additional tributes I've written dedicated to
my other favorites:
Turf Talk - Rants
and Raves from a Black and Gold Fanatic
to baseball, I have also done several editorial pieces on
football for various internet publications.
"Man down!" Its something you expect to hear on the battlefield, not Monday Night Football, yet it has become as much a part of the game ritual as the opening coin toss. Key players are dropping like flies and as a result, so are their team's statistics. Now I know that football is a physical game and that injuries are an occupational hazard, but what is amazing to me is the total destruction that one or two injured individuals are having on their team's overall performance.
In today's NFL, post-season playoff predictions are about as accurate as "The Magic 8 Ball" and what's even more shocking is the difference in adversity between the playoff teams of last season (that have lost superstars) and the "mediocre teams" of the past that are beating the odds with up-and-coming "no-name" rosters.
The Jets and Falcons were both picked to dominate the league on their way to the playoffs, but with season ending injuries to key "superstar" players, they'll be lucky to finish in the top 3 of their divisions. The Lions lose the greatest player ever to wear a blue and silver jersey, yet continue to compete and win big games against big teams. Look out "bookies", trend analysis is dead. The top 4 teams of last year are losing consistently, yet the Rams and Colts are looking better than they have in decades… I guess that's why they play the game.
How can "vintage" teams (with great records) "die on the vine" when a single player goes down? Where's the depth? Where's the fresh talent? And where's the desire to win? Can the winners of last year actually be this arrogant and dependant on individuals or were their teams just depleted by free agency? I think it's a little of both and a perfect example of what happens when David meets Goliath and the "little guy" decides to step up and make a statement.
Season ending injuries are becoming an NFL phenomena (worthy of an X-Files episode) and I think the NFL should start researching how to grow ACLs in a petri dish (or at least take a vested interest in stem cell research and bionics). Back in the day, players were tough, they didn't play for big money and they didn't get hurt (at least as often). I remember reading about a Steelers game where Hall of Fame Center "Iron" Mike Webster dislocated 4 fingers on a rushing play and reset them all (himself) in the huddle… I say forget the Cortisone, get out the Duct Tape!
As the football field continues to resemble a battlefield and the casualties continue to mount, more players will be called upon by their coaches to perform "under fire". You backups and rookies may want to spend a little more time with your playbooks (you may find yourself in the trenches sooner than expected) and you starters may want to stretch a little more before "the medics" come for you too.
They're the little guys that make you feel like even you could play professional football. They're the least popular players with the hardest names to pronounce. They have a one-page playbook and wear those "Hutch pads" that you ordered out of the JC Penney catalog when you were a kid. They also represent most of the teams leading scorers and win more football games (on their own) than any other player on the team… yeah that's right, I'm talking about the kickers.
How many times have we watched 2 teams slug it out toe-to-toe on both sides of the ball, only to have the guy you could use to get that same ball out of the sewer drain, come in and boot one through for the win? The nature of the position itself is quite simple; you either hit or miss… one chance, one play. Imagine the pressure, standing on the sidelines watching guys twice your size, with twice your salary, battling it out in the trenches, only to have them turn to you in the closing minutes to finish their job. It's a 50-50… You're either a hero, or they tape you to the lockers.
They can't catch, they can't scramble, they can't tackle, but WOW what a leg. They are the unsung heroes of the gridiron and have been responsible for some of the most exciting moments in football history. That brings up my latest controversy. The NFL issued a new official "Kicking" ball this season and it has caused quite a phenomena among the elite Special Teams. Future Hall of Famers, with more records than Elvis Presley, have been lucky to hit the broad side of a barn, yet rookie kickers have yet to miss.
Here is an example…
Gary Anderson is the All-Time leading scorer for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has set records in both Philadelphia and Minnesota and is at the top of the All-Time NFL scoring list BUT has been unable to put any points on the board with any consistency so far this season. Kris Brown is the rookie kicker for Anderson's old team (the Steelers). He has NO experience, NO records, BUT has been able to split the uprights, every time. And there's more...
