The Power of Sport!
By Al Owens
A couple of Sundays ago, I found myself standing in the middle of my living room
with my fist jabbing ceiling-ward, belting out a loud YES! Tiger Woods had just
performed the unthinkable – again – while winning the Bridgestone Invitational
golf tournament in Akron, Ohio. He’d somehow overcome his un-Tiger Woodslike
play on Saturday, only to get me to respond like some ecstatic small child on
Sunday! He’d won again! And it was the second time that Sunday I allowed my
emotions to snatch me from adulthood.
Earlier that day, I stood with tears streaming down my face inside the Western
Pennsylvania Sports Museum in the Strip District of Pittsburgh. I cried and I
don’t care who knows it! I’d learned a long time ago that sports is the only
activity where adults can freely allow themselves to feel what kids feel daily,
without having to explain themselves. Go to any sporting event and you’ll find
people who dress up like chickens and put silly hats on without the fear of
There is no other place in any community that suspends the rules of adulthood
and promotes spontaneous outbursts – like a homerun in the bottom of the ninth!
Sunday, February 5th, 2006. I bound onto my balcony and scream YES, until I get
hoarse. The Steelers are winning the Super Bowl. I look down the street and some
guy is running up and down it doing the same thing. For one moment, he’s my best
friend and I can’t even see his face. We, like most of Southwestern
Pennsylvania, had become one community and we’d become invincible!
That is what sport does to people. Most of us have never picked up a football
and tried to get into the end zone. But when Jerome Bettis fumbled that ball
against the Indianapolis Colts a few weeks earlier, most of us felt as much pain
as he did. In fact, 50 year-old Terry O’Neill of Pittsburgh felt even more pain.
He had a heart attack a few seconds after Bettis’ fumble. Fortunately, that
fumble didn’t end the Steelers’ season or O’Neill’s life!
If you happen to visit that sports museum you’ll discover dozens of heart
stopping moments like that one. It’s housed within the Smithsonian Wing of the
Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center and it takes up two full
If you have any questions about the importance of the Negro Leagues, you’ll find
the answers there. If you’d forgotten about the onetime dominance of Arnold
Palmer, you can refresh your memory there. If you’re a Pittsburgh Steelers fan,
a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, a Pitt fan, a WPIAL fan, a Duquesne fan, a Penguins
fan, a Bob Prince fan, or just a plain old sports fan, visit that place as soon
Find that two story multi-media exhibit, stand below a half dozen video screens,
allow yourself to be lifted by the throbbing soundtrack, watch Mazeroski round
those bases, or Franco pluck Western Pennsylvania off the turf at Three Rivers
and run us all into the end zone, or see Arnie’s Army stand at attention while
their hero sinks a long one, and you too might be moved to tears.
Of course, being a hopeless Fayette-o-phile, I slowly walked those two floors
looking for the history we’ve contributed to that museum. I saw exhibits
featuring Connellsville’s Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lujack (1947) and Olympic
Gold Medalist Johnny Woodruff (1936), and Uniontown’s Heisman Trophy runner-up
(1961) Sandy Stephens, to varying degrees. I spotted Uniontown’s two 1960’s
WPIAL football championships in the area devoted to Western Pennsylvania’s great
high school football traditions.
I even saw a mention of Charles Hyatt, a Uniontown High School graduate (1925),
who’d been part of the first induction into The Basketball Hall of Fame in
Springfield, Massachusetts. While I didn’t see mentions of Uniontown’s Heisman
Trophy recipient Ernie Davis (1961), or Heisman Trophy runner-up Chuck Muncie
(1974), I’m vowing to make sure they aren’t overlooked in the future. And when I
get them in, you can bet I’ll return to the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum,
and the visitors there that day had better get ready to hear my response!