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…

Sep 202010

Your faithful correspondent spent the past 5 days in LA for a good friend’s wedding reception and was pleasantly surprised to see how crazed the locals are for sports. They’re so passionate that they can’t bring themselves to pay attention.

Amidst the end of the wedding frivolities, it was a group of easterners who broke out into a seemingly random “Pittsburgh’s Goin’ to da Superbowl” chant. Los Angelino’s in our midst brought back the noise and the funk by taking another hit from the hookah. Score: East Coast-1, West Coast-Not Playing.

Admittedly, I did see numbers of people wearing Dodgers or Angels gear (what’s baseball?) and they can be excused for not caring about college or pro football since LA’s pro/semi-pro team is on probation. (Memo to Roger Goodell: This is the fanbase you long to recapture?)

I think it’s safe to say that California’s reputation for not being sports crazed is well-earned. No family shootings or stabbings over sports, no Steelers-polka at weddings? Tsk, tsk. Perspective, schmerspective! I’m getting a pre-nup solely for the purpose of making sure that my childrens be raised to love the black & gold, if I end up with a non-Pittsburgher.

Sep 082010

I’ve refrained from commenting on the Ben Roethlisberger situation until the facts seem to have been borne out and punishment meted out.

At first, there was a lot of outrage throughout Steelers Nation. Not a small number of fans wanted his stank ass traded or flat-out cut. It’s not for me to decide how sincere they are in this wish and how many would really have a change of heart if the the team would go 4-12 or worse without him and not be a true Superbowl contender for years to come.

I’ve heard the refrain – “what would you think if that was your daughter?” in response to those of us who would not have him cut or traded. My response – “what if he was your son?” It is common without our polity to believe that the Steelers stand for something other than just winning; that the team and organization strives to represent the best of this city and its far-flung fanbase. It’s what we have long called, the “Steelers Way.” A little (or a lot) sanctimonious maybe but that’s how many of us feel.

Whatever moralizing we have been doing about how much the character of the organization matters, let’s not forget that Steelers players have gotten in trouble with the law before and will get in trouble in the future. James Harrison was charged with domestic abuse for striking his girlfriend in 2008. Eric Green was suspended for 6 games in 1992 for his second violation of the NFL’s drug policy. And most famously, during the height of the Steelers’ 1970s Superbowl runs, Ernie “Fats” Holmes, a decorated member of the original Steel Curtain, fired shots at a police helicopter that was pursuing him as part of a high-speed chase.

All these players were forgiven by the Steelers management and stand in relatively good stead in the history of the franchise. It bears mentioning that however heinous Ben’s actions, he was never charged with any crime unlike the aforementioned players.

So I’ll ask again, “what if he was your son?” I’d want him to be humiliated. Done. I’d want him to be punished. Done. I’d want him to get help. In-progress. I wouldn’t abandon him. I’d want him to turn his life around and become the human-being that I had always wanted him to become. I would not abandon him.

As concerns Ben Roethlisberger, I’m not claiming to be completely altruistic in this approach. He’s a front-line quarterback. There’s a reason that it took Bill Cowher over 14 years to win a Superbowl; he didn’t have Ben. But if the Steelers do represent the best of our “Nation”, then perhaps we would also do well to exercise another worthwhile quality – forgiveness. No, this isn’t Ben’s first strike. It should be his last. But I’m willing to give him one more chance. (stupid fraking jag-off that he is).

Photo credit: behindthesteelcurtain.com

Mar 042010

It is easy in the wake of monumental sports events to assign too much credit to a particular individual. It is even easier, in hindsight, to assign too little credit. To nitpick over effort given, a missed coverage, a turnover here, or a blown breakaway there. Yet sports isn’t played in hindsight. Nor should it be judged solely out of its immediate context. Balance is the key.

The Pittsburgh Steelers won Superbowl XL, in large part, despite the efforts of their sophomore QB, Ben Roethlisberger. Yet the Steelers reached the Superbowl, in large part, because of Ben’s outstanding play in three road playoff victories at Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver, to say nothing of the Immaculate Tackle on Nick Harper. The Steelers reached Superbowl XLIII, in large part, because of their defense. They won it, in large part, because of Roethlisberger’s last minute heroics.

