Steeler Behaving Badly

May 29, 2006

Hope your memorial day was a lot less eventful than the one enjoyed by Steeler rookie Santonio Holmes. The team’s top draft choice was arrested reportedly after becoming verbally belligerent with a South Beach police officer. So how will it affect his career with the Steelers? I don’t think it will do any lasting damage.

Let’s face it. Holmes is not the first football player to get into trouble with the law and won’t be the last. He will likely get a stern lecture from the Steelers — a team that pays more than lip service to the character issue. But as long as he produces on the field, fans will forgive and forget. It’s not exaggeration to say that you can do anything short of physically injuring someone and be forgiven by the fans and the team as long as you play well. It’s sad, but it’s true. Holmes first job is to catch footballs, not be a role model.

Here’s where he will feel the heat. Holmes has not signed his contract yet. In fact, negotiations have barely begun. The Steelers — a team that is very wise when it comes to finances — will likely hold the arrest over Holmes head during negotiations and that will like lead to the rookie getting a little less money than expected.

On a personal note, I don’ think the arrest will have a lasting impact on the perception of Holmes here in Pittsburgh. He made a great first impression when he arrived and I think this is an isolated incident of a kid ( 21 years old ) partying with his friends and going a little overboard. I just hope Holmes has learned his lesson and learned just how lucky he is.

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First Impressions

May 26, 2006

Just met the new general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ray Shero. If first impressions are any indication, I like the choice of Craig Patrick. Shero comes from Nashville with confidence and excitement, but no promises of a quick fix to the Pens on-ice woes. He believes the Pens can find success in the salary cap system by bringing to Pittsburgh the right type of free agent ( that means no Ziggy Palffy or his ilk ).

While he thanked Mario for his confidence in him, Lemieux says he had nothing to do with the decision. In fact, he met Shero for the first time Thursday morning. This is clearly team president Ken Sawyer’s choice and it will ultimately be his lasting imprint on the franchise.

I was also impressed with how candid Shero was about his initial apprehension about retaining coach Michel Therrien. That was part of the deal and Shero says while he had doubts initially, he believes he can work and win with Therrien at the helm.

Finally, Shero seems unfazed by the team’s perilous situation regarding a new arena for the team or the possibility they could leave town. Then again, why should Shero worry. He’s got a five-year contract and his job and team payroll remains the same whether the team plays here or in Kansas City.

Good luck Roy!

Quick!

Who’s the NFL’s second all-time leading rusher and how many yards did he gain?
Who’s second in goals all-time in NHL history and how many did he put in the net?
Who has scored the second-most points in the history of the NBA and how many did he pour through the hoop?

Baffled?
Bewildered?

OK, let’s try this one more time.

Who has the second most home runs in history and how many did he hit?

The answer should be an easy one but at the same time, it should make you scratch your head. Why in the world do we and celebrate the person in second place on baseball’s all-time home run list? Not since Avis has a runner-up received so much acclaim. Of course, we all know the reason why. It’s because second place belongs ( at least for the moment ) to Babe Ruth.

George Herman Ruth may arguably be the greatest athlete in the history of sports. After all, there is no other athlete who we continue to recognize once his record has fallen. While I can understand Ruth’s greatness and impact on baseball, I think it’s gone overboard to the point of obession. Barry Bonds has passed the Babe ( drug free as far as we know for sure ) and yet, Bonds story was second this weekend to a horse that broke his leg during a race.

But at least Barry is getting some love. Imagine being Hank Aaron. He toiled for four decades is virtual anonimity before breaking Babe’s mark and yet his career total of 755 is hardly celebrated. It’s the true record but for some reason it ranks second in the nation’s conscience to Ruth’s mark. Whether it’s race or just revence, it’s wrong.

Film Critic At Large

May 20, 2006

I not much of a movie-goer. That’s why I have on-demand. But Friday, I joined an invitation-only crowd at Heinz Field for the premiere of the Steelers Highlight film. On a day when the world was in a tizzy over the DaVinci Code ( and remember folks, it’s only a movie ), I saw a less controversial and possibly more moving film.

NFL Films was the original creator of the sports movie put to music genre. They have a knack for making the violent world of pro football seem like a symphony. They especially excel in making even the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers ( who went 0-14 ) seem like world champs. Imagine what they can do with an actual world champion.

