Pittsburgh has long been a sports town. Producing talent like Joe Montana, Mike Ditka, Dan Marino, Charlie Batch and Ty Law in the NFL (along with many others too numerous to name), Ryan Malone and several others in the NHL and even a few Major League baseballers, there's been a history of great talent coming out of western PA.
The Steelers have 6 Lombardi Trophies in their collection. Mario Lemieux has his name on Lord Stanley's cup 3 times and the Pirates have won several World Series. Names like Roberto Clemente, Honus Wagner, Terry Bradshaw, Mario Lemieux, Mean Joe Greene, and again numerous others are, and have been household names through the decades. Two of the most dramatic plays in Sports history have been made by Pittsburgh sports players, the "Immaculate Reception", and Bill Mazeroski's game 7 homer to win the World Series. There's been "The Steel Curtain", "Franco's Italian Army" and "Gerela's Gorillas". The Pirates were "Fa-mah-lee" and served up some "Chicken on the Hill With Captain Will", and Badger Bob Johnson made everybody believe that "It's a Great Day For Hockey!"
Pittsburgh fans support a winner, and in a small market city, the dedicated fans always came out to support their team in the sport of their choice, with the idea, "Well, there's always next year!", and usually there was. All teams slump, all teams under-achieve, and all teams disappoint fans with bad seasons, but in the Burgh, bad seasons tended to be few and far between, and very rarely were there more than two or three losing seasons in a row. Even the Pittsburgh Penguins, after suffering several lean seasons drafted well and re-built a winner in relatively short order.
Then, there are the Pirates. Division winners and potentially World Series bound in three consecutive seasons, they never made it to the World Series in any of the three. In 1992 the team learned two lessons, and the fans learned one more. The lessons the team learned are that you can't win it all without dependable relief pitching, and that players you may have given up on can come back to hurt you.
In Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, Pirates' pitcher Doug Drabek pitched a monster of a game against John Smoltz of the Braves. Drabek pitched 8 scoreless innings, and the Pirates went into the 9th inning with a 2-0 lead. The World Series was within reach. Drabek tired, and was replaced by shaky-at-best relief pitcher Stan Belinda. In a play that will live forever in infamy in Pirate lore, no-name Francisco Cabrera got a hit off Belinda, and former Pirate Sid Bream scored what would be the winning run for the Braves. Bad knees and all, Bream got it done.
The fans learned another, but different type of lesson. They learned that it would be 20 long years before they'd ever see another winning Pirate team!
More in Part 2.