Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Who the hell are the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers?

Crushing defeat at the hands of Baltimore.
Defense pitches a shutout against Seattle.
Indy almost pulls off the upset.
Houston demolishes the Steeler Run D.
Everyone does their part dismantling the Titans.

If there's ever been a more schizophrenic 5 games in the last decade, I don't remember them. One week, they're written off, and the next, they're Super Bowl Contenders. Here are just a few things that I think are set in stone about this year.


1. The offensive line.

They are aptly named, as their play offends anybody who watches it. Ben Roethlisberger is apparently being punished by the cosmos for his sexcapades by getting plowed for three hours on national TV every Sunday. The running game has disappeared like Rashard Mendenhall's Twitter account. They're so bad that fans welcomed back Max Starks with fervent enthusiasm. Dear Lord.

2. The run defense.

Finally, after all these years, age is catching up to these guys. Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Casey Hampton...oh how we've loved you. We really have. Three of the most important Steelers of the 2000s. Just thinking about you makes me smile.

But unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. And that includes your careers. Let's see what Worilds, Hood and Heyward can do.

3. The running game.

When Jonathan Dwyer posts up the best rushing performance of the year (by 40 yards, no less). You have problems. Big ones.


1. The pass defense.

Just saying this gives me a headache. One of the best pass defenses in the league? Really? I'm not sure when Ike Taylor turned into Darrelle Revis, but nobody has thrown on Ike all year. The tandem of William Gay and Keenan Lewis have surprised everybody. You know what you get with Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. Seeing the run defense be as bad as it is compared to the pass makes me feel as if I'm living in some parallel universe. And then I realize that I'm still a hairy ginger, so that thought gets thwarted pretty fast.

2. The wide receivers.

Top to bottom, this may end up being the best receiving corps in Steelers history. VERY rarely do you hit on two receivers in the same draft, but Kevin Colbert appears to have done it with Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. Throw in budding star Mike Wallace and everyone's favorite reality dance champion, and you've got unlimited weapons for Ben Roethlisberger. Considering that Wallace, Sanders and Hines Ward were all third round picks, and Antonio Brown was a sixth rounder, it's a remarkable testament to the due diligence of the Steelers front office.

3. Dan Sepulveda.

Shut up. I love the guy.

Given the ease of the schedule (I think at some point the Steelers play North Allegheny), I do think the Steelers are a playoff team.

But ask me again next week.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

He Called Him Safe?

It was 1:50 AM on July 27th, 2011.

Just in case you wanted to document the worst call in baseball history.

With all due respect to the Jim Joyce/Armando Galarraga perfect game debacle, when it comes to the ease of the call, umpire Jerry Meals rendition of what really happened between Mike McKenry and Julio Lugo borders on the hallucinogenic.

Before I post a link to a YouTube video that Major League Baseball will take down in the next thirty seconds, let me set the scene for those who drifted off to peaceful slumber.

Bottom of the 19th. Braves runners on second and third. One out. Relief pitcher Scott Proctor takes the plate for only the second time since 2007. Immediately goes down 0-2 to Pirates workhorse reliever Daniel McCutchen. McCutchen delivers, Proctor grounds to a charging Pedro Alvarez at third base. 850 year old Atlanta Brave Julio Lugo makes a beeline for home plate. Alvarez comes with a strong and accurate throw. McKenry receives it and swipes at Julio Lugo. Then all hell breaks loose.

Now okay, there's a lot going on in this 1 minute, 48 second video:

1. Most importantly, you can see the angles of the tag. The definitive one is at about 1:30 of the video. You can see McKenry making the swipe, and Julio Lugo's pantleg reverberating from the contact of McKenry's mitt. If ANYONE felt as if Lugo actually was safe, that angle puts the axe to that idea.

2. Clint Hurdle turned a color that I didn't know a human being could. It was almost a blackish purple hue. Even in my stunned disbelief at what I had just seen, I was readying myself to call an ambulance for him.

3. How bad do you feel for Mike McKenry? To catch 19 innings and over 300 pitches to have it end like that? Ouch.

4. If Lyle Overbay doesn't hold back Daniel McCutchen, he probably eats Jerry Meals.

5. This isn't in the video, but I had seen it last night (and had it confirmed through a billion tweets), that Neil Walker was actually signing autographs for fans immediately after the game. That's insane. Neil Walker, you are without a doubt a better person than I am. I would have been punching holes in anything I could. What a class act.

