The Hinson Angle: What’s the worst sports team in Pittsburgh?

The “City of Champions” finds itself in a dark, dark place, as only a few of our beloved teams boast a winning record.

Oliver Hinson, President - Editor-in-chief

What do you remember about 2015? I was little at the time — 10 years old, 4’6,” probably about 100 pounds. There’s a picture of me from a Pirates game from that year; I sported a big, goofy smile as I watched my hometown team smash the Cincinnati Reds. Every time I look at it, I want to change something about it, whether it’s my ridiculous outfit, the weird way I’m standing, or the pudge around my waist that won’t seem to go away. I used to wonder how those things didn’t bother me at the time, but at this point, it seems pretty clear. Those are all “real-world” things, and I didn’t have to care about the real world when I was being distracted by one of the best teams in baseball. 

That’s what sports is suppposed to do, right? We all need a break from our monotonous, difficult daily lives, and watching grown men run around bases in tights or clobber one another with their manly armor is the best entertainment we can think of. When that entertainment sucks, though, there’s nothing to distract us from the stupidity of our “real-world” problems.

Quick: what’s the most miserable city you can think of? Immediately, I would say Detroit. Apologies to my Motor City audience, which has to be small because they’re probably too busy shoveling snow to read this article, but I struggle to think of any redeeming qualities the city has. Everyone there seems worn down, and I think it may be because they have the most abysmal sports situation that has ever existed. The only things distracting them from their problems are the Lions, Tigers, Pistons, and Red Wings. Only one of those teams, the Red Wings, is poised to finish with a winning record this year, and that simply isn’t enough to relieve the pain caused by the other three. Residents of Motown can’t have lively sports discussions; it’s just too sad. 

Even Detroit’s situation isn’t as dire as Pittsburgh’s, though. At this point, they don’t expect much from their athletes, and they’ve learned to distract themselves with other forms of entertainment, like music or whatever Canadians do for fun. Pittsburgh, though, struggles to find such versatility; what happens when the “City of Champions” can’t produce a single team with a winning record? Nothing good, that’s what.

The city finds itself in an odd place. The distant land of Super Bowls, Stanley Cup Finals, and World Series is long gone, and we probably won’t see it for a while. We used to debate which team was the very best in Pittsburgh. Now, we search in the opposite direction. What is the worst Pittsburgh sports team? Which group of athletes causes us the most pain? Well, let’s meet the candidates.


Pitt Football

For starters, this looks like the only winning team we have. At 6-4 overall and 3-3 in ACC play, “awful” is out of the conversation. Sure, they have some embarrassing losses to Georgia Tech and Lousville, and coach Pat Narduzzi seems to have an obsession with USC transfer Kedon Slovis, but after a strong win vs. 20th-ranked Syracuse and an even stronger performance against Virginia, things seem to be looking up. I think it’s difficult for Panthers fans to cope with the fact that they once had Kenny Pickett, and now they just… don’t. Going from 42 touchdowns and 7 interceptions to 6 touchdowns and 6 interceptions is not fun at all. It’s almost like watching your coffee machine that used to work perfectly well struggle to make your morning cup. We want to see Kenny throw a tight spiral deep to Addison like he used to do with ease, and then we realize that it’ll never happen again. Slovis has arguably gotten worse every year of his college career, at least according to his TD/INT ratio and passer rating, and after 3 years of downward spiraling, I’m not sure what Narduzzi thought would happen when he came to Pitt, but his season has been disappointing, to say the least. Still, Izzy Abanikanda is playing well enough that Pitt students ought to feel proud of their team. I’ll give Pitt football a 4/10 pain rating.


Pitt Basketball

If the Panthers kept all of their players, they would be a phenomenal basketball team. Unfortunately, Jeff Capel can’t seem to create any stability in his program. In the last few years, several Panthers have transferred or found themselves in trouble with the law, including star guard Dior Johnson. Capel was an associate head coach at Duke and a former player, so I doubt his coaching and recruiting skills are lacking, but either this estimate is misguided or he is suffering from severely bad luck in the past few years. Of course, the large number of transfers after the 2020-21 season can’t entirely be attributed to instability in the program; due to an extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA, a staggering number of athletes entered the portal. Nevertheless, the first few seasons of the Capel era have been less than stellar. We haven’t seen a winning season since 2015-16, the last year of Jamie Dixon’s tenure at Pitt. I, as well as many other fans, expected a bit more from an experienced coach who spent several years in one of the nation’s best programs under Coach K, and in four years, the Panthers haven’t been able to crack the six-win barrier in conference play. Trying to find optimism in a situation like this is difficult, but there’s one truth that helps us cope: at least we don’t have Kevin Stallings anymore. Stallings essentially drove the program into the ground, finishing with an 8-24 record in his last season and driving almost every player away. Pitt fans have to recognize that rebuilding a program like this will take time, and with mixed performances in their first two games, this team doesn’t seem horrible. In terms of pain, this one still stings a bit. We’re better than we have been in recent years, but our steady decline from a Big East powerhouse to a middling ACC team is disappointing nonetheless. Every time we lose to a mid-major team that has no business even being near us, a little bit of our pride slips away, and the Oakland Zoo gets a bit quieter. This one has a pain rating of 5/10.


