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June 16, 2011
by trib

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The hiatus is over

Now that Pitt and Penn State have agreed to renew their rivalry, if ever so briefly, it seems a perfect time to end my hiatus from blogging.

Either that, or the prolific Dejan Kovacevic has shamed me into it.

Actually, I have long been trying to figure out how to reinvent Sitting Ringside since leaving the Pitt football beat to become a columnist/enterprise reporter. So I welcome any reader comments on what you would like to see in commentary or links. Feel free to drop me a line with your suggestions by e-mail at, by phone at 412-320-7812 or on Twitter @KGorman_Trib. 

I shared my view of Tuesday’s announcement of a two-game series in 2016-17 with a column, The Rivalry: What took so long? It prompted plenty of responses, some  ranging from why Penn Staters believe Pitt isn’t worthy of an annual game to Panthers fans blaming Joe Paterno for ruining the rivalry because of an old grudge.

Here’s something to consider: Over the past decade, the Pitt and Penn State football programs aren’t as far apart as you might think. Yes, PSU plays in a superior conference (Big Ten) than Pitt (Big East) but both are BCS-affiliated. In the past 10 years, Penn State is 79-45 and Pitt is 75-49. PSU has had three sub-.500 seasons (2001, ’03 and ’04) to Pitt’s two (’05, ’07) but the Nittany Lions also have played in more BCS bowls (two, Rose and Orange) than the Panthers (one, Fiesta). And it’s been relatively close the past three years (PSU 29-10, Pitt 27-12) and equal the past two (18-8).

Last year, Pitt finished 8-5, PSU 7-6. 

As a Pittsburgh native and Penn State alum, I’m all for renewing the Pitt-Penn State rivalry — even if the 15-season hiatus between their last meeting, in 2000, and their next, in September 2016, helped the Backyard Brawl become a better rivalry.

Here’s a Q&A I had with Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson:

Do you think the hiatus in the rivalry had anything to do with forcing Penn State fans to buy a ticket package instead of selling single-game tickets?

I really think, at that point, that game was set up in a four-game series but then it was already scheduled out beyond that. There really wasn’t an opportunity at that point to schedule anything in the realistic future.

Is there bad blood between the schools?
Not certainly as far as Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and I have ever been concerned.
Do you want Pitt to play Penn State on an annual basis?
What I would say is, if we’d look at the future, we’re hopeful maybe we can get something going here but at the time you focus on this particular couple of games. We both agreed that we’re going to keep talking and see what the opportunities might be. Certainly, we’d like to play them. We’re looking forward to this game. I think it’s a significant game in the state. It’s one of those historic, great games. There’s only a handful of games like that are really great and historic. We’ve always been in favor of playing it as often as we can play it.
Do you think Pitt’s season should always begin with Penn State and end with West Virginia, with Notre Dame somewhere in the middle:
I don’t know about timing or that kind of thing when you play, necessarily. We’d have to factor that into the whole conference thing. Generally, people like the conference to be the culmination of the season, so I guess I’d have to think about that.
How would you feel about playing Penn State in the first game every year, or at least early?
I don’t know that. We play Notre Dame in the middle of the year, and that works out fine. Anytime it’s played is a good game.
Have you opened up a can of worms by agreeing to play? People are excited and now want this rivalry to be renewed and played on an annual basis.
Of course they are but they wanted it before, too. It doesn’t change anything, probably.
Has the Backyard Brawl surpassed Pitt-Penn State in terms of rivalries?
I think they’re both great games; both have had their moments. When you’re in a conference together, it elevates things. We’re so close in proximity. We’ve had this great, traditional rivalry with Notre Dame, with West Virginia and now this resumption of games with Penn State. I think that’s pretty special on the schedule when you’re looking at what other people have, in terms of the kinds of rivalries they have on the games. And rivalries are a big part of college football.
Do you feel like the Pitt-Penn State rivalry has been sabotaged at all because a generation has grown up without watching them play?
I don’t know if I’d say that. I’m just glad we got a chance to get it going.