"Marquee" kickers, like Morten Anderson from the Atlanta Falcons, (the same guy who won the NFC Championship last year) and others around the league, look like a bunch of "cross-eyed mules" kicking in the dark. Can it be this new ball? The one with a "K" marked on it? The "special" one officially sanctioned and delivered to each game by the NFL? The one that replaced the "other" balls that were not monitored? I know it sounds strange, but I can't help but wonder what these guys, the Hall of Famers, do to these unmonitored balls? Can you say "Spit Ball?" Now that I think about it, comparing them to baseball pitchers is probably a bad example. Vaseline's too expensive for these guy's salaries.
Rumors have included everything from rubbing them down with Cooking Oil to softening them in a microwave. Shocking stuff. I hear a talk show episode in the making, "This week on Jerry Springer, NFL Kicker Confessions." I know I'm probably picking on these guys, but I just find it hard to believe that decades of talent and skill can drift away during a single off-season. Its great to see the new rookies performing so well, but I would hate to think that veteran, record setting careers have been decided on choosing between Mazola's Corn or Vegetable!
Well sports fans, I've been looking forward to this one since the Browns (I mean Ravens), moved to Baltimore. One of the greatest rivalries in all of pro football renewed, different teams, same attitude. Let's welcome back the glorious "Rustbelt Rivalry of the Steelers versus the Browns!" One of the greatest love-hate relationships in all of football...
What? That's It? What a rip off! I want my money back. Where was the fight - the passion - the blood, guts and glory? My guess is that it must be locked up in one of the NFL Film vaults somewhere in New Jersey.
Glad to see that things haven't changed in Cleveland, don't get me wrong, I welcome the Browns back with the rest of the NFL, but only because it's 2 guaranteed wins and also provides the Steelers with a couple of extra practice sessions before taking on the "real" teams.
The opening ceremony was "touching" as the NFL tried to displace some of their guilt left over from the "Modell move". I enjoyed Drew Carey's introduction speech about "Anyone who has ever laughed at a Cleveland joke…Shut Up". I got news for you Drew… we're still laughing. Maybe you should've spent less money on fireworks, dog masks and plastic bones; and more money on talent.
I understand that this was the welcome home party for an "expansion team", and that the Steelers would've got a better challenge out of the school for the blind, but 43-0? Come on... I don't buy the "new guys in an unfamiliar system" excuse. You had an expansion draft, special consideration draft (which landed you the QB favorite), training camp, and preseason to learn to work together. Even NFL Europe and Pro Bowl, teams made up of guys who've never spoken to each other, can execute a play or two and get a first down once in a while.
Stewart, Bettis, Huntley, Edwards, the entire Offensive and Defensive lines all had great games. In fact there were too many standouts really to name. The stats, when compared, were so mismatched that you really have to look at this as an extended pre-season game and hope that they keep up the momentum going into Week 2.
As for the Dawg pound, (and the rest of Cleveland), I hope that your team continues to improve. After your opening performance, you've got no where to go, but up. Remember the old days… It would be nice to get back to the in your face, smash mouth football that made this rivalry so great. So go home and practice, we'll be waiting.
Well, its late Friday night and I still haven't got that bad taste out of my mouth after that disgusting display of "throw-it-away" football that is becoming a standard in the Pittsburgh Steelers playbook. The Browns can lose every other game this season, and still consider themselves a success. They earned it, but with a lot of help from the home team.
The media is having a field day with this one (once again, clearing their consciences after the Art Modell move) and the Steelers and Coaches have come under fire like those beach landing troops in "Saving Private Ryan". Bad play calling, penalties and lack of emotion can't even begin to describe the cause of this "Rustbelt Rivalry" upset.
There were more people missing in this one than in "The Blair Witch Project". Where was the #2 Defense? Yes they had 6 sacks, but gave up crucial yardage and committed several major penalties that resulted in points. Where was the Offensive "Genius" of Kevin Gilbride? In other words, where were the Pittsburgh Steelers?
