Mixed Bag: The 10 Best Athletes Currently Playing in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh sports fans have long been spoiled by some of the greatest athletes and greatest teams the sports world has ever seen.
In total, the five teams of Pittsburgh (Penguins, Pirates, Steelers, PITT Basketball and PITT Football) have 86 hall-of-fame athletes, included the likes of Mario Lemieux, Terry Bradshaw, Roberto Clemente, and Dan Marino. Together, these five teams have amassed 23 championships in their respective sports.
Last year, Pittsburgh fans were again spoiled after both the Penguins and the Steelers brought home championships, earning Pittsburgh the nickname "City of Champions.”
Despite both the Pens and the Steelers failing to repeat, Pittsburgh is still home to an array of first-class athletes who continue to entertain us day in and day out.
With that in mind, here are the ten best athletes currently playing in Pittsburgh based on how they perform against their competition (i.e., collegiate and professional athletes of the same sport should not be compared to each other, but to how they perform in their respective leagues).
10. Jonathan Baldwin—University of Pittsburgh Panthers (WR)
Accomplishments: 2009 First Team All-Big East
Pitt wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin burst into the national spotlight in his sophomore season last year, amassing 1,111 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Entering his junior season this year, conversation of Baldwin being a potential Biletnikoff candidate, the award for the best wide receiver in college football, has already begun to surface among college football analysts.
Baldwin's combination of size (6’5”, 225 lbs), speed (sub 4.5 40-yard dash), and hands has scouts drooling over his potential to be an elite wide receiver at the next level.
9. Hines Ward—Pittsburgh Steelers (WR)
Accomplishments: 4x Pro Bowl Selection, 3x Second Team All-Pro Selection, 2x Super Bowl Champion, Superbowl XL MVP
Ward has long epitomized what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler.
In a league full of prima donna wide receivers, Ward prides himself not on his abilities as a pass catcher, but on his label as the best blocking-receiver in the NFL.
Hines owns the Steelers career records for receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns, which says a lot for a guy who plays on a franchise that once fielded the likes of Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.
Why does he find his way all the way down at number nine on this list, you ask?
At 34-years-old, Hines is simply not as effective as he once was.
8. Andrew McCutchen—Pittsburgh Pirates (CF)
Accomplishment: 2009 Baseball America Rookie of the Year
A Pirate sighting?!
Over the past decade, there has been little to be excited about for Pirates' fans; last year, center fielder Andrew McCutchen gave them something to be excited about.
In the 2009 season, McCutchen hit 12 HR and 54 RBI with a .286 AVG in 108 games. He has started out this year's 2010 season with a .313 AVG.
McCutchen is one of the fastest guys you'll ever see run the bases; watching him run out a triple is flat out electrifying.
At just 23-years-old, McCutchen's future is bright--let's just hope the Pirates don't trade him away as they so love to do with their most talented players.
7. Greg Romeus—University of Pittsburgh Panthers (DE)
Accomplishments: 2009 Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year, 2009 First Time All-Big East, 2008 Second Team All-Big East
After entering the University of Pittsburgh with only one year of high school football experience, the 6'6", 270 pound Greg Romeus has quickly developed into one of the premier pass-rushers in the nation.
Romeus finished last year with 43 total tackles, 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 interception en route to winning honors to co-defensive player of the year in the Big East Conference.
Since deciding to come back for his senior season, Romeus has been mentioned as a potential All-American candidate for the upcoming 2010 season. If he continues to improve at the rate he has thus far in his career, he is a sure-fire first round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
6. James Harrison—Pittsburgh Steelers (OLB)
Accomplishments: 3x Pro Bowl Selection, 2x All-Pro Selection, 1x Second Team All-Pros Selection, 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 2x Super Bowl Champion
Steelers' OLB James Harrison has gone from clawing for NFL roster spots, being cut on four separate occasions from 2002-2004, to becoming one of the most feared defensive players in the NFL.
Harrison has been voted to the Pro Bowl for three consecutive years, in which he totaled 278 tackles, 34.5 sacks, and 19 forced fumbles. Included in that three-year stretch was his 16-sack campaign in the 2008 regular season—a season in which Harrison won the award for AP Defensive Player of the Year.
In Super Bowl XLIII, Harrison had one of the biggest plays in Pittsburgh Steelers' history, returning a Kurt Warner interception 100 yards for a touchdown in the waning moments of the first half—a 14 point swing.
