Opinion: What’s with Obama and Pittsburgh, of all places?

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(UPDATE: Due to the interest in this article generated among Pittsburghers, a humorous video has been added below.)

President Obama, who couldn’t muster enough interest to drive several blocks from the White House to watch the exciting Washington Capitals during the professional hockey playoffs last spring, has instead invited the hockey team from somewhere in western Pennsylvania all the way over to the presidential residence today.

The Pittsburgh team is champion of something called the National Hockey League, which really should be called the International Hockey League since it’s got teams in the U.S. and Canada.

Last winter the American president, who grew up in those known hockey hotbeds of Indonesia and Hawaii, cheered for Pittsburgh’s once-woebegone football team because its owner campaigned for him.


And later this month Obama has invited the G-20, the so-called Group of 20 really important global finance ministers and central bank governors, to hold a crucial two-day summit in that ...

... place, if their pilots can find it on the map. Sure, Joe Biden fled the state. But Pennsylvania has a lot of electoral votes and that turncoat old senator who’s now a Democrat.

But Pittsburgh?


The Pittsburgh Penguins are named for a bird unable to fly that doesn’t live anywhere near that city. After losing ignominiously in 2008, this year the Pens won something called the Stanley Cup.

Winning that trophy is a very big deal -- in Canada, whose teams have been unable to capture North America’s oldest professional sports trophy since seven years back into the last century when a club from somewhere in Quebec sneaked passed the Los Angeles Gretzkys, four games to one.

The cup is a very heavy trophy -- see the team captain struggle with it in the photo above -- awarded to the first NHL team to win 16 playoff games after 82 regular season games. That’s a hard thing to do.

And hockey is a hard game to play with sticks and armored elbows, skating at some 20 miles an hour around opponents approaching at similar speeds and, in between fights, shooting a 7-ounce chunk of rubber at 90+ miles an hour toward a man willingly standing there to stop it.

Which explains why every NHL club employs a team dentist.

The city of Pittsburgh was founded in the early 1800s by Pennsylvanians who weren’t strong enough to make it all the way to Ohio or were rejected at that border.

There, at the junction of two dinky Pennsylvania streams that form the mighty Ohio River, they built a city based on making steel. They’ve had running water, sewers and electricity there for years now.

But when the steel-making thing didn’t work out, the rusting burgh turned to building sports stadiums so its people could wave yellow towels and scream obscenities at visiting teams.

That has actually turned out pretty well for people into that sort of thing. As many Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters recall, the state of Pennsylvania is that place that primary candidate Obama was caught on tape saying was full of bitter small-town losers clinging to their guns and religion. He seems to have changed his tune now.

She won the Democratic primary there. But he won the party nomination and the support of the football team’s owner. And Obama returned that support at his successful, taxpayer-financed White House Super Bowl party last winter, cheering against Phoenix. See what Arizona gets for electing John McCain?

In fact, the Pittsburgh football team has won so many Super Bowl trophies that the Democrat president may consider passing some of them out to other cities because in a country that can put a man on the moon, no one should feel left out or uncovered.

After nearly moving to Kansas City or back to Canada because they too wanted a new arena, this past year the Pittsburgh hockey team hired enough Canadians and Russians to defeat Detroit’s Canadians and Scandinavians in the cup finals that so many people missed on TV.

They’ll likely miss today’s White House ceremony too because it’s conveniently planned for dinnertime, which means fewer U.S. TV crews will bother.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credits: Top, Associated Press; bottom, Pennsylvania State Archives (Pittsburgh before it could afford color).