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Category:  Sports History
Published:  September, 2006

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 being judged.

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 floors.

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 as possible.

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!