Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Wrong Shirt?

Of course, during an uneventful first official day of Super Bowl Week, the biz n’ the buzz was about the Bus – or, actually, it was about his teammates who were wearing green, Notre Dame #6 jerseys to pay tribute to their leader and his return to Motown.

It kinda makes me wish that I coulda scored a Media Day pass just to show up – as America’s least-recognized, but most-feared iconoclast – wearing a WHITE, Notre Dame #5 jersey.
(Y’know, it sez on my bio that I was a print journalist for 10 years … before the locusts ate my crops … )

I’d’ve gotten in Bus’ head with:
“I'm a little disappointed that you are paying tribute to Rodney … ”
Well, that’s not really a question.

The white Notre Dame #5 jersey is what Rodney Culver was wearing when he rushed for 93 yards in his final game for the Irish – a 39-28 win over the blue-shirted Florida Gators in the ’92 Sugar Bowl.

Bettis was the MVP of that Sugar Bowl, finishing with 150 yards rushing, the bulk of which came on TD bursts of 49 and 39 yards in the final quarter.

Rodney Culver was Notre Dame’s lone team captain that season (’91).

Rodney Culver, like Bettis, was from Detroit (St. Martin dePorres High).

Rodney Culver had a Super Bowl experience (albeit not a memorable one) with the Chargers in Jan. ‘95.

Unfortunately, Rodney Culver didn’t live to see his 27th birthday because he died, with his wife, in that ValuJet plane crash in the Florida Everglades less than a year-and-a-half after that Super Bowl.

They ask me, “What’s your fascination with death?”

Actually, it’s more like an obsession … a mission to remember those who are gone, but are not to be forgotten. Rodney Culver and his wife left behind two young kids in that crash almost 10 years ago … and there aren’t too many more-terrifying ways to check out than a plane crash.

It gives ya the willies ...

What's the harm in following the lead of Sweetness … y’know, rewinding to the day when, moments after he’d broken Jim Brown’s NFL career rushing record, Walter Payton put a different spin on the postgame excitement by saluting his fallen running back brethren.

“This is for the Brian Piccolos and the Joe Delaneys and the David Overstreets … ”

Sweetness did that in the heat of the moment.
If ya gave a current NFL player an hour to name five players who were in the NFL prior to 1990, he could name two, maybe three.
Which is probably why I won’t wear my #36 Rams jersey to school tomorrow.

Of course, when I mentioned the white Notre Dame #5 jersey to Mrs. PF7, she immediately quipped,
“Why? For Blair Kiel?”
Good one, hun.

And, when you get right down to it, maybe Bus didn’t want to play favorites by wearing a white Notre Dame #5 because then he’d have to break out a Notre Dame #90 jersey and a Notre Dame #31 jersey for two of his other dead-before-30 Irish teammates, Jeff Alm and Demetrius DuBose.

Alm was 25-year-old Houston Oiler in '93, who, in the middle of an 11-game win streak, crashed his car into a guard rail late one night and, in the aftermath of seeing his buddy fatally ejected from the passenger seat, went into the trunk of the car, pulled out a shotgun and committed suicide.

DuBose, on the other hand, was 28 and on coke and X when he was shot 12 times by San Diego police in 1999.
Oh, those Lou Holtz recruits ...

Sure, I recognize that nobody makes a Rodney Culver retro/throwback jersey ... and, yeah, I grasp the concept that Bettis is the big-bodied boy who became the bull-of-a-back and stole the stardom which seemed better suited to more-flamboyant fat-boy RBs such as Ironhead Heyward and Ickey Woods.

(Although it is always amusing how a doofus like Schlereth – who, like a lot of people, believes that football was invented in 1992 – informs EspyTime’s 18-34 demographic that Bettis is maybe the best big back in the history of the NFL … WRONG! This discussion begins and ends with Earl Campbell, okay, jackass?)

Wait a sec … THIS looks like breaking news. The Seahawks’ van had a fender-bender Monday and a few players were jolted … but the Steelers’ bus had a cargo hatch open and, uh-oh, here we go ... game on! The Seahawks are gonna start bitchin’ about how their vehicle mishap isn’t getting the respect that the Steelers’ vehicle mishap is.

Fine. Be that way. See if I care.

Let’s see ya stop me when I put on my Notre Dame #3 Arnaz Battle jersey instead of a Notre Dame #3 Rick Mirer jersey (to give props to the guy who performed all of those Bettis/Culver handoffs at N.D. before a storied Seahawk career) or a Notre Dame #3 Joe Montana jersey …


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Peak Performance

Back in a previous life of mine (before the locusts ate my crops), one of the requirements of my newspaper job was to select an Athlete of the Week. Y’know … just so the local jocks could feel good about themselves and maybe score some free swag and street cred from their friends who worked at Subway and/or the Gap.
Although it’s long in my past, the selecting of weekly/monthly/yearly MVPs is something that’ll never grow old, it seems. Everybody does it … y’know, has that favourite athlete always penciled in as their Athlete of the Week/Month/Year.

