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New year brings renewed hope

By Jim. Caltagirone

For the Mirror

Speculating on what the new year will bring is one of the joys of the holiday season. Even if it’s only wishful thinking, entertaining hopes for that elusive lottery jackpot or new job certainly come at no cost.

It’s better to dream big than not at all.

That’s certainly true in sports. A championship is the ultimate reward for a loyal fan base. It has a way of erasing all the frustrations created by near misses and seasons best forgotten.

Of the four major American team champions in 2021, only the Atlanta Braves were a major surprise. Parity generally favors the upstarts.

So, what does 2022 have in store for the world of sport?

On the international stage, China will host the Winter Olympics in February, providing a diversion for claustrophobic channel surfers pining for outdoor activity.

Early indications are that the news coverage of the diplomatic boycott of the Games will rival the actual events for total airtime.

As for teams of local interest, the Penguins will have the first run at a title in 2022. Pittsburgh has exited the playoffs in or before the second round the last four years.

Fortunately, patience with the Penguins is still at a high level thanks to the back-to-back Cups of 2016 and ’17.

Fans of the Pirates have proven they’ll fill PNC Park to see a contender. But, sadly, only a true diehard could reel off the names of more than five players on the current roster.

A .500 season would help rekindle interest in a team that averaged 10,611 fans last season, sixth-lowest in the majors.

Late summer will signal the return of football, with Pitt and the Steelers likely introducing a new starting quarterback.

The primary consideration regarding Pitt is whether the program can sustain the momentum of a New Year’s Six bowl game, 11-win regular season and top-15 ranking.

The last time Pitt won 10 or more games in back-to-back seasons was 1979-81, the Jackie Sherrill era.

If Penn State fails to improve upon two straight five-loss regular seasons, the social media chatter surely will focus more on the merits of James Franklin’s contract extension than the travails of the on-field product.

Nittany Nation isn’t exactly clamoring for a national championship, but a return to the Big Ten championship game for the first time since 2016 is an acceptable alternative, at least in the short term.

On the subject of contracts, Lincoln Riley, Mel Tucker and Brian Kelly are sure to feel the justifiable heat of the fire under their feet to produce more than a winning season.

Of course, if things don’t work out, how bad can it be to get fired after earning $7 million, or more, a year?

The Steelers have underachieved for over a decade now, appearing in one conference championship game since last reaching the Super Bowl after the 2010 season.

More than half of the teams in the NFL are suffering through a longer Super Bowl drought than the Steelers, but Pittsburgh fans are accustomed to a standard of success that supersedes the mediocrity of late.

Even if it only lasts one day, the new year dawns with promise.

Whether or not 2022 shines on the teams we cheer for, be resolved to continue dreaming big.

Jim Caltagirone is a monthly contributor to Voice of the Fan. He resides in Altoona.

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