Jan 022013

Behind the Steel Curtain makes a very interesting point today while discussing whether former Steelers OL Tunch Ilkin would be a good fit for offensive line coach for the Steelers:

It not as easy as just looking at some of the guys that are currently available and say they would look great in Black and Gold. That is what happened to the Eagles. They brought in Howard Mudd to coach their offensive line after Juan Castillo was promoted to defensive coordinator. If there is a Hall of Fame for offensive line coaches, Mudd would be in on the first ballot. But, he was a disaster in Philly. Mudd likes big offensive linemen because he believes in a vertical pass drop set, whereas Castillo always preferred smaller, more athletic linemen. The overhaul that resulted really impeded their offense. Some guys may teach things a certain way that doesn’t fit with Haley or the players we currently have. That narrows the list, and would obviously bode well for Ilkin if he was interested in the job.

I’d never really thought of offensive line coach as being such a study in varied techniques but after reading that passage, it makes sense, doesn’t it. And because they’re more nitty-gritty than head coach or even offensive/defensive coordinator, perhaps it’s more difficult to customize techniques based on available personnel. It’s easier to stress over a coordinator or head coach’s philosophies, as so many did/have done w.r.t. Tomlin’s background in the 4-3 vs the Steelers current use of the 3-4. But the impact of position coaches shouldn’t be understated either.

Nov 012012

SB Nation Pittsburgh links to a Ben Roethlisberger quote ruminating on whether his draft class may eventually surpass the fabled 1983 QB draft class that included John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino (and a couple other guys named Bob).

“And all four quarterbacks — Matt Schaub, Philip (Rivers), myself and Eli — that were drafted there. I hope we can play well enough that one day they talk about us as maybe the best quarterback draft class of all time.”

Let’s check out the numbers.

Class of 1983 Designation Superbowl Record Passing Yards Years Yardage Rank
John Elway HOF 2-3 51,475 16 4
Todd Blackledge Bust 0-0 5,283 7 245
Jim Kelly HOF 0-4 35,467 11 18
Tony Eason Ok 0-1 11,142 8 154
Ken O’Brien Ok 0-0 25,094 10 62
Dan Marino HOF 0-1 61,361 17 2
Totals/Averages 2-9 189,822 69 80.83
Class of 2004 Designation Superbowl Record Passing Yards Years Yardage Rank
Eli Manning Potential HOF 2-0 29,980 8.5 36
Philip Rivers Mediocre 0-0 25,931 8.5 58
Ben Roethlisberger Potential HOF 2-1 28,566 8.5 44
J.P. Losman Bust 0-0 6,271 8 223
Matt Schaub Undecided 0-0 19,586 8.5 98
Totals/Averages 4-1 110,334 42 91.8

I tend to believe 2004 has already surpassed 1983 because of a superior Superbowl record. 2-9 for 1983? That’s abysmal! Continue reading »

Oct 122012

In a stunning rebuke of America’s politically-charged society, the Gods of Football chose to punish the Pittsburgh Steelers because some of their fans deigned to pay even the slightest bit of attention to the Biden-Ryan VP debate last night. The Steelers fell to the Tennessee Titans, 26-23 on a last-second field goal, dropping their record to 2-3.

Al Messerschmidt, Getty Images

“Political pundits across the nation have spoken about the relative unimportance of this debate to the greater outcome of the President Election in November so we were surprised and disappointed that normally erudite Steelers fans disregarded the science of Superstition and watched the VP debate instead,” said a clearly angry Pop Warner, chief spokesman for the Football Deities. “Even channel surfing between the two is considered bad form. In our estimation, Titans fans’ attentions weren’t as divided so we chose to reward their loyalty.”

Your humble narrator can attest to the scatter-brained nature of the Nation as after the game, he saw numerous Facebook posts and tweets by otherwise loyal Steelers fans who had been commenting on the VP debate during the game.

Let this be a lesson, Steelers Nation. FOOTBALL > politics. The Gods do not care about your political loyalties, or even your level of activity or advocacy. But when your Steelers are playing, TUNE THE FRAK IN!