October 13, 2010
by trib

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A new plaque for Pete Hill

When Ron Hill learned that his great uncle was posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame under the wrong given name, the Penn Hills man made it his personal mission to correct the plaque of Pete Hill.

After much public pressure, the Hall of Fame decided to unveil Pete Hill’s new plaque in a ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., yesterday, which was Pete Hill’s birthday.

“I kept staring at it,” said Ron Hill, whom I’ve known for more than a decade. “To me, it was like, ‘The mission is done. The history is complete. People know his real name now.’ He has more background than any other Negro League ballplayer, even more than Josh Gibson.”

Nearly two dozen Hill family members attended the ceremony where they were treated to an unveiling of the new plaque, a panel discussion involving baseball historians and a reception.

“They gave us the VIP treatment,” Hill said. “They went beyond. They really went out of their way. We met everybody who had something to do with the Hall of Fame. The hospitality was great. You couldn’t ask for a better day. They made it a personal day. If I would’ve (gone) in 2006, I would’ve just been another person because they had 17 people inducted. This was a family day.”

The event left Hill feeling like a celebrity for a day, as his wardrobe attracted attention from visitors to the Cooperstown museum. Hill wore a jacket with every Negro League team’s logo on it and a hat to match.

“People stopped me on the street and asked to take pictures with me,” Hill said. “It made my day. I’m going to always remember this day, and pass it along to my family.”

September 23, 2010
by trib

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A grand opening

Penguins 5, Red Wings 1.
The real winners?
Fans getting the first glimpse of a sporting event at Consol Energy Center.
The Goal Mine glowed in the first hockey game here – even if it was just an exhibition that won’t count in the standings or statistics – before a spirited sellout crowd of 18,087 Wednesday night.
“We opened it up the right way,” winger Pascal Dupuis said. “It was one of those games I was happy to be part of. I was like, ‘Let’s make history.’”
Dupuis was on the ice for the opening faceoff, flanking stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the top line, and was amazed by the raucous reception the Penguins received.
“You get on the ice and everyone is cheering,” Dupuis said. “When I jumped on the ice, I looked around and said, ‘Oh, my God. This place is going to be rocking this season.’ It was for a preseason game. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like for a regular-season game.”
Five points about Consol Energy Center:
1. The energy. Now that they are finished waxing nostalgic about Civic Arena, Penguins fans are enjoying the team’s new shiny new home. The Penguins might have left the Igloo on a sour note, losing to Montreal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal, but there is legitimate enthusiasm about having such a talented team in spectacular new digs.
“It’s an exciting night, just my first game with the Penguins,” said forward Ryan Craig, a free-agent signee who scored two goals. “I think you can feel it in the dressing room, but the whole building was excited. A minute in, they were chanting, ‘Let’s go Pens.’”
They chanted it again in the final 30 seconds of the third period.
2. IT’S LOUD. The acoustics in the building, which is proving to be a great concert venue, are amazing. It’s a vast improvement over the Civic Arena, and Penguins players noticed.
“You can hear the sound system very good,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “When I was sitting on the bench, I could feel the vibration. It was very cool. I like it when it gets loud. It makes it a fun place to play. … We want to make it tough for other teams to come into Pittsburgh and play us.”
3. The bells and whistles. If it didn’t seem like there was a capacity crowd – the lower deck had plenty of empty seats – it might have had something to do with all of the amenities available in the spacious concourses.
The Penguins’ dressing room alone is an incredible upgrade, shaped like a puck so that there are no corners and with a ceiling that pays homage to the Igloo’s retractable roof. The players don’t seem in any hurry to leave their lockers.
“It’s a great building,” Craig said. “They put a lot of time and effort into the design. The little things you can tell. I don’t know how many it holds, but I think everybody would be happy to walk away tonight.”
Consol Energy Center also has great sightlines, lighting and a high-definition scoreboard that makes it hard to keep your eyes on the ice.
“When I did catch a glimpse,” Dupuis said, “it was pretty HD out there.”
4. The boards are lively. The Penguins are quick to note that Consol Energy Center’s new boards are bouncy, and it wasn’t flattery when Fleury compared them to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena.
If you recall, Fleury allowed some soft goals on bad bounces off the boards at The Joe in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final. So it’s going to take the Penguins’ goalie some getting time to adjust to how they play, something that Dupuis noted is also true of the wingers.
“I guess a couple more practices and games, just to know where the puck is going to end up at, in the glass or in the corners,” Fleury said. “I guess it’s just playing on it. … Just give it time and I’ll get used to it.”
5. We have a trivia answer. Penguins diehards know that Andy Bathgate scored the team’s first goal at Civic Arena. Now, Mike Comrie’s name will forever be associated with the first goal at Consol Energy Center.
The newly acquired right wing was the first to tally at the Goal Mine, swinging in mid-air to knock in a rebound of his missed shot past Chris Osgood. It took a couple whacks, but Comrie eventually scored – only 1:21 into the first.
“I’m not sure it’s going to be on the back of a Trivial Pursuit card … but it was nice to chip in,” he said. “I got a couple rebounds. I’m not sure it’s going to help my shooting percentage, but I’ll take it.”

