Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Fast Eddie and the Pigskin Dilemma

What's a governor to do?

An abundance of sports riches. That's what the State of Pennsylvania could reap this coming Sunday, when the Pittsburgh Steelers meet the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship, and the Philadelphia Eagles play the Atlanta Falcons for the NFC Championship. The winner in each conference advances to the Super Bowl on Feb. 6.

So, Pa. Governor Ed Rendell's cup potentially overfloweth. In the leadup to major sporting events, mayors and governors typically support "the home team", and make silly bets with their counterparts from the opposing team's state. But what does a governor do when both teams in the big game are from the same state? And in Pennsylvania, that choice is more than just one of geographic loyalty, it's a political Sophie's Choice.

Ed Rendell is a Philadelphia native. He was DA, then "America's Mayor" (before Rudy stole the title), then DNC Chairman, then Governor of Pennsylvania. Rendell has always fancied himself as a bit of a regular guy, and whether it's simply a well cultivated image or not, he's the guy that most Philadelphian's could picture themselves sitting down with at a neighborhood taproom and quaffing a Yuengling.

Let's suppose (dream) that both the Iggles and the Stillers both make it to Jacksonville two weeks from this Sunday. What's a popular Governor to do? One idea that's been floated is that he do the Army / Navy game presidential thing - sit on one sideline for half of the game, and shift to the other at the beginning of the third quarter. But with Rendell, that's not really an option. This is a guy who is such a diehard Eagles fan that several years ago, he was the primary instigator in the infamous Jimmy Johnson / Dallas Cowboys snowball game at the late Veteran's Stadium. He's also under contract to do analysis as a sports commentator on the local Comcast Cable post game show. Bottom line, the guv bleeds green.

This story is starting to get play in both the local Pa. and national media, even though it may never come to pass. Reporters are posing a lot of political "what if" questions to the guv. And it's not any big secret that Fast Eddie has some national aspirations. So what's the governor doing in response to the manufactured brouhaha?

Being honest.

During a visit to Pittsburgh on Dec. 21, Rendell said real football fans would think he was just pandering if he switched his well-known loyalties. If the Steelers go to the Super Bowl and the Eagles don't, Rendell said he'll back the Black and Gold.

Certainly, even his honesty won't stop the political sniping from the sidelines, particularly from GOP partisans who might be (at best) fair weather football fans. This is one time that a politician should get a pass - and given Rendell's political acumen, it's a pretty good bet that he'll come out smelling like a rose.

The winner in a Pittsburgh / Philly matchup? Ed Rendell. It's not possible to buy the free publicity he's going to get for the next two weeks if the Super Bowl turns into the Pennsylvania Turnpike Bowl.