A little over a decade ago, an embattled President George Bush found himself in the state of New Hampshire defending his presidential re-election bid from all sides. Slated to give a speech that would, hopefully, get him back on track, Bush tried desperately to sound like a man of the people. It didn't happen.
Somewhere in the margin of his speech that day, someone had scribbled a succinct summation of what the then-president was supposed to convey to his audience. But instead of weaving the idea into the subtext of his speech, the president decided to blurt out his thesis and befuddle a good part of the country. Soon enough, "Message: I care," went from potential applause-line to international punchline and someone dubbed 'Slick Willie' was on his way into the Oval Office.
Unfortunately for him, President Bush probably did mean every word of his 'message' when he said it. However, telling someone you care is often a lot like telling someone you're cool. It's nice to say it, and some people might even buy it, but it means a lot more if your actions back it up.
Thus, when you watch the Pittsburgh Penguins continue to fumble the public relations football right into the beginning of the season (again), you have to feel for them just a bitif only because you suspect they mean well.
Watching this team deal with the public is sort of like watching a not-so-smart golden retriever continually walk face-first into a sliding glass door. At first you laugh, then you feel sorry for it, and finally you just shake your head and wonder if it will ever have the mental capacity to grasp the fact that it continues to needlessly bang its head against a wall.
What borders on ironic in this is that the Penguins, who by all rights should be the worst team in all of hockey this year, had a pretty decent off-season.
They traded someone whose name you'll likely never remember for the first overall pick in the draft and league experts far and wide have been tripping over their tongues in an effort to call Marc-Andre Fleury "The Next Patrick Roy." Even better, the young netminder did little to disprove the idea that he could anchor this team for the next decade during his first big league training camp. Perfect, right?
Mario fades graciously into the owner's box and leaves the team in the hands of another up-standing, bedrock French-Canadian phenom who will carry the team into a new Igloo. It doesn't get much better than that, does it?
Sure it does.
Before the team improved itself via the draft, fan favorite, Eddie 'Edzo' Olczyk came out of the broadcast booth to take over behind the bench in another move that was roundly applauded. The team might not be all that good, but at the very least the coach would speak his mindand he would do it in English. Now we were talking (so to speak). The ship may be slow, but at least it seemed seaworthy and pointed in the right direction. But there was more.
Mario Lemieux decided to return for another season on the ice. Fan-flipping-tasticand the team still wasn't finished. For the first time in the history of Pittsburgh hockey, a local 'Burgher would lace 'em up and take the ice for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Yes, really.
All that was left was the free carrot peeler and the extra paring knife that cuts through tin cans as easily as it cuts through a tomato and Penguin fans would have more value for $29.99 than they knew what to do with. The team may not win 20 games, but suddenly there were reasons (yes, plural) to go to the arena.
Ah, but let us never accuse the Penguins of knowing how to quit when they're ahead.
For the last couple of weeks, it's been one story after another and almost none of the news has been good. First, the front office apparently can't afford cable, because if they'd turned on CNBC at any point over the last two months and cast an eye toward Wall Street they might have learned a thing or two. At $10 million per season Mario Lemieux is still underpaid and there's nothing wrong with giving him a raise, but the way the team tried to keep it quiet and underplay the story made everybody involved look guilty and greedy. Dick Grasso, would you care to comment?
Then the story broke that the team is selling some of the real estate they'd bought around the Igloo in the hope that they might cash in once funding for a new Igloo was approved. Again, with the hush-hush, don't-tell-the-neighbors spin, when the story saw the light of day fans suddenly weren't going into the season gushing over seeing Mario at least one more season or being introduced to Marc-Andre Fleury, they were rightly asking if the team will be here in another year or if it too was on the market. Roger Marino, would you like to make a statement?
Of course, this was all above and beyond the fact that the team's captain/owner/only-person-standing-between-this-team-and-Portland obviously had to twist General Manager Craig Patrick's arm to sign the aforementioned superstar-in-the-making Fleury at the beginning of the week to avoid even more fan backlash and shore up attendance.
Look, it's not rocket science. Anybody who's followed this team even relatively closely knows that the Penguins gave up on the upcoming season back in February. They want to survive the lockout that everybody expects is coming after this season ends. Most fans get it. Really, they do.
However, these are the fans who are still trying to dig some spare change out from under the sofa cushions and get down to the arena. In this economy, for a team that is going to be as bad as the Penguins probably will be, that's a big deal and the last thing anybody needs right now is more reason to stay at home.
Yes, in the long run, fans will appreciate that this team is conceding this year for seasons (again, plural) down the road. But in the short term, is it really too much to ask that this team not take at least one step back for every one step it takes forward? By all means, tell the fans that you care, but could you then try not to follow the words up with actions that scream, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain"?
Maybe this is too much to ask. Maybe being a fan means having to live with our bumbling birds, bellyflops and all. Then again, what would a new season of Penguin hockey be without at least a little bit of hope.
Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com during the season and employs his own crack staff of spin doctors to maintain the well-tarnished image that very nearly made him one of People Magazine's 25 Most Besotted People of 1999.