NFL Films producer John Weiss ( who has done the last 16 Steeler hilight films ) got the chance to do a championship film for his beloved Steelers for the first time and he not only did a moving tribute to the team, he did something I have never seen before. He made a film where the most dramatic portion did not involve football. The first two minutes of the film has no football and no Steeler black and gold. It takes you on the road with the Steelers. Following the team bus as it drives by stadiums in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver — and then to Detroit. It all represents the road the Steelers traveled to get to the Super Bowl. I thought it was creative and got me geared up to see the final 20 minutes which was your typical hilight film.

I plan to get around to seeing the DaVinci Code, but after hearing the reviews on this first day of it’s release I think I got the better deal down at Heinz Field. Then again, we might have a few Bengals fans calling for a protest of the Steeler film because of what Kimo von Oelhoffen did to Carson Palmer in the play-off game.

Let me preface this by saying I have never lost a close family member. I did lose my college roommate in a drunk driving accident, but never someone in my family and never someone as close to me as Jamie Dixon was to his sister, Maggie. Thus, I will not try to pretend that I know how Jamie is feeling and would have understood if he chose never to address the local media on the topic.

That is why I am so impressed with Jamie Dixon. Not only sharing his grief, but taking time to publicly thank those who have supported his family during this emotional time. Jamie’s address in front of his offices at the Pete was both moving and sincere, both stoic and emotional. He shared stories of his sister and the love others have for her — whether they had met her or not. He did not cry or get emotional, but the sadness in his eyes was apparent. He lost more than just a sibling. He lost his best friend.

How will Maggie’s loss affect Jamie? Who can really know. What we did learn today is that Maggie maybe gone, but she will never be forgotten. Her spirit, her drive and her magic will live on in her brother. That, Jamie can guarantee. He will keep Maggie’s flame burning. Not just for Maggie, but for all of you who suffered along with Jamie and his family during this sudden and unexpected death.

Porter And The Prez

May 17, 2006

It didn’t take long for Steelers linebacker Joey Porter to ruffle a few feathers. Over the weekend, Porter joked that when the Steelers visit the White House on June 2nd, he would “have something to say to (President George) Bush because I don’t like the way things are going right now.” I was there when Joey made those comments and I can assure you he was merely kidding around. He was laughing the whole time. Joey joked about having to pay a large amount in taxes on April 15th, and wanting to know who FICA is as well as pondering what Uncle Sam looks like. When it hit the papers the next day, it may have looked as if he was taking a shot at ‘Ol G.W. That was simply not the case. Porter issued a statement basically apologizing for his comments, but to me, that was not necessary. Anyone who knows Joey Porter knows that while he’s ferocious on the field, off the field he’s one of the most genuine people you will ever meet. I just feel bad that because somebody’s nose got out of joint over something he said in a joking manner, he’s being treated like a threat to national security. You can check out J-Peezy’s comments right here:

Steelers Mini Camp

May 16, 2006

Steelers mini-camp is now over and I must say I was impressed with what I saw overall. The rookies looked very poised both on and off the field. They seem to know that this is their job now and they’ll be expected to perform. I liked what I saw from both Santonio Holmes and Willie Reid. Both are fast, explosive wideouts which could add some spark to the Steeler passing game. Rookie TE Charles Davis is HUGE! Don’t be suprised to see him in the lineup as a blocker on some goaline packages this season. I was also very impressed with rookie OL Willie Colon. He’s from New York, so you know he’s got street smarts, but he’s also got a bit of common sense. When I asked him how his first taste of NFL action was going, he said: “It’s a great time, man. I’m ejoying it, they got my locker next to (Alan) Faneca’s so, I’m keeping my mouth shut and taking notes.” See, in college, football players are told when to eat, when to practice, when to study, and when to sleep. In the NFL, you’re pretty much left to your own devices. This year’s crop of Steeler rookies seems to understand that, which will make the transition from college to the pros a lot easier.