Photo Credit: Al Messerschmidt, Getty Images

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]

Aug 112011
Credit: Flickr

My dad has never been that big on celebrating his own birthday. Perhaps it’s because he has two birthdays – one on his passport, the other that his mother swore he was born on. Actually, he felt that the birthdays of the the greats should be celebrated. Though he never failed to celebrate our birthdays, his refusal to acknowledge his own was, I think, his way of trying to inspire us to greatness. “You should want to be so memorable that others will remember your birth.”

I think we all know someone from high school who was always the smartest person in the room as well as the laziest. It’s not a stretch to see that this person never reached his potential, never became great. He may be delivering pizzas or working at a convenience store or just muddling through life. It’s not my place to judge another life but that ain’t greatness.

Credit: Flickr

The recently retired NFL wide receiver Randy Moss will be remembered as one of the top 5 or top 10 WRs of all time. Maybe even #2. But he won’t even touch #1 even though he had more talent than Jerry Rice. He could have worked harder, tried harder, been a better teammate, been less of a malcontent. But he didn’t. It’s a testament to the immense size of Moss’s talent that he had such a productive career despite his malfeasance.

Continue reading »

Mar 072011

Being a fan means that we have expectations of the teams we follow, be it a professional or college team. There was once a time when we held different expectations of even our major college teams than of our professional teams.

A professional athlete, at least by definition if not by attribution, plays the game for a wage; he has on-field metrics to attain, the loftiest of which is to win a championship. I think it’s fair to hold most professional athletes to this standard. Though we may praise them for noteworthy efforts in defeat, ultimately, such outcomes are a failure.

A major college athlete, however, is still an amateur. I know that in today’s cynical world, we like to deride the corruption and avarice of major college athletics. I’ll not demure from such characterizations but I’ve known a few who played college football and I can vouch that they saw the importance of getting on with their “life’s work” (as Chuck Noll called it) faster than we, the jaded public, may give them credit. No, such individuals didn’t morph into Rhodes Scholars or lead perfect lives but they took their courses of study no less seriously than the non-athlete students who have always known they were destined for the cubicle farms of modern workaday America.

So, if we allow that the vast, vast, vast majority of college athletes are truly amateurs, then the expectations we place on them must be reasonably commensurate with that amateur status, even for major athletics programs. The lofty olden goal of the college athlete has always been to grow as a person, to use athletics as a past-time and as a means to earn a college degree and prepare for a non-football future. Winning is important, as it is in the real-world, but there were different levels of winning.

The stated goal of Michigan’s legendary head coach Bo Schembechler was to win the Big Ten title and anything that happened in the bowl game afterwards was gravy. Schembechler was 5-12 in bowl games, 2-8 in the Rose Bowl and never won a National Title. Such an absymal bowl record would probably have gotten him fired at Big Blue these days. In 1963, Pitt football compiled a 9-1 regular season record and earned the #3 poll ranking. When they were shut out of the so-called National Title game and offered to play in a lesser bowl game, the athletes declined. Because that bowl game interfered with Finals week.

As I survey major college basketball around this time every year, I hear talk about the “next level” and what type of results in the NCAA Tournament would make for a successful year. For the minnows, it’s just getting into the NCAA Tournament. But for most high-major programs, the goal is to win the National Championship and less is often considered something of a failure. There’s nothing wrong with expecting to win a National Championship. I would hardly call Duke’s program corrupt for holding to such a standard.

Coaches today will talk the same game. No less than Pitt’s Jamie Dixon has stated that winning a National Title, not just breaking in to the Final Four, is Pitt’s true goal. As a Pitt sports fan, I do love that statement. But even though the Final Four and the Elite Eight and even the Sweet Sixteen are largely ESPN-marketing driven creations,  they still serve as reasonable levies against what is otherwise our just-win-baby culture. Yet coaches successively come under fire when their programs somehow can’t get thru the Sweet Sixteen, then the Elite Eight, then the Final Four, then the National Championship. If it took the greatest college basketball coach of all-time, John Wooden, 15 years to get UCLA to a Final Four and 16 years to win a National Title, I’m ok with keeping my college sports expectations in check.

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.

Nov 152010

I drove up to Northampton, MA this extended weekend to spend some some with my sister, brother-un-law and niece. I was enjoying a leisurely time, when on Friday morning, I received a call from my mom that an unkel had offered two tickets to Sunday night’s Steelers/Patriots game in Pittsburgh. Done.