6. Scott Proctor does the world's most inexplicable belly flop, absolutely ensuring that if Meals calls out Lugo, McKenry can lob the ball to Overbay at first to complete the double play and get out of the inning.

We should have a bit of perspective here. Yes, the Pirates lost. If Meals ends up making the right call, maybe the Pirates win, maybe they don't. But the fact is that they deserved to find out. While the Pirates lost the game, the true losers were MLB fans as a whole. It was an instant classic. a six-and-a-half hour epic that featured game-saving plays and two of the best bullpen showings in baseball history. It didn't deserve to end that way. Fans should have either been treated to Joel Hanrahan closing out a Pirates win, or a dramatic walk-off hit by Atlanta. Not this. Major League Baseball owes the Pirates an apology, and the Pirates owe Major League Baseball a tongue-lashing.

Just as an additional note, shame on Jerry Meals for the way that he has reacted to his call. Within 30 minutes of Jim Joyce's awful call, he released a statement of contrition, saying that he had simply blown the call. His regretful demeanor and sheer humanness endeared him to fans, and to Armando Galarraga himself. While he still has a chance to do something similar, Jerry Meals is showing no signs of it.

Given the surroundings and circumstance, we will likely look back on this as a turning point in the Pirates season. The Buccos will either harness the "Us vs. Them" mentality and use it to their advantage, or crumble under the weight of fatigue and difficulty of schedule. Only time will tell.

And in just over 8 hours, the Buccos will continue the fight.

If the Pirates weren't "America's Team" at 1:49 AM this morning, they sure are now.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Captain Obvious? Western Conference Shit

I've been hearing about this league called the "Western Conference". Apparently they play hockey just like the East, except three hours later. Not sure who could stay up for that.

Central Division:

Detroit Red Wings:

Captain: Nicklas Lidstrom
Player who should be Captain: Nicklas Lidstrom forever.

If you're wondering who Nick Lidstrom is, get off my blog. The dude is a Captain among Captains. Would he have steered the Titanic into an iceberg? No. He'd have broken the iceberg with a wrist shot.

Nashville Predators:

Captain: Shea Weber
Player who should be Captain: Shea Weber

Don't care if it wasn't for Nashville, if you shoot the puck through the net, you own the ice. Period.

Chicago Blackhawks:

Captain: Jonathan Toews
Player who should be Captain: Patrick Sharp

I'm a sucker for players like Patrick Sharp. He's not as talented as Toews (though he's no slouch, as his 34 goals last year will attest), but he's far more mature and has a great presence on the ice. He can play the tough minutes and is willing to mix it up with anybody. Sharp is a free agent after this season, and if the Blackhawks let him go, then they're idiots.

(Aside: I bet there are at least 45 "Sharp-Dressed Man" jokes in that article.)

St. Louis Blues:

Captain: None.
Player who should be Captain: David Backes

Backes is a true pain-in-the-ass. Which is pretty much a necessity if you're going to be a decent captain. For a forward, he's a fairly menacing force at 6-3, 230 lbs. The kind of guy who stands in front of the net, pistol-whips the goalie and puts the puck home. With a youthful pool of talent growing around him, Backes is the logical choice to lead the Blues in this tough division.

Columbus Blue Jackets:

Captain: Rick Nash
Player who should be Captain: Dear God, somebody get Rick Nash out of Columbus

Seriously, the dude is wasted there. They don't have anyone around him, aside from Plum native R.J. Umberger, pictured below:

Only 5 percent of my readers will get that joke. Oooh, RJ!

I'm being real though. Somebody needs to go to Columbus and save Rick Nash.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Silence is Broken

It's been way to hot to post anything.

Somehow, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been hotter.

In what seems like a two-month fever dream, the Pirates have re-kindled a passion for baseball that hasn't existed for a long time in Pittsburgh. Since Memorial Day, the Pirates are 27-17. Their 51st win of the season came on July 19th. Last year, their 51st win came on September 19th. There are more mind-boggling statistics, but as the great Dodgers Announcer Vin Scully once said, "Statistics are used like a drunk uses a lamp post, for support, not illumination".

So allow me to waylay statistics, and tell you why I really think the Pirates are winning.

^This guy.

Hurdle isn't running away with the Manager of the Year award. He's taking what we used to know as the Manager of the Year, and kicking it in the balls. Hurdle and his staff (Pitching coach Ray Searage deserves his own award for making Jeff Karstens look like Greg Maddux) have marched their way into Pittsburgh and completely changed the atmosphere and attitude of this organization. Ever since Jim Leyland, every manager from Gene Lamont to John Russell looked as if they would rather be managing a Taco Bell. Simply going through the motions like a 16 year old doing chores.

