PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 15: Defensive end Brett Keisel #99 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after defeating the Baltimore Ravens 31-24 in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Heinz Field on January 15 2011 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
A few weeks ago, our very own Ivan Cole wrote a piece about the month of April, and how it's a time of hope, anticipation, renewal and even a bit of withdrawal what with any real football still many months away. When I read that, I thought, "Amen, Sir." That's how I feel.
As a die-hard football fan, I can certainly relate. Right around that same time, the Pittsburgh Penguins were winding-down their regular season by engaging in a blood-bath with their heated rivals and soon-to-be first round playoff opponents, the Philadelphia Flyers. During the game, there were many fights, cheap shots and even opposing coaches screaming at each other. The next day, I was reading an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about the series of events that occurred in the game, and there was a quote from one of the Penguins players. I don't remember the player or the exact quote, but he mentioned something about it being April, and April is playoff time, so therefore, the intensity is magnified.
Right then is when it hit me: I guess I'm not a hockey fan because I cannot relate to April playoff intensity.
Yesterday, after the Penguins fell to the Flyers in six games in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, my boss, a huge Pens fan, said, "I don't know what I'm going to do with myself now. I usually count on the Penguins going on a long playoff run. Now, there's nothing to do."
And I said, "Mark, it's the end of April. It's going to be May any second now. There must be dozens of things you can do. It's nice out."
The cold weather that we experienced today in Pittsburgh is certainly the exception to what we've been experiencing lately, and it will soon pass and give way to warmer temperatures. So if you're a Penguins fan who is down about their first round exit, don't despair.
Take your kids to the park; take them to Disney World; take your wife (or husband) on a cruise; go jogging; get some sun; play some pick-up basketball; fly a kite, etc. There must be tons of things you can do during the spring to make you forget about hockey.
I don't know how hockey fans can even keep up their intensity during the playoffs. It just seems odd to sit in a bar and watch an intense hockey playoff game on, say, Mother's Day. Shouldn't you be spending time with her? I mean, she did carry you around for nine months and then give birth to you. She's tougher than any hockey player. Go pick some flowers and take them to her.
This is where I find hockey to be kind of weird. It's a sport played in-doors on ice, and the heart of the regular season goes straight through January and February. That's perfect. However, the intense, white-knuckled playoff action takes place during April, May and June. I just can't feel very much intensity in my bones during this time of year.
This is how I know I'm a hard-wired football fan.
I think the game of football and the time of year when its playoffs start come together to create the perfect atmosphere for a championship chase, at least if you're in a cold-weather city like Pittsburgh.
Towards the end of the regular season, the holidays come around, and that fosters great memories with family and friends. You swap old holiday stories and create new ones. You may even share memories of great Steelers games from years gone by. There's usually football on during the holidays, and it just seems natural as you sit with your family and watch a Thanksgiving day game, for example.
Once November and December give way to January, however, life is a little harsher. You no longer have that fuzzy feeling in your stomach from the holidays. Instead, you just have the cold and the snow, and you're probably really angry about it.
You know the big Steelers playoff game is coming up, and you're very excited about that. But you're also worried about your car starting for work in the morning because it's below zero outside, and you keep putting off getting your battery checked.
Every damn morning, it seems like there is frost on your car windshield and snow on your hood. There's also snow on your door, and everytime you open it, some of the wet stuff gets on your seat and you have to sit in it. This makes you even angrier.
And then there are pot-holes you have to try and avoid and roads that haven't been plowed yet as you try and navigate your way to work every morning.
You find yourself shoveling your sidewalk everyday, and your hands are always numb because your gloves suck, and your ears are always cold because you can't find your good Steelers hat.
All you can think about is the upcoming Steelers playoff game, and how you wish you could be out there tackling some Ravens because you know you could do it. This snow and cold is all the motivation you need. This damn winter is getting to you. The stakes are high in January. The Steelers have to win. If they don't, you know you won't have much to look forward to for the next couple of months.
You'll still have the rest of January and all of February to scrape the frost off of your car and shovel your sidewalk, and there will be no football to take your mind off of it. You can't go jogging, not if you're not crazy; you can't fly a kite or pick flowers from the garden; you can't tan.
Heck, attending an NFL playoff game is sometimes a matter of personal survival if you're in a city like Pittsburgh. Hockey playoff games are always in-doors, and you may have to take a sweater just in-case the air-conditioning is working a little too well at the Consol Energy Center. If you go to a Steelers playoff game at Heinz Field, you may have to prepare for frostbite. If you don't prepare properly, whether or not Pittsburgh wins will be the least of your troubles.
Playoff football is played during the month it was intended to be played. If you're a fan, you can sense the playoffs right around the corner. You can feel it in your soul. It's very intense, but it's beautiful.
Playoff hockey? It's just really beautiful outside, and I just can't relate. I just want to go fly a kite.