Terry’s Talking

May 16, 2006

While the majority of the Pittsburgh media staked out the South Side and checked out the newest crop of Steelers at mini-camp Cowher, I was on the links at Nevillewood. Not playing, but rather waiting for a few moments with Terry Bradshaw. The former Steelers Super Bowl hero has begun to ingrain himself in Pittsburgh once again. This time, serving as celebrity host of the Extra Mile Foundation golf outing.

The rain kept the turnout low, but Terry was still his bright self. He signed balls and programs and even took a picture with a man whom he had taken a photo with when he was just 11 years old. That was 31 years ago.

After some swings on the range to loosen up a back made stiff by surgery three months earlier, Terry let loose on the topic de jour — Big Ben’s bike habits. Terry says while he still feels riding without a helmet is a bad idea, and he refuses to back off his statement from last summer which got everyone flustered, he says he loves Ben. He is proud of what the third-year quarterback has done in two NFL seasons and believes Ben can do it again. He told us that he and Ben have not spoken in nearly a year and that Ben refused to shake his hand at their last encounter. Is Ben still upset about Terry’s take on his helmet-less riding? Terry says he doesn’t know and he could care less.

Bradshaw has never looked for approval. Not from ownership, not from the fans and certainly not from a quarterback less than half his age. Maybe that’s why we all love Terry — he takes no prisoners and makes no apologies.

Teed Off Tracy

May 12, 2006

The difference between Lloyd McClendon and Jim Tracy are stark. Mac wore his heart on his sleeve and often reacted with emotion. Tracy is measured and reserved in his responses. But Thursday, we learned Tracy is anything but robotic in his responses when he feels passionately about a subject.

Tracy was asked before Thursday’s rainout how much longer he would stick with Oliver Perez and Jeromy Burnitz — both clearly performing well below advertised. Tracy took exception — saying not only would he not comment on the matter again but also he had nobody on the bench to stick into these slots.

We’ve been joking that Tracy maybe at the end of his rope, but this was the first time we actually saw the noose forming. He’s not used to such chaos and futility and his demeanor showed that.

What can Tracy do? Not much when it comes to saving this season, but his passion and I believe his ego will not allow him to become the last Pirate manager to fail. I wondered if Tracy had the passion to lead the Pirates. By virtue of his answer to a seemingly innocent question, I think he does.

Make Way For Haynes

May 10, 2006

Steelers mini-camp is coming up this weekend and there are certainly plenty of players I’ll be interested in talking to. Big Ben and his trip to Switzerland is high on my list, but believe it or not, it’s not at the top. No, I’m eager to speak to Steeler running back Verron Haynes. I must admit, I was suprised he was able to re-sign with the Black and Gold. When Haynes became a free agent, I figured a player as versatile as him would be in high demand on the open market. It didn’t turn out that way, but at the end of the day, I think it’s a good thing for both team and player. Haynes can do it all, he can run, catch, and he’s a demon on special teams. In short, he’s the ultimate team player. (By the way, he’s a pretty good dancer, too! Ever see him during pre-game warmups?) He’s just the type of player Bill Cowher covets. Hopefully, Haynes will get more chances with the Steeler offense in 2006. You Steeler fans should be happy he’s still a member of your team! We’ll be talking much more about Steelers mini-camp this week on McDondald’s Action Sports Sunday, I’ll be joined by Steelers beat writer Joe “The Shark” Bendel of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

How cool was tonight’s Pirates win over the Diamondbacks!

Ian Snell shut down and shut out Arizona. Rookie catcher Ronny Paulino not only handled the staff smartly, he hit his first major league home run. Freddy Sanchez, starting in place of the injured Jack Wilson, got this party started with a first inning RBI double. Even Jeromy Burnitz ( barely batting his weight ) was a defensive wizard with a couple of crucial catches.

This is the way it was supposed to be. This is the way the Pirates were supposed to play coming out of the gate. Where the heck has this kind of effort been for the first month?

While it might be too late for the Pirates to turn around their season and finish the year .500, at least they have evened their home mark. The crucial lesson from tonight’s win was that the talent is there and these kids can be stars when they play and put it all together. While it was one game, it offered a ray of hope for a team that has seemed devoid of it the last 13 years.

