Saturday, December 20, 2008

Don't Fret About The Pro Bowl

James Harrison (left) poses with a hated Cleveland player at last year's Pro Bowl game in Hawaii. Harrison looks strangely odd in any colors other than black & gold.

There has been plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth in the old 'Burgh the past two weeks due to the fact that the greatest football franchise ever to exist only placed three of its' players on the All Pro team and one of them won't be a starter in the game!


Obviously, there is a vast left or right wing conspiracy afoot to keep our beloved Steelers out of the game they so richly deserve to play in. What a travesty of justice, what a.........good thing. That's right, you heard me correctly, I said what a good thing because as we all know from having followed Hines Ward for so long, that football players at this level will use anything they can get their hands on to give them a motivational edge. I think it's a GREAT thing that only three Steelers were named. That means we have that many more players who are hopping mad and have something to prove anytime they'll be stepping onto the field. As Jack Nicholson said in the memorable movie, "Mars Attacks" , "And that ain't bad".

I like the Steelers chances this year. They have the same formula as Baltimore used a few years ago: Suffocating defense + underachieving offense = SuperBowl trophy number VI. Only this year their offense is much better than the Trent Dilfer-led magpies while on the other hand their defense is approaching a stratosphere heretofore reserved for people with names like Greene, Ham, Lambert, etc.. Let's face it, barring some catostrophic injuries (like the James Harrison close call last week) this team knows that they can win it all. But let's get back to the Pro Bowl.

Are all-star games a joke or what? The only one of them that even remotely can be looked at as an upgrade over everyday play is baseball, and that's just because of how the game's played. Any game where there is defense to be played on another man carrying a football, dribbling a basketball, or stickhandling a puck, is automatically going to become an offense-only show because no one wants to get hurt in an all star game, right?

When was the last time you watched the Pro Bowl game? It's been years for me. In fact, interest has fallen off so badly that the NFL owners are now talking about moving the game to Super Bowl week at the site of the SuperBowl. That's not a bad idea and I'm sure that the NFL coffers would benefit from the larger venues and built-in audience that that sort of setting would provide, but face it, the game will still stink. So with that as a backdrop, are you still concerned that the New York Jets of all people had seven of their players named? I personally could care less.

What's nice is that three great players for the black & gold will get a vacation to Hawaii. Let's talk about them for a moment.

James Farrior has turned into one of the greatest free agent acquisitions we'll ever have. "Potsy", as the Steelers call him, is a superbly-conditioned athlete who is always in position to make the tackle and just about always does. He is a brilliant run-stopper and is a perfect complement to outside linebackers LaMarr Woodley and fellow pro-bowler James Harrison.

"Potsy"Farrior: No Cupcake.

Speaking of Harrison, he's one of those linebackers who has that special mean streak that all of the truly great ones have. The names Lambert and Lloyd immediately spring to mind. The amazing part of this furious blend of speed and power is that he is much shorter than most of the people that he goes up against. In fact, in last week's game against Baltimore, their godzilla of a left tackle was hanging all over Harrison trying to do whatever he could to contain him. As it turned out, the combination of an unbalanced line and a line judge who never threw a flag kept Harrison to a single sack But he is no doubt having a stupendous season as he has already broken the Mike Merriweather all-time sack record and still has another game to go. Harrison is listed as questionable against the hapless Browns but says he's made great improvement over the last couple of games. Expect the Steelers to hold him out of Sunday's game so that he'll be at 100% for the playoffs.

This week, in a rare occurence, Harrison was voted again as the team MVP, following up last year's MVP performance with another in 2008. Harrison is well on his way to making a case for being one of the greatest Steelers ever if he can continue his assault on the record books and hopefully add a Lombardi Trophy or two or three to his resume.

Polamalu on the other hand is back to his old tricks again. After a lackluster season where he was battling groin problems most of the year, he clearly is in great health (or as good of health as you can be in playing in the NFL). He is leading the AFC in interceptions with five and is back to driving quarterbacks crazy with his stunting. Polamalu is one of those guys who is so good that they only come around once every generation. The Steelers obviously recognized this because they traded-up to get him, something they almost never do. It's funny how often people forget that Polamalu did very little in his rookie year. When you have a good team, you don't have to rush rookies into the lineup. Of course people were murmuring about Lawrence Timmons last year too, but the murmuring has now stopped.

You really have to wonder though if this year's draft class just has the unfortunate luck of trying to crack a very veteran lineup, or will it be a complete bust? Rashard Mendenhall has already wrecked his shoulder and Limas Sweed has yet to impress. In fact, the winner of the Joe Greene award for rookie of the year is Patrick Bailey, an undrafted free agent who has been a special teams demon.

But as we Steeler fans already know, draft pedigree does not always predetermine future greatness. Just ask James Harrison or Willie Parker or Donnie Shell, they'll tell you. As far as the Pro Bowl? Forget it, the real game will have been played the week before in Tampa. Hopefully we'll be in it.

"Seasons Beatings To All a Yinz From Yer Pittsburgh Stillers"

There are a lot of factors that go into the creation of a lifetime love affair between the populace of an entire city and its' football team.

For example, let's take the season ticket waiting list. Now yours truly has been on said list for so long that Terry Bradshaw was still their quarterback when I chistled my application onto a stone tablet. In fact, when Heinz Field was built, I thought for certain that I'd finally make the grade, but they didn't build it big enough!

But amidst a lifetime of frustration (if I got the call today, I'd probably tell my son to go for them) the Steelers continue to keep reminding me that I am still a loyal fan of the black & gold, whether I can get into Heinz Field or not. So each year, around this time, I get a Christmas card from my beloved football team. They know I've been waiting 20 years to get season tickets and they appreciate that. This is yet another small reason as to why the Steelers have managed to elicit the love of an entire community and why people who are transplanted Pittsburghers continue following this team, no matter where they are living.

Merry Christmas to all of the Pittsburgh Steelers from one of your most loyal fans!

"Seasons Beatings To All a Yinz from yer Stillers!"