On the scoreboard in my mind, you can imagine how lonely it gets when I’m looking for the Athlete of the Weekend – on a weekend in which Roethlisberger isn’t active.
Now that I think about it, if I had to pick an Athlete of the Week, it’s gotta be that guy on that Citi commercial on TV. You’ve seen him … that Asian dude who is holding that piece of paper folded into quarters and, while using a pair of garden shears, he snips-snips-snips the paper and makes frequent rotations of the paper as he snips-snips-snips some more while a lovely piano melody serves as the backdrop – and then when that guy unfolds the paper, presto!
He shows off two dragons flanking a heart with a peace sign inside.
That … rocks!
More so than Cobes hoisting a basketball 30-40 times.
Good frickin’ gravy … World B. Free can chuck the ball 35, 45, 55 times.
World B. Free cannot gimme two dragons, a heart and a peace sign.
I’m just hopin’ that someone doesn’t burst my bubble and tell me that it was trick photography, an optical illusion or magic scissors which produced those two dragons, the heart and the peace sign.

So, yeah … my first inkling was that it might be a long and uninteresting weekend, but then late Friday, I came to learn that the “official cause of death” for Terry Long is now in the books (24 hours after I’d blogged about the 11 Steelers which we’ve lost in strange or untimely fashion in the past 10 years).
Terry Long did not die from cerebral meningitis.
He died from drinking antifreeze … thus, succeeding in a suicide attempt after failing at an attempted suicide 14 years earlier by using rat poison to say “goodbye, cruel world” when the NFL suspended him for violating the steroid, errrrrr … drug policy.

The Official Terry Long Suicide Odyssey upsets me because now I have to re-open my own case files and see if his antifreeze cocktail was more weird or mixed-up than Justin Strzelczyk’s final 24 hours, Mike Webster’s final two years, Joe Gilliam’s rehab hijinks or David Woodley’s self-destruction.
If you put it to music, basically what you have is Jim Carroll singing “People Who Died” … back in the days when Jim Carroll was an underground legend, avant garde folklorist and heroin abuser (and before he was portrayed by Leo DiCaprio in “The Basketball Diaries”).
Teddy sniffin’ glue, he was 12 years old / Fell from the roof on East Two Nine / Cathy was 11 when she pulled the plug / On 26 reds and a bottle of wine … Sly in Vietnam / Took a bullet in the head / Bobby O.D.’ed on Drano / On the night that he was wed ..."
I guess there’s always a stanza that the amateur poet can throw in there for Terry Long, given the fact that there are lotsa words which rhyme with “Prestone” (but not too many, if any, which rhyme with “Zerex”).

It’s “tough luck” for Terry Long – yet, he’s a figure who is eligible for the “To Be Mocked” list because any time people make a conscious decision to let down other people, yup … they’re fair game to be mocked, all rightee.
It kinda reminds ya of Chaz when he tells John Beckwith, “What an IDD-DEE-ITTT! Ma, the meatloaf!”

Of course, I was pullin’ a Chaz at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday when I was up watchin’ Federer vs. Baghdatis in the Aussie Open final. Federer, to me, is very much like the antidote (a “serum,” if you will) any time that college basketball toxins threaten my bloodstream or vital organs.
Federer is “a shot-maker.” College b-ball is 97 percent of “shot-missers.”
I also think it’s kinda cool the way that Federer wears actual tennis gear (white socks, white sneakers) while college b-ballers wear black socks, black sneakers … which, if you tossed some Bermuda shorts into the mix, is what your dad was wearing when he was mowing the lawn in 1968.
That attire might’ve been allowed to slide back in ’68.
But it looks mega-lame when you’re b-ballin’ it in ‘05/’06 with the matching trifecta – y’know … your weight, your shooting percentage and your GPA are all the same number (“226”).

Back to Federer: I was not at all offended by his neon-green headware/white-boy-doo-rag-thing and his neon-green wristband (both furnished by Nike).
Surprisingly, EspyTime Theater’s SporkCenter provided me with a fascinating graphic which paralleled Federer and Eldrick Woods, at the same point in their careers, each had won seven Grand Slam championships (or “majors”), so, no … I guess El Tigre doesn’t walk on water after all.
If Eldrick starts wearing a neon-green doo-rag and a neon-green wristband then mayyyyy-beeee I’d buy into his act.
As it stands, any time you have a superstar whose last name begins with “Fed-“, everybody’s thoughts are going to gravitate immediately toward “Fedorov” or “Mr. Britney Federline.”

