Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Road Less Travelled

The fall was incomparable. The rise has been incomprehensible.

It was July 17, 2007. Atlanta Falcons star QB Michael Vick is indicted, along with three others on multiple charges in relation to their dogfighting ring, Bad Newz Kennelz, which was housed on property owned by Vick in Surry County, Virginia. The details of what went on at these dogfighting events were enough to weaken the knees of animal lovers everywhere (or just people who have a soul). Dogs would be electrocuted, shot, drowned and hung; it’s hard to tell whether or not the brutality even stopped there. The behaviors of Vick and his co-defendants were beyond reprehensible.

Then, somehow, things got worse for Michael Vick.

After the charges were filed, Vick issued a widely criticized prepared statement, in which he seemed to show little emotion and even less remorse. Initially, Vick and his co-defendants plead not guilty, but all changed their pleas after Tony Taylor had issued his “summary of the facts”, which detailed the unconscionable treatment that the Bad Newz Kennelz dogs went through. Taylor’s account put Vick at center stage; fingered him as being the ringleader the whole time. Within days, Vick and his other comrades changed their not guilty pleas.

Most football fans expected Vick to get preferential treatment. Perhaps a short stay in a cozy, low security prison (maybe in a cell next to Martha Stewart). When two of Vick’s co-defendants received 18-21 months, and Tony Taylor received 60 days, that expectation persisted.

Then, Judge Henry Hudson threw a haymaker. Vick would receive a 23 month prison sentence, and there would be no cushy, lavish celebrity prison.

Vick was heading to Leavenworth, Kansas; to one of the largest, highest security prisons in the country. Months into his prison sentence, after continuing to support friends and family, Michael Vick filed for bankruptcy, nearly a year after his indictment.

The collapse was complete. It took one year for Michael Vick to become the biggest pariah in sports since O.J. Simpson. Almost universally despised and with no money in the bank, Vick hit rock bottom. Not many people expected a return to his glory days with the Falcons; some wondered if he would ever play football again. Perhaps more telling was the fact that no one wanted to see him return.

I should know. I was one of them.

I’ve grown up, as many of us have, with a true affinity for dogs. Man’s best friend? You’re damn right they are. I struggled to hold back tears thinking about what happened at 1915 Moonlight Road. I rejoiced when I heard Vick’s sentence, overjoyed at the severity of his punishment. In 2007-2008, I counted myself among Vick’s biggest detractors. I was more than happy to watch him fade into oblivion.

But then something strange happened. Vick started doing all the right things. While he was in prison, and after his release, Vick called upon the Big Brother of the NFL, Tony Dungy. Dungy was able to help Vick contact teams to gauge interest, and along with a nudge by quarterback Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles took a chance on Vick. PETA protestors took the streets of Philly, calling for owner Jeffrey Lurie’s head. All the while, Vick silently pressed on, working diligently with the Humane Society as one of their main spokespeople.

One thing was plainly apparent though. Vick had lost a step. When on the field, Vick looked uncomfortable and out of shape; a far cry from his days with Atlanta.

Regardless of his performance on the field, praise started to slowly roll in. He was the unanimous winner of the Ed Block Courage Award, which was voted on by his Eagles teammates. After the offseason trade of Donovan McNabb, Vick graciously accepted the backup role once again, this time to youngster Kevin Kolb.

Then fate intervened. On opening day against Green Bay, in a lopsided game, Kolb was crushed by Packers star linebacker Clay Matthews, suffering a concussion and unable to return. Cue Vick’s opportunity. Vick took over the game, slinging the ball with accuracy that he never had, and running with the legs that we wrote off years ago.

The league hasn’t been the same since. Vick has combined his physical gifts with the work ethic and mental tenacity that is necessary to be a star quarterback. That was certainly on display this past Monday night, as Vick dissected the Redskins defense in one of the most dominating performances in NFL history.

The turbulence of the past 3 years has led us to one question: Who is the real Michael Vick? Is he still the same person who coldly proclaimed his innocence in front of reporters? Or is he the happy, hardworking star quarterback and animal rights activist? It’s a question that every football fan has pondered over the past year. We didn’t have a choice, Vick’s post-prison behavior forced us to ask it. The fact that we’re even considering that Vick could have changed should be seen as a victory.

Regardless of whether or not you believe that Vick is a different person now, we ought to thank him. Vick has made us question our preconceived notions, both of troubled athletes, and broadly, society as a whole. We must at least consider that people can, in fact, change. Americans pride themselves on being a forgiving and tolerant people, a nation of second chances. Hell, America was founded as a second chance. So can we live up to that? Do we have it in our hearts to embrace the repentant?

It is a question of faith and trust. And mine are in Michael Vick.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is Hines Ward the Greatest Steeler Ever?

Before you immediately discredit me, give me a chance to explain.

As I was heading into work Monday morning, I was listening to analysis of the game on the radio. They went over Mendenhall's performance, how inconsistent Dixon looked, yadda yadda yadda. Then a caller called in to talk about Hines Ward, and he said, "If Hines Ward isn't the greatest Steeler of all time, I don't know who is."

My first reaction was to roll my eyes and think, "Typical 'Yinzer'. The Steelers win an early season game, and it's as if we found a cure of cancer, and there will be an 80 percent chance of money rain today (Where are you, Pac Man Jones?). People need to get a grip."

Then I actually thought about it. And it may not have been the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

With his six-catch, 108 yard performance on Sunday, Ward became only the 12th receiver in NFL history with both 900 catches and 11,000 yards. The TWELFTH. His 78 career touchdown catches is good enough for 22nd. Ward already rewrote the Steelers record books long ago, and he continues to cement his place as one of the greatest to ever play his position.

There is no doubting that Ward is the best wide receiver to ever don the Black and Gold, but could he be the best Steeler player ever? That would mean placing him above such names as Franco Harris, Terry Bradshaw, Jerome Bettis, Jack Lambert, Joe Greene, and the list could go on and on. The only one that statistically holds a candle to Ward is Bettis, who ranks 5th all time in rushing yards, and 10th in touchdowns. Bradshaw ranks 44th in passing yards, behind such stars as Dave Kreig (13th), Jim Everett (16th) and Brad Johnson (38th).

But we all know that statistics aren't everything. Numbers are simply the only tangible way of comprehensive evaluation. In order to truly determine a player's worth, one needs to just watch him play. Even though his stats are impressive, that's where Hines Ward truly stands out. Hines is known throughout the league more for plays that don't end up in the scoresheet, rather than ones that do. Ward plays wide receiver with the same tenacity as Jack Lambert played linebacker, which has always been the key to endearing himself to the Steeler faithful.

I haven't even mentioned his Super Bowl MVP award, but uh, yeah, he's also a Super Bowl MVP.

So I'm going to go ahead and start making the push. For the first time, I agree with a radio yinzer. I think Hines Ward, when he hangs up his cleats for the last time, should be considered the greatest Steeler ever. He personifies the heart and soul of Pittsburgh: the relentless, gritty underdog that brings his hard hat to work day in and day out.