Not Clint Hurdle though.

He's been the breath of fresh air that hasn't existed in Pittsburgh since the early 90s. He's an intense, yet jovial and portly guy who talks fast and chews his gum with such tenacity that you become legitimately concerned about his well-being. Hurdle is exactly the tonic that a young team needs: wielding an incessantly positive attitude while also refusing to except failure. Seriously, when was the last time you remember a Pirate team that has been so fundamentally sound? Talent is one thing, but fundamentals are directly derived from good coaching.

Hurdle is the sole reason why I don't buy into people that say that the Pirates will fade as the season goes on. Yes, the schedule is tough. We play the Brewers about 8,000 times. We play Atlanta, we play Philly, whatever. This is a team that will succeed because Hurdle has them believing that they should. The Buccos see no reason why they can't go up to Miller Park now and take 2 of 3 games. They couldn't care less about how good the Phillies pitching staff is. They only care about playing the best baseball they can.

And in 2011, their best may be good enough.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Captain Obvious? Part 3- Northeast Division

The Northeast Division sucks. I can always count on them for awful, boring hockey. I forgot Ottawa even had a team. Oh well, here goes:

Boston Bruins:

Captain: Zdeno Chara
Player who should be Captain: Zdeno Chara

I may hate Chara, but he's about the only choice. Recchi? Meh, no thanks. I think Chara is overrated, big and clumsy. He's got a great shot and is a good puck mover, but beyond that, I don't see anything particularly masterful about his game. He may not be a "repeat offender", but Chara has a history of some unpunished nasty play (see: the Max Pacioretty incident). Hopefully he doesn't get his ring this year.

Montreal Canadiens:

Captain: Brian Gionta
Player who should be Captain: Brian Gionta

Brian Gionta is an easy choice. He's what a Captain should be: a pain in the ass. Every team that plays against him knows it. He always manages to score the big goal, and is a true warrior. Like Marty St. Louis, Gionta uses his small stature to his advantage, creating leverage that lets him deliver some big hits. He's a consistent 20-plus goal guy (the year after the lockout, he had almost 50 goals, don't know where the hell that came from). I would have to believe there are a lot of teams in the NHL who would love Gionta as a captain.

Buffalo Sabres:

Captain: Nobody.
Player who should be Captain: Jason Pominville

This is tough. I dislike Buffalo, but they're a team full of captain-esque players. Pominville, to me, stands out. After Ryan Miller, Pominville is the first Sabre I think about (sorry, Thomas Vanek). He's another gritty guy who isn't afraid to trade some paint (thought I'd throw in a NASCAR term for the 2 people who read my blog wondering why I never talk about racing). Here's my process: When I think about who should be the Captain of a team, I think about what person I would want the Pens to have, and in this case, it's Jason Pominville.

Ottawa Senators:

Captain: Daniel Alfredsson
Player who should be Captain: Nobody.

They don't deserve a captain. Here's their current one:

I'm not begrudging Alfredsson's talent, he's a great player. But in the same realm as French soccer legend Zinedine Zidane, when I think about Alfredsson, I don't think about his ability, I think of this play. Mind the situation, a 2-2 tie in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals. I don't care what he says, this is intentional. If you watch the video, you'll bear witness to the only time I've ever agreed with Pierre McGuire. He eyes up Niedermayer, ADJUSTS HIS BODY, and fires the puck. It was captain-vs.-captain, and it showed me everything I know about who was the superior player and person in that situation. What a jerk.

Toronto Maple Leafs:

Captain: Dion Phaneuf
Player who should be Captain: Nobody, every Maple Leafs fan should wear a "C"

Seriously, being a Maple Leaf fan for the last 20 years sucks. The fact that they sell out every game is a testament to the fans in Toronto.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Captain Obvious? Part 2- Southeast Division

This is too much fun. I love standing up on this pulpit, judging other people's/teams decisions. I would be a sweet cult leader, but none of that mass suicide crap, unless we lose another Stanley Cup or Super Bowl. Anyways, on with the show, this installment focuses on the captains of the Southeast Division.