Well, as the pre-Super Bowl Week dead week flickers out, it’s time to get serious about the task which lays ahead for the Steelers. Seems like recently, everybody and his pet llama is makin’ a big deal outta callin’ ‘em “the No. 6-seeded Steelers.”
How the Steelers got mixed up in an RPI, bracket-buster controversy is beyond me.
“Number six seed ..." – as if they went 9-7 and backed into the playoffs to tangle with the No. 1-seeded Colts (no important games in the final five weeks), the No. 2-seeded Broncos (no playoff success post-Elway), the No. 3-seeded Bengals (frighteningly-bad losses in the final two regular-season games), the No. 4-seeded Jaguars (ever since CBS cancelled “JAG” … didn’t they beat William & Mary and The Citadel to get in?) and the No. 5-seeded Patriots (reputation rather than on-field talent was their only hope).
Oh, and Seattle in the NFC … what a luxury to play in a division with six “gimme” wins. When you’re guaranteed six wins in your schedule … that helps.

I couldn't believe it when Gunnar Esiason's dad told a national radio audience during the Steelers-Broncos pre-game, “I think the New England Patriots are still the best team in the NFL. They just had a bad game against the Broncos last weekend.”
Now, THERE’S a guy who sips his Prestone rather than chugging it.
Either that, or he pulled the plug on 26 reds and a bottle of wine.
Quote: “I think Boomer Esiason would’ve been elected to the Hall of Fame years ago if only he hadn’t put up all those mediocre stats for the Jets and the Cardinals and if his lineman hadn’t conspired against him by providing sub-standard pass protection and if his receivers formed an anti-Boomer alliance by dropping all of those passes which were right on the numbers.”

Then it’s settled: A Steeler victory on Super Sunday would provide justice and, quite possibly, get Jerome Bettis’ photo on the cover of a few national sports magazines (even if he finishes with 23 yards on eight carries).
Surviving the media frenzy … well, it’s tough on us civilians, too.
Especially when it’s Stooge N’ Salisbury.
That combo has me reachin’ for the Peak (y’know … the antifreeze which Danica Patrick promotes in those TV ads … y’know, where she’s wearing a silk teddy and she opens it up and she puts it right in her … RADIATOR, I guess, I mean where else would ya put antifreeze?)

Friday, January 27, 2006

Final (Curtain) Call

As a Steeler fan coping with the down week between the AFC Championship and Super Sunday, it's come to my attention that A) We Steeler fans are a little out of practice when it comes to remembering how to conduct ourselves as AFC Champion fans and B) Jerome Bettis' girth DOES fill up the entire covers of Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News special issues which arrived with yesterday's mail.

Note: This magazine cover-boy angle is going to be played to the hilt by the Seahawks in the form of “y'all-didn't-respect-us-and-nobody-gave-us-a-chance-but-we-believed-in-ourselves-even-if-nobody-else-did …”

Fun fact: Before Shaun Alexander appeared on the cover of S.I. more than a month ago, the only Seahawk ever to appear on an S.I. cover – EVER -- and thus subject himself to the S.I. Cover Jinx -- was the backside of a Seattle linebacker lunging at Marcus Allen with the accompanying caption: "Raider On A Rampage."

That Seattle linebacker, as it turns out, was Keith Butler ... the Steelers' current linebackers coach. Again ... the Seahawks will hit us with "y'all-are-puttin’-the-Steelers-on-all-yer-magazine-covers-and-totally-not-believing-in-us-even-though-we-all-believe-in-ourselves …"

Anyway, here at the Honeycomb Hideout -- which is one of the base camps for “The Steelers Are Wearing White To The Prom” -- I've spent the past several days wunderin' 'bout the Steelers who won't get to wear white jerseys or black jerseys (or breaking out a big ape suit as part of "Gerela's Gorillas").

That's because they're dead.

In the past three months, we've lost three from the Steeler Family -- Dave Brown (a few weeks ago); Bud Carson (in Dec.) and Steve Courson (in Nov.).

Dave Brown, of course, will have most Seahawk fans sayin’, “He was a Seahawk, not a Steeler” – although he became a ‘Hawk after he was Pittsburgh's No. 1 draft choice in '75 and after his rookie season with the Steelers’ Super Bowl X team (Brown was drafted off the Steelers’ roster in the "expansion draft" … and remember how scared all of us were in ’76 when the NFL was opening up shop to a new team with a mysterious, totem-pole-like bird profiled on a silver helmet and that new pirate team with the tangerine tops?).

But, then the Kingdome was imploded and the color “pewter” replaced tangerine.

Good times ...

Which doesn’t help us to reconcile why Brown had to go at the age of 52 when he died of a heart attack while playing pick-up basketball at Texas Tech where he was an assistant coach.

It stands to reason that one of the best players in Seahawks history (who began his career in Pittsburgh) would've enjoyed Super Bowl XL (for the obvious “connection-to-both-teams” angle).

