When the Penguins knocked off the Red Wings in Game Seven last week, it extended what has already been a special sports year in the Steel City. The Steelers won the Super Bowl in February, of course, and that double (no city has ever won three titles in the same year) has Carl Bialik of the Wall Street Journal wondering if that doesn't make for the best sports year for a city in the history of American sports.
He thinks it does. What makes it better than Pittsburgh's 1979, when the Steelers and Pirates each reigned supreme in their leagues? Bialik argues that the size of leagues now makes it harder for teams to win titles, let alone two teams from the same city. He doesn't explicitly mention the expansion of playoffs, but that would be another vote in favor of the 2009 Pittsburgh squads.
That's a fair argument, but it doesn't explain what makes it better than Boston's 2004. The Patriots and the Red Sox each won that year, but, to Bialik, they fall short because the Patriots play 20 miles outside Boston and don't have Boston in their name. That argument would make more sense if they weren't seen by everyone as a team from Boston, or if the Pats played in a different state a la the Jets and Giants in New York.
That doesn't mean Bialik is wrong. It's almost impossible to have a "right" answer to questions designed to spur debate and reconsideration as time marches forward. It just means that there are a couple of other strong bids out there.
There's also no credit given for a couple of other things that help Boston's bid a lot. Football is a problematic inclusion because the regular season and playoffs are in different calender years. The Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2005 as well, however, which means they should be getting credit for each part of the seasons that bookended the Red Sox win.
That Red Sox win also had a historical significance that can't be touched by either of Pittsburgh's 2009 champions. No one needs to be told what the history of baseball in Boston was like between 1918 and 2004, and that ultimate release certainly outweighs whatever demerits you want to place on the distance to the Patriots' home field.
Historical significance also plays a huge role in New York's 1969. The Jets were the second team in what was considered a second-rate football league when they won Super Bowl III, an event that had massive implications on the world of sports going forward. The Mets were a punchline before 1969, seven years removed from both their birth and one of the worst seasons in baseball history. The seeming impossibility of those two titles, when compared to the mighty Steelers and a Penguins team with two of the best players in hockey, is worth some extra credit even if the leagues were smaller.
And, since distance seems to matter, they did it while playing in the same stadium!