If you needed a reminder:

Feel free to tell me if you think I'm right, or if I'm right.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Kids Are Alright

This will probably be my next to last post about the 2010 Pirates, and I don't want to end things on a bad note. Given the Buccos 46-91 record, viewing things in a positive light is difficult, nearly impossible. Watching Pirate games is akin to watching an antelope evading a lion. The effort put forth by the antelope is both heart-wrenching and admirable, but the natural order is such that the story seldom ends well. That's the way it's been for the 2010 Pirates, loads of heart, but a dearth of victories. That dichotomy makes Pirates games difficult to stomach. Watching things like Ryan Doumit pumping his fist and pointing at Pedro Alvarez after Alvarez made a great defensive play are images that we, as fans, grasp on to. The talent on this team has yet to catch up to their heart.

But the times, they are a' changing. The youthful infusion is starting to pay dividends for the Pirates. Three players that weren't in Pittsburgh on Opening Day have become staples of the team. Can Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker alone save the Pirates? Of course not. But along with Andrew McCutchen, they are certainly proving to be a step in a different direction. Guys who didn't come to the major leagues to toil in mediocrity, but rather to lift each other to levels unseen. There seems to be a tomorrow for this team, and from the looks of it; Tabata, Alvarez and Walker certainly want their say.

Jose Tabata

The youngster that was the key cog in the Marte-Nady deal with the Yankees (side note: that deal looks much better than it did 2 years ago) started hitting right from his call-up, and hasn't stopped since. Tabata has kept his average above .300 for the majority of his time in the Bigs, and has shown glimpses of what he can offer the Pirates on the basepaths. His patience, speed and effectiveness as a contact hitter help label him as a potential star leadoff man, something the Pirates have lacked since their playoff days.

Pedro Alvarez

Of the three players mentioned in this article, the one who came in with the most fanfare was undoubtedly Alvarez. Early on, Alvarez showed signs of a player who was tremendously burdened by the expectations of a city; constantly swinging for the fences, and having defensive lapses. However, as his season has progressed, Alvarez has begun to grow into himself offensively and defensively. He's shown a flare for the dramatic, saving his best for when the game is on the line (basically Adam LaRoche's complete opposite). Alvarez has also displayed his range at third, making some absolute gems. Pedro will probably never be a consistent .300 hitter, but he gives the Pirates significant power at a corner infield spot, just one of the tonics the Pirates have so desperately needed.

Neil Walker

If you watch any Pirate games at all, and you HAVEN'T fallen in love with Neil Walker, then you may not have a heartbeat. A year ago, many wondered how and if Walker had a place on this team. After showing tremendous versatility in the entire infield, he finally found a home at second base (.986 fielding percentage). His recent offensive burst has put him in NL Rookie of the Year conversations with a .312 average, 10 HR and 51 RBIs in 85 games, alongside 25 doubles. If the Pirates were to get that type of offensive production by a middle infielder, it gives them an advantage over almost every team in the National League.

Moreover, Walker seems to be the type of player that Pittsburgh needs on the Pirates: A hometown kid who barely remembers Sid Bream crossing the plate in 1992, but who knows exactly how things have been for the team since. Someone who the city can wrap their arms around. We all have dreams as a kid of hitting that decisive home run in the bottom of the ninth for your hometown team: a scene that plays out in schoolyards and backyards every summer. Walker gets to live his. That should be motivation enough for anybody.

There's a lot of work left to do, but the Pirates focus on youth over the past couple of years is starting to come to fruition.

The world is cyclical. The downtrodden don't stay down forever. Empires rise and fall.

And sometimes the antelope becomes the lion.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

James Harrison is the Nastiest Person on the Planet; Troy has Hair Insurance?

I don't think James Harrison was hugged much as a child.

In the past 5 years, Steeler fans have seemingly been treated to the reincarnation of Jack Lambert. We're used to Harrison's tenacity; the fact that he plays football with a permanent chip on his shoulder. We know him for many things in Pittsburgh, some of them being:

The greatest defensive play ever:

His Monday Night Football coming out party:

Harrison destroying a Browns fan back in '05:

Just three out of what seems to be an endless library of James Harrison moments that etched themselves in our memory banks. But there lie a disturbing trend within Harrison's behavior. Many players in NFL history have had a controlled nastiness. Someone like former Buccaneers and Broncos Safety John Lynch, who seemed to try to put anyone that intruded his zone in the hospital, but off the field is a very gentle, soft-spoken person. James Harrison doesn't have that sense, and he's proved that on and off the field.

Let us not forget Harrison's spurning of former President Bush and President Obama after both the recent Steeler Super Bowl victories, and Harrison's domestic violence accusation. However, outside of a couple of on-field, heat-of-the-moment personal fouls, he's never been a dirty player.

In my book, that line was crossed Sunday night.

In the second quarter, Broncos QB Kyle Orton threw an apparent completion to Jabar Gaffney, which Gaffney fumbled (later called back) and the ball was picked up by James Harrison. During Harrison's sideline dash, Orton came low at Harrison, simply trying to take his legs out or push him out of bounds. Did Harrison act like a rational person and step out of bounds, or perhaps try to hurdle Kyle Orton like he did LT a few years back?

No. Instead, he lowered his shoulder and took a dive at Kyle Orton's back/shoulder, with a pretty clear intent to injure. Orton lay on the ground for a minute or so, before returning to the sideline, and eventually, the game. The fact that Orton wasn't seriously injured will brush this incident under the rug at NFL headquarters.

Or maybe not, since James Harrison wasn't done yet.

After the game, Harrison told media outlets that Orton had been running his mouth, and that, "He got what he had coming."

Let me take a minute to remind you that this was a preseason game, and that someone running his mouth isn't exactly the most uncommon thing in football, it's called trash talk. Orton didn't "[have this] coming". He's a well-respected player who plays the quarterback position with grit and heart. What Harrison did was cheap. Plain and simple. In fact, he basically admitted it. Harrison should be reprimanded by the team or the league, whether it be a suspension, fine or both.

You have to play with fire and passion to be an effective linebacker, but those traits don't have to come with cheap shots.

In a much more bizarre story. Head and Shoulders has taken out a $1 million insurance policy on Troy Polamalu's hair. There are no typos in that sentence. If Troy gets tackled by his hair, or maybe his teammates give him the old Tim Tebow treatment, Head and Shoulders will be due a cool million. Pretty solid publicity stunt by them.

9 days until opening night. Way too long.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

3 Reasons Why Dennis Dixon is the Man for the Steelers.

It's been the only thing taking the heat out of Ben Roethlisberger's kitchen: the Steelers September quarterback controversy. For the duration of camp, the first-team snaps have been taken by veteran (and former first-round pick) Byron Leftwich. Even through OTA's and the start of camp, there were murmurs floating around that perhaps unproven, but electric QB Dennis Dixon deserved a shot at the job.

After two preseason games, it's gone far past "murmurs". Dixon is playing for keeps, and in this blogger's humble opinion, should take Heinz Field against the Falcons on September 12th. Why should he? Well let me tell you.

1. The Steelers have ZERO quarterback protection.

Steelers O-Lineman running away from the oncoming rush

This offensive line is in trouble. Big time. For the most part, the first-team offensive lineman have looked like turnstiles. They can't run block, and they certainly can't pass block. Having Leftwich at the helm would exacerbate that issue even further. I like Byron Leftwich, but he's about as mobile as a can of tuna. Dixon would be able to somewhat mask that problem with his pure athleticism.