For less-obvious reasons, Brown represents the most-recent link in the chain of 11 Steelers who have died way too early (except for Carson) since Cowher's first Super Bowl (XXX) and his second (XL).

And, maybe the unusual aspect is how young these people were at their passing, and in most cases, how bizarre their days had become after football.

Not that a heart attack is any less tragic than any other cause of death.
Or any less glamorous than emphysema (which is how Bud Carson checked out at age 75).

The thing is, I still remember reading about Ray Mansfield (starting center on the first two Steeler Super Bowl teams) dying at age 55 in Nov. '96 while he and his son were hiking in the Grand Canyon.
He fell behind the group ... and the outdoorsman … died in the outdoors.

We waited a few years, but then in Feb. '00, defensive lineman Steve Furness died at age 49 of a heart attack ... and then around Christmas time of '00, center Dan Turk (who was drafted by the Steelers, but, like Brown, spent only his rookie season in Pittsburgh before 15 years spent playing elsewhere) died of cancer at age 38 ... and a few days after that, Jefferson Street Joe Gilliam died of heart failure a few days shy of his 50th birthday while watching the Titans-Cowboys on Monday Night Football.

Then, in Sept. '02, Hall of Fame center Mike Webster died of a heart attack at age 50 ... and eight months later, Steeler short-timer David Woodley checked out under mysterious circumstances at age 44.

It didn’t end there. In the span of a little more than one year, three Steeler offensive lineman met their end.

Justin Strzelczyk was only 36 in Sept. '04 when his bout with bi-polar disorder ended with that police-chase-and-fiery wreckage on a N.Y. State highway.

Terry Long was only 45 last June when, as he was awaiting trial for arson and insurance fraud, he died of cerebral meningitis.

Finally, Courson, 50, met his end as tragically as anyone's two months ago when the tree he was chainsawing fell on him.

Bud Carson’s expiration date was an exception, given the amount of cigarettes he wolfed down. But, nine of the other 10 ... all gone before or near their 50th birthdays.

Aside from their affiliations with the Steelers, it seems as though they're all connected in other ways.

Long and Courson were documented 'roid ragers ... Long and Webster had each been determined to have sustained very real levels of brain damage from playing football ... Turk and Webster went to the same university as my dad (Wisconsin) ... Long and Gilliam had bouts of depression and either attempted or seriously contemplated suicide ... Strzelczyk and Furness went to non-traditional football colleges (Maine and Rhode Island) … Woodley and Gilliam battled chemical dependency ...

Three centers … two quarterbacks … a lot of scars and plenty of baggage in the past decade.

It makes ya scratch yer head. Y'see the stories and you hear the rumors, never knowing how much is truth and how much is urban legend.
Just about all of it is unsubstantiated and, probably for that matter, "unsubstantiatable."
Kinda like the way James Frey lives his life when he’s not pimping himself.

Unless EspyTime Theater (ESPN) goes "Outside The Lines," y'never know what to make of what goes through these players minds in the NFL afterlife.

ESPN’s “OTL” actually did a pretty good job of depicting the final days of Strzelczyk, including footage from the dashboard-mounted camera in the police car which pursued the lineman and showed his vehicle, going the wrong way against traffic, colliding with the tanker (including the ensuing fireball).
Strzelczyk had already been thrown clear of his truck before impact.

So, instead of dying in an explosion, we can assume that he suffered sufficient head trauma from hitting the asphalt and/or a guard rail.

Separating the myth from reality eventually shapes how we remember those who sacrificed on the gridiron.
In this matching part of the quiz, we can draw a line from the bold-face names above and connect them to the rumors below, which may not actually be bold-faced lies:

"He was never the same after he spent three weeks in a coma after gettin' clubbed in the head with a lead pipe outside that liquor-store in Baltimore ..."
"When they found his dead body, it was in a seated position, resting against a tree and he was clutching a cigar in his hand ..."
"The reason that his wife left him was because she found him in bed with another guy …”
"His booze problem was so bad that he used to chug cough syrup just for the alcohol content ..."
"He was trying to save his dog when he died ..."
"He was trying to save the world when he died …”

Hmmmm … not a one of those read: “Kordell Stewart is NOT gay.”

Anyway, if you sit down with a retired player who’s endured the five knee replacements and the six hip replacements, it’s almost a guarantee that any one of them will admit that he wouldn’t change a thing.

If they could see how it was all going to end, you wonder what their viewpoint would be.

Tragedy notwithstanding, here's a salute to them.

Whoever they really were ...