Washington Capitals:

Captain: Alexander Ovechkin
Player who should be Captain: Brooks Laich

I know he's a free agent this year, but my man-crush on Brooks Laich knows no contractual stipulations. But man, when you have a team as loaded as the Caps are, and as their leader, you can't inspire them to even win a game in the second round of the playoffs, or for that matter, to EVER get past the second round? That's pretty bad. I'm not taking anything away from Ovechkin as a player, he's got more talent than I could ever hope to have in anything. But the facts remain the same. Unlike Crosby, he's shown no real ability to lead his troops. He doesn't raise the game of the people around him, he simply tries to win the game by himself. This was never more apparent than in Game 4 of the Lightning series this year. Ovi probably took about a billion shots in that game, but nobody around him was playing with any sense of urgency. As a captain, you need to harness your energy and distribute it amongst the rest of your team. Ovechkin doesn't seem to have that ability, and until he does (if ever), he doesn't deserve the "C".

Tampa Bay Lightning

Captain: Vincent LeCavalier
Player who should be Captain: Martin St. Louis

This is probably more for the sake of argument than anything else. LeCavalier seems like a perfectly capable Captain. He leads, he raises his game up to the next level when he needs to, and plays a pretty clean game. It's hard not to love Martin St. Louis though. He's the ultimate underdog. Undrafted out of the University of Vermont, and extremely undersized, his tenacity and utter refusal to let his stature be a hindrance to his game is an inspiration to all who watch him. This is a truly tough call.

Carolina Hurricanes

Captain: Eric Staal
Player who should be Captain: Eric Staal

There's not really anyone else it could be. Cam Ward? Meh.

Atlanta Thrashers/Manitoba Moose?

Captain: Andrew Ladd
Player who should be Captain: Andrew Ladd

A case could be made for Dustin Byfuglien, but he's only been there a year. For the few Thrashers games that Pens fans get to watch in a year, eyes often fixate to Ladd. A very underrated player, Ladd looks as if he's always trying to hold back an avalanche. He knows the team around him sucks, but every shift, he strives for that not to be the case. Andrew, if you don't feel like moving your stuff the whole way to Manitoba, feel free to just set up camp here in Pittsburgh. I can hope, right?

Florida Panthers:

Captain: None
Player who should be Captain: None

If you can even name three players on the Panthers, congratulations. So why should they even have a Captain? Management is making the right call here. Nobody cares about your team anyways, why put in the work of deciding on who should be Captain? Just go lay on the beach.

On second thought, they should probably make Scott Clemmensen the captain just because of this:


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Captain Obvious? Part 1 of a 6 Part Epic

Captain Obvious is a six part blog epic exploring all NHL captains, who deserves to be there, and who doesn't. Frankly, this is a result of my frustration towards the Pirates not scoring runs and my general disdain for Mike Richards. Since this is a Pittsburgh Blog, part 1 will focus on the Atlantic Division.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

Captain: Sidney Crosby
Player who should be Captain: Sidney Crosby

This is pretty much a no-brainer. He's the best player in the NHL, and sets an example for the team on and off the ice. It was plainly apparent how much Crosby was missed during the stretch run of this past season. He's a guy who is able to elevate the game of everyone who laces up the skates with him. He's an all-world talent that has the mentality of a player who is just trying to make the squad. I could say more about him, but anything beyond this would be redundant and insulting to a Pens fan. Get better, Sid.

2. Philadelphia Flyers

Captain: Mike Richards
Player who should be Captain: Kimmo Timonen

Trying to choose what Flyer should be Captain is like choosing what gun you want to be shot in the face with. No matter what, it sucks. Richards has become just like every other Flyer, dirty plays that don't get called, and mouthing off to the media. Next thing you know, he'll be banging Scott Hartnell's wife. As for Timonen, at this point in his career, he's deserving of a captaincy. He's been a stalwart on Philly's defensive front for a few years now, and has displayed a Brooks Orpik-like calm and cool on the ice. As is usually the case with Finnish players, Timonen is a classy guy, and seems like a great locker room personality as well. Timonen is without a doubt the least of all evils.

3. New Jersey Devils

Captain: Nobody
Player who should be Captain: Patrick Elias

Beyond Marty Brodeur, no Devil is more recognizable than Patrick Elias. He's been a Devil since before I had pubes. Though he's 35, his productivity has shown no signs of slowing. Since the Captainship was vacated by the Jamie Langenbrunner trade this past year, Elias seems to me to be the logical choice.

4. New York Rangers

Captain: Chris Drury
Player who should be Captain: Chris Drury

It's pretty hard to argue against Drury. The only player in league history to win both the Hobey Baker and the Calder Trophies, a three-time Olympian, and one of the few players in the leauge who have captained multiple teams. Drury hasn't always put up huge numbers throughout his career, but he's a tough, gritty player who will do whatever it takes to win. Once Drury retires, however, the Captain position should be assumed by Ryan Callahan. I still think the Rangers may have beaten the Caps if Callahan were healthy, but he was too busy laying his life down in front of a Zdeno Chara slapshot to try to get the Rangers into the playoffs. What a human.