And worst of all... Where was the heart and soul of our team? The one who put the "I" in INTENSE. The ONLY one you can depend on in Black and Gold Country. Where was OUR coach?
Bill Cowher appeared to be in some form of shock. (At least I hope it was shock.) He showed none of his trademark emotions… no spitting and swearing, no flying headsets and no in your face screaming that used to make Josh Miller wet his pants. Where was the angry guy in the embarrassing Dr. Pepper commercial? (I'm still trying to forget that one.) By the way, Josh is now one of the most consistent performers on the team and a Pro-Bowl quality punter.
Wonder why? I don't. Bill Cowher brings out the best in people whether they like it or not. "Look around Bill, it worked for Josh, why not the rest of your roster."
I am a Black and Gold die-hard and will continue (as I always have) to cheer my team and my coach, but lately, I haven't seen them on the field. The season is half over and time is running out. Forget about Y2K Steeler Fans, we may be on the verge of a new millennium, but it sure feels a lot like the 80's.
Well here we go again, a new off-season controversy. First let me start out by admitting that I'm the type of guy who probably spends way too much time on sports, always supporting my Pittsburgh teams, win or lose, year after year. I'm also the guy who never loses faith. My teams are always headed for the championship. The Pens WILL win the Cup and the Steelers WILL get one for the thumb (The Pirates? Who cares, I'm a Yankees fan.) Bill Cowher may not be god, but I'm sure he's got first dibs on Heaven's Defensive Coordinator position. In other words, I'm the guy who can debate sports all day long to a non-black and gold fan as long as they understand that my opinions are always right (no matter what the stats say).
This being said, I also find myself having these same debates with other Steeler die-hards and the latest contract extension for Kordell Stewart (5 year, $27 million, thru 2003) is a perfect example.
When Kordell first came on the scene, he was electrifying. A true star athlete who made defensive coordinators cringe. His ability to play any position and make incredible plays out of desperate situations was second to none and Steeler fans quickly embraced him with a passion not seen since the dynasty days. When he was moved up to the starting QB position, he remained a leading quarterback with mobility, speed and power. He had some incredible comebacks and ended a great starting season by taking us all the way to another AFC championship game. Fans were quick to propose that he was perhaps another Terry Bradshaw and that this could be our ticket back to the glory days… and then it happened…
As usual in Steeler Country the team had to deal with another successful Offensive Coordinator leaving and another (different style) Coordinator arriving. Chan Gaily was an expert at recognizing player's capabilities and building an Offensive scheme around them while Ray Sherman attempted to convert players into an existing Offensive scheme. The result was devastating. A team already known for losing key talent was now known for losing, period.
Now I realize that Kordell still has a lot of growing up to do. His behavior on and off the field this season left something to be desired, but his performance was also impeded by a new coach, injured offensive line, inconsistent running game and the loss of his go-to guy Yancey Thigpen.
This was intensified by living up to the previous year's performance while trying to learn the position of a NFL Quarterback. He did make mistakes, but no more than any other inexperienced player. As a result, many fans have already turned on Kordell.
I admit I miss the Slash days, but I also recognize the potential that he has and his performance over the last two seasons has shown what he can and can't do. I feel he needs to concentrate on football. No more video game photo shoots and telephone commercials, just playbooks and game films. We want Kordell Stewart the athlete, not the marketing machine. Pittsburgh's not about that (and hopefully never will be). You want endorsements, move to Dallas, you want smash mouth, in your face football with blood, mud, guts and glory… Welcome to the 'Burg.
I'll also admit that I'm not used to losing either, but many die-hards can recall the early losing seasons delivered by another young and inexperienced quarterback named Terry Bradshaw. Kordell is a talent and like any talent, he needs time to grow. So be patient and give Kordell a chance. Cowher has already made some good decisions in obtaining the new Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride (previously with San Diego, Jacksonville and Houston) and also obtaining a quarterback coach.