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Black n' white issues

Like just about everybody else in the Steel City, one of the first thoughts that popped into my head almost immediately following the victory over the Broncos was, “Good … it’s the AFC’s year to wear the home jerseys in the Super Bowl, so the Steelers will be wearin’ black. Bring it on!”
It’s the law of the jungle … every January of an even-numbered year, the AFC team has the option of getting’ all decked out in the home darks for the Super Bowl.
It seemed reasonable to assume that just like in Jan. ’76, Jan. ’80, and Jan. ’96, the Steelers would make Super Sunday a black-jersey affair (not counting Jan. ’79 when the Cowboys opted for their traditional home whites when they tangled with the Steelers in Miami).
Then, on Tuesday, the announcement was made that the Steelers will be wearing their white road jerseys.
That decision, it seems, was solely that of Bill Cowher who said that since it wasn’t a game at Heinz Field, his team should wear the road whites.
It’s unclear whether Cowher Power has a God complex or if he just wants to keep the road warrior mojo hummin’ along after those playoff victories at Cincy, Indy and Denvy.
No doubt, citizens of the Steel City will toss around words they don’t normally use – such as “audacity” and “unmitigated gall” – because it’s been years since they’ve spent a Game Day breaking out the white #6 BRISTER jersey or the white #83 LIPPS jersey ever since they went to Sports Authority and snatched up a black #7 ROETHLISBERGER jersey.
The uproar could intensify.

Game Day jersey-wearin’ is serious stuff for the 79 percent of the populace who wear their black #7 ROETHLISBERGER jerseys and the point-56 percent of us who traded in our white #10 STEWART jersey for a black #85 RIEMERSMA jersey.
Cowher Power is messing with forces which he quite possibly doesn’t understand.
I mean, when former Iowa coach Hayden Fry updated the Hawkeyes’ look in the late ‘70s, he didn’t copycat the Steelers because of the mystique and charisma of the white jerseys.

And now that Cowher has a chance to wear the black, it seems as though he may've yielded to superstition.

Here's my testimonial: Although I don’t currently own a Steelers jersey (if I did, I’d probably opt for the #63 DAWSON version … which would, naturally, have most fans scratching their heads), it was the Steelers' BLACK jerseys which so mightily seduced me as a pre-teen growing up in suburban SoCal (I appointed myself as director of West Coast operations .. y'know, the SteelTown West Bureau).

And, I still vividly recall that Steelers-Chiefs game in ’72 and submitting to one of the ultimate boyhood crushes of all-time.
The black-n’-gold combo really knocked me flat on the seat of my Toughskins. Some of that romance, though, was tempered somewhat by the Franco Harris poster which hanged on my bedroom wall during those formative years. Franco was wearing his WHITE #32 jersey and black cleats – and, if you’re my age, you remember that poster.
Luckily, thee current Mrs. PF-7 righted the wrong-coloured jersey memory a few years ago when she encountered Franco at a non-football-related function and had him autograph my 8x10 color glossy.

It's the standard "Good luck" wishes ... and the photo is matted and framed.
And he's wearin' a black jersey.
Yet ... there is one problem.
What's the deal with his outdated, gray facemask?

... which leads us to my SECOND boyhood crush -- the night when the Steelers debuted for America the new black facemasks.
On Monday Night Football … opening the ’77 season with a 27-0 win over the Niners.
Just about everybody connected to Steeler Country, USA remembers where he/she was when those black facemasks were unveiled.

And, after watching that first game, it was easy to assume that that's how life would continue - - with bad-ass black facemasks and 27-0 wins every week … and Super Bowl titles every January …
When you’re the only kid in a SoCal school wearing a black t-shirt with yellow block letters “STEELERS” across the chest, well … that’s real, tangible cache.
Or a dork with a cool t-shirt, I dunno.

Well, if this matter is not open for debate – and if Cowher feels as though it’s well within his discretion to reject all petitions from the people and to circumvent the appeals process (wait a sec … this is starting to read like an “affidavit” or a “decree” … and that’s why I just lost my train of thought … )

In some ways, maybe it’s better that the Steelers will be in white so that Seattle can wear their all-metallic-blue gear, rather than their road gear (which looks weak).
That is … unless Holmgren’s gonna cross up everyone and go retro with his Seahawks outfitted with the royal blue jerseys and the silver helmets.
That’s not going to happen, especially since the big-beaked hawk on the old helmet wasn’t as fierce and as demonic-looking as the modified bird you see nowadays.
That spooky bird with the angry green eye looks as though it’s prepared to tear at flesh … flesh that would be better protected by a black jersey than a white one (hint, hint).

Funny how our thoughts should turn to hostile birds because I still remember when it was announced during Super Bowl Week last year that the Arizona Cardinals would be changing their official look for the ’05 season – that the cardinal logo which had remained unchanged on the helmet from 1960 thru 2004 would look “meaner” and “tougher” in ’05.
Sadly for Cardinal season-ticket holders (and for Cardinal fans too disgusted to fork over money for season tickets), the Cardinals – with their “angrier” redbird profile on the helmet and the new, slick racing stripes on their jerseys – were still the same ol’ crappy Cardinals.
Seems as though the only way to toughen up that team’s image is to have a Cardinal logo with a redbird holding an AK-47.
It would help with those losses to the Satanic Seahawk logo.