5. New York Islanders

Captain: Doug Weight (kind of)
Player who should be Captain: Mark Streit

Weight would be my Captain choice, but since he retired, that sort of takes him out of the running. Truly, the only logical choice behind him is D-man Mark Streit. Injured for most of this season, Pens fans know about Streit because he's really the only Islander we give a shit about. He's Swiss, which is awesome (also captains the Swiss National team), he can actually play defenseman or forward, a rarity in the NHL. The Islanders clearly missed his leadership this season, as they made a habit of going bat shit crazy during games.

Plus I'm not sure they could give the Captain tag to Trevor Gilles. Woof.

Part 2 coming soon.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Milwaukee Brewers are the Bane of my Existence

I honestly have no clue why we can't beat this team. No clue at all. We're something like 3-33 in our last few years at Miller Park. Milwaukee is apparently where my dreams go to die. This is what a Buffalo Bills fan would have felt in the 90s if they had to play the Cowboys every game. The Brewers aren't even that good. Prince Fielder is so big now it looks like he swallowed his dad (Note: if you're under 20, google Cecil Fielder). Ryan Braun only shows up for Pirates games, and then goes home to have a bug-eyed staring contest with Brooks Orpik.

I seriously hate the Brewers so badly.

This made me feel better though.

Go ahead and take a few minutes to digest how awesome that was. I have no idea how he finds pants to fit over his giant cojones. This guy actually made it out of the stadium, but was caught soon thereafter. And here I thought James Harrison spearing a Browns fan was the greatest consequence of any on-field dash. Guess I was wrong. Happy Monday all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pirates Keep on Truckin, Pittsburgh Loses a Legend

You know you live in a special city when the loss of a vendor is front page news. But long-time Pirates/Steelers/Penguins vendor Kenny Geidel was no ordinary stadium employee. Anyone who has been to a sporting event in Pittsburgh in the past 30 years knew Kenny. A shrill, throaty "Cotton Candy Heeee!" became as much of a tradition as the national anthem, and at times more melodic. He was the embodiment of our sports teams and our city, approaching his job with a tenacious work ethic and unbreakable spirit.

The grass will still be green and the ice will still be pure, but a small part of the Pittsburgh sports experience is lost forever. We'll miss you, Kenny.

To the business of baseball:

18-18. Basically the exact definition of mediocre. But for Pirate fans, this is as good as we've had it for a while. And here's the kicker: it seems as if we have nowhere to go but up. The Pirates are in every game, and are managing to pull out wins when their young star offensive players are putting up numbers like this:

Andrew McCutchen- .242 BA, 7 HR, 19 RBI
Jose Tabata- .226 BA, 3 HR, 6 RBI
Pedro Alvarez- .202 BA, 1 HR, 7 RBI

If someone would have said to me in March that the Pirates would be at .500 in May with Andrew McCutchen batting under .250, I'd have kicked them in the groin for being so dumb.

Truly, the surprise of the season to this point has been the starting pitching. The Pirates boast four current starters with ERA's in the three's. Consider that in 2010, the Pirates didn't even have one starter (at least 15 games started) below four. Coupling consistent starting pitching with a solid bullpen (currently minus the young set up man, Evan Meek) is going to keep you in games. If the Pirates can keep getting this type of pitching performance and get their young hitters on track, they all of a sudden become a division contender.

Dear Lord, did I just type that? A division contender? The numbers back me up here. In 2010, in the largest division in baseball, there were only two winning teams. 2009 was the same story. The Pirates are currently 9-6 within the division. If they can continue to beat the teams below them (Milwaukee-a HUGE if-, Houston and Chicago), while occasionally stealing a series with St. Louis or Cincinnati, then it's not a preposterous thought.

A guy can dream, right?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Real Caps Fans Should Hope to get Swept"

I can't even explain how much I love the Washington Capitals message board. There's no better tonic to help you forget about the pain of the Pens losing in the first round of the playoffs. So as I'm going through my time-tested ritual of perusing the Caps boards after another painful playoff loss, I come across this gem of a headline:

"Real Caps Fans Should Hope to get Swept"

My first thought was, "OK, they just lost, people are talking irrationally, and this is probably just some drunk who everyone will rail against." Aha, I overestimated Caps fans once again. Here are some of the responses:

"100% AGREE! I am going to be angry if I have to watch this sorry team play anymore after tomorrow night. I think the players don't like (or at least have absolutely no respect) for BB so we may see, and I hope we do, a collective F-U Bruce collapse tomorrow night."

