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Madden: Anti-Lemieux faction grows

Saturday, May 11, 2002

Suddenly, it seems as if a portion of Pittsburgh doesn't like Mario Lemieux anymore. Lemieux pays himself too much, they say. He made Canada and the Olympics a bigger priority than the Penguins last season, they say. He doesn't deserve a new arena, they say.

It would take too much space to review the positive things Lemieux has done for this city and for the Penguins. Hockey is my passion, so I obviously don't hate Mario for saving hockey in this town on two occasions. I merely hate you for making it necessary to remind everyone of that fact far too often.

I'm not curious about why X amount of Pittsburghers suddenly dislike Lemieux. I've heard the reasons, and they're preposterous.

Who cares how much Lemieux pays himself? He owns the team. It's taking money out of one pocket and shoving it into the other. If Lemieux hadn't wanted so badly to play in the Olympics last season, his injured hip would have made him pack it in long before February. Plus, there is life outside Pittsburgh. Try leaving town for a day here and there and you might find out. Lemieux doesn't deserve an arena? Given the roots he's planted in Pittsburgh and the success of his franchise, I'd say Lemieux deserves a new building far more than carpetbagger Kevin McClatchy.

No, I'm curious about who dislikes Lemieux.

I have a pet theory that the anti-Lemieux backlash comes from Steelers diehards who resent the Penguins stealing a piece of the local sports spotlight the past decade. By almost any criteria, the Penguins have been Pittsburgh's most successful sports franchise since 1990. The yinzers don't like that. Lemieux is behind that, so they don't like him. When the Penguins and Lemieux finally showed vulnerability, whether real or perceived, the Stiller faithful jumped on Lemieux with both feet.

The reaction of the Mellon Arena crowd at Lemieux's lone NHL appearance after the Olympics seems to support this. When Lemieux was honored before the game for helping Canada win gold, the paying customers blew the roof off the place. It sure didn't sound like anyone there was anti-Lemieux. The real hockey fans aren't anti-Lemieux. So it must be those who don't like hockey in the first place.

Lemieux shouldn't care one iota about them. They don't invest any money or energy in his product.

I know what you're thinking right about now: Madden always supports Lemieux, and he always blames Steelers fans for all the world's evils. Well ... yeah.

I don't ever intend to apologize for standing behind the greatest athlete to grace Pittsburgh. He's not perfect, but he comes pretty darn close.

As for Steelers fans, they are so single-minded that I honestly believe they would prefer a Pittsburgh with no major-league teams besides their beloved. That's sad. Even sadder still, I fear they might get their wish someday.

Speaking of conspiracy theories, what about the movement to have Mellon Arena declared an historical landmark, thus immune to destruction? Historical landmarks were demolished to build Mellon Arena in the first place. The Hill District was once an epicenter of black culture rivaling Harlem. If you want to pay respect to history, tear Mellon Arena down and rebuild the lower Hill District.

What, pray tell, is historic about Mellon Arena? I once saw Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue do some things backstage with a willing Miss Pretty (c. 2002 Rob Rossi) that I found pretty darned historic. But otherwise, it's just a run-of-the-mill sports arena without enough luxury suites. I know all about the unique architecture of the retractable dome. But if said architecture was so groundbreaking, why wasn't it mimicked elsewhere? Because unique doesn't always translate into useful, that's why. I bet that dome hasn't been retracted more than a couple hundred times in Mellon Arena's four decades of existence.

Retractable domes don't make money. Luxury suites do. That's Arena Building 101.

The history geeks should drop the charade. They're just front men for people who want to keep tax dollars from being used for a new hockey arena. If they "save" Mellon Arena, it kills a new rink, and the politicos won't have to explain how denying the Penguins their much-needed facility isn't unfair. Which it obviously would be, since the Steelers got theirs and the Pirates got theirs.

Lemieux's first preference, obviously, is to keep NHL hockey in Pittsburgh. He has gone to great lengths to do so. But Lemieux feels he was made certain promises when he bought the Penguins out of bankruptcy, and a new arena was one of them. The city, county and state shouldn't test his good nature. Otherwise, he just might find a new city, county and state for the Penguins to play in.

Here's an idea: Demolish Mellon Arena and build the Steelers an alternate practice field, just for days when the sun doesn't properly shine on the UPMC complex. That should keep everyone happy.

Mark Madden is the host a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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