Well, I guess we'll just have to see if Cowher's ploy has merit. He might be thinking that the only time he coached in a Super Bowl, his team's black jerseys didn't do the trick against Dallas. Of course, that was back in the days when the Steelers jerseys still had the big, block numerals rather than the rounded numerals that we see today.
And, that was back in the days when Cowher had a big, black man named Levon Kirkland wearing a big, block #99 as opposed to the modern-day version of a large, white guy named Brett Keisel wearing a large, round #99.

Looks as though I have nine days or so to track down a white #67 von OELHOFFEN jersey.
Or a white #16 BATCH.
Or a white #29 IWUOMA.
And, as long as it's an XXL or an XXXL (not an "XL," ha ha), we're cool ...

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ko-beee Dokee

Leave it to EspyTime Theater (what the Pitchfork has been calling ESPN for years) to lead the early-morning SporkCenter (what the Pitchfork has been calling SportsCenter for years) with Kobe's 81 points with the Steelers/Seahawks Super-Bowl-berth stories tossed into the backseat.

Fun fact: It was the Toronto Craptors, everybody.
Give ME 46 shots against the Craptors and I'm gonna get ya 64, maybe 67 if I have that second bowl of Wheaties and an extra handful of amphetamines.
It was the Toronto Craptors, people!
The only thing missing was the red-white-n'-blue ball, Meadowlark tossing a bucket of confetti on a giggling eight-year-old in the front row, Curly Neal and his 10 red-white-n'-blue wristbands perfoming a dribbling exhibition and Cobes bending that skank over a chair at Cordillera.
Oh yeah ... "allegedly."
(Let's all whistle "Sweet Georgia Brown" right now, shall we?)

EspyTime Theater leading SporkCenter with Cobes ... and then with Stooge Scott doin' the narration ... jeez. More Drano for my morning juice, please.
A more-meaningful (and timely) feature could've been if EspyTime had led with pitch-by-pitch highlights of that night in '93 when St. Louis Cardinal Mark Whiten crushed those four homers and had 12 RBI in that game at Riverfront.
That's a record, y'all.
That's some bananas, ginormous homerzizzle in the Cincinn-nuhtizzle.

Well, that's SoCal b-ball for ya, though. Folks in the L.A. basin needed Cobes to make them smile again after what they saw UCLA do against West Virginia in Westwood one day earlier.
UCLA's Arron Afflalo and Michael Roll combined to go 0-of-12 on 3-pointers.
Those sharpshooters can take some solace in the fact that A) Teammate Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was a monster on the glass (13 rebs) and that B) WVU's Kevin Pittsnogle and his disturbing new tatts went 0 of 5 on treys.

Solution: UCLA getting the Craptors on the sked.
"Lookit that, Bill! Geese Ausby just shot a free throw AND THE BASKETBALL IS ON A STRING!!! Now I've seen everything!"

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Hoak-ee Dokee

It seemed somehow fittingly ironic (that is, if "fittingly ironic" is an actual, graspable concept ... and if "graspable" is an actual word) that during the locker-room awards ceremony, it was Hall of Famer Bob Griese who handed the Lamar Hunt Trophy to Dan Rooney.
Before he handed over the hardware, Griese, like a pro, offered the token words of congratulations.
However, it might've been cool if Griese had handed off the trophy, grabbed the mike from Gumbel, glared at the camera and then gave a middle-finger salute while snarling, "This is for you, Denver ... because of what you did to my boy! My Brian's not good enough to win the big one? My boy was a Rose Bowl MVP! A Rose Bowl MVP, dammit! The only time Jake Plummer played in a Rose Bowl, somebody named Joe Germaine took the MVP away from him! My boy was a Rose Bowl MVP and Tom Brady was my boy's backup! So, Denver, you can cram it a mile high ..."

Agreed ... all of us roll our eyes every time we see/hear a Super Bowl montage and we see Elway and we hear Pat Bowlen's immortal words, "This ... one's ... for ... John!"
Yeah ... whatever.
Thank you, Joey Porter & Co. for sparing us the "This ... one's ... for ... Jake!" nightmare.
People forget that Denver was one Elway high-ankle sprain away from Bubby Brister barking out signals and leading the Buckin' Broncs to the Promised Land.
Bubby got that Super Bowl ring, so, as a Steeler fan ... WAIT!
Let's not lose focus. The Steelers' triumph at Invesco should be crowned with a big, fat "Good for Dick Hoak, dammit!"
Ten years (1961-70) as a running back for some of the sorriest Steeler teams ever ... now, he's in the midst of his 34th season as Steelers running-backs coach.
Not a bad coaching gig: 6 trips to the AFC Championship Game under Noll, 6 trips to the AFC Championship Game under Cowher, 6 trips to the Super Bowl.
Again ... good for Dick Hoak, dammit.

