All great sports rivalries start somewhere.
The sports rivalry between Pittsburgh and Columbus couldn't have started better.
A little cousin of sorts to pretty much every other NHL team in their first 13 years of existence, the Columbus Blue Jackets finally broke through in year No. 14. Finally armed with a club president, general manager and coach that all share the same vision of developing young talent into a rugged, hard working team, the CBJ earned the second playoff birth in franchise history.
The Jackets reward was a first round playoff date with the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that had dominated the matchup on the ice and in the stands.
Much like how Steeler Nation invades opposing stadiums, Pens fans often turned Nationwide Arena into a second home venue. The Pens were right at home on the ice, too, winning most of their battles with the CBJ that included going 5-0 against the Jackets during this past regular season. This rivalry was about as one-sided as the Steelers-Browns has been since Cleveland returned to the NFL in 1999.
Columbus fans are an interesting group. Many have tides to Ohio State and (no matter what time of year it is) are always ready to talk Buckeye football or OSU hoops. Many Columbus residents are either transplants from Cleveland, Cincinnati, or Pittsburgh, which means that Steelers fans are often rubbing elbows with Bengals and Browns fans in cubicles and sports bars all over the city.
The majority of Cincinnati and Cleveland transplants have come to embrace the CBJ, while many Pittsburgh transplants have remained loyal to the Penguins (even though this now seems to be changing by the second). Those fans made up many of those Pens fans that invaded Nationwide Arena whenever the two teams faced each other in the past.
But-starting about two weeks ago-something in Columbus changed. The team's fans-much like Steelers fans before 1972 and Pirate fans before 2013- began to gain a new spirit for the team after becoming so jaded after watching so much bad hockey for too many years. They coined the phrase "The Fifth Line," a phrase that has caught on like Donatos and Chipotle has in previous years in the 614. The stands, once a safe heaven for Pens fans, has become party for 19,000 delirious Jackets fans that are loving every second of their team's playoff run.
Like the Steelers, the Pens are the villains in this town. That feeling was reinforced after Pittsburgh scored three goals in a little over two minutes to steal Game 3 in Columbus last Monday. The Jackets turned the tide and tied the series with an emotional 4-3 overtime victory in Game 4 that saw the CBJ overcome a 3-0 first period deficit. The cheering in the stands upon that final goal was something I had heard before, a sound that took me back over 17 years prior as a kid sitting in Three Rivers Stadium as the Steelers manhandled the Colts in a playoff game.
The city is now bracing for Game 6, which will be played in Nationwide tonight with the Pens holding a 3-2 lead in the series. All this excitement makes me wonder how great a football rivalry between these two cities would be. As much as both cities love hockey, both Pittsburgh and Columbus are football towns. The Steelers with the most Super Bowl trophies, the Buckeyes with the most BCS appearances. If the past two weeks have proved anything, its proven that Columbus is ready for more professional sports teams, and when that happens, Pittsburgh will the rival city.
Until then, the Pittsburgh and Columbus rivalry will be reserved only for the hockey rink. It's been a great two weeks, and it certainly has helped speed up football's offseason.