2. Opposing defenses would need a radically different game plan.

Forget blitzing. If you blitz Dennis Dixon and DON'T get him, goodnight. It's over. It also seems as if Dixon's maturity would prevent him from being confused by many defensive schemes. If you've watched Dixon's play this preseason, you've certainly seen that he's going through his progressions better than at any point in his career. And even if he were to be foiled by a defensive tactic, you STILL have to catch him and bring him down, which is no small feat.

3. News flash: he can actually throw too!

Lost in the stereotyping of Dennis Dixon as a running quarterback is the fact that he is immensely talented as a passer. Prior to his season ending injury in 2007 at Oregon, Dixon was completing nearly 68% of his passes-which would have put him in the top 5 in the NFL last season. Even in his lone start last season, Dixon showed flashes of this ability; his stats merely marred by several drops and by the fact that Bruce Arians refused to devise a game plan that catered to Dixon's strengths.

This is no knock on Byron Leftwich, by any means. He's a funny guy, good team player and above all, a good quarterback. He's just not the right one. Dixon provides excitement, and in the eyes of many, a better chance to win those first 4-6 games. I think Dixon has proven that not only should he start, but he needs to see the field even upon Roethlisberger's return. He's too talented to sit on the bench all year. Even if it's only for a few plays a game, that's all Dixon needs.

And if not, Dixon will still have a spot open for him on the Pirates.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pirates' Ship Sailing Another Direction?

First off, my apologies for the lack of updates. Real world stuff happens, what can you do?

The Buccos have officially made it 18 straight losing seasons. And I think I'm the only one who's impressed. But really, where else in sports do you get that type of consistency? It's a true rarity.

But all good things must come to an end, right?


For the better part of two decades, the Pirates' ship has been lost at sea; waves crashing up over the deck, holes torn in the sails. But there have been signs of the chaos relenting, moving into calmer waters.

So what is it about the currently 41-83 Pirates that has me seeing blue skies? At the major league level, not much. We all know what we have in Andrew McCutchen. Jose Tabata and Neil Walker have both proven that they can play at a major league level, and do it well. Pedro Alvarez has struggled at times, but has shown flashes of how much of a game-changer he can become.

The pitching sucks. The team ERA is over 5.00, I can't say anything positive.


Let me defend my (very) cautious optimism.

The Buccos are spending some money. Not on players like Jeromy Burnitz and Matt Morris, rather on young talent like Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie. They took $2.6 million and gave it to 16 year old pitching phenom Luis Heredia. They've spent more money on their past two drafts than they ever have before. They've broken their Scott Boras boycott and are simply trying to draft the best possible players, rather than their old practice of drafting someone they thought they could afford.

At the trade deadline, the Pirates did their yearly salary dump. However, this year was different. There was no Nate McLouth, Jason Bay or Freddy Sanchez departing Pittsburgh. The Pirates only got rid of overpaid players that truly didn't have a place with the future of this franchise. Of the five players that left Pittsburgh July 31st, the youngest was Bobby Crosby at age 30.

Admittedly, former GM Dave Littlefield, for all of his lack of wisdom, was handcuffed behind his back by ownership. Coonelly and Huntington may be cuffed as well, but the key may be within reach.

The fortunes of the Pirates won't turn on a dime, but there are signals that they may at least start making that turn. The true test will be, when these players come to fruition (and we'll see the first batch with McCutchen, Tabata, Walker, Alvarez), will ownership be willing to shell out the money to keep these guys around? Or is this truly a vicious cycle with profit being the sole motive for the owners?

Time will tell. But the crew is on the deck, making a push for home.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Steeler Nation? A Close Look at an NFL Hegemon

"Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days"
-Bruce Springsteen

Steeler Nation.

Two words that unite a group of people spread across the world. Two words that bring people together in common passion. Two words that for decades have defined a city. Two words that garnered respect, if nothing more.

Now we're left to wonder what those two words truly mean.

In the wake of perhaps the most tumultuous offseason in Steeler history, let me play the insider looking out. What does it mean to be a part of Steeler Nation in 2010?

In previous years, it was widely accepted around NFL circles that the Steelers were an honorable franchise that conducted their business in a proper and respectful manner. The Cowboys have always had the title of "America's Team", but could never match the nationwide (and worldwide) Pittsburgh Steeler movement. Travel to any big city in the US, and you'll find at least one "Steeler bar" that's filled with people who have defected from Pittsburgh but haven't had Pittsburgh defect from them. It's why we called ourselves Steeler Nation; it was the only fitting description.

As we stand on the eve of the (almost) beginning of the 2010 season, Steeler Nation has fallen. Hard. This offseason has turned a beacon of NFL superiority into a running joke; the merits of which flooded television and radio pundits. To say that the past 5 months have stained the franchise would be an insult to stains. Calling this offseason damaging would be a far better assessment. From Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes, the Steelers methodology and mythology are being called into question. Can we still call ourselves a model franchise when our players aren't model citizens?

Believe me, I understand the lack of fairness in branding the entire team for the indiscretions of few. But that's just the world we live in. A player such as Ryan Clark has to answer for the actions of a Ben Roethlisberger. It may not be fair, but it's the name of the game in modern sports.

There is no doubt that the common fan's view of the Pittsburgh Steelers has been altered. The doubt lies in to what degree opinions have changed. Next year at this time, will anyone pick the Steelers as an example of how a franchise should work? Truthfully, I question if anyone will ever think that of us again.

Steeler Nation is truly a bubble. We live inside that bubble, and it skews the way we see the world, and the way the world sees us. I truly don't believe that Steeler Nation has lost too many of their own through this debacle of an offseason, we simply don't have as many immigrating to our world.

Throughout history, all great empires have fallen. They fall not through the power of somebody else, they collapse from the inside out. Greed and a sense of entitlement run rampant. That is the situation currently facing the Steelers. Perhaps not that the franchise itself is in danger, but rather it's just not the darling of the NFL anymore. No longer the shining light that it once was.

It's a basic inevitability that the Steelers will return to their glory on the field. They're just too talented not to. As for the glory days of the team off of the turf?

Well, they'll pass you by.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What Goes Around Comes Around

So I'm back from a (far too) short vacation up in Canada, and while I was bowing my head at the mecca of hockey, back home, my faith in all major and minor deities of the sport were reaffirmed.

Let us dip back into our memory banks several years.

Five years and one Stanley Cup ago, the Penguins lay on a precipitous perch. We wondered whether we would not just have a new building to play in, but if we would even have a team to fill it. The thought of watching the Kansas City Penguins (or whatever the hell they would have been called) kept us up nights. Those months were a blur of Sidney Crosby, Don Barden, Casinos and for most of us, pints of Guinness. But there was one central figure that stood out. One person that became the true enemy.

That person was Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

Rendell made it his personal crusade to ensure that the Penguins would never set foot in another arena. He fought tooth and nail against any form of public funding for the Pens new stadium, railing against the majority of Western Pennsylvanians (not shocking, given his strong allegiance towards Philadelphia). As Pittsburgh fans, during this time, Ed Rendell became the bane of our existence. The simple mention of his named caused Pens fans to suppress their gag reflexes. Thankfully, as we all know, Rendell ended up on the losing side of that battle.

