My 2015 Pittsburgh and Pro-Sports Wishlist

 Baseball, Football, Hockey, Pro-Football  Comments Off on My 2015 Pittsburgh and Pro-Sports Wishlist
Dec 312014
Pittsburgh Sports Logo

I consider myself a lucky sports fan. At least I’m not a Cleveland sports fan. I can find hope without looking too hard. BUT! C’mon, everyone wants some of their teams to do better. So here’s a short wishlist for my pro teams and pro-sports in general in 2015 (in no particular order).


  • Upgraded Secondary. The defensive secondary has played particularly well the past couple weeks but there’s no doubt that these guys aren’t suited to being long-term front-line players. Will Allen, William Gay, Brice McCain and Antwon Blake have played above their pay grade. It is highly, highly unlikely though perhaps not impossible that McCain and Blake could become front-line players. Still, with the withering of Ike Taylor and the failures of extending Cortez Allen and signing Mike Mitchell, the secondary needs a huge infusion of new talent.
  • Polamalu closeupA Dignified Exit for Troy Polamalu. There was significant debate on 93.7 The Fan last night as to whether Troy should even play at the expense of a roster spot for a special teams player, let alone start against Baltimore. Troy’s jersey was the first I ever bought so I don’t like the thought of the end of his career. I would give him a spot for the Baltimore game, not start him, and substitute him into certain packages. And then I hope he retires at the end of the season (mmm… hopefully after holding aloft another Vince Lombardi Trophy?).
  • The Return of Linebacker Nation. A 3-4 defense is not supposed to have an Defensive End tie or lead the team in sacks. Cam Heyward has fast become an exceptional player and the emergence of Stephon Tuitt bodes well for the future as well but this defense is predicated on getting pressure from its linebackers. Jason Worilds is almost certainly gone after the season; his price tag will be too high after recording a colossal 7.5 regular season sacks. Vince Williams and Arthur Moats are good depth guys but Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones absolutely must pick up the slack in seasons to come.


  • bluebloodHealth. Every team suffers injuries but between career and life threatening injuries, cancer and the mumps, this team has had way too many kids called up from the Baby Penguins farm team this season.
  • Earn that Cash. Franchise players are paid the big bucks to show up in critical high-pressure situations. Management did a good job of adding toughness and grit to the team this off-season. But Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury cannot go another playoffs without playing to their potential in the highest pressure games. If Fleury plays well, so too must Sid & Geno. If Geno plays well, so too must Fleury and Sid. This isn’t the most stacked team the Penguins have had but they are a team that can win a Stanley Cup.
  • More Noise!! It’s been said that Penguins crowds haven’t been as animated since the move to the Consol Energy Center as they were in the old Civic/Mellon Arena. Part of that may be to do with the new building’s acoustics and part of that may be more expensive tickets pricing out the (increasingly eviscerated) proletariat. In England, the landed gentry who can afford futbol games and aren’t loud or involved are called the Prawn Sandwich Brigade. I tend to think the CEC crowds still do get pretty loud but not for as long as they might have done in the olden years. Or perhaps I’m getting old and you should stay the hillel off my lawn.

Continue reading »

Jan 242014

I’m not a huge fan of playoffs (unless my team does well in them).  They’re a vastly imperfect method of determining a champion. They usually only determine the team that is playing the best, that is the hottest at that end point of the season. A balanced, season-long race should be the only way that a Champion is determined.

This is the way it’s done in world Soccer (ie, Association Football). Each team plays every other team twice throughout the season. Winner gets 3 points. Loser gets 0 points. Tie gets 1 point for each team. Add up each team’s points and you have a winner. Home-and-home. No such thing as Strength of Schedule. A true league champion.

There are separate Cup Championships (elimination tournaments or playoffs, if you will) that run concurrently through the season. When an FC Barcelona fan talks about the club’s 22 titles, that number doesn’t include Cup Championships.


This is  my definition of a true champion. I realize it will always be impossible to determine a true champion in the NFL, College Football and College Basketball.  (As well as the other college sports). There are too many teams within each league to play a round robin schedule or even one-to-one.

But the NBA, NHL and MLB could have true champions. Eliminate conferences and divisions, which are remnants of the days when travel costs weighed more heavily on teams. Have each team play the same number of games against their brethren. Everyone’s travel costs will be the same if you play each other the same number of times. 3 points for an win (or shootout win in the NHL), 0 points for a loss.

The NHL, NBA and MLB each have 30 teams. Hockey and Basketball would play a home-and-home (2 games/opponent), which gets them to 58 games. MLB would play double home-and-home (4 games/opponent), which gets them to 116 games. That’s a not-insignificant decrease in inventory so add in simultaneous elimination tournaments (Cup Championships) and you should be able to replenish the inventory sufficiently.


I know, I know. I’m tilting at windmills. Americans can’t stomach regular season champions. We crave the supposed-certainty of a playoff. We would rather be provided with certainty, with absolute rules rather than any teeny-weeny sign of ambiguity. Bollocks to that.