On the other hand, Dick Hoak's gotta be glad that he works with the offense and doesn't have to deal with the defense and players such as safety Chris Hope and d-lineman Chris Hoke.
Cowher sure coulda had some fun with some rookie ballboy.
"Go take this bag of footballs over to Coach Hoak."
And, thus, would've begun 15 minutes of Abbott & Costello schtick about "Hoak's On First?"
Coach Hoak?
Chris Hoke?
Chris Hope?

Bearded Benny

Lo and behold, Steeler QBsWhoWearBeards are now 3-0 in AFC Championship Games. Bradshaw was growin' a beard when the Steelers advanced to their first Super Sunday ... no one can forget Neil O'Donnell's super-scruff from 10 years ago ... and, now, it's Big Ben.
Take that, Lectric Shave!
He's that big, goofy kid from Findlay, Ohio ... and he simply makes all the money throws. And, after a performance like today's, there's no doubt that during the postgame euphoria, Big Ben had a brief moment of quiet time and took care of some meaningful introspection.
"This is definitely better than when I was MVP of the GMAC Bowl." (which he was in Dec. '03 ... but, give the GMAC Bowl some props because LaDanian Tomlinson was the GMAC Bowl in Dec. '00)

Mrs. Pitchfork had a killer one-liner when she saw Ben making his way across the field to shake hands with Liquid Plummer -- when Ben suddenly removed the black ballcap he'd put on only moments earlier.
"He's saying to Plummer right now 'Want me to autograph my AFC Champions cap for you?' "
Good one, hun.
Mrs. Pitchfork's fave one-liner of the Pitchfork's was when Roethlisberger completed that 20-yard pass to #85 Nate Washington and I asked, "WHAT is a Nate Washington?"
Oh, sure ... THAT Nate Washington.
From THAT Tiffin University.
Just a short, 13-mile trip east of Findlay on U.S. 224.
Kinda makes ya wonder if Big Ben recruited the kid outta some Nowheresville, Ohio rec league.
As long as he latches onto the spirals and doesn't cough up the pelota, sure ... he can be Nate Washington (wink) from Tiffin University (wink, wink) all he wants.

On to Motown ...

Wacky Steeler draft picks

It was worth it during this past week to hear ESPN replay more than 50 times the Steelers radio play-by-play and the Colts radio play-by-play of Vanderjagt's missed field goal.
Naturally, the Steelers color guy, Tunch Ilkin, is the former Steeler lineman and a journalism major from Indiana State, so he didn't completely lose his marbles and have an on-air orgasm when the kick sailed 20 yards wide right.
However, the Colts radio color guy is Ted Marchibroda and to hear him muttering and moaning, jeez ... it sounded like what your grandpa sounds like when you take him golfing and his first tee shot of the day has all the accuracy and distance of Vanderjagt's gak-job.
46 yards ... and into the woods ...

A groan, a sigh, another groan, something like "Oh, no ... " and then (sigh) something like, "Gee whiz ... "

We, as a nation, expect more from Marchibroda. For example, when the teams were lining up for that deciding kick, Ted coulda said, "Hey, everybody out there in Radioland, did you know that the Steelers made me the fifth overall pick of the 1953 draft?"
Yup ... it's Ted's job to make us never forget that '53 draft ... when the Steelers took a chance on that QB from the football factory known as the University of Detroit. The Steelers made their second-round pick future Hall of Famer running back John Henry Johnson (who was better than Frenchy Fuqua or Bam Morris ... no, really).

In that Draft of '53, the rival Browns made future Hall of Famer Chuck Noll out of Dayton a 20th-round pick.
"T-March" or "Brode" (or whatever it is they called him back then) did such a bang-up job at QB that Steelers made the No. 1 overall pick of the '54 draft somebody named Gary Glick. Then, in the '55 draft, they wasted a 9th-round pick on somebody named Johnny Unitas and, two years later, selecting with the No. 5 overall pick, they chose somebody named Len Dawson.

I can't remember if any of those guys panned out.

Anyway, if Ted Marchibroda didn't feel like discussing Steeler draft choices, he coulda said something like, "When the Colts got to within a whisker of the Super Bowl exactly 10 years ago, I was the head coach of the losing team standing on the losing sideline in Three Rivers Stadium that day."
Marchibroda ... what a bridesmaid ...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

All-Star Tribute to Matt Kranchick

Twelve hours to go 'til kickoff in the Mile High City and ya can't help but wonder where Matt Kranchick will be watchin' the AFC Championship tilt.