Harrison's prowess as a pass-rusher and consistency over the past three years lands him as the sixth best athlete currently playing in Pittsburgh.
5. Dion Lewis—University of Pittsburgh Panthers (RB)
Accomplishments: 2009 Big East Offensive Player of the Year, 2009 Big East Rookie of the Year, 2009 First Team All-Big East, 2009 Second Team All American
I'm sure I'll catch some flack for this one as Lewis has played only one year of collegiate football, but let's consider just how well he performed in that one year.
Lewis entered his freshman season at PITT with big shoes to fill after previous PITT running back Shady McCoy left for the NFL Draft.
After a 1,845-yard, 17-rushing touchdown season, Lewis not only out-performed McCoy, but out-performed Tony Dorsett, breaking his freshman rushing record at PITT and earning him the rights to Big East Offensive Player of the Year.
Lewis's top-end quickness and vision along with his 5'8" frame and low center of gravity make him an extremely difficult running back to bring down to the turf.
Lewis enters the 2010 season poised to make a run for the Heisman Trophy.
4. Troy Polamalu—Pittsburgh Steelers (SS)
Accomplishment: 5x Pro Bowl Selection, 2x First Team All-Pro Selection, 1x Second Team All-Pro Selection, 2x Super Bowl Champion, NFL 2000s All-Decade Second Team
Troy has been voted to the Pro Bowl five out of the eight years he has played in the NFL.
He's one of the most dynamic players in football and wreaks havoc on opposing quarterbacks trying to figure out whether he's dropping back in coverage or coming in on a blitz.
Despite being one of the best safeties in the NFL, Troy has struggled to stay healthy in the past few years.
For that, Polamalu falls to the number four position of the ten best athletes currently playing in Pittsburgh.
3. Evgeni Malkin—Pittsburgh Penguins (C)
Accomplishments: Calder Memorial Trophy (NHL Rookie of the Year), NHL All-Rookie Team (2007), 2x NHL All-Star, 2x NHL First All-Star Team, 2x Hart Memorial Trophy Runner-Up (NHL Regular Season MVP), 2009 Stanley Cup Champion, Conn Smythe Trophy Winner (2009 Playoff MVP)
Yes, Geno had a sub-par season for his standards in 2009-2010, but he is still good enough to land himself at number three on this list.
Consider this—in Malkin's four seasons playing in the NHL, he has won the Calder Trophy for the NHL Rookie of the Year, has amassed two 100-point seasons, one of which he won the Art Ross Trophy for the most points in the NHL's regular season, and has twice been nominated for the Hart Memorial Trophy as the MVP of the NHL's regular season.
While everyone likes to talk about Sidney Crosby winning the Stanley Cup last year, it was Malkin who took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Simply put, when Evgeni Malkin is on top of his game he is one of the best players in the NHL, even out-performing his teammate Sidney Crosby at times.
2. Ben Roethlisberger—Pittsburgh Steelers (QB)
Accomplishments: NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, 1x Pro Bowl Selection, 2x Super Bowl Champion
Despite his recent off-the-field troubles, it's hard to deny how good Ben Roethlisberger is.
The guy just wins games.
In six seasons playing for the Steelers, Ben has a 68-28 (.708) record as a starting quarterback, included is an 8-2 playoff record despite having a poor offensive line in front of him for most of his career.
Ben is the hardest quarterback in the league to bring down, he shows up when it matters most and has already won two Super Bowls as a starter—a feat in which only nine other quarterbacks have achieved.
1. Sidney Crosby—Pittsburgh Penguins (C)
Accomplishments: 3x NHL All-Star, NHL All-Rookie Team (2006), 1x NHL First All-Star Team, 1x Hart Memorial Trophy Winner (MVP of the NHL), 1x Lester B. Pearson Award (Best player as voted by NHL Players Association), 1x Art Ross Trophy (Most points in regular season), 1x Rocket Richard Trophy (Most goals in the regular season), 2009 Stanley Cup Champion, 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist
This is a no-brainer.
In five years with the Penguins, Sidney Crosby has completely rejuvenated the hockey base in Pittsburgh—a city that was on the brink of losing its hockey team before Sidney's arrival.
He has already won one Hart Memorial Trophy and is a finalist for another this year. His game is flawless, yet he continues to work as hard as anyone in the league.
For being the poster child of the Penguins' franchise, the face of the NHL, and the best hockey player in the world, Sidney Crosby is easily the best athlete Pittsburghers have the pleasure of calling their own.