Monday, December 27, 2010

WILL WINTER CLASSIC SUFFER MELTDOWN? NOSTRADAMUS MAKES HIS PREDICTIONS.




As the weather reports continue to filter in for the weekend, the word continues to not be good as regards the upcoming "NHL Winter Classic". Normally, word like that would mean that the area would be bracing for a major snow event, but not in this case because this is, after all, the "Winter Classic".

No, in the eyes of the NHL, this weekends forecast of temperature close to 50 degrees is bad. But when you factor in the possibility for rain, it gets downright ugly. Apparently the temperature is still adequate for the ice surface, however the rain could make the game potentially unplayable, or at the very least require frequent Zamboni interruptions. Water on the ice surface would also make it susceptible to gouging as occured frequently in Buffalo at the first such event (and in much colder temperatures).

If the game has to be postponed or even worse, cancelled, it would be a catastrophic financial disaster for Pittsburgh businesses who were counting heavily on the rare mid-winter windfall.

However, before anybody pushes the panic button