Fast forward to today. We have a beautiful new arena just frothing at the mouth for hockey. But before Consol Energy became a hockey haven, it had a little treat in store for us. I like to think of it as a small thank you to the Pens fans that fought so hard for the arena to ever see the light of day.

With the red carpet undeservedly rolled out for the bigwigs of the state, a swirl of poetic justice blew through Mellon Arena, causing Governor Rendell to perform his best Greg Louganis impersonation .

That moment was so delicious that I think I'll grab a doggie bag to take the rest home.

Unfortunately, Rendell was okay. But it was an amazing moment for all of those who remember all of the ways in which Rendell tried to screw us over. If this wasn't fate, then I don't know what is.

It may only be August, but I believe we just got our first win at Consol Energy Center.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What Happens if the Penguins Don't Win The Cup in 2010-11?

It is my sincere hope that 10 months from now, this post will have been rendered utterly meaningless. My sincere hope that we'll be basking in the sun on Grant Street watching Crosby and the Pens gallivant among the throngs of adoring fans. My sincere hope that the Stanley Cup once again bathes in the Lemieux family pool.

But I also know that there are 29 other teams in this league who want to take it away.

If it ends up that the Cup goes elsewhere, it would lead to an extremely interesting offseason. Here's why:

Everyone knows that the core is in place: Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Orpik, Letang, Staal for the forseeable future (at least 3 years). We all know what that core group is capable of. The Pens will be in the hunt for the Cup year in and year out.

With the signings of D Paul Martin (5 years at $5 mil/per) and Zbynek Michalek (5 years at $4 mil/per), Ray Shero has put the Penguins in a very narrow cap gap for the 2011-12 season, with already over $50 million against the cap for that season.

2011 will be the offseason of the role player. The group that doesn't make the headlines, but always make the plays. It's what the Ray Shero Penguins have been all about: the talented core and the cast of misfits that knows nothing more than how to help win games. It's a proven formula for success. But what happens to the core if the misfits leave town?

An individual look at who could be gone come July of 2011:

Pascal Dupuis (currently makes $1.4 mil/year):

If you watched Pens hockey at all last year, then you understand exactly how important Pascal is to this team. A lighthearted favorite of both fans and fellow Penguins, Pascal's contributions on the ice in 2009-10 went far beyond his 18 goals and 38 points. Dupuis is an exemplary two-way forward with great speed, a hard shot, physical play and a simple desire to never be outworked. Dupuis turned 31 in April, and another year like last would cause his price tag to rise considerably from his current $1.4 million. Could someone give him a deal that at 32 years of age, he couldn't refuse? Absolutely. Make no bones about it though, you don't win a Stanley Cup without a guy like Pascal Dupuis.

Max Talbot (currently makes $1 mil/year):

Talbot will always be a hero in these parts. His Game 7, Cup-winning goals etched so deeply in our collective memory. Talbot shows all signs of a player who would love nothing more than to play out his entire career in Pittsburgh and then retire to Carson City Saloon in the South Side. Last year, Talbot struggled through a painful shoulder injury, and it showed. Once his shoulder had healed come playoff time, we began to see glimpses of the old Max. Talbot's contract situation is an interesting one. It's easy to forget how young Max still is (turned 26 in February). If Max were to stay healthy and have a season that could approach 15-20 goals (he was always a great goal scorer in Juniors), he could very well price himself out of Pittsburgh's range. The prospect of watching Talbot skate around in another team's jersey is about as appealing as a colonoscopy, but it's not out of the realm of possibility

Tyler Kennedy (currently makes $850K/year):

In what many thought could be a breakthrough year, Kennedy struggled at times last season. At first glance, Kennedy seems like a Pascal Dupuis type player: can score goals, very physical (more so than Dupuis) and always tenacious. However, there are times that Kennedy can look lost on the ice. Of all the potential free agents after the season, Kennedy has the most to prove. If he can start to find the net consistently on that third line, another team will peg him as a top 6 forward.

Craig Adams (currently makes $550K/year):

There's a reason that the Stanley Cup follows Craig Adams. He probably won't garner a ton of interest on the free agent market, and his age prevents the Penguins from having to give him a long-term deal. Sign him. Sign him. Sign him.

Mike Rupp (currently makes $825K/year):

I have no explanation for Rupp's goal explosion during the beginning of last season. The guy never scored more than 6 goals in any previous season, and last year he had that in November. Crazy. We all grew to love all the things we hated about him when he was with New Jersey. Who can forget Rupp shoving that dude through the zamboni doors against Ottawa in the playoffs? Classic.

Eric Godard (currently makes $750K/year)

Great fighter, pretty good around the puck (for an enforcer). Just not necessary to winning a Cup. Definitely the most likely of this group to be gone.

Sure, we're not looking at losing Malkin, Crosby, etc. But most Pens fans can tell you the importance of players such as Talbot, Adams, Dupuis and the likes. But with contract situations and the potential of young talent knocking on the door (Tangradi, Johnson, Connor, etc), it could lead to a very different Penguins team in 2011-12. Undoubtedly, Shero knows this too. He's proven himself to be an exceptional judge of both talent and character, and I have all faith that he'll do everything in his power to win.

He's probably going to need it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Report: Brett Favre to Retire (Again)

Indulge me for just this post, as I know it is not Pittsburgh related.

The Associated Press has released a report saying that Brett Favre will NOT return for the 2010 season. He has reportedly been in contact with the Minnesota organization, including his teammates, and has told him that his playing days are over. Rumors are abound that Favre's ankle injury is more severe than thought, and has not responded well to surgery.

This deals a massive blow to the Vikings, who now will rely on Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson to quarterback the Peterson-led offense. The report comes as a great surprise to many, who believed that Favre was more likely to play in 2010 than he had been the previous two seasons. Considering the conclusion of Minnesota's 2009 season, an overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship, most prognosticators expected Favre would seek his revenge in 2010.

Apparently, it is not to be. If this retirement is, in fact, a retirement, Favre leaves the game holding most of the major passing records, and puts to rest the last true "gunslinger" in the NFL.

If this really is it, Brett, we were lucky to have you as long as we did.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Jeff Reed Should Probably Shut Up

The Steelers Party Boy Kicker is at it again. This time his attacks are aimed towards the Steelers rather than bathroom paper towel dispensers. Locked in contract issues with the Steelers, he stated, "I'm not going to point anyone out or any statement out, but, yeah, I was told one thing and another thing happened. I understand business moves, but I'm not a big fan of lying." He later said, "It's one of those things, life is not really fair. I've experienced that a few times in this league."

Feel free to take a minute to digest how unbelievably idiotic that was.

When did Jeff Reed turn into Mike Vanderjagt?

This guy just can't stay sober or shut his mouth. I'm not even sure why he's still a Steeler. Talk about someone who has no respect for the Steeler tradition. Oh, and Jeff? You're making $2.8 million a year to kick a ball between two poles. Life isn't fair? What a douche. You're blessed enough to play football for the greatest organization in the league, and getting paid handsomely to do so. Life has worked out pretty well for you to this point. You should probably consult the 99% of Americans that DON'T make $2.8 million a year to figure out exactly what is fair and what isn't.