September 22, 2010
by trib

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Crosby sits

The Penguins just announced on press row with 16:38 remaining in the third period that captain Sidney Crosby is out with a “sore” hip flexor and will not return to the game against Detroit.
Crosby had a goal and an assist in 14 shifts and 12:28 of ice time through the first two periods.
He took a game-high six shots on goal, with one attempt blocked, and also was 10-3 on faceoffs (77 percent), the best winning percentage of any player who took six or more draws in the game.
The Penguins are leading the Red Wings, 5-1.

September 22, 2010
by trib

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Back for seconds

The catcalls for Chris Osgood cascaded from the Consol Energy Center upper deck late in the second period after the Penguins scored for the fifth time against the Detroit goalie, including a second goal by Ryan Craig.
After Detroit defenseman Ruslan Salei cut it to 3-1 with a slap shot from the right point at 9:29, free-agent acquisition Brett Sterling was the beneficiary of a Sidney Crosby pass after a perfectly played give-and-go between Crosby and Pascal Dupuis for a 4-1 lead at 13:28. Sterling spent the past four seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers organization, scoring 55 goals as a rookie for the Chicago Wolves of the AHL in 2006-07.
Craig scored his second at 15:06, sliding on the ice to knock in Tyler Kennedy’s shot from the right boards. It’s a memorable Penguins debut for Craig, who played five seasons for the Tampa Bay Lightning but spent the majority of last season with Norfolk of the AHL.
The announced attendance is 18,087, a sellout at the new arena. If it looks like there are empty seats, it’s probably because many fans are wandering around the concourses of Consol Energy Center to check out all of the amenities available the new building has to offer that Civic Arena didn’t.
The Penguins have a sellout streak of 166 games (including playoffs) that dates to their game against Chicago Feb. 14, 2007. Since the streak began, 2,836,303 fans – an average of 17,086 per game – have seen the Penguins play. That doesn’t count exhibition games.
An interesting note about Jesse Boulerice, who quickly became a fan favorite after pummeling Aaron Downey in a first-period fight: Boulerice has played in 172 career games and accumulated 333 penalty minutes, including 124 PIMs in 54 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last year.
And Mike Comrie, who became the answer to a trivia question by scoring the first-ever goal at Consol Energy Center, has scored 20 or more goals five times in his nine-year career, including a pair of 30-goal seasons.
The Red Wings outshot the Penguins, 14-7, in the second period but have been outshot 27-21 overall and are 0-for-6 on the power play.

