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Stanley Cup Final

Pittsburgh ready for 'signature moment'

City eager to celebrate with Penguins one win from Cup entering Game 5 against Sharks

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- Nine grand is not enough, not for Joe Crawford's pair of tickets to Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks at Consol Energy Center on Thursday (8 p.m.; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). 

Someone offered Crawford $9,000 for Seats 1 and 2 in Row F of Section 122, just up from the faceoff circle in the zone the Penguins defend twice. He declined, even though that amount of money would have paid almost his entire season-ticket bill for 2015-16 and he hasn't taken a vacation in five years because his seats absorb so much of his income.

"It doesn't matter," Crawford said. "You can't put a price on this. You cannot put a price on what I'm going to see Thursday night. You just can't do it."

Tweet from @cotsonika: Nine grand was not enough for these fans to part with two tickets. via @nhl

Crawford is 60. He has been going to Penguins games since 1970, when he used his paper-route money to get in the door. When the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 1991, 1992 and 2009, they won it at Minnesota, Chicago and Detroit, respectively so Crawford watched on television, stayed up all night celebrating and went to work the next morning. 

This time he's taking his daughter, Katie, and he's taking Friday off. He's convinced the Penguins will win. 

"To see them win it on home ice, it's a dream," Crawford said. "I've always just thought that it would never happen." 

No Pittsburgh team has won a major-league championship at home since 1960, when Bill Mazeroski hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth to beat the New York Yankees 10-9 in Game 7 of the World Series at Forbes Field.

Video: Mazeroski clinches Pittsburgh's last title at home

The Pirates won two World Series on the road. The Steelers won six Super Bowls at neutral sites. Not only did the Penguins win all three of their championships on the road, they never even had an opportunity to win the Cup at home. 

A few fans have been able to travel to see their teams win. The best others could do was watch on TV and go to the airport. 

Mike Lange, the longtime radio play-by-play voice of the Penguins, said that after the Penguins won the Cup in 1991, general manager Craig Patrick made an announcement on the plane home from Minnesota. The good news was that fans were waiting for them even though it was well past midnight. The bad news was that there were so many fans, the Penguins wouldn't be able to get to their cars. 

The Penguins high-fived their way through the crowd and boarded two school buses that had no air conditioning in the heat. One ended up at the home of captain Mario Lemieux. The other went to the bus station so everyone else could catch cabs home.

Lange spoke affectionately of the spirit of Pittsburgh, which was a military outpost in the 18th Century because it sat where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers merged to form the Ohio, a city that became famous for forging steel in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and has remained home for people even after they have left to find work elsewhere.

Video: Can the Penguins close out the series tomorrow night?

"It was a fort: Fort Pitt," Lange said. "If you look down, you can see it bordered by the rivers. I think that is the feeling. 'This is our home. This is our fort.' " 

Sports are a way to unite the city and express its spirit. The Penguins are an important part of that. 

"I think people here have become very good at celebrating, because they have had a lot of chances to do it and it's been passed down through the generations," said Paul Steigerwald, the Penguins' TV play-by-play announcer, who joined the team in 1980 in marketing. "But this is a special thing, winning the Cup at home. 

"First of all, the Cup is the only trophy in sports that is presented to the players. That ritual of seeing the Cup picked up by your player in front of the home fans to me is awesome. This is one of those things that we've waited a long time to see, so it would be really special if they could pull it off." 

Only once have Penguins fans seen that ritual in their own rink, when the Penguins lost to the Detroit Red Wings in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at Mellon Arena in 2008. They had to watch Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom take the Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and pass it to his teammates. The Penguins avenged that loss at Joe Louis Arena the following year. 

They moved from the Igloo across the street to Consol Energy Center a year after that. The building is beautiful, state-of-the-art, with every amenity imaginable. It has an excellent hockey atmosphere. But it hasn't had a signature moment. Yet. 

Video: Crosby and DeBoer push their teams in Gm4 of the SCF

"This could be the signature moment, one of the signature moments in the history of Pittsburgh sports, which is a very, very rich history," Steigerwald said. "So we're talking about something that's really special. This isn't just cool because it's a cool thing. It's cool because of what it represents in the annals of Pittsburgh sports." 

It's priceless. 

"I've been waiting 46 years for this," Crawford said. "I'm almost crying now, because I know it's going to happen. It's just going to be euphoria, just total euphoria."

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