Evgeni Malkin won the 2009 Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s regular season scoring leader. He led the Stanley Cup Playoffs in scoring, edging out teammate Sidney Crosby by five points and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Playoffs MVP. Yet it was Penguins Captain Sidney Crosby who first lifted the venerable Stanley Cup during the trophy presentation. And it is Sidney Crosby who is consistently seen as the most important player on the Penguins.

Crosby had a ho-hum ride during much of the 2010 Olympic hockey tournament. Until he scored the game winning shootout goal against Sweden in the preliminaries. And then again when he scored the Gold-medal clinching overtime goal against the USA. Despite setting up him brilliantly, it is Crosby, not Jarome Iginla, who is hailed as the conquering hero.

There will be, as always, those who downplay the contributions of players such as Roethlisberger and Crosby if they fail to dominate play at all times. Who will call them overrated and over-hyped and a product of the system. In other sports lifetimes, the same hyperbole was used on Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. Lucky and overrated. Surrounded by great players. The team won, not the individual player. No shit, Shirlock.

Yet it can’t be coincidence that such players are the ones who just happen to keep coming up on the winning side, that are practically omnipresent in the biggest moments in sports*.

It won’t always show up on the stat sheet but what do we really mean when we say that a player wills his team to victory. The best players do that. They.show.up., clichéd as that sounds. No one should be defined solely by titles won. However, it is fair to judge them by the moments they own within the circumstances presented to them and the moments they create for their teams of their volition and will to succeed.

So if you want to talk about Willie Parker’s run in Superbowl XL or James Harrison’s romp in Superbowl XLIII, fine. Or highlight Iginla’s or Roberto Luongo’s work for the Canadians, by all means, do so. But their work does not diminish the driving forces and players behind such triumphs. The ones that actually put the puck in the net.

* Dan Marino. A great player, who never won a Superbowl, cursed to play for an overrated buffoon of a coach. I can’t claim to be completely objective on Marino, a Pitt alum, but that’s a post for another day.

May 282009

The question of loyalty to a hometown and to its sports teams is one that often comes up in sporting discussions. Some folks shed their loyalties to their hometown and its teams and adopt new teams as they move around the country. Others steadfastly cling to their sporting roots, while possibly picking up a “second” team. In some cases, this choice comes down to a fundamental question of identity.

In choosing to root for the Carolina Hurricanes over his hometown Pittsburgh Penguins, Bill Cowher created a maelstrom. Pittsburghers are, to put it lightly, livid. (As an aside, let’s dispense with any idiotic talk about his right to support whom he wants or that he owes Pittsburgh nothing. DUH!)

So does Cowher see himself, in any part, as a Pittsburgher or a solely a Carolinian? If the former, then he shouldn’t be surprised by the consternation created by his decision. If the latter, then so be it. He’s not one of “ours”.

It is generally believed that many ex-pat Pittsburghers take their sporting loyalties with them when they leave western Pennsylvania. The reason that Steelers fans show up in great numbers at road games is not because we travel well (though we do), it’s because ex-Pittsburghers already live there. And we’ve also converted anyone we can. So when Cowher chose to support the Hurricanes instead of the Penguins, he, in essence, chose Carolina over Pittsburgh as his identity. That one of our own would readily do so is reponsible for the hurt and disappointment that many of us feel.

I don’t particularly care to explain away Cowher’s decision based on his Raleigh business contacts or the possibility of coaching the Carolina Panthers one day. If he still saw himself as a Pittsburgher, he could have begged off taking part in such a public display as he gave during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.


The bottomline is that Cowher isn’t a Pittsburgher anymore, if he ever was. And yes I feel justified in making that statement based on his turncoat sporting allegiance. Perhaps his experiences at NC State and the pressure cooker of coaching the Steelers rendered him less able to embrace this part of his (former) heritage. Sure he had the accent and the roots but in some ways, he always seemed more of a hired hand than someone who embraces his city, like Mario Lemieux or Franco Harris have done.