Reed is a good kicker, no doubt. But for a team that has been a magnet for tumult this off-season, why keep him? He's nothing but an cocky, loud-mouthed distraction. If I were LaMarr Woodley (who by the way, is in a contract dispute and makes 5 TIMES LESS than Reed) or any other Steeler, I surely wouldn't want this guy in the locker room.

Send him to the Raiders, he'd fit in better there.

Better yet, he should just leave football. I'm sure they've got an opening on Jersey Shore for him.

Oh yeah, and since I mentioned Mike Vanderjagt, this absolutely had to be posted. Still one of the best memories I've had as a Steeler fan.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What do Penguins do in the Off-Season?

Now that I've sucked you in with the title:

Way too cute. I'll write something about sports tonight.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pittsburgh Pirates Annual Fire Sale This Weekend!

In honor of the 18th annual Pittsburgh Pirates fire sale (or as some call it, the MLB trade deadline), I've decided to take a closer look at who may soon be former Pirates...

Starting Pitchers:

Paul Maholm: Paul’s making $5 million this year, which equates to nearly 1/6th of the Pirates entire payroll. Given the Pirates past nature of contract dumping, Maholm will be high on the list. It’s unfortunate. He’s a bit of a fan favorite, and at least offers some kind of stabilizing force in the rotation. Dodgers have shown interest, and other teams will likely follow suit before Saturday’s deadline. I’d expect him to be gone shortly.

Zach Duke: Haven’t heard about anyone knocking down the door to make a deal for Duke. No doubt that Duke hasn’t turned out quite like the organization had hoped.

Ross Ohlendorf: Too much raw talent. He’ll stay.

Jeff Karstens: Inconsistent, yet still serviceable. Just the type of pitcher the Pirates love. He’ll be here.


One of the few bright spots for the Buccos, the bullpen has been sensational at times…which means it should be ripe for the picking for big-money organizations.

Evan Meek: The star of the bullpen. Meek has developed into an excellent reliever, and I would have to believe the Pirates would someday give him the opportunity to start. How that will play out? Who knows. But rest assured, the Pirates asking price on Evan Meek will be scoffed at by his potential suitors, which is fine by me. Meek stays a Bucco, no doubt.

Octavio Dotel: With the exception of some early season struggles, Dotel has been a solid closer for the Pirates (on the rare occasions they’ve had save opportunities). Dotel is actively being shopped, and remains the most likely Pirates reliever to end up on another team by next week. Dotel is making $3.5 million. He’s in his mid-thirties, so he doesn’t truly fit into the Pirates future anyhow.

D.J. Carrasco: The second most likely pitcher to be sent packing. Carrasco, who has been a steady cog in the ‘pen since coming to Pittsburgh, is considered one of the better options in a relatively weak reliever market.

Joel Hanrahan: They better not. That’s all I’m going to say.

Javier Lopez: Pretty valuable guy. Could go either way, but I think he’ll stick around.

Position Players:

Ryan Doumit: Probably the most intriguing of the trade possibilities. I don’t think many Pirate fans want to see Doumit gone (myself included), but given the fact that he’s very injury prone, and is due a sizable raise – by Pirates standards - in 2010. Offensively minded catchers are a rare breed, and Doumit is one of them, which makes him look awfully interesting to contending teams looking for a power bat behind the plate. He won’t dazzle you with his defense, but he’s serviceable. I would think some team may make an offer for Doumit that the Pirates can’t refuse

Garrett Jones: Nope, he’s cheap and the asking price is too high for other teams. Jones won’t be jumping ship.

Neil Walker: Fat chance.

Andy LaRoche: Damnit. I don’t want to see LaRoche go. At all. I don’t think the Pirates want to either, he’s an excellent locker room guy, and great insurance if Pedro Alvarez decides to go into Derek Bell mode for some reason. Please stay, Andy.

Andrew McCutchen: If the Pirates were to trade McCutchen, an angry mob would storm across the street from Finnegan’s Wake and Mullen’s to burn PNC Park to the ground. They would then Google Map the homes of Frank Coonelly, Neal Huntingdon and Bob Nutting, and through tear-soaked eyes and wretched beer breath, would proceed to throw Molotov Cocktails through the windows, killing all inside.

Delwyn Young: When was the last time we had a bench player who was this valuable? He continues to wear the black and gold.

Bobby Crosby: We pay him over a million and he sucks, why keep him? He stays.

Ronny Cedeno: We just don’t have anyone else, he’ll stick around.

Lastings Milledge: Oh, Lastings. Why can’t you quite live up to that potential? Sometimes you look like Willie Mays, sometimes you look like Chad Hermansen. Just pick one and play like them. Stop toying with my emotions.

Pedro Alvarez: See Andrew McCutchen.

Ryan Church: Who cares?

Jose Tabata: Unless his estranged wife kidnaps him too, he remains in Pittsburgh.

If the Pirates trade Andrew McCutchen, you know where to find me this weekend.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Gospel According to Max- Doucheronomy 25:8

Pittsburgh didn't need any more reasons to love Max Talbot. Scoring both goals of a 2-1 win in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals will do that. In an interview with 105.9 the X radio station, he had some choice words about Alex Ovechkin. He's already an immortal icon in this city. Now he's giving us verbal treats like this.

"I just hate the guy," Talbot told Pittsburgh's 105.9 The X. "I can't lie. Sorry. Even more so for a guy like Ovechkin. Like, seriously, OK ... yeah. I don't like him. The first time I met him, let's say he didn't give the best impression to me, so better reason to hate him even more."

"Malkin knew Ovechkin and introduced me to him and the first impression wasn't great. I'm not really gonna say what happened but I'm like, 'OK, this guy is a real douche.'"

Wow. If Max Talbot thinks you're a douche, you might just be a douche. We all know that Max doesn't sugarcoat his feelings. What I want to know is what Ovechkin did to repulse Talbot so badly? Did he beat a girl? Steal Max's Primanti Brothers Capicola and Egg sandwich? Punt a kitten? Max seems the type to find something positive to say about everyone. Not Ovie though.

I can't wait to hear the rest of the NHL speak on Max's slamming of Ovechkin. Talk about how Talbot is a talented enough player himself to be spouting off about Ovechkin; Ovechkin can score more goals in a season that Talbot will in his career, blah blah blah.

To them, I say:

And the battle raged on.

Before I conclude, I must make special note of two people who left us this past week.

Kaye Cowher, the wife of former Steelers Coach Bill Cowher, who passed away from cancer late Friday at age 54. A very humble, generous woman who was a tremendous athlete in her own right, Kaye endeared herself to the Pittsburgh community through her charitable work for abused children, among others. All prayers go out to Bill and his three daughters: Meagan, Lauren and Lindsay.

And also, Penguins PA Announcer John Barbaro, who passed away yesterday also from a battle with cancer. Barbaro was the arena voice of the Penguins for 36 years. If you ever attended a Pens game during those 36 years, you will hear his voice forever. Barbaro was 65.

When Will the NFL Wake Up?

One of the biggest issues that has faced the NFL this summer was the examination that concluded that deceased Bengals WR Chris Henry had suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which was only previously found in players who had long since retired. I had expanded on this last month.

As the NFL season rapidly approches, the NFL has addressed this problem. How, you may ask? With a poster.