My 2014 Pittsburgh and Pro-Sports Wishlist

 Baseball, Football, Hockey, Pro-Football  Comments Off on My 2014 Pittsburgh and Pro-Sports Wishlist
Jan 042014
Pittsburgh Sports Logo

I consider myself a lucky sports fan. At least I’m not a Cleveland sports fan. I can find hope without looking too hard. BUT! C’mon, everyone wants some of their teams to do better. So here’s a short wishlist for my pro teams and pro-sports in general in 2014 (in no particular order).

Pittsburgh Sports Logo


  • By SteelCityHobbies (MRR_0030.JPG) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsA healthy offensive line. I think the o-line improved a bit towards the end of the season. You could see it in the way that Le’Veon Bell started running. Part of that is on Bell. The light seems to be coming on for him. He seemed more decisive. Add back a healthy Maurkice Pouncey and a continually developing David DeCastro and that’s a foundation. Regardless of who’s lining up, the offensive line needs time and health to develop chemistry.
  • More no-huddle. I think I heard on 93.7 The Fan that the No-Huddle will be the Steelers’ default offense next year? Well, if it makes Ben happy and more productive, I’m ok with that. Frankly, I think quarterbacks don’t have enough play-calling responsibility anymore and I think they can handle the weight. Terry Bradshaw called his own plays; you think Ben can’t do the same consistently? Continue reading »
Jul 262013

I was reading a Paul Krugman analysis comparing the Detroit bankruptcy to the struggles of Pittsburgh in the 1980’s and 1990’s. As far as that goes, it was pretty simplistic. There are way too many causes for Detroit’s Chapter 9 to detail in a short post like Krugman’s. The comments take him to task for shallow analysis and as someone who has spent many hours defending my hometown, I get the sensitivity of Detroiters regarding their city’s dire situation.

However, I couldn’t let this comment pass. Arbitrot writes:

I don’t want to be testy, but as a native Detroiter I’d like us all to focus a bit here.
The Tigers currently leads the toughest division in the Majors by a game and a half, while the Pirates are two games back in the League’sd wussiest division — and dropping.
I mean, the Cardinals leading the division, without Albert Pujols? What’s that all about?

Wussiest? The NL Central has produced two World Series winners in the past decade. The AL Central is 1-2, with one of those losses being the Cardinals over the Tigers. As far as dropping – both the Pirates and Tigers are 6-4 in their last 10 games.

Continue reading »

Jul 252013

As a rabid Steelers fan, I know it’s blasphemy but I have seldom been less excited about the coming of the NFL season. It’s not about the team itself. I’m confident that if Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, the Steelers will once again be elite contenders in the NFL.

Over the past few years, I’ve become less and less intrigued by the NFL as a whole. If not for the Steelers, I wouldn’t be an NFL fan. The game is boring. Every team plays roughly the same type of offense… some variant of the West Coast offense with sprinklings of running or passing spread plays. There’s no innovation on either side of the ball.

Continue reading »

Jun 022013

One of the things I love about sports is comparing teams across disciplines. Who are the Dallas Cowboys of the NBA, the the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NHL, the Boston Red Stockings of the MLS. MLS? Oh wait, nevermind that.

Let’s do a comparison of notable English futbol clubs to American sports teams.

Liverpool -> Los Angeles Dodgers. Recent ownership troubles. Massive commercial potential only recently being tapped. Beloved in their communities. Long history of success but not exactly recently. Continue reading »

Jul 032012
YES, those Pirates

… Or Reclaiming a Lost Pirates Generation

When I was growing up, in a time so long ago that Barry Bonds was sometimes overshadowed by Bobby Bonilla and the name Francisco Cabrera didn’t yet induce cringes, we played stickball in the summers. Oh sure, we also played football and street hockey but the fact is that baseball existed here in southwestern PA.

Over the past 19 years, as the Pirates have gone from the franchise that invented the World Series, the only franchise to win the World Series on a Game 7 walk-off to perennial laughingstock, an entire generation of Pittsburghers have been robbed of meaningful sports summers. Some turned to other baseball teams – the Yankees most notably, I’m sure – while others just re-focused their time on the NFL’s hot stove ligg. The childrens I have observed started playing football or street hockey at all times of the year.

But an amazing thing happened this past weekend. The kids decided to played baseballs! Well, whiffleball actually, but the sheer fact they wanted to play ball bowled me over. Some of them didn’t even know all the rules (such as a runner on first base is forced to advance on the hit… the kid was like 8 years old, ok). And of course as is often the case with juveniles (and those who still act like juveniles), the game became quite heated and much shouting over stupid sh*t occurred.

It’s good to have baseball back (fingers crosst).

Apr 252012
Penguins, 2008-2009 Stanley Cup

Despite the pain and humiliation of watching my Pittsburgh Penguins lose their third consecutive post-season series, this time to the despicable Philadelphia Flyers, I am as convinced as ever that Ice Hockey is the best team sport out there.