Pittsburgh Penguins

A few weeks ago, this would have been a joyful entry, but then the Penguins had to do something stupid. Their seven-game losing streak, just broken a few days ago, was the longest since Sidney Crosby’s rookie season, and it seems so representative of Pittsburgh. So many of these games have been lost in the third period, and it seems that the aging core of Crosby, Malkin and Letang is not what it used to be. Of course, it was their choice to stay together, but I don’t necessarily think it was a good one. They are extraordinarily talented hockey players, but the NHL is a fast league for young players, and that’s what the Penguins need to prioritize. Since 2010, the Penguins have won more games than any team, so they don’t cause us much pain, but if they keep with tradition to keep the fans happy instead of trying to reload, this dynasty could be gone in an instant. This losing streak is just the beginning of what could be an extremely painful period of time. For now, we can cheer on our heroes and pretend that nothing is wrong, but at some point, things will start falling apart. For now, I’ll give the Penguins a 2/10 pain rating, as they’re still a source of pride, but I’d watch for this one to increase dramatically in the future.


Pittsburgh Steelers

I think it’s appropriate that Kennywood has a roller coaster called the “Steel Curtain,” because that is exactly what it feels like to be a Steelers fan. The problem is, I’ve ridden this metaphorical coaster hundreds of times, and I’m getting bored. Take a look at Twitter in the days leading up to a Steelers game; you’ll always see “The Saints are garbage,” “Kenny is gonna go off today for three touchdowns and 400 yards,” or “Give Jaylen Warren the ball and we’ll win.” The amount of confidence that Steelers fans have leading up to a game is staggering, and it’s so disappointing because I know they’re just going to end up in the same place. Steelers Twitter during and after a game has a sort of toxicity that makes me disappointed to wear the black and gold. If we left personnel decisions up to the fans, no one would be in the organization for more than five weeks. We’re so addicted to this standard that clearly is not present that we want to fire a coach who hasn’t had a losing season his entire career. We keep saying, “Kenny has no excuses,” but we don’t recognize the real point: who cares if he’s bad right now? Steelers fans are desperately trying to prove that Kenny is not an NFL star as if there’s people disagreeing with them. He’s a rookie. He’s going to get better. The whole situation reminds me of something I heard about the Bears once; in 1932, they started their season with two scoreless ties, and then thousands of fans showed up to the third game, in pouring rain, to watch ANOTHER SCORELESS TIE. This is astounding to me, but it’s not far off from our situation right now. We keep expecting something that we’re clearly not going to get. If I was just watching these games without any commentary from the outside world, I could deal with the pain of a losing team. Every loss gets worse, though, when we get our hopes up and then have them dramatically crushed. The Steelers have a pain rating of 8/10.


Pittsburgh Pirates

So, here we are. Back in 2015. The Pirates are 98-64 this year, and they make the playoffs. I know the players — Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, AJ Burnett, just to name a few — and I love them. We have all-stars. Our payroll is over $90 million. I have a smile on my face when I’m watching them. This is heaven. Seven years later, we find ourselves in hell. There are MLB players who make more money than our entire team, yet owner Bob Nutting believes that payroll isn’t the issue. He says that we’re not going to win games by “doing what rich teams do,” which means by scoring more runs than our opponent. Just look at trends in our payroll in the last decade; when we shell out more money, we get better players, and we win more games. A few weeks ago, as I walked beside PNC Park on my way to the Steelers game, I looked at the banners showing all of our “beloved” Pirates players, and I recognized about two of them. There is absolutely no reward for being a Pirates fan, and yet I have no choice. With every other Pittsburgh team, I can recognize that we’re in a bad spell right now, but I trust that in the future, we’ll rebuild, gain stability, or give young players a chance. We can change our own attitudes to relieve the pain that happens from a temporarily bad team. We can’t do that with a team that refuses to get better. There is nothing left to us; we are at the mercy of our greatest source of pain, Bob Nutting. The Pirates, now and forever, have a pain rating of 10/10.