Tracy’s Last Stand

May 9, 2006

The Pirates open a nine-game homestand Tuesday — starting with the Arizona Diamondbacks, followed by the Florida Marlins and finishing up with the Cincinnati Reds. I think it’s safe to say this is the most important series of the season for Jim Tracy and his team. I might go so far as to say this is the last stand for the 2006 Pirates.

Pittsburgh opens with six games against the Diamondbacks and Marlins — two beatable teams — but if the Bucs can’t win either series, they could tumble into a hole that they may never climb out of against the visiting Reds. At 9-24, Pittsburgh still has hope to make the season interesting. Remember, they are a 6-7 team at PNC Park. Respectable by any measure. If they play a few games over .500, they might actually get this town excited about baseball again.

But if the Bucs tailspin continues on home turf, succeeding road series against the Indians and the Diamondbacks could put Pittsburgh 20 games back with no hope of ever getting out of the basement.

Folks, I’m a baseball fan and I try to be as positive as possible, but this is getting out of hand. I’m a sportscaster and I don’t want to watch the games anymore. It’s so bad I’m actually looking forward to the NFL version of spring football – mini-camp. Yes, I love the Steelers, but mini-camp is nothing more than a elaborate walk thru. Please , please Pirates — save me! Win some games and make me care about you again.

714.

In baseball, it’s the magic number. The number that defines greatness and Babe Ruth’s legacy. It’s a standard only hitter has ever surpassed — Hank Aaron.

714 is the number of home runs hit by Ruth during his Hall-of-Fame career and the number will soon be passed for a second time by Barry Bonds. But what I didn’t know about 714? That Ruth reached that number right here in Pittsburgh.

The date was May 25th, 1935 at the Old Forbes Field. Ruth — at the time a member of the Boston Braves — stepped up to the plate in the last of the ninth against Pirate pitcher Guy Bush. Ruth was already having a great day — having homered twice.

In this at-bat, Ruth hit Bush once again. This time — to right center field. Estimates at the time say the ball traveled some 600 feet. Of course, with time, everything seems bigger and better. Ruth would play his final game five days later and end his career with 714 home runs.

At least Barry Bonds can take heart in one thing. Just like Ruth in 1935, there will be no sanctioned celebration of his 714th blast.

Rooting For Ronny

May 3, 2006

Have you noticed the Pirates starters have been a lot more effective since catcher Ronny Paulino’s been behind the plate? I sure have. This guy seems to have the Midas Touch when it comes to working with the Buccos talented but inconsistent starting pitchers. Victor Santos pitched solid on Monday night in Chicago, it’s not his fault that Chris Duffy couldn’t lay down a bunt. Then on Tuesday, Zach Duke looked like….well…Zach Duke with a much-needed complete game shutout over the Cubbies (and he laid down a nice bunt in the later innings!) The common denominator: you guessed it, Ronny Paulino. Other than Oliver Perez, the entire staff has seemingly pitched better with Paulino at the helm. I really like his demeanor out on the field, he’s nice and calm and the Bucco hurlers seem to be more at ease with him calling games. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ryan Doumit a lot, but I sure hope his return off the DL doesn’t mean less playing time or a demotion for Paulino. In addition to his work at the dish, he can hit a little bit, too. A catcher that calls a good game and can hit, what a concept!

It’s inevitable, he tells me.

Bill Cowher says even though he’s won the biggest game in pro football and the monkey is finally off his back, he knows he will be second-guessed the minute he loses two games in a row this season. Welcome to the NFL.

It’s Cowher’s understanding of this Janet Jackson version of pro football reality — and his way of dealing with it —
that has changed my opinion of the coach over the past year. I always felt Bill Cowher was the greatest motivator
in pro football, but failed in his execution. I always felt he tried to control everything on his team, rather than
let his assistants do their jobs. All this changed this season.

His maturity and development as a coach was evident this year and I think that’s the single biggest reason the Steelers won the Super Bowl. Yet after his ultimate victory, coach Cowher was humble and today he’s already talking about forgetting about the title. He’s telling his players to focus on the season to come. It would have been easy for
him to tell the world “I told you so” after winning Super Bowl XL. Instead, he remains humble and believes there is
still work to be done.

I know we media types aren’t supposed to have a rooting interest, but I’m pulling for coach Cowher. I want him to
win another Super Bowl because I have never seen anyone handle success with such humility.