Some sportswriters are coming out in praise of the NFL, saying that it is a significant step in the right direction.

I'm not one of them.

Imagine you worked in an office building. You've begun to notice a few of your colleagues getting sick, the number growing larger and larger as time passes. Now imagine that an outside source has discovered that the office building is absolutely laced with asbestos, and that is the reason for the rampant illness.

Imagine still, that your bosses caught wind of the situation. You come into work one day and you see a poster at your desk which states, "This office building has asbestos everywhere. You might get sick. Please go back to work".

Would any of us want to work there? Probably not. That's the situation that NFL players are now in. The NFL has taken the stance of "There is a problem" rather than "There is a problem, and here is our plan to attempt to fix it".

In the wake of recent events, the NFL has been given a golden opportunity to firmly establish itself on the cutting edge of sports; to take a problem that has existed throughout its own sport and others, and stand up to it. When seen through that scope, the NFL's response is paltry at best. Criminally negligent at worst. The NFL is scoffing at its responsibility to the safety of their employees. It's not my nature to defend people who make millions for playing a game, but in a case where their overseers care more about profits than people, I make an exception. A racecar driver wouldn't step into a car unless it was of the highest safety quality, so why should an NFL player step foot on the field without being guaranteed the same?

This is not simply a scathing critique. It is a call to arms. Until both fans and players unite in common cause, the NFL will continue to treat this issue passively. The time has come for the NFL to both accept responsibility for it's lack of action and to prove to all who love football that the league cares about safety and honor above all else.

If only safety and honor were profitable.

Note: Expect another post (actually a Pittsburgh related one! shocking!) later tonight.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Steve Breaston Gives Back Through Both Words and Action

When Arizona Cardinals (and former Woodland Hills star) Wide Receiver Steve Breaston isn’t evading tackles on the field, he’s helping North Braddock youths evade the streets. Breaston has teamed up with I Miss You, Inc. to create the “I am What it Is” t-shirt, which all proceeds from go to the Steven Breaston Foundation. Breaston’s goal for the foundation is to create a center for the children of North Braddock to use for both study and play. The “I am What it Is” shirt is based off of a poem that Breaston wrote about how the people of North Braddock have helped him grow as a person. Breaston, who off the field has always had an interest in poetry, decided to use the poem as a vehicle to help those who he feels have enriched his life.

Breaston’s desire not only to stick to his roots, but rather to reinforce them, is a refreshing chorus from a league whose off-season has been a refrain of missteps and unwanted publicity. You won’t see this story in the headlines next to the latest on Ben Roethlisberger or Lawrence Taylor, but you better believe the people of North Braddock know that this is front-page material.

Pittsburgh should be as proud of Steve Breaston as he is of us.

If you are interested in helping out the citizens of North Braddock via the Steven Breaston Foundation and I Miss You, Inc., here is a link to the Steve Breaston “I Am What It Is” t-shirt.

Also, here is the poem that inspired the shirt:

"I Am What It Is"
I don't regret what I did and I'm not shameful for where I've lived. Remembering how I took cookies from under the babysitter's lid.

I am what it is, a product of Red Nerds and overflowing pop fizz, red stains on my shirt as I played games around the church... Wiffle balls in the lots where I slid in rocks instead of dirt, for this felt good it never hurt... Grilled government cheese is how my parents made it work, with these memories I go to work...

Or Zips' corner store, where a bag of fish was 25 cents and not a nickel more, add a quarter and that's what you can get a pickle for, and sure there were a few pickles I got into... But few questioned the things that I might do...

Even if I did, but I fight through because they reminded me that I was in reach of what's under my eyelids...

My dreams, the reason there are more than eleven on my team. For my little league friends in heaven know what I mean, and by any means, I will show the light of my birthplace, the community that showed me that victor is not always the one who stands in the first place, the basis on why I'm here in the first place... 

For these memories are what I'm worth,

And for what it's worth, I think about them first.

-Steve Breaston

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

British Open Commences with an Old Friend Rising

Is it an apparition, a mere illusion? Or is ever-so-volatile John Daly tied (one stroke ahead of Tiger Woods) in second place during the first round of the British Open, at a course where he raised the Claret Jug fifteen years ago? In the wee hours of the morning here on the east coast, while most were asleep, John Daly was putting together one of his best rounds in years, putting up 7 birdies next to just one bogey. Daly casts an complex and convoluted shadow across the golf course, being equally revered and reviled by golf fans (getting taken into custody for being drunk outside of a Hooters one minute, and doing wonderful work for Make-a-Wish the next). Golf's most notorious bad boy is now 44 and struggling to hold on to relevancy, which would truly make this a compelling story if Daly were able to repeat his performance over the weekend. A year ago, Daly shot an 88 in the Buick Open, a laughable number that would have crushed most golfers attempting to resurrect their career. Yet here we are, one year and a 22 stroke difference later, looking at John Daly's name towards the top of the leaderboard.

St. Andrews Links in Fife, Scotland has played host now to 27 British Opens. Were I to pick a favorite for number 28, I would have to go with:

Zane Scotland.

Come on. That's like Bill America winning the US Open. It's just too good. (Side note, Scotland is 2 under through 12)

The ESPY Awards were hosted on ESPN last night, with the big winners being Drew Brees and the Saints, Landon Donovan, and Shaun White. It was an enjoyable evening except for one moment: Best Play.

The winner was Brett Favre's last second touchdown pass to Greg Lewis.


In a year where we saw a kid leap over the catcher to nab home plate, Mark Buehrle making the greatest defensive play ever by a pitcher, Patrick Kane win the Stanley Cup in overtime, and Landon Donovan score the most important goal in US Soccer history, the award went to a regular season NFL touchdown pass. That's what happens when your balloting is purely fan-driven (most fans are idiots, myself included).

If they would have had a Dick of the Year ESPY, they would have given it to LeBron James during an hour long special.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mike Tomlin and Omar Epps: Brothers; Ben Pees in Trees?

The MLB All Star Game is tonight. Nobody from Pittsburgh even cares.

Except Evan Meek. Bless his heart. Seems like a really good guy who's worked hard to get where he is. His ERA is still higher than Barry Bonds' sperm count.

Coach Tomlin signed a three year extension today, marking the first positive move that the Steelers made all offseason. Funny how a lot of people were saying that Tomlin wasn't going to get extended. Did these people know the Rooney's at all? Any Pittsburgh Steeler fan knew that Tomlin wasn't going to be ousted after 3 seasons, especially with one of those years culminating in a Super Bowl win. Idiots.

By the way, if they ever make a movie about Mike Tomlin, he'll totally be played by Omar Epps. Unbelievable.

In more typical Steeler offseason news. Ben Roethlisberger was named in an investigation at a golf course in Columbus, OH. It was alleged that Roethlisberger peed in the woods between the 17th green and 18th tee. Sources close to Roethlisberger claim that it was another man in his foursome that watered the grass. Under normal circumstances, it would be the epitome of all that is not news (I even went as far as to ask Jason LaCanfora via Twitter, who agreed that there was nothing to it).

Big Ben practices his pee form.

