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.