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Saturday July 26 2014
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Are The Penguins Losing Their Cool?

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The jig is up. The news is out. And they’ve finally found the Penguins. Yeah, we all know that Tommy Shaw was actually singing about James Harrison.

After all, Styx’s “Renegade” has become the signature song of today’s Steelers, and Steeler Nation has embraced the tune as its own, relying on it at Heinz Field each game to prepare for a big defensive series.
But are the Steelers—and their fans—really “renegades”? Isn’t that tag better reserved for fans of a team that really wasn’t popular until it was finally too hard to ignore it? That describes Penguins fans to a tee, or perhaps more appropriately, to a one-timer in the slot.
Penguins fans: the group that, despite a championship legacy filled with some of hockey’s greatest players, has suddenly become the prettiest girl on the block.
The Penguins—pardon the tardiness here—have finally arrived, and Pittsburgh’s masses are more than on-board.
Yet, like everyone’s favorite rock band, does being popular on a mainstream level make what was once cool and unique to follow suddenly “lame”? Have the Penguins, the best-kept sports-nut secret in Pittsburgh, lost their “cool”?
“It is like a dying thing,” admits Derek Rocco—co-founder of The Pensblog, a self-started Penguins fan site that has evolved into the underground hub of Penguin Nation—and a diehard Penguins fan who followed the team through its most recent “Dark Ages” of missing the playoffs several times early in the 2000s. But, as co-founder Adam Caldwell points out, and Rocco agrees, “If it wasn’t for the fringe fans who aren’t as hardcore, the Penguins might not even be [in Pittsburgh] right now. The fringe fans helped get the new arena.
“There’s always going to be a division between the bandwagon fans and the ‘real’ fans, but they all helped keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh, so we’re grateful for that.”
The Pensblog (or tPb for short) launched in 2006 and—almost entirely through word-of-mouth—has risen to the point where Rocco and Caldwell have gotten airtime on both the WDVE Morning Show and Penguins telecasts. Though, as the founders point out, a Pensblog character known simply as “Charlie” is the one who really gets the face time.
The history of Charlie—check outt thepensblog.com for more on that guy—and some occasional colorful language are what really set Rocco and Caldwell apart from regular Pittsburgh media. TPb guys are the kind of writers who keep hockey fans on the edge, or in other words, cool.
“In other words, they can swear… and I can’t,” says Jim Shearer, a more visible member of the media.
Shearer, a 1993 graduate of Shaler Area High School who wears his black-and-gold heart on his sleeve, is the host of VH1’s “Top 20 Video Countdown” and a former MTV veejay. He also runs two popular YouTube shows in Yinz Luv ’Da Stillers (YLDS) and Yinz Luv ’Da Guins (YLDG). You can search YouTube for episodes.
 “The Pensblog definitely has the ‘renegade factor,’” says Shearer. “They can get away with stuff that the big media companies in Pittsburgh can’t get away with, and because of that, they draw young people in because it’s exciting.
“You never know what those guys are gonna say.”
“We do have kind of a dark sense of humor,” says Rocco. “It’s not meant to be mainstream, and if it ever is mainstream, we’re all in trouble.”
But Shearer is no square either, despite his attempts to marry a love for both the Steelers and the Penguins, something that tPb guys say can often be conflicting worlds.
“Hockey fans seem to be a bit more knowledgeable [about their sport] than football fans,” says Rocco. “Hockey fans belong to more of a ‘club.’
“But [Caldwell and I] are both Steelers fans. We do rip on the Steelers [on tPb], but we do it in fun.”
“Some Steelers fans who aren’t Penguins fans can act arrogant at times,” says Caldwell. “It’s a small group, but they can make a larger group of Steelers fans look bad.”
Shearer, though, walks the line with absolute perfection, never shying away from many older Steelers fans’ love for “the way things were” nor young Pittsburghers’ appreciation for more offbeat and niche humor and content.
For example, in a recent YLDS episode, Shearer shows cardboard cutouts of Steelers legends like John Henry Johnson and Mike Wagner, yet he does it while wearing a Nirvana tee shirt and giving airtime to his pet cat.
Ignoring the need to serve any kind of a different audience, his YLDG episodes are as equally quirky and marry the past and present as well--”Yinz Luv”... Troy Loney”--giving credence to Shearer’s contention that Pittsburghers simply root for whichever team is wearing the black and gold that day, no matter the sport.
“For the most part, for the people that are raised in Pittsburgh,” says Shearer, “you’re a Steelers fan during football season, and you’re a Penguins fan during hockey season.”
“And if anybody’s that fragile about their likes and dislikes,” says Caldwell, “that they care if other people like it or dislike it, then I don’t wanna be their friend.
“Somebody that’s that vain—that lets outside people influence what they like and dislike—I hope I never meet one of those people in my life.”
Because, especially in Pittsburgh, that’s just not cool.

I was in a minor league press box in Charlotte, NC, last month, taking in one of Gregory Polanco’s final triple-A games. A colleague, upon learning I was from Pittsburgh, approached me with a question.
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