"Well we definitely need a new coach. Getting swept might do that for us. I actually like watching TB play, so they'll be fun to cheer for next round."

"I think when Tampa Bay scores first,they'll roll over. "

"I agree wholeheartedly"

Those are pretty much Caps fans in a nutshell. They even have an "Official Fire Bruce Boudreau Petition" that has 90 replies. Sometimes I can't even believe there are any Caps fans left, because most of them appear to want to lie down in the middle of the Beltway during rush hour. Truly, that's how the players looked after last night's game as well. Every game that Tampa Bay wins further validates the Penguins season. At least we put up a fight. When the Caps had to make a play, they folded in a major way.

Even after the game, things got even better, with Bruce Boudreau throwing players and refs under the bus so quickly that you'd think that they were keeping him from getting to a Dunkin Donuts.

Bruce Boudreau being a a fat whiny douche.

Unbelievable stuff. Especially that he calls out Eric Fehr by name. I've watched this series, and Fehr has been one of the most impressive Caps. He gives it his all on every shift, a fact that Pens fans learned during the Winter Classic. Boudreau even has the gall to call out the refs for his Too Many Men penalty while they were on the power play in the first, negating a Caps goal.

NEWS FLASH: If you have six guys on the ice, YOU HAVE TOO MANY MEN.

After this, Boudreau casts even more blame on the refs, saying that Malone's game-winning goal shouldn't have counted because Malone's stick hits Neuvirth's pad.

If you stop the video at 0:50, you can see that D-Man John Carlson's skate is colliding with Neuvirth's pad at a far greater velocity that Ryan Malone's stick. In fact, before the puck even goes in the net, Malone's stick is completely off Neuvirth, as Carlson's skate continues to push him away from the puck. Boudreau is a ridiculous joke of a coach.

Can't wait to see how the "Real Caps Fans" show up in Game 4.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why all the fuss over Rashard Mendenhall?

The increasingly controversial Steelers Running Back Rashard Mendenhall took to Twitter yesterday to espouse his views on the death of Osama bin Laden. Needless to say, his thoughts were really not a majority position.

His other tweets included:

"We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style"

"I believe in God. I believe we're ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge."

"For those of you who said you want to see Bin Laden burn in hell and piss on his ashes, I ask how would God feel about your heart?"

So basically, we learn that Mendenhall is a 9/11 truther and likely a devout Christian. The explosive reaction to these tweets was alarming to me for a few reasons.

1) People putting words in Mendenhall's mouth.

Let's use Will DePaoli over at The Insider on Pittsburgh Sports as an example. His headline read, "Controversial Comments? Rashard Mendenhall Speaks Favorably of Osama Bin Laden, Questions People Celebrating his Death". First off, at NO POINT does Mendenhall speak "favorably" of bin Laden. He simply says that he's not sure he believes the picture that the American government has painted of him as the mastermind of 9/11. DePaoli might as well have put a turban on Mendenhall's head, which is of course ridiculous. To imply that he is supporting terrorists is preposterous.

2) Mendenhall being painted as unpatriotic.

Again, completely ridiculous. Just because someone questions a majority position doesn't make them unpatriotic. In fact, quite the opposite. This country was built on questioning the status quo and searching for our own personal truths. First amendment, baby. Mendenhall is free to say and feel however he wants to. He is simply exercising his right as an American.

3) 9/11 "truthers" are hardly a fringe group.

This is a group of people that include Ralph Nader, former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, a significant number of WTC/Pentagon survivors (most famously William Rodriguez, who was a WTC janitor who was in the basement and claimed there were explosions in the basement and lobby before any plane hit), former CIA vets, a group of nearly 1500 architects, and many more. These are not "bin Laden supporters", but rather, people that simply want answers to some of their questions. According to a Scripps-Howard poll, nearly 1/3 of all Americans believe the way that Mendenhall does, that either 9/11 was an inside job, or that at the very least, the government knew of the attacks, and did nothing to stop it. People who categorize this group as lunatics simply refuse to acknowledge their true aim; to figure out ALL of the answers behind their concerns.