I don’t necessarily mean most enjoyable, surely a subjective measure. Nor is the NHL the best sports league across all sports. I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that Ice Hockey calls for the greatest total abundance of every sports characteristic and skill. List out all the skills you want and Ice Hockey will score higher in aggregate.

Ahhh, happier times.

Speed, physical toughness, endurance, coordination/reflexes, mental toughness, etc. etc. etc. The game even calls for moving backwards in a fundamental way that no other sport duplicates.

Here’s a rough chart ranking the major team sports:

Baseball Basketball Am. FB Rugby Futbol Cricket Ice Hky
Speed 3 7 4 1 6 2 5
Physical Toughness 1 4 6 7 3 2 5
Mental Toughness 4 2 7 5 1 3 6
Endurance 1 3 4 6 5 2 7
Reflexes/Coordination 3 6 1 2 5 4 7
Intelligence/Creativity 1 5 4 3 7 2 6
Versatility (!=specialization) 1 6 2 5 4 3 7
Total Score 14 33 28 29 31 18 43

Before you get in a huff about these rankings, it should be noted that I have no animus against any particular sport. If I were to rate my enjoyment of each of these sports, it would be different from the rankings above. Just some food for thought.

Jan 202012

One of my recent tweets: “Adam Graves and the New York Rangers should die of gonorrhea and rot in Hell. Want a cookie, son?”

Seriously? I can’t give up a grudge against Adam Graves (and by extension a New York Rangers franchise that hasn’t done anything meaningful since 1994) based on a cheapshot in the 1992 NHL playoffs? #$%^ no!! The Penguins won the Stanley Cup that year despite Graves’ hit on Lemieux and it’s even possible that the hit galvanised the team and propelled it to those heights. You’re damn right I’m not letting go of my hatred.

And that gets me to thinking about the nature and origins of sports hatred.

It’s pretty common knowledge among my friends that I despise the Cleveland Browns. It’s just the way Pittsburghers are raised. But truth be told, the Browns don’t really deserve to be hated. They haven’t been a true threat since a brief window in the early 1990’s. The cRavens are our real rival nowadays and a worthy one at that.

But I remember that brief, annoying period when the Browns rose up; when Vinny Testaverde was considered a threat to our AFC Central supremacy and the addition of the combustible Andre Rison served to put the Browns (the Browns!) as a chic pic to get to the Superbowl. And so I remember what it’s like to hate the Browns fo’ realz and I hold on to that hatred and nurture it and let it fester and boil.

My mom once told me that for all my hatred, I would probably end up with a girl from Cleveland. What a cruel fate to foresee for her son! Formative years those 1990’s were for Maher’s sports consciousness. I hated Mark Brunell and the Jacksonville Jaguars for a time. I even remember hating the Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves for beating my Pirates in the NLCS. Do you remember when Steve Avery was good? I f*ckin’ remember! I’d root for the Yankees over the Braves, damnit!

Now don’t get me wrong. I do hate the Ravens. Arrogant, showboating f*cks all of them! But damn, they’re good. And most of them probably already have gonorrhea anyway.

It’s interesting to see how current rivalries are shaping the sports consciousnesses of Pittsburgh’s youngsters. The Ravens may even win a Superbowl but all teams go through down cycles. Just ask  the 1970’s Raiders, the 1980’s Oilers, the 1990’s Browns and Jaguars, etc. And rivalries are generally established of shared excellence not mediocrity.

But those who grew up knowing that raw, raging emotion will forever hold the Ravens in ill-regard. They will remember.

Which brings me back to Adam Graves and the New York Rangers. I f*ckin’ hate the Rangers. No, I mega-loathe them. You see, when I was coming up during Mario Lemieux’s Stanley Cup runs, the Rangers were a primary threat to us. The Flyers were pretty mediocre and though people of good conscience must always hate the Flyers in principle, they didn’t get me worked up that much. They do now but it doesn’t have the force of history, at least for me.

And so 20+ years later, 10-year old Maher still demands even more justice! Yesssss… Adam Graves and the New York Rangers should die of gonorrhea and rot in Hell.

… which is probably quite similar to Cleveland during football season. [steeples fingers malevolently]

Feb 072011
In 1996 (I think), after the Steelers lost Superbowl XXX to the Dallas Cowboys, I remember reading a rather whimsical letter to the editor of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explaining the city’s role in the sports world. He detailed a nameless individual who made a deal with the Devil decades earlier, which setup Pittsburgh’s great sports successes – the Steelers’ Superbowls, the Pirates’ World Series titles, Pitt’s and Pennstate’s MNCs and the Penguins’ Stanley Cup runs. In the past forty years, Pittsburgh’s professional sports teams have collected 11 championships; fourth behind LA, NYC and Boston. Not bad for having only three of the four major US Sports and the 22nd largest market in the country

The Devil in the details, so to speak, was a clause that Pittsburgh’s teams would also suffer mind-numbing, spirit-crushing losses as well. Caveat emptor, after all. Pittsburghers can recall these losses pretty well today, I think, so I won’t detail them here. When asked why this proviso was called The Cabrera Factor, the Devil simply grinned and walked away.