Of course, I don’t wish Cowher any ill will. Many Steelers fans aren’t from Pittsburgh and so they are under no obligation to root for our other teams. They’re still part of the Steelers Nation. He was a fantastic coach for many, many years and I think Mike Tomlin winning a Superbowl in his second year has blinded some Steelers fans to the difficulty of winning it all. Cowher is welcome to turncoat again and root for the Penguins. But he won’t be doing so as a Pittsburgher.

May 202009

James Harrison is a bit of a nut. His first well-publicized reason for skipping the Steelers’ visit to the White House received headlines across the country.

“This is how I feel — if you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don’t win the Super Bowl. As far as I’m concerned, he [Obama] would’ve invited Arizona if they had won,” said Harrison.

Now the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has revealed that Harrison actually has a fear of flying.

Of course, Harrison is somehow gobsmacked that so many people have taken an interest in his personal decisions. Shocking how one of the highest profile players on the Superbowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers would attract attention. Get over it. If the White House invites you, GO. Don’t take a flight if you have a fear of flying. Pull a John Madden and take a bus or a boat or cycle or drive down for the event.

James Harrison, role model for Steelers Nation

It’s the fraking Pres-o-dent who is inviting you! YOU, James Harrison, who worked your way up from undrafted free agent to become the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. It doesn’t matter if Harrison agrees or disagrees with President Obama’s policies. If I was part of a Superbowl winning team, I would’ve gone even when George W. Bush was in office.

Harrison should realize what an honor he is receiving. This trip to the White House should remind him that however enjoyable FOOTBALL may be, and even if the President picked your team, that the really important people in this world ARE.NOT.JAMES.HARRISON. They are ones who have invited Harrison to the White House.

Apr 232009

I daresay I’m one of the few football fans out there who has little interest in the upcoming NFL draft. I may track who the Steelers take with their first couple picks but I don’t tune in to ESPN all day or get immersed in the minutiae of late round picks or talking about a potential draftee’s upside or the dreaded “value pick”. Give me a damn break.

Mel Kiper has to be one of the greatest snake oil salesmen in modern history. He whiffs on picks, mis-analyses players and generally mucks up the works. I remember a number of years ago, he claimed that the Steelers would regret for years afterwards not picking Chad Pennington, a player at the time whose greatest upside was that he was a “poor man’s Joe Montana”. As if.

I suppose that the draft is a time of hope for those who root for inferior teams. But I support a team and organization whose drafting prowess is so well-established that there’s really no point in my questioning their draft decisions. This year, the Steelers will be looking to shore up OL, DL and DB. They could also use some depth at WR and LB. Yes, I pretty much named every position except QB. No wait, the Steelers might need to draft a late-round QB for #3/#4 QB depth reasons.

Tony Mandarich, 1989

Tony Mandarch was a colossal flame-out.  Rod Woodson was a highly rated first round pick. James Harrison and Willie Parker went undrafted. Donovan McNabb was booed on draft day. Tom Brady was a 6th round pick. Joe Montana was a 3rd round pick. Tim Worley was drafted ahead of Emmitt Smith. Gabe Rivera was drafted by the Steelers instead of Dan Marino. I do get interested in where Pitt kids or my favorite college football fantasy players may get drafted but it’s still worth noting that Curtis Martin slipped into the 3rd round and had a Hall of Fame career nonetheless.

Wake me up when training camp starts. Otherwise, I think I’ll skip Kiper and his faux intensity.

Apr 072009

A quick list of the Grand Canyon State’s ever growing contingent of Pittsburgh-related coaching connections:

* Cardinals’ coach Ken Whisenhunt served most of his coaching career with the Steelers, ending as Offensive Coordinator.

* Whisenhunt’s top assistant Russ Grimm is from Scottsdale, played his college ball at Pitt and was Bill Cowher’s top assistant/offensive line coach with the Steelers.

* Cardinals’ defensive coordinator Billy Davis got his first start in NFL coaching with the Steelers.