I'm not saying that I agree with Mendenhall's beliefs. On a personal note, I'm very conflicted as to what I think happened on 9/11. When two groups often rail against each other from wildly conflicting viewpoints, the truth usually happens to be somewhere in the middle. That's how I feel about 9/11. The government explains a lot, and to assume a governmental conspiracy is to assume that the government is hyper-competent, which most of us would say it isn't. However, the 9/11 conspiracy theorists do ask legitimate questions.

Regardless, chastising Mendenhall and aligning him with terrorists is not only unethical, but extraordinarily ignorant. Does Joe Schmo on Twitter know any more than Rashard Mendenhall about 9/11? No. So why the hate for someone who simply has a difference of opinion? I don't use social media to denigrate people who like chocolate ice cream just because I like vanilla. Really, what's the difference?

As American citizens, we owe it to each other to respect different thoughts and beliefs. We should respect Mendenhall's and he should respect ours. And in the light of intellectualism and free speech, we shouldn't ridicule his thoughts, but rather use his thoughts to re-examine our own and to continually challenge each other. By acknowledging our different beliefs, we can reinforce what we know and what we don't, and continue to strive forward in pursuit of the unknown.

Friday, April 29, 2011

2011: A Cursed Year in Pittsburgh Sports

Call it what you will. 2011 has been an extraordinarily painful time to be a fan in Pittsburgh. Shall we start at the beginning?

It's December of 2010, and we are drunk with happiness. The Penguins hadn't lost a game in a month and the Steelers were unexpectedly rolling towards a playoff berth after a tumultuous offseason. HBO was in town filming 24/7 in preparation for the Winter Classic. It was pretty much sunshine and kittens at that point.

And then the ball dropped.

Go to hell, Times Square.

Jan 1, 2011:

On National Hangover Day, the Penguins played host to the Crapitals at Heinz Field in the Winter Classic. The atmosphere was incredible and the stage was set for a hallowed chapter in Penguins history. Little did we know.

I'm normally not one for drama or superfluous adjectives, but this is a seminal moment in Penguins history. This hit, coupled with Victor Hedman's less vicious shot several days later, left Crosby on the sidelines for the rest of the season. Yes, Crosby has skated with teammates, run through some drills and flashed his omnipresent smile. But the fact remains that since the Hedman hit, nobody has laid a hand on him. The Penguins have been all but mum on Crosby developments. The smart money says Crosby will get healthy and back to normal over this extended summer, but it's not something that's given at this point. Penguins fans may have to face the fact that Crosby may not be the same. Is it likely? No. But it's certainly not impossible.

Oh yeah, the Pens lost the game too.

February 4th, 2011:

In a 3-2 comeback win over Buffalo, the Pens suffered another freak accident when Andre the Giant...I mean, Tyler Myers fell awkwardly on Evgeni Malkin's knee, tearing his ACL. Even then, we really had no idea how long the Penguins would have to go without the services of both Crosby and Malkin. This is the point where the Crosby Watch truly gained steam.

February 6th, 2011:

Watching the Steelers lose Super Bowl XLV was like getting head-butted in the balls by Zinedine Zidane. The Steelers were outplayed and outcoached from the start. Hell, the Packers lost half their secondary in that game and still beat us. Truly, it wasn't as close as the score would indicate. No excuses on this one. Green Bay deserved that win.

February 11th, 2011:

If I were Dan Bylsma, I would have shown the team this video before Game 7. This was nothing but childish retaliation for the Brent Johnson/Rick Dipietro fight the week prior (which is really the best thing to happen sports-wise this year). Just despicable the whole way around. Trevor Gillies turned into a household name, and were it not for Max Talbot's keen eye, Matt Martin would have been just as vilified. This wasn't a hockey game, it was a street fight. Hands down the low of the entire season in the NHL.

March 19, 2011

In one of the most bizarre endings in tournament history, #1 seed Pitt was ousted by #8 Butler. With slightly over two seconds left, and Pitt up 69-68, Butler's Andrew Smith made an easy layup off a great pass from Shawn Vanzant. Game over, right? Wrong. In a completely mindless play, Butler's Shelvin Mack dogged Gilbert Brown around midcourt, eventually fouling Brown with 1.4 seconds left. Butler's fanbase collectively poop themselves. Brown makes the first free throw (after some back and forth chat with Mack), tying the game at 70 all. The next sequence would etch itself into Pitt's ignominious basketball history.

Brown shoots. Off the rim.
Butler's Matt Howard rebounds
Nasir Robinson's left arm.
Howard sinks a free throw to win.