Based on the name alone, "Matt Kranchick" sounds like an 11- or 12-year-old who won his age division of a Punt, Pass & Kick competition during halftime of a game at Heinz Field.

But, when we jog our memory, we suddenly remember that "Matt Kranchick" is not only the name of an adult NFL player, but a real Steeler no less ... a Steeler who may be in line to receive a (partial) share of playoff loot ... a little-known Steeler TE (who may or may not have the best hands in the Kranchick Clan) ... but, a player, nevertheless, who showed an indominable spirit when he caught that 6-yard, dump-off pass from Tommy Maddox in that ESPN Sunday-nighter before he had "his legs cut out from underneath him" by that Cleveland Browns DB.

That game vs. BrownsTown was frustrating (and annoying) on so many levels, notwithstanding Hines Ward making Career Reception #538 (breaking John Stallworth's team record of 537) before he hauled in that perfectly-thrown, flanker-reverse-option pass from Antwaan Randle El for a 50-yd. TD.

Many people will choose to remember that TD pass ... or the manner in which Verron Haynes "took ownership" of that 5-play, 29-yd. TD march (on 5 consecutive snaps, it was Haynes for 20, Haynes for minus-1, Haynes for 5, Haynes for minus-5, Haynes for the 10-yd. TD which made the score 34-14).

However, some of us will remember that Matt Kranchick got a first-hand look at how the Browns (intentionally?) broke Charlie Batch's hand on that QB-sneak TD moments before halftime ... or that Dilfer pass in the final 2 minutes which Troy Polamalu was all set to pick off and run back for a 45- or 50-yard TD which would've been the punctuation mark on a 41-14 victory ... only Polamalu clanked it and the tip-drill rebound turned it a big-gainer which set up the Browns for a TD in the final 30 seconds which made the score semi-respectable, dammit, dammit, dammit ...

Let's not kid ourselves: If Matt Kranchick runs an 8-yd. pattern on 3rd-n'-7 -- of if "Kranny" (or "Chicky") demonstrates a quality shake-n'-bake juke to enhance his YAC (yds. after catch) -- the submarine-style tackle by that DB (Mickens ... whoever he is) isn't a big deal because it's a first down, anyway ... which means that Tommy Maddox doesn't take the delay of game penalty by attempting the draw Cleveland offsides on 4th-n'-1 ... which means that the FG maybe doesn't get blocked and returned for a TD ... and instead looking at a 27-14 lead with 4-1/2 minutes to play maybe it's 34-7 with 2:33 remaining.

Damn you, Matt Kranchick and your one 6-yard reception in 2005.
It's nuthin' to be proud of.
Just remember, tomorrow at Invesco ... there'll be no pass plays designed for Ol' Number 88.

Which reminds us: Why was Kranchick allowed to wear Swannie's non-retired #88, anyway?

True ... the Steelers have officially retired only Ernie Stautner's #70, but, seriously ... Matt Kranchick, as an NFL tight end, could've chosen the #87 which was worn with such TE distinction by TE Larry Brown (before he became a RT wearin' #79) and TE Mark Bruener or the #89 which Bennie Cunningham wore "back in the day" (jersey Nos. 80 thru 86 are occupied, so, no sale there).

We could ask the same question re: Randle El wearing Stallworth's #82, yet, Steeler Nation seems more inclined to give Antwaan the benefit of the doubt because he has displayed an actual, tangible talent level.

All that Matt Kranchick has is a 4th-quarter, 6-yard, dump-off from a third-string QB (who'd actually be the fourth-string QB if Maddox was pitted against Randle El in a skills competition ... sorry to bring that up, 2002 NFL Comeback Player of the Year ... ).

LOOK ... Matt Kranchick isn't the first player in Steelers' history to finish a season with ONE reception. Lotsa guys have done it.

And, unless he makes a few receptions next year while riding a unicycle and eating a nectarine, Kranchick will go down as one of the most-obscure TE's in Steeler history, ranking somewhere between John Farquhar (whose only reception during his brief time in Pittsburgh -- in '96 -- was a 2-pt. conversion pass from Kordell Stewart which made the score 21-14 during the Steelers' 42-14 playoff win over the Colts >>> for those of us who saw him clank many catchable passes at Menlo School in the late-'80s, we wept when we saw that championship grab during a non-championship segment) and, quite possibly, Chris Kolodziejski (whose name we could never quite pronounce well enough to do justice to a 2nd-rnd. draft pick, who, now, as it turns out, is currently the president of a skin-care company based in Camarillo, CA) and his whopping 5 receptions in '84.

After last week's insane victory in the RCA Dome, it seems doubtful that the Steelers need to draw inspiration from any white-boy receiver named Kranchick or Farquhar or Kolodziejski.

Unless Weegie Thompson is available ...