit up and spun around.
Hockey fans…they are something else.
There were toddlers cradled in papooses around their mother’s shoulders. There were families with school age kids. There were teens, college students, adults playing hooky from work. There was even the most darling little girl you ever saw. She couldn’t have been more than 2 years old. Blue eyes, blond hair, big wide smile, jaunty sunglasses — she was adorably tucked into a Pittsburgh Penguins baby backpack.
“O-WENS!” she shouted, and everyone around cheered like mad.
It’d never happened before in the long and august history of the U.S. Open. The host city had never celebrated either a Stanley Cup, NBA championship or any other major sports championship while the Open was being contested — that is, until this week, until the Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final four games to two.
There were a couple of close calls…if you’re talking horseshoes and hand grenades. The closest you can get geographically would be the Lakers winning the 2008 NBA Title while the Open was at Torrey Pines, but Torrey Pines is in San Diego.
Perhaps you could analogize the 2012 U.S. Open in San Francisco when, on Wednesday of Open Week, Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants threw the first perfect game in the history of the franchise by blanking the Houston Astros 10-0, but that’s not a championship, nor was it a full blown championship parade, with people clinging to lampposts and climbing drainpipes for a better view, (or to take a selfie…)
By the way, they know how to celebrate championships in Pittsburgh: no fights, no trouble, no riots, no burning cars, just joy and adoration. There wasn’t a snap, snipe or sour note.
Now we come to U.S. Open Championship Sunday. It doesn’t come with a parade, but it’s a life-changer nonetheless. Millions of dollars in sponsorship money, your face on billboards in Times Square, fist-bumping with Jimmy Kimmel and Matt Lauer, kids across the globe pretending to be you, and a pretty sweet history-encrusted trophy.
“We watched the parade, it was really cool. I’m a big hockey fan; it got me really excited,” said Brendan Steele, with a wide grin. “It definitely got me thinking. And then we got to see the Stanley Cup on Thursday. That was cool.”
At three feet tall and 36 pounds, it’s one of the biggest in sports, along with the Indianapolis 500 trophy. In golf the Wanamaker Trophy is the largest at 36” x 30” and 25 pounds. The Wanamaker’s also got quite the circumference; it’s big around, so you can’t really cradle it – you have to lift it by the handles. Once it got so hot in a Texas August, Jack Nicklaus had to grasp it with a towel.
By the way, did you hear what @ClaretJug said to @WanamakerTrophy on Twitter? “Mix in a salad, fatty.” @WanamakerTrophy responded, “How ‘bout I eat you?”
“That trophy was amazing to see,” Spencer Levin agreed, cheerfully chatting even though he’s had a tough week out there. “They’re living what we’re trying for right now.”
It was Sidney Crosby who best talked about what it took for the Penguins to get what the U.S. Open golfers are trying for. He talked about welcoming the opportunity, because you never know if you’re going to get it again, he talked about embracing the challenge, and he talked about how you have to have a lot of fight.
Fight like Shane Lowry sailing past Dustin Johnson – and everyone else – like they were standing still. That 65 featured seven birdies, but it also featured two critical bounce backs after bogeys. He closed with a clean card back nine 32, two of them this morning.
That being said, four shots is nothing in golf, and especially a Oakmont, where catastrophe lies around every shot. One bad swing and one mental error and your lead is gone.
Just ask Jordan Spieth about that.
Another player showing his mettle is Andrew Landry, the plucky kid who nobody heard of until this week, even though he was a 3-time All-American at the University of Arkansas? He’s he kid that told his Dad he was going to win this U.S. Open. You’ve got to love his fire. Today he bogeyed 14 and 15, but then bounced back with birdies at 17 and 18. He did what champion athletes do in that situation: Respond!
It’s a key word in hockey, but it’s also critical in golf. You have a setback? Get it back with a birdie, the sooner the better. What was it Ian Fleming wrote in the book Goldfinger? It’s never too early to start winning. It’s always too early to start losing.
All the hours, all the work, all the dreams, all the sacrifices, all the heartaches and losses, it all leads up to this day – Championship Sunday. Carpe diem, because as Crosby also said, you never know if the chance is going to come again. Grab it just like you did when you playing with your buddies at the course where you grew up. You know what game you played with your pals…
“This putt’s to win the U.S. Open. I did it all the time when I was a kid,” said Schwartzel. “That was our dream. We saw them [the Penguins]. Now it’s our turn.”