I don't know who first compared Pittsburgh sportscaster Stan Savran to Burt Lahr's "Cowardly Lion" character in The Wizard of Oz, but the dude is a dead ringer for the lion. But the analogy goes further. As Zeke the Cowardly Lion once queried, "What makes a king out of a slave? Courage. What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage."
Does Stan have the courage to leave his seat as one of the city's all-time great sports guys to take a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives?
We can confirm the rumor: Stan is thinking very seriously about running for Congress, and some top national and local Democrats are trying to woo him. He's not talking about it to the news media, at least not on the record.
If he runs it would be for the Democratic nomination in the 18th congressional district. The incumbent is Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, who got some nice press recently for his role in helping to keep the 911th Air Lift Wing military base operating in Moon Township.
What will make the cowardly lion leave his den for the Congressional jungle? Maybe nothing. And maybe he'd be an idiot to go. He's got a great job: Why would you give up that for the uncertainties of being a freshman Congressman in the minority party (barring a major victory by the Dems in '06)?
Democratic political operative Dianna Wentz, who ran Cyril Wecht's campaign for county executive, is a friend and adviser to Savran. She thinks the cowardly lion is the cat's pajamas. "He's beloved. He cares about people. He has the ability to relate to the everyday person," she says. Wentz also thinks Savran is the Dems' only chance of defeating Murphy. Former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer has decided against a run, and word is that Allegheny County Clerk of Courts George Matta -- who'd been thinking of running -- will probably run for something else. It's doubtful he would have been a formidable challenger anyway.
Savran may not be the perfect candidate. Just because you know about sports doesn't mean you know about budget deficits, foreign aid and homeland security. But he's bright and a quick study, and if he can memorize all those arcane sports stats, I'm thinkin' he can brush up on the issues enough to get by.
Savran is also Congressman Murphy's worst nightmare because no one else the Dems could offer up has name recognition worthy diddly. Murphy totally dodged a major bullet when Hafer bailed out: He's probably in the clear unless the cowardly lion finds the courage to enter politics.
Savran spoke at a Howard Dean rally here last year and kicked ass in terms of crowd response. Stan and I spoke at a Kerry for President house party on the North Side last year, and I watched his magic as he connected one on one with starry-eyed liberals who believed in the latest failed Democratic presidential candidate.
Of course, no one at the party wanted to talk about John Kerry with Stan. They wanted to talk Stillers, what else? But Stan's definitely got the common touch.
"Sports is an outlet," says Wentz. "He's filling a void to help those people forget their pain about other parts of their lives over which they have no control." Wentz says that sports, like politics, is about leadership and Savran has strong leadership qualities and would likely focus on bread-and-butter issues such as health care and a funky economy if he ran.
Of course we don't know exactly how liberal Stan is, or how he feels about gun control or abortion and other issues on which some of the gun-totin', tobacco-chewin' constituents of the 18th District sometimes obsess.
And Murphy has White House connections. Dick Cheney shows up here occasionally to raise money for him. But Americans are starting to wake up to the fiasco that is Republican control of all three branches of government, and it might be time for Stan the man to step up.
As the lion once asked, "What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the 'ape' in ape-ricot? Whatta they got that I ain't got?" Stan's no shrinking violet. I know he's got balls. I hope he finds the courage.