Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend, who did not know the difference between hockey and curling when he grew up in Mississippi, is scrambling for tickets to Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final in Mellon Arena Wednesday night.
"I'll just call upstairs and see if they can pull it off," Townsend said of trying to score a few tickets through Steelers executives. "It's a great opportunity to be involved. Those are things you talk about later on in life; you're able to be involved when someone wins a championship."
Count Townsend among the many other pro athletes in Pittsburgh pulling for the Penguins as they prepare
to play the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final. Whether longtime Penguins fans or newer ones, many players and executives of the Steelers and Pirates are among the area's fan base rooting for them to bring another championship to the city.
"I love it, man. I've turned into a big hockey fan since I got here," said first baseman Adam LaRoche, who came to the Pirates last year in a trade with Atlanta. "And, to be honest, it's mostly just from seeing the Penguins' fans and how they are. I'm really getting into it. It would be pretty incredible for the whole city."
LaRoche joined some of his former teammates with the Braves to watch a game at Mellon Arena last week, just as many other Pirates and Steelers have done. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has popped up in Mario Lemieux's box and said he will attend one of the first two games of the finals in Detroit. Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and his wife, Patricia, have four season tickets, as does Kevin Colbert, their director of football operations.
"My wife is the biggest rooter they have," said Rooney, who played in pickup games on the frozen tennis courts atop Monument Hill while he attended North Catholic High School. "She watches it on TV every chance she gets. She hustles me to games.
"I think it's big for the city, it gives us more emphasis, it makes the city feel it has some pride. I think it's an excellent thing."
Backup quarterback Charlie Batch grew up in Homestead playing football and basketball, but he has been a Penguins fan since his days at Steel Valley High School, when they won their two Stanley Cups. He also played his first four seasons in Detroit with the Lions, after six years at Eastern Michigan, and attended some Red Wings games there. But there will be no conflict of rooting interest for him starting Saturday.
"I'm pulling for the Penguins all the way."
Not so for Steelers linebacker Larry Foote, who says he has to stick with his hometown Red Wings in the series. But Pirates center fielder Nate McLouth, who also grew up a devoted Red Wings fan in his native Whitehall, Mich, was more diplomatic.
"It's going to be a little tough," McLouth said. "I've followed the Wings all my life, and there's been a lot to love. They've been the model of consistency, maybe in all of professional sports, really. But I've also spent a lot of time over at the Arena watching the Penguins and gotten to know a couple of guys, so ... hey, this will be fun. This was the series I wanted all along."
Townsend said he came to enjoy the sport over his 11 seasons with the Steelers and has attended games, including a recent one with 345-pound nose tackle Casey Hampton.
"It's another great sport with a lot of great athletes, especially when we have some of the better players in the National Hockey League. It's exciting to watch. I love it when they hit the glass."