How A Cleveland Kid Ended Up Becoming A Penguins Fan

“Jeff, you are from Cleveland. How the heck did you end up becoming a Pittsburgh Penguins fan?”

Many people who understand my love for Cleveland sports teams have asked me this question over the years when I’ve told them that one of my favorite NHL teams happens to be the Pittsburgh Penguins. To many, it doesn’t make sense that someone who loves the Browns could ever love following a team based in Pittsburgh.

The answer is simple and dates back to my childhood; when I was about six or seven years old, I came across an article in a Sports Illustrated for Kids about Mario Lemieux beating Hodkin’s Disease and thought that was an incredible story. The Cleveland Lumberjacks at the time were affiliated with the Pittsburgh Penguins and in reality, they were the closest NHL team. Thoughts of the Columbus Blue Jackets coming into existence had not even surfaced at the time so I choose to root for the closest NHL team to me and my favorite player, which happened to be Mario Lemieux.

It wasn’t until about fifth grade that I started going to Pittsburgh at least once a year to see a Penguins game. During that game against the Boston Bruins, Jaromir Jagr (okay Pens fans, I know why he is hated so much but work with me here) ended up having a hat trick and it was the first time I got to see Mario Lemieux play. Seeing how passionate the fans were inside Mellon Arena and the atmosphere of going to a Penguins game made me a fan for life and has led to several other trips to Penguins game.

Even when the Penguins were down at the bottom of the standings, the fans have always shown the same passion and commitment for the team. I recall games on my 20th and 21st birthday in which the Penguins were near the bottom of the standings but the fans still showed the same passion and desire to see the team win. I knew in these years the Penguins were not going to make the playoffs but after falling in love with this team early on, I was going to show them my support as well.

As I was walking up to Mellon Arena this past weekend for a Penguins vs. Flyers game, I still felt the same excitement I had when I witnessed my first Penguins game live in person back in fifth grade. Wearing my old school Penguins jersey with the word “Pittsburgh” draped diagonally across, I couldn’t wait to see the team I fell in love with years ago. Lemieux now watches the game from the pressbox but I enjoy watching Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fluery, Jordan Staal and several of the current Penguins players take the ice. The Penguins ended up taking down the Flyers 4-1 and made for a good start to a great weekend.

During the game, I couldn’t help but share different stories I had of going to Penguins games growing up. Walking around Mellon Arena brought back a lot of good memories from my childhood and reminds me as to how why a Cleveland kid like me fell in love with this Penguins team from Pittsburgh.

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~ by jeffrsabo on March 28, 2010.

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