* Arizona State head basketball coach Herb Sendek grew up in Pittsburgh, graduating from Penn Hills High School and Carnegie Mellon University.

* Finally, new University of Arizona head basketball coach Sean Miller is from Blackhawk High School and considered one of the best point guards ever to play for Pitt. He also spent some time as an assistant at Pitt.

Is that enough to convince you that Arizona = Pittsburgh West? Oh and there’s also Larry Fitzgerald.

Mar 292009

By and large, I consider myself to be a fortunate sports fan. My teams generally do well. Two Superbowl titles, 2 Stanley Cups, 7 Sweet Sixteens, 1 Elite Eight, 1 Champions League, 1 FA Cup, Curtis Martin, Larry Fitzgerald, many others. And someday the Pirates will get to .500 and all of Pittsburgh will go nuts.

I think a reasonable standard of expectation for a fan is for one’s teams to be in the hunt, in any given year. Nothing more, nothing less. All the crazies who expect a title every single season can stay in Lexington or Tuscaloosa or the Bronx.

In any given year, I expect that the Steelers will win 10+ games and have a shot at the Superbowl. I expect the Penguins to make the NHL playoffs and have a shot at the Stanley Cup. I expect that Pitt basketball will make the Field of 65 and have a shot to make a run to the Final Four. I expect Liverpool FC to contend for the Premiership, Champions League, and/or FA Cup titles. Eventually, I would like to expect that Pitt football will win 8-9 games in most years and once every few years when the pieces fall into place, they should contend for a national title.

Pitt vs Villanova

But even with what I believe are reasonable expectations, you inevitably get heart-breaking losses. I don’t have to tell you which loss I’m “mourning” today. I would have to say that Pitt’s loss to Villanova ranks second only to Francisco Cabrera’s single for Atlanta vs the Pirates in the 1992 NLCS. Even the Penguins recovered from David Volek. The Pirates have never recovered from that loss.

Pitt basketball is a strong program and they’ll rebound, rebuild and contend again. I know we had a successful season. I’m proud of how they battled and banged with the big boys. We’ll be back. I expect it.

Mar 262009

I want a salary cap and comprehensive revenue sharing in baseball. It’s the only way to ensure a proper competitive balance in the sport. It’s the only hope a small market team, such as my Pirates, have for contending on a regular basis. Every game that the NY Yankees or the Boston Red Sox play make this point even more painfully clear to me.

But the naysayers will point out that other small market teams have contended and even won the World Series. True though that may be, it hides the ugly reality that a well-run small market team (such as the Minnesota Twins or Oakland Athletics, NOT the Pirates) can only compete for a couple years in a given cycle. They will build a team, contend for a time, maybe even reach/win a World Series and then watch as their best and brightest leave for the big money spenders, such as New York, Chicago or Boston. Does anyone remember that Manny Ramirez began his career with the Cleveland Indians? Talk about the model small market franchise. The Indians drafted well, managed their payroll, tried to sign their stars to manageable contracts before their hit arbitration or free agency. They made the World Series and then went kerplunk!

World Series Trophy

A salary cap does NOT guarantee that every team will contend. But it does provide cost certainty such that any team, big market or small, will have a shot to retain its hard-earned, home-grown talent when the big money comes calling (without having to revert to the Reserve Clause).

In the NFL’s infancy, New York Giants owner Wellington Mara decided to give up what could have become a Yankees’ sized advantage in monies in favor of comprehensive revenue sharing. Later, the NFL adopted a salary cap that gives cost certainty to all teams. Today, Ben Roethlisberger is in the midst of a $102 million contract, Troy Polamalu is one of the highest paid players at his position and a team like the Washington Redskins is spending itself into oblivion. Well-run teams like the big market New York Giants or the medium market Pittsburgh Steelers continue to thrive by building rather than poaching.

If MLB did institute a salary cap, perhaps the Pirates would continue to lose; that wouldn’t surprise me one bit. But I think Wellington Mara would be pleased with the idea that well-run, well-built baseball teams would be afforded the opportunity to prosper for many, many years, not just 2-3 years.