However, I will slightly disagree with Jason. Were it to be just about any other NFL player, it would be nothing more than a humorous footnote. But because the accused is already facing a suspension, it becomes a more significant issue. Commissioner Goodell stated that he would reduce Roethlisberger's suspension from six to four games with good behavior. By "good behavior", Goodell essentially told Roethlisberger to lay low and stay out of the news. It seems unfortunate, especially if Roethlisberger wasn't doing the whizzing, but Goodell has made it abundantly clear during his tenure that he puts up with NOTHING. Time will tell whether or not Goodell will discuss this situation with Ben.

What an offseason.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

LeBron Feeling the Heat

I'm from Pittsburgh. I feel a fierce loyalty to my sports teams. One of the things that comes with that loyalty is a pure hatred of all things Cleveland sports. We take almost a perverse pleasure out of hating Cleveland. It's what we do.

I can't do it tonight.

I told myself I wouldn't watch the LeBron's Prime Time Emancipation Proclamation. I really didn't want to. But alas, I'm human, and I have urges. My eyes were glued when he said "Miami Heat".

Were I to be a Cavs fan, the only thing I could compare this debacle to is to come home one day and find your wife banging an illegal immigrant. Oh, and it's being televised on ESPN for an hour.

I never had anything against LeBron. A little showy, but stayed out of trouble, and seemed like a pretty genuine ambassador to the game of basketball. This changes everything. What happened to the 18 year old kid that was so concerned about his financial well-being that he befriended Warren Buffet, one of the most respected investors in the world? The kid who looked like he was living out his dream every time he stepped on the court in Cleveland? He's been replaced by a complete egomaniac. Someone who knows nothing outside of himself. And who is perfectly happy with it. What other explanation is there? Would a humble person think he deserved an hour of television time in order to tell people what city he's going to be shooting basketballs in?

Back to Cleveland. This is a city that knows heartbreak above all else. From Earnest Byner's fumble to Jordan's shot over Craig Ehlo. This is different. This was a script. A carefully crafted backstabbing of the city that loved him unconditionally, poised for all the world to see.

Let this be an open letter to the city of Cleveland. Your turnpike neighbors aren't laughing at you. We're commiserating with you tonight.

You've been through enough. You didn't deserve this.

Hopefully Delonte West is sticking it to LeBron's mom as hard as LeBron gave it to Cleveland.

Why is there even an NBA Salary Cap?

After sifting through the hubbub surrounding NHL free agency last week, and now being faced with the LeBron James show tonight on ESPN, I realized something.


This isn't coming from a Pittsburgh-homer perspective, just a sports fans. I love both hockey and basketball (particularly college). Both sports are by nature physical, fast-paced and flat out fun.

But when it comes to the way these leagues are run, it's not even close.

The NHL has a salary cap. PERIOD. There's no getting around it. Free agency in the NHL is more about doing the salary cap dance and signing the best players with your available money. The NBA? Forget it. The salary cap is just a number, not a law. Here's the breakdown:

2010-11 NBA "Salary Cap" = $58 million.

At first glance, you think, "Oh, well that's right where the NHL salary cap is! But wait, why are there so many $20+ million/year contracts in basketball?" Well, readers, here's why.

The NBA has a "luxury tax line", which is really just an excuse for teams to be able to spend more money. The 2010-11 Luxury Tax Line = $70 million.

And THEN, NBA rules state that teams have to pay an additional tax if they go over the luxury tax line, of $1 for every $1 they spend. To use an example, last year, the champion LA Lakers went $21.4 MILLION over the luxury tax line. Which means while the NBA "salary cap" was at $56 million last year, the "champion" LA Lakers spent a grand total of:

$90 million

Not to place the blame solely on one team. 11 of the 30 NBA teams went over the luxury tax line. To make things even more screwy, each team that doesn't go over the luxury tax line receives a $3.7 million rebate. That's not a typo. By not going $12 million OVER the salary cap, NBA owners make $3.7 million.

With the recent craze over where LeBron goes, and now that indicators are pointing to Miami, where Chris Bosh yesterday signed a monster deal, and Dwayne Wade is about to as well. Throw LeBron and his $20 million plus deal into the mix, and you've got a team that's turned the NBA salary cap into a Dane Cook joke (all show, no substance).

People can complain about the way the NHL has addressed the head shot issue, the fact that Gary Bettman looks like a troll, whatever.

The facts are that the NHL gets the basics right. They have rules that must be abided by, no loopholes, no exemptions. The NBA is anarchic, the rulebook serving only as a paperweight to $25 million contracts. It's why the appeal of the NBA is on the decline, and the NHL is on the rise. The general populous can relate to hockey players, they have an air of humanity about them. The mega-deal NBA fosters no such connection.

So ESPN, you can spare me the details. I will not be watching your LeBron James Contract Special. For as much of a joke as the NBA is, it should probably be broadcast on Comedy Central.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

NHL Free Agency Update Post

Will use this post for all pertinent Penguins Free Agency updates. Keep checking.

12:20 PM: First and maybe biggest news of the day. Gonchar to Ottawa Senators. 3 years at about $5.5 mil/per. Who wouldn't go for that raise. We'll miss you, Gonch.

1:20 PM: Pens sign D Zybnek Michalek to a 5 year, $20 million deal. Less than what Hamhuis, Gonchar, Volchenkov have/will go for, so a good sign for Shero and the Pens

2:40 PM: Conflicting reports on whether or not D Paul Martin is a Penguin. ESPN says yes, Rob Rossi says not yet. Wait and see.

2:45 PM: Looks like ESPN was right. 5 years at $5 million per year. Shero leaving very little cap room here. Quite a surprise after the Michalek signing.

NHL Free Agency. Bring it.

Today, we will begin to get a far better picture of what the Penguins will look like come October. As of 10AM, it appears that Gonchar, Hamhuis, Eaton, Guerin, Ponikarovsky, Fedotenko, McKee and Leopold will all test the open market. Not that we ever truly expected one of the last four names I mentioned to sign. I would have to believe that Shero is trying valiently to ink Hamhuis before noon eastern. Probably not going to happen.

There are a bunch of names that can be thrown around, especially when it comes to defensemen, which are undoubtedly Shero's first priority. I'm not going to waste my time espousing any particular theories I have as to who the Pens will sign. The only thing that I do know is that Shero is not going to overpay for anyone, which is just fine.

If Shero is able to get a d-man to sign on the dotted line, he'll probably go hot after a mid-range winger (Colby Armstrong? Eh, maybe!). All I know is that it promises to be an eventful few days.

Here's a guy who thankfully isn't going anywhere. It seems like so long ago that this feat of awesome happened. Enjoy.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Free Agency Looms; The Great Ham-bino's Decision Waits

Ray Shero is a beast. Somehow, he’s juggling talks with Dan Hamhuis and Sergei Gonchar, while also holding contract discussions with Mark Eaton and Bill Guerin. Still, the most likely scenario has Gonchar leaving town, as he likely won’t budge on his desire for a three year deal. Hamhuis would likely cost the Pens about $4-4.5 million per year for the duration of his deal. Even though the Pens main focus of the offseason has been on defense, they’re likely still in the market for a winger. They’ve got about $12 million to work with this year, but will probably leave $1 mil to play around with during the season.

