Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and co-owner and chairman Mario Lemieux celebrate with the Stanley Cup after the Penguins won Game 6 of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final over the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, (Getty Images)
Upon initial viewing, I don’t believe there’s ever been a better sports documentary than “Pittsburgh is Home,” a 168-minute chronicle of the Penguins’ first 50 years.
But I would say that. I was there for all of it.
My first reaction to seeing “Pittsburgh is Home” was, gee, I should have got braces as a kid. Interviews with me are liberally sprinkled throughout the film. I wouldn’t call them glamour shots.
My deeper reaction is that it’s not only the Penguins story, it’s my story. From 6-year-old fan to media nitwit, it’s all there, with no stone left unturned. If there was anything I didn’t recall, I remember it now.
Producer and director Leo McCafferty deserves praise for all facets of the documentary, especially the pace. A film of that length often drags, but “Pittsburgh is Home” doesn’t. Just the right amount of time is spent on everything significant.
Mt. Lebanon-born actor/director/producer Joe Manganiello provides excellent narration. Perhaps the “Magic Mike” co-star should have been my visual stand-in.
Heartbreak plays a big role. The Penguins have withstood an inordinate amount of difficult moments, ranging from tragic to dumbfounding: The deaths of Michel Briere and Badger Bob Johnson, Mario Lemieux’s back problems and cancer, multiple bankruptcies and some on-ice losses that seemed scripted by Satan.
But the portrayal of the bad never turns maudlin. In fact, when viewed in the context of the franchise’s triumphs, a kind of nobility emerges that very few sports teams possess (though many pretend).
The film’s star is Mario Lemieux. How could it not be?
Lemieux is Pittsburgh’s best athlete ever, and arguably its best sports owner ever -- it hasn’t been very hard to own the Steelers since 1972.
Imagine if the Penguins had drafted Kirk Muller in 1984. Any Penguins documentary would be a lot shorter and reside in the “Where Are They Now?” file.
One word attaches itself to Lemieux in “Pittsburgh is Home”: resilience. He’s known for elegance far more than grit, but Lemieux never gives up.
Of particular interest is Lemieux’s comeback from cancer in 1993, and not just the miraculous nature of beating a dreadful disease.
Lemieux’s single-minded determination to overhaul the New York Islanders’ Pat LaFontaine for that season’s NHL scoring title is detailed in very honest interviews and, of course, highlights from perhaps No. 66’s greatest assault on the league.
Lemieux had 30 goals and 26 assists in 20 games after undergoing radiation therapy for over a month. He won the scoring title by 12 points despite playing 24 less games than LaFontaine.
Writing that, it seems impossible, but it happened.
The Art Ross Trophy was extremely important to Lemieux. He measured himself by scoring titles and Stanley Cups. Nobody votes on those.
“Pittsburgh is Home” also pays (perhaps inadvertently) homage to one of the Penguins’ unsung heroes over their existence, Paul Steigerwald.
Steigerwald trekked to Florida last season to get a lengthy one-on-one interview with Jaromir Jagr. There was no guarantee the mercurial Jagr would cooperate, not least because he’s been booed every time he’s returned to Pittsburgh since 2001. Steigerwald was the only person who had a chance, and he delivered.
Without Jagr speaking, there would be a huge hole in “Pittsburgh is Home."
The same would be true without Steigerwald. He is all over the documentary, and that’s because he’s been an integral part of the Penguins’ story since joining the team in 1980 as its director of marketing. Steigerwald has been omnipresent, not just involved. Heck, he picked Lemieux up at the airport.
Co-owner Ron Burkle makes an appearance, as does original owner Jack McGregor. Legendary announcer Mike Lange. Former stars like Ron Francis and Paul Coffey. “Pittsburgh is Home” is complete. There’s nothing missing.
I teared up a half-dozen times. This means everything to me.
I won’t be around for the 100-year documentary. Good job they got this one right.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9)
Where To See It
The viewing schedule for "Pittsburgh is Home," the Penguins' 50-year documentary:
Nov. 15 at PPG Paints Arena -- Film's premiere, at 7 p.m., for season-ticket holders only.
Nov. 18-22 at SouthSide Works -- Shown daily at 12 noon, 3:20 p.m., 6:40 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets $5.00. Proceeds benefit the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation. Visit clevelandcinemas.com to reserve seats.
Nov. 25 on ROOT Sports -- TV premiere at 7:30 p.m. following Penguins-Minnesota telecast.