After driving home from Northampton in 7.5 hours (~515 miles) on Sunday, I was subjected to one of the worst Steelers games I’ve seen in years. Just a putrid, heartless display. Embarrassing, really.

The worst part? Although our seats were pretty sweet (section 108, row K), they were directly in front of five guys from Boston. Now I don’t mind that they were loud and boisterous for their team. By and large, they weren’t rude and there was some fun jawing back and forth.

But those accents! OH MY LAWD!! I mean a really thick, thick, Boston/New England accent. Like Ben Affleck in Good Will Hunting or Peter Griffin on the Family Guy.

“Let’s go Paaaats!”
“Let’s go boyyyeesss!”
“Atta boy Tommy!”

Horrible, simply horrible. I’d rather hear southern drawls, Long Island or Bronx accents, Midwestern accents, valley girl accents, maybe even Jersey Shore accents than that bile-inducing detritus. Worst regional accent in the world!

Those boyyeess made this the single worst sporting event I have ever attended. (And considering I’m a long-time Pitt football fan, that’s sayin’ something). UGH.

Oct 262010

MST: And we’re back with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell: Thanks for having me.

MST: Commissioner, please explain the James Harrison fines and why you chose to dock him mo’ cash moneyyy than other players.

Goodell: We know that, like many football players, if James Harrison wasn’t in the NFL, he’d either be in jail by now or dead. That he comes from Ohio doesn’t help matters. By fining Harrison, we’re letting him know that murder is not an option. He needed that. Even though we condone violence on the field, we can’t cross over into murdaaa.

The fine accomplishes a second aim as well. By suppressing his murderous Ohioan instincts, James will become an even more devastating player in the long run.

I should also add that part of the rationale behind Ben’s suspension was to remind the Steelers’ defense that a quarterback cannot carry a Steelers team, at least until the playoffs. Last year’s fourth quarter lapses ate just not part of the NFL… I mean Steelers’ Way.

MST: A well-conceived plan, Commissioner, and subtly executed. Would that you could have don’t a better job in Superbowl XL. I’ve been trying to deflect criticism of the officiating in the game for years now.

Goodell: I wasn’t commissioner at the time and I can assure you that the NFL will never again put the Steelers Nation through such a trauma. Simply put, planning for a Steelers Superbowl wasn’t part of outgoing commissioner Paul Tagliabue contingencies.

MST: And that concludes our interview. Thanks for your time, Commissioner.

Goodell: Thanks for having me.

Oct 262010

Many non-Steelers fans (concentrated mostly in Cleveland, Baltimore and Cincinnati) have long believed that the NFL gives a free-pass to the warriors from the Steel City. However, it was the recent suspension of Ben Roethlisberger and fining of James Harrison that had Steelers partisans screaming foul.

Moe’s Sports Talk sat down with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to find out his plans to rig the season and hand the Steelers a Stairway to Seventh Superbowl trophy.

MST: Good evening Commissioner and thanks for joining us. Please explain your rationale for the fines and suspensions and how it fits in with the NFL’s favoritism of Pittsburgh.

Goodell: Part of it is to light a fire under the team.

MST: Light? Fire? A? Please, go on.

Goodell: Well, you have to remember that some of the Steelers’ most critical personalities are from Ohio. As such, they lack the proper moral compass needed to contribute both on the field and to be good citizens off the field unless properly channeled.

MST: You mean Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison?

Goodell: Right. By suspending Ben, even though he’d never been charged with a crime, we sent a clear message that he at least needed to act like a human being in order to lead the Black and Gold.

MST: But you could have derailed the entire season if the defense and run game hadn’t carried the team during his 4-6 game suspension.

Goodell: We were pretty confident that it would be a 4-game suspension. And its effect wasn’t solely targeted at changing Ben.

Consider the the case of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, whose previous OC job was with the Cleveland Browns. Naturally, three years in Cleveland can corrupt and break down any individual. By suspending Ben and taking away the Steelers’ best offensive weapon, we helped Arians’ rehab along.

The Steelers started to re-emphasise the rub. This also forced players such as Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall to step up, possibly earlier than they might have with a “Big Ben” character running roughshod over the team.

MST: Brilliant, commissioner. We’ll he back with the second part of our interview with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after this short break…