September 22, 2010
by trib

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Open for hockey

Goodbye, Igloo.
Hello, Goal Mine.
The Penguins officially christened Consol Energy Center with its first hockey game as their home ice in an exhibition against the Detroit Red Wings, their nemesis in the 2008 and ’09 Stanley Cup finals.
And the Penguins wasted no time lighting the lantern.
Only 1:21 into the first period, newly acquired right wing Mike Comrie took a mid-air swipe on a rebound of his own shot and swatted it past goalie Chris Osgood for a 1-0 lead. Comrie was assisted by Brett Sterling and Zbynek Michalek, then used a nice hesitation move to get the open shot.
Sidney Crosby scored similarly, swatting in his own rebound past Osgood for a 2-0 lead at 7:29. Kris Letang and Jesse Boulerice assisted. Ryan Craig made it 3-0 with a shot from the left circle that beat Osgood stick side and caromed off the post at 11:45. Mark Letestu and Brooks Orpik assisted.
The first fight occurred at 13:29, when right wings Boulerice and Aaron Downey squared off in the slot in the Penguins’ zone. They had the crowd holding its breath, as there was a long staredown before either threw a punch, but Boulerice made it worth the wait by pummeling Downey.
Perhaps it was revenge for this:
Another fight occurred with 1:43 remaining in the first, this one between Orpik and Todd Bertuzzi after Red Wings forward Johan Franzen was injured in a collision with Orpik, who received a five-minute penalty for kneeing, another five for fighting and a game misconduct.
The Penguins outshot the Red Wings, 20-7, in the first period.
As for other official firsts, a moment of silence in memory of the late public address announcer John Barbero – who died of brain cancer in July – was followed by the national anthem sung by Jeff Jimmerson.
The opening faceoff saw Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Pascal Dupuis with Orpik and Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury in goal for the Penguins and Valtteri Filppula with Franzen and Bertuzzi and defensemen Ruslan Salei and Jonathan Ericsson and Osgood for the Wings.