I'm one of the few Pittsburghers who will defend Robinson here. First of all, it's a high pressure situation, and Robinson wants to win the game. He wanted that rebound badly. His crime was one of passion, and while it's staggering, it is defensible. Robinson took the blame after the loss, but it certainly wasn't deserved. Pitt squandered opportunities all game long. Regardless, it stands as one of the most painful losses in the program's history.

April 2011:

This Bolts-Pens series was just so tough to swallow. A week prior to the Game 7 loss, the Pens were flying high after James Neal's Double OT winner to put the Pens up 3-1 in the series. Most thought the Lightning would fold, and the Pens would be 2nd round bound. Not so fast. Tampa's third line (including new enemy Sean Bergenheim) took over the series, and Dwayne Roloson did what he had to do.

The whole thing culminated in one last flurry of action in Game 7s waning seconds. The season died where it was born; the choppy ice of Consol Energy Center, surrounded by a winded but hopeful Pens faithful, anxious for another day.

So where is this all leading? One would ask (and rightfully so) if things could get any worse. That question is always dangerous because the answer will always be yes.

But we're Pittsburgh; we face the present with steely resolve, and the future with cautious optimism.

Because really, could things get any worse?

Come on up to Pittsburgh, Little Ironhead

The Falcons had former Pitt Panther Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, and now the Steelers have his boy, Cameron (well, i guess he's a "Steelhead") Heyward. Truly, I didn't think he would be around for the Steelers to take at 31, but in typical draft fashion, a few guys always fall. Congrats to the Steelers, the Heyward family, and Cameron's late father Craig.

So what are we going to get out of this Ohio State DE?

Heyward is about 6'5", 290lbs, but has the agility of a much lighter player. He's very quick off the ball, and is a well-conditioned, high-motor player. He's ideal for the Steelers 3-4 system, as he is a solid run stopper as well a pass rusher. Given the Steelers age at the defensive end position, he's a very logical choice, without a standout O-lineman or corner on the board.

This is also a pick for the Steelers of old. In the recent past, the Steelers have strayed from their "character" picks, with such high-profile problem children as Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes. Heyward was a good scholar-athlete (he's already graduated from OSU), and from the looks of it, is a great character player.

Welcome (back) to Pittsburgh, Cameron.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stairway to a Game 7 exit. Tampa moves on.

It ended the way it should have. The power play. The bane of the Pens fans existence for the past four months. Remember when we whined about how Mike Yeo ran the PP? If only we knew.

If you're looking for a scapegoat, the reason as to why there's no round two for us, it's the power play. We ended the series about 1-100000 on the PP. Very little flow. I could also jab Bylsma for playing Kovalev over Tangradi, but that seems a bit useless at this point.

Three Stars of the Series for the Penguins:

3. Arron Asham

Given his playoff pedigree, maybe we should have expected this from Asham. Big time goals, and he was a physical presence throughout the series. He (likely) won't be back next year, but let us not forget his contributions.

2. Craig Adams/Max Talbot

It was impossible to choose between these two. Max Talbot was his old playoff self. There were no Game 7 SCF heroics, but he played an admirable series. It was as if he knew every shift may be his last as a Penguin. If he goes elsewhere in the offseason, this city is forever indebted to Max, and we'll love him no matter what.

Craig Adams. I don't even know where to start with this guy. If I were a hockey player, I'd want to mirror my game off of Craig Adams. He does everything the right way, and will lay down his life for his teammates. There's a reason that Adams has a couple of Stanley Cup rings. He's a winner through and through.

1. Marc-Andre Fleury

He was our rock all season long, and he played well enough to win Game 7. Period.

Honorable mention: Jordan Staal, Mike Rupp

CEC was pure bedlam last night. But if you're the drunk who stood behind me last night yelling "Hit him!" every time a Bolt touched the puck, stop coming to games. Seriously.

Sure, it didn't end the way we wanted. We'll be depressed for a while, but eventually shrug it off and start going to Pirate games. But the truth be told, there was a certain beauty in the way Game 7 played out. People always say that sports are a distraction from everyday life, but that's not the case. Sports are a visual representation of it. When it comes down to it, we've all been exactly where the Penguins were last night: trying and trying, but failing and failing. After all, life is just a test that we all inevitably fail, whether by our minds or by our bodies. There's no shame in losing. Things like this are seldom a pleasant journey, but always an important one. Just as we learn from our mistakes and shortcomings, they learn from theirs. And just like us, they will have new opportunities and new stories, just waiting to be written.

Let's go Pens.