In regards to the Hamhuis talks, as time goes on, it looks worse and worse. Hamhuis truly seems to want to play near his home (western Canada), and doesn’t seem overly interested in playing for the GM that drafted him. Today is the day however, and we all know that sometimes deals get done when it seems least likely.

In Rejean we trust.

Willie Colon tore his Achilles, making a bad offensive line even worse. The Steelers are exploring free agency, and yesterday brought in former Pro Bowler Flozell Adams for a workout.

Pro Bowler is an odd term. I want Jerome Bettis and his bowling skill to go pro, that way he’ll be the first Pro Bowler Pro Bowler. It’s weird where my mind will go when I let it.

The Buccos are on track for one of the worst months in the history of the franchise. It’s not shocking, but still upsetting as a fan. It always hurts to watch good people, which I think most fans would agree that the Pirates players are, go through hard times. Especially when they’re 110% constrained by management. The Pirates are so bad, that I think they should just let Andrew McCutchen go to a team that can actually utilize his massive amounts of talent. It will be very interesting to see what the Pirates will do before the trade deadline next month.

What a beautiful Wednesday in Pittsburgh. In honor of it, let’s have a look at (hopefully) a future Pens D-Man.

Edit: Sad news just coming out. The two year old son of former Eagles QB Randall Cunningham drowned in the family hot tub. Condolences go out to Randall and his family. It's a shame to see such tragedy befall a good person.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Chris Henry's Brain Offers Reprimand of NFL Complicity

Just over six months ago, tragedy struck the NFL when troubled Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry was thrown from the back of a pickup truck and killed after an altercation with his fiancĂ©e. Friends and colleagues noted Henry’s sincere attempts to change his previous ways.

Today we understand more about Henry’s behaviors.

In a sensational article by the Post-Gazette’s Chuck Finder, we’re offered a look inside the brain of Chris Henry and a scathing critique of safety in the NFL.

It’s a lengthy and in-depth read, so you’re pressed for time, the article simply discusses how Henry likely suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the same disease attributed to the depression and eventual deaths of former Steelers Mike Webster and Justin Strzelczyk. People who suffer from CTE have similar behaviors to those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. According to doctors, the tissue in Henry’s brain was very similar to someone eighty or ninety years old. According to Finder, Henry is the first active player to be diagnosed with CTE.

Taken alone, the article is disturbing enough. However, when all things are considered, it becomes shocking. Food for thought:

1. Henry was NEVER diagnosed with a concussion through high school, college or pro football.

2. Henry is by far the youngest football player (he was 26 at the time of his death) to ever be diagnosed with CTE. Mike Webster and Justin Strzelczyk were both long retired before experiencing serious troubles.

3. In comparison to Webster and Strzelczyk (both offensive lineman), Henry played a fairly docile position (wide receiver). While Webster and Strzelczyk were getting hit on every play, Henry was not.

When most people think about head injuries in the NFL, they think of the lineman or linebackers. Large men in the trenches putting their bodies on the line every single play. Outside of a kicker, the position of wide receiver is the least punishing. However, here is a wide receiver that was clearly suffering from severe trauma.

Let this situation serve as an indictment of the NFL’s lack of concern about the safety of their sport. I consider myself to be a typical football fan. What has always attracted me to the game is the passion and physical play. However, when that physicality begins to put people’s lives at risk; and Finder’s article DOES attribute many of Henry’s behaviors to the injuries he sustained, the NFL must re-evaluate its priorities. If a 26 year old wide receiver with no concussion history has the brain tissue of an 80 year old, something is drastically askew.

As players get bigger and stronger, the problem will get worse. Action needs to be taken now. If you have to outlaw head shots, do it. The sport and its fans will adapt. If they don’t, they were never fans to begin with.

Men like Chris Henry, Mike Webster, Justin Strzelczyk and many others cannot have died in vain. If this type of damage happened to Henry, it can happen to everybody and anybody in football.

In what has already been an extremely tumultuous offseason for the National Football League, this story will be overshadowed by the Roethlisberger situation, among others. Don’t be fooled. This is the most important thing that’s happened involving the NFL this year.

Don’t be afraid to stand up and hold the NFL responsible.

Note: I’ll update later tonight about the other happenings of the past weekend in sports. This was simply to important to skim over.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

NHL Awards Ceremony; The Most Epic Picture in Blog History

If you haven’t been paying attention to the John Isner/Nikolas Mahut match at Wimbledon, shame on you. The two resume play today for the THIRD day, attempting to break their 5th set tie, at 59-59. That’s not a typo. The match has gone on for 10 hours. Just the fifth set alone hast taken over 7 hours, which ALONE would make it the longest match in history. Really an unbelievable performance by these two.

Ben Roethlisberger made a surprise visit to his kids camp yesterday. No word on whether or not any of the kids had a chance bathroom encounter with him.

The NHL Awards Ceremony took place in Las Vegas last night. The only Penguin hardware went to Captain Crosby, who took home the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award.

I swear to all major and minor deities that this picture is NOT photoshopped. Not sure what's going on, but it's incredible.

Jordan Staal, as predicted, lost out on the Selke Award to Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings. Not truly a surprise, first time nominees seldom are awarded the Selke. The smart money says Staal won’t retire without a few of those on his mantle.

Crosby lost out on both the Lindsay Award and Hart Trophy (MVP). Alex Ovechkin walked away with the Lindsay, while Henrik Sedin of Vancouver won the Hart, with Crosby finishing third in the voting. Who cares? Couldn’t find Ovechkin or Sedin’s name on the Stanley Cup, so whatever.

Still no word on Gonchar’s potential departure.

The Pirates got crushed by the Texas Rangers last night. Bob Nutting and his cronies still won’t open their wallets, so it’s not like we should expect anything different.

The US will play Ghana in their second round matchup. 95% of the US didn’t even realize Ghana was a country.

Enjoy this wonderful Thursday while watching part 4 of the Pittsburgh Sports-gasm:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

They Couldn't Take it From U.S.

For the better part of ninety minutes, it unfolded like a nightmare for United States soccer. England beats Slovenia, and the toxic mix of horrid officiating and missed opportunities had the U.S. on their deathbed as penalty time approached. Most newsmen were already writing their stories; the pundits preparing their condemnation of the referees. As it often does, it happened quickly. An Algerian odd man break denied by U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, who launched a rush the other way. The next few seconds prove to be a blur, Jozy Altidore throws it in front. The ball squirts away from the Algerian goalie out to the waiting right foot of U.S. star Landon Donovan. What followed was perhaps the most dramatic moment in U.S. World Cup history:

What a moment for the United States. The U.S. wins their group for the first time since 1930, and advance to the round of 16.

On to other things. That Stephen Strasburg card is still through the roof.

Great read from Dejan Kovacevic at the Post-Gazette, chronicling the rise of Pirates reliever Evan Meek, who continues to have an outstanding season for the Buccos.

Rumors are continuing to swirl about the Penguins trading away the rights to defenseman Sergei Gonchar. If the Pens and Gonchar are as far away on contract talks as they seem to be, this would be a move that would definitely make sense for the Penguins. We're probably seeing the last moments of Sergei Gonchar as a Pittsburgh Penguin.

I give you part three of the Pittsburgh Sports-gasm. Raise a beer to U.S. soccer tonight.