September 4, 2010
by trib

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Discovering gems

When I agreed this summer to cover a high school football season opener in Harrisburg, it was with the intention of writing a column about Bishop McDevitt’s latest star running back, Jameel Poteat, a Pitt recruit.
Sometimes someone else catches your eye.
As I watched Bishop McDevitt’s 23-0 victory over Gateway – an upset of sorts, considering the Crusaders are one of the state’s top Class AAA teams but the Gators are a perennial WPIAL Quad-A powerhouse – it wasn’t Poteat that left such a powerful impression as one of his teammates.
I couldn’t take my eyes off Bishop McDevitt defensive end Noah Spence, a 6-foot-3{1/2}, 230-pound junior who was more dominant defensively than Poteat was offensively despite taking an occasional play off. Spence had sacks of 11 and 6 yards, made a Greg Romeus-like pass deflection at the line of scrimmage and even ran a tight end reverse on offense.
“He’s a beast,” Gateway coach Terry Smith said. “He’s the best player I’ve seen in high school football since Gronkowski.”
Gronkowski would be former Woodland Hills tight end Rob Gronkowski, who starred at Arizona and was a second-round draft choice of the New England Patriots.
“We had to send a guy to double team,” Smith continued. “That’s why we got so much pressure up the middle. He looks like Godzilla. I think he’ll be a top-five player in the country. His first three steps are quicker than anyone I’ve seen. He’s big, fast, strong, physical. He has the ability to change the game.”
Crusaders coach Jeff Weachter said Spence, whose father played at North Carolina State, has been “offered by everybody in the country.” Weachter rattled off such as Florida, Notre Dame, Oregon and Southern Cal among the suitors but said Pitt was the first to make a verbal offer. Dave Wannstedt made a strong impression when he pulled Spence aside as a freshman at a Pitt camp, as the Panthers are considered the clubhouse leader.
How good is Spence?
“He’s going to challenge Shady for best player I’ve ever coached,” Weachter said.
Shady would be LeSean McCoy, the former Pitt star tailback who now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. The former McDevitt star showed up on the sideline Saturday afternoon, wearing an airbrushed T-shirt designed to look like the No. 10 jersey of current Crusaders star Poteat.
Poteat rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and had three receptions for 15 yards, but the 5-foot-11, 210-pounder won’t remind you of McCoy. Poteat is more of a between-the-tackles power back who has some shiftiness in traffic and showed a nice spin move, but he didn’t display the breakaway ability of McCoy or his successor, Dion Lewis.
Then again, Poteat injured his left knee in the second quarter – he said trainers told him it was the meniscus; he had it bandaged with ice, but didn’t seem overly concerned – and his longest run was 15 yards.
“Since I was 12, we’ve been close,” Poteat said of McCoy. “He’s like a big brother to me now. He almost ran on the field when I fell. He told me to get my shoulders north-and-south, to get 6 or 7 yards and wear them down so I could set up for somebody else.”
Nevertheless, Terry Smith was impressed with Poteat, who was the focal point of Gateway’s game plan as the latest in a long line of McDevitt backs that includes Ricky Watters, McCoy and Syracuse’s Mike Jones.
“Poteat’s a great player,” Smith said. “He’s carrying on the tradition of McDevitt running backs. Pitt’s getting a good one. He took some good hits and kept battling.”
Many of those hits came courtesy of Gateway safety Armstead Williams, a 6-3, 205-pounder who played outside linebacker last season. Williams was the second-best player on the field, behind only Spence.
Poteat likened Williams to former Southern Cal safety Taylor Mays.
“He’s a head-hunter,” Poteat said. “He was flying out there.”
Williams said Iowa, Maryland and Purdue are his top three college choices at the moment, but added that “any other college can jump in.” Word is that Williams likes Pitt, but the Panthers haven’t offered. They already are above their available scholarship limit, but Williams could be a steal if Pitt gets him late.
Speaking of steals, Gateway senior defensive end Sascha Craig doesn’t have any scholarship offers but played an outstanding game. Smith said Mid-American Conference programs are interested, but schools see the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder as a ‘tweener and want to watch tape of him at linebacker.
Problem is, that’s Gateway’s deepest position.
“He’s a tremendous athlete, our only three-year starter,” Smith said. “We’re trying to get him over the hump, get his first offer. We played a tremendous team today, and he showed up.”

August 29, 2010
by trib

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A new menu

If you haven’t noticed, Sitting Ringside has been on hiatus since the Penguins exited the Stanley Cup playoffs in May.
Now that I’m no longer exclusively covering one team, I’m interested in reinventing this blog to include daily updates with lists, links, opinions, etc., on anything from the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates to college football and basketball and beyond.
To do that, I’m asking for reader input. Feel free to send your suggestions to

May 12, 2010
by trib

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A powerful finish

The Penguins had Mellon Arena rocking by the end of the second period, and the way it ended was a promising sign for the third.

Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges drew a penalty for cross-checking Pascal Dupuis with 9.5 seconds remaining in the period and the Canadiens leading, 4-2.

After scoring two goals — by Chris Kunitz and Jordan Staal — in the final 13 minutes of the second period, the Penguins will start the third with a man advantage.

May 12, 2010
by trib

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Staal scores

Iron Man just pumped life back into the Igloo.

Jordan Staal kept the play alive in the Penguins’ end by digging a puck out of the back boards, then redirected an Alexei Ponikarovsky shot from center point to score his third playoff goal and make it 4-2 at 16:30 of the second.

Staal has been playing like a man possessed, which he just might be after missing only two games before returning from severed tendon in his right toe. Mellon Arena went wild after he scored.

And the place went nuts went the Jumbotron showed Evgeni Malkin’s father, Vladimir, wildly waving a rally towel with 2:13 remaining.

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