At the dawn of 2011, Pittsburghers seemed to have it all: Our football team was on the verge of going to the Super Bowl, our hockey team was nearly unbeatable and Sidney Crosby was scoring so many points that the NHL's record-book keepers were already warming up their letterpress.
But then everything changed.
On a rainy New Year's night -- not quite resembling a "winter classic" -- the Penguins lost to the Capitals, and little did we know that an accidental on-ice collision would force Crosby into an apparent semi-retirement. A month later, an injury to Evgeni Malkin would end his season, too.
The Steelers kept our spirits high by advancing to the Super Bowl, only to make more mistakes than a pre-schooler trying to recreate the "Mona Lisa" with finger paints. Troy Polamalu looked human, Rashard Mendenhall made us forget about his splendid season with a costly fumble and Big Ben was unable to duplicate his game-winning drive from the Super Bowl two years prior.
To make matters worse, the NFL's team owners then locked out its players, creating a realistic chance that we might have to find something to do on autumn Sunday afternoons other than watching the Steelers.
While all of this was happening, Mendenhall used his Twitter account to give producers at sports-talk radio stations a golden ticket when he decided to get philosophical on relationships, slavery, conspiracy theories and dead terrorists.
Out of the despair of the current state of Pittsburgh sports, I saw a light emanating through the rubble of lost Winter Classics and Super Bowls, like the bright smile of Hines Ward. Upon closer inspection, it actually was the smile of Hines Ward. But what was he doing wearing sequins and hurling a petite Australian woman through the air?
Like many NFL superstars before him, Ward decided to spend his off-season competing in the ABC television series Dancing With the Stars. When I initially heard the news, I visualized Ward's Riverdance touchdown celebration against the Cincinnati Bengals a few years back, the one where he mimicked Chad Johnson mimicking dance lord Michael Flatley.
The next time you're at a wedding reception, look for a 70-year-old man with a bad hip trying to boogie-woogie to a Beyoncé song; that's exactly how Hines Ward looked shuffling his two left feet in the back of the end zone.
Because of his lack of rhythm I was surprised to hear that Ward made it all the way to the finals this season, taking down a former Playmate, a model, a boxer and the Karate Kid along the way.
To get my revenge on all bandwagon fans who only cheer for the Steelers and Penguins once they go deep into the playoffs, I decided to watch the finale of Dancing With the Stars.
When I discovered that Ward was competing against Kirstie Alley and Disney Channel pop tart Chelsea Kane, I was both delighted and horrified. On one hand, Hines has won two Super Bowls; it would seem nearly impossible that he could lose in any type of physical competition to a 60-year old woman with publicized weight issues or a young girl who hangs with the Jonas Brothers.
On the other hand, if he lost, that would only add to Pittsburgh's current sports slump.
The two-hour finale recapped all of the season's drama and, coincidentally, it wasn't much different than a retrospective of Ward's football career: He out-danced people more talented than he, almost broke someone's neck (Cincinnati's Keith Rivers can relate), was cheered by fans waving Terrible Towels, and won over everyone with some tears and a whole lot of smiles.
Even a massive blackout in Western Pennsylvania (which I feared might cost Ward some last-minute online votes) and a performance by the Black Eyed Peas -- whose halftime show at Super Bowl XLV seemed to doom the Steelers -- couldn't keep Ward from winning the Mirror Ball Trophy.
Later that night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Ward said that winning Dancing With the Stars was comparable to being a Super Bowl champ. I don't agree with that, but it does feel nice to win something again, even if it is a trophy topped with a disco ball instead of a football.