PITTSBURGH - In a place that likes to call itself "Championship City," 2011 turned into a disappointment.
There were no confetti-strewn parades through downtown Pittsburgh for the Steelers or Penguins. There was no end to nearly two decades of losing for the Pirates. There was no one who seemed comfortable being the head football coach at Pitt.
Yet there were moments of transcendence - yes, even for the Pirates - in one of the more interesting and frustrating sports years in recent memory.
The Steelers started 2011 with another Super run. They rallied past the hated Ravens then shook off the rambunctious Jets to reach a record-tying eighth Super Bowl.
Yet a seventh Lombardi Trophy would prove elusive. The Steelers turned it over three times against red-hot Green Bay, and the Packers turned the miscues into a stunning 31-25 victory.
"I feel like I let the city of Pittsburgh down, the fans, my coaches and my teammates, and it's not a good feeling," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
Neither was a lengthy NFL lockout that turned ugly at times. Labor peace was finally reached in late July, though the Steelers made sure to have their say in the matter. Pittsburgh was the only team to vote against the new collective bargaining agreement, the players expressing doubts about the way the deal was presented and concern over due process for players hit with fines and suspensions for what the league considered rough play.
It was the last in a series of off-the-field headlines the team made during the lockout, not all of them good. Linebacker James Harrison lashed out at his teammates and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a magazine article in July, blasting Roethlisberger and running back Rashard Mendenhall for their miscues in the Super Bowl, then labeling Goodell the "devil" - among other things - for the way he handed out justice.
Harrison later apologized and even attended Roethlisberger's wedding on the eve of training camp.
Once the season began, the Steelers again found themselves battling for the top spot in the AFC. Roethlisberger fought through injuries to put together perhaps his finest season while Pittsburgh rallied from a 2-2 start to earn a playoff spot before Christmas and head into the final weekend of the regular season with a chance to capture yet another AFC North title.
The Penguins, like the Steelers, started 2011 with visions of a second title in three years. They began the year taking on rival Washington in the NHL's Winter Classic at Heinz Field. More than 60,000 turned out in the rain to watch Sidney Crosby take on rival Alex Ovechkin. Instead they saw Washington skate to an easy victory while Crosby was knocked woozy after taking a shot to the head.
Things didn't get any better five days later, when Crosby sustained another head blow. He was diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms on Jan. 6 then spent the next 10 months slowly working his way back to the ice.
The Penguins, the best team in the league at the time Crosby went down, never really recovered. Injuries to Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal made goals hard to come by in the postseason, and Pittsburgh fell to Tampa Bay in seven games in the opening round of the playoffs.
Crosby vowed to return following a summer fueled with speculation that his career was in jeopardy, then delivered by scoring a pair of goals in his season debut. He racked up four points in his first game back, playing so breathlessly he was asked afterward if there was a chance he could win the scoring title despite getting such a late start.
He brushed aside such talk, thinking he was too far behind. He was right. He totaled 12 points in eight games but ended 2011 sidelined once again with concussion-like symptoms, his future very much in doubt while his team tries to find its way without its captain.
The Pirates have no such superstars to rely on, though the presence of new manager Clint Hurdle seemed to re-energize the flagging franchise. Buoyed by Hurdle's relentless optimism and an overachieving pitching staff, Pittsburgh became baseball's unlikeliest contender.
Led by All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan and budding star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates rose to the top of the crowded National League Central in late July, then attempted to make a push by trading for outfielder Ryan Ludwick and first baseman Derrek Lee.
In early August, however, the Pirates came crashing back to earth. The turning point came at the end of a marathon game in Atlanta that the Braves won 4-3 in the 19th inning. Umpire Jerry Meals ruled Atlanta's Julio Lugo safe on a play at the plate, even though Lugo appeared to be tagged out by catcher Mike McKenry.
A 51-44 start ended with a 21-46 finish, though Pittsburgh posted a 15-game improvement over 2010. It was small consolation, however, during a record 19th straight losing season.
Like the Pirates, the University of Pittsburgh kept slipping into a familiar chorus in 2011. The men's basketball team won the Big East regular season title and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Yet the school's run through March ended abruptly in a loss to Butler in the tournament's first weekend, leaving coach Jamie Dixon to lament another golden opportunity that slipped away.
Pitt's stunning loss to the Bulldogs, however, paled in comparison to the drama surrounding the school's football program.
The Panthers fired incoming coach Mike Haywood on New Year's Day following his arrest in a domestic dispute. They hired former Tulsa coach Todd Graham less than two weeks later, yet by December they were on their third coaching search in 13 months after Graham bolted for Arizona State after 338 days on the job.
Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was hired three days before Christmas, promising to rebuild the Panthers the right way.
"I do believe it's about what you do and not about what you say," Chryst said during his introductory news conference. "I'm not going to sit up and talk here about who I am. But I am really excited to roll up our sleeves."
A methodology echoed by every major sports team in a city hoping for one - or more - championship parades in 2012.