The question of loyalty to a hometown and to its sports teams is one that often comes up in sporting discussions. Some folks shed their loyalties to their hometown and its teams and adopt new teams as they move around the country. Others steadfastly cling to their sporting roots, while possibly picking up a “second” team. In some cases, this choice comes down to a fundamental question of identity.
In choosing to root for the Carolina Hurricanes over his hometown Pittsburgh Penguins, Bill Cowher created a maelstrom. Pittsburghers are, to put it lightly, livid. (As an aside, let’s dispense with any idiotic talk about his right to support whom he wants or that he owes Pittsburgh nothing. DUH!)
So does Cowher see himself, in any part, as a Pittsburgher or a solely a Carolinian? If the former, then he shouldn’t be surprised by the consternation created by his decision. If the latter, then so be it. He’s not one of “ours”.
It is generally believed that many ex-pat Pittsburghers take their sporting loyalties with them when they leave western Pennsylvania. The reason that Steelers fans show up in great numbers at road games is not because we travel well (though we do), it’s because ex-Pittsburghers already live there. And we’ve also converted anyone we can. So when Cowher chose to support the Hurricanes instead of the Penguins, he, in essence, chose Carolina over Pittsburgh as his identity. That one of our own would readily do so is reponsible for the hurt and disappointment that many of us feel.
I don’t particularly care to explain away Cowher’s decision based on his Raleigh business contacts or the possibility of coaching the Carolina Panthers one day. If he still saw himself as a Pittsburgher, he could have begged off taking part in such a public display as he gave during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The bottomline is that Cowher isn’t a Pittsburgher anymore, if he ever was. And yes I feel justified in making that statement based on his turncoat sporting allegiance. Perhaps his experiences at NC State and the pressure cooker of coaching the Steelers rendered him less able to embrace this part of his (former) heritage. Sure he had the accent and the roots but in some ways, he always seemed more of a hired hand than someone who embraces his city, like Mario Lemieux or Franco Harris have done.
Of course, I don’t wish Cowher any ill will. Many Steelers fans aren’t from Pittsburgh and so they are under no obligation to root for our other teams. They’re still part of the Steelers Nation. He was a fantastic coach for many, many years and I think Mike Tomlin winning a Superbowl in his second year has blinded some Steelers fans to the difficulty of winning it all. Cowher is welcome to turncoat again and root for the Penguins. But he won’t be doing so as a Pittsburgher.