Perhaps the headiest moment in sportscaster Stan Savran's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-esque trip to Washington, D.C., to decide whether he'd run for Congress, was when members of the Democratic caucus started chanting, "Run, Stan, run; run, Stan, run."
"They coulda chanted, 'Get the fuck out of here,'" Savran points out.
But unfortunately for Democrats who thought he could oust Rep. Tim Murphy, the incumbent Republican in the 18th congressional district, Stan has decided not to run. At least not yet.
Oh, but they courted him. Swissvale Congressman Mike Doyle gave him the grand tour. Savran met House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. He had a lengthy one-on-one meeting with star Congressman Rahm Emmanuel of Illinois, former top aide to President Clinton and head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
He was led to the legendary Rayburn room, where the Watergate hearings were held, and was blown away when Congressman Doyle asked him to speak to the assembled Democratic caucus. "I was standing there like a dope, gawking around," says Savran, when Doyle nudged him forward.
"I said, 'It is a privilege to stand before you. I read scores and analyze football for a living.'" With that he promised that if he did decide to do this, he'd give it his all.
Savran's not naïve. He knows the flattery was all about recapturing a majority in the House -- as opposed to an instant love affair with some Western PA sportscaster whom most of the assembled Dems had never met. "They have an agenda. They're gonna blow some smoke," he said.
Still, meeting all those big shots -- some of whom are his heroes -- was "awesome and intoxicating." Savran has rarely worn his political stripes on his sleeve. But he did come out of the political closet by campaigning for John Kerry last year, including a joint appearance with Howard Dean during which the sportscaster, whose visage is sometimes likened to that of the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz, was very well received.
Bert Lahr look-alike credentials aside, Savran's no coward. It was an act of courage to even seriously consider leaving a high-profile, highly paid and fun job for the iffy proposition of being a junior Congressman, quite possibly in the minority.
"I enjoy the stature I've earned in Pittsburgh," Savran says. "I'm at the top of my game. I've worked very hard to get here. I turned [an election run] down with a great deal of regret. If I did it and won and served for two years and didn't like it, it would be the end of my broadcast career."
Though supporters assured him that his much-beloved sportscaster status would ensure employment even if he changed professions for a while, Savran's no dope. He's been in broadcasting long enough to understand how managers love an excuse to find someone who's cheaper. "It really boiled down to 'I like what I do,'" he said.
Savran was glad his potential opponent, Rep. Murphy, wasn't seriously hurt when his armored minibus flipped over while on a tour of Iraq, but it galled him that the incident might help Murphy by possibly creating the impression he had been in danger. There was no roadside bomb here -- just a jumpy chauffer who thought some tanker truck headed his way wasn't going to stop. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Murphy had been "diagnosed with a spinal concussion -- which he described as bruised nerves in his neck and shoulders."
"It'll probably help him," said Savran, "but it coulda happened on the Parkway."
So now what? With the lion back in his lair, who will be brave enough to try to slay Rep. Murphy? The rumors about Allegheny County Clerk of Courts George Matta making a run are still around. Matta has all the charisma of, well, a Clerk of Courts. Goodbye, cowardly lion ... hello, re-elected incumbent.
Now Stan can stop thinking about proposing a timetable for a pullout in Iraq, and get back to what really matters -- figuring out why Bill Cowher would start the second half, down by only nine, with an on-side kick.
But Savran says he'll take another look at running for office in two years. And at least he got some personal gratification out of the experience. "I still have the knowledge that somebody thought I was worth a shit."