The Steelers organization made a good business decision in signing this extension. First, it helps to take some pressure off the upcoming salary caps. Second, it shows that the team is committed to repairing the Offense as opposed to rebuilding it. Finally… If he does live up to his potential, we've retained a star and if he doesn't, someone else with buy him out via free agency and hand the Rooney's a big check. It's a win-win situation and that's just what the Steelers need.
First, let me begin with an apology. Let me say it, right here, right now, typed out in big bold letters for everyone to see, go on, print it out and hang it on the wall. To my wife, my friends, anyone who has ever argued with me in a NFL chatroom and anyone who has ever read any of my editorials. "I'm sorry… you told me so."
For the past 2 seasons, I have gone against the media and the majority in support of Kordell Stewart. I have argued his case with undying loyalty and patience. Does this sound familiar guys… "Give him time, he's in a learning stage… OK, we lost, but look at his potential…" and "He's just trying to get used to the offense."
I blamed the Coordinators, the Playbooks, the Offensive Line, Free Agency and El Nino'. Wow, was I wrong and I want to do this for a living? Looks like I better keep my day job.
OK, now that I have cleared my conscience, its time for me to start this argument all over again…
Do I think Kordell Stewart is capable of being a starting Quarterback in the NFL? … No!
Do I think Kordell Stewart is a talented athlete that can provide a great Offensive threat as an Option Quarterback / Running Back / Wide Receiver in the NFL? …Absolutely!
Forget about that guy, Number 10, laying on his back in his own End Zone after fumbling a snap… instead, remember that guy, yes Number 10, running, passing, receiving and even punting his way through countless ESPN Plays of the Week. He was the definitive Utility Player and his name was "SLASH".
He made miracles happen and routine plays worthy of a NFL Films segment. He struck fear in Defensive Coordinators everywhere and most importantly, he won football games. Get rid of this Kordell guy and put in "SLASH"!
What I still find amazing is HOW did this happen? How can (what appeared to be) the greatest Steeler Quarterback since Terry Bradshaw, turn from Slash to Trash?
Fan speculation has varied and fingers have been pointed at many suspects. Is it due to Free Agency and the loss of a supporting cast that included O'Donnell, Thigpen, C. Johnson and Searcy? Maybe, but he's still calling snaps from the best center in the league, has a very talented group of receivers to pick from and of course, has the "BUS" to drive it up the middle. Some of the names on the program may be different, but it's still the same show.
Some blame the Offensive Coordinators. I got news for you; the Pittsburgh Steelers don't run what you would call a "Complicated Offense". AFC Central Teams play "ground game, smash mouth football" and it's not much of a science. In fact, I bet if you laid out the last 4 coaches (including Earhardt's, Gailey's, Sherman's and Gilbride's) playbooks, all side by side, they wouldn't look that much different. Let's be honest, Pittsburgh has always been about complicated Defense, not Offense and that brings up another question…
Forget about the Offense for a minute, what about the Defense? They lost a bunch of guys too and not just players, these guys are future Hall of Famers. Remember the 60-Minute Men? Lloyd, Greene, Woodson and Lake? They lost their share of Coordinators too. Blitzburgh Wizards like Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau have moved on to Division Rivals, yet the Legacy of the "Steel Curtain" lives on. Our Defense is playing outstanding, but you can't win a football game without putting some points on the board. Haslett has been great, but I credit the consistent success to Bill Cowher, after all, that's where his experience and talents come from.
I also give credit to Cowher for sticking by his man and providing more personal attention and nurturing, than any professional athlete deserves. The media and fans have both publicly attacked him, yet he stood by his convictions and did his best to turn things around. We applaud your efforts, but enough is enough. We all want to believe in "Cowher Power" but we also want to win.
Bill, we believe in you, listen to the experts, listen to the fans and most importantly, listen to your instincts. Yes we still want to see Number 10 on the field, the one who makes us Terrible Towel waving maniacs stand up on our seats, the one who strikes fear in Defensive Backs everywhere… the one called "SLASH".
In other words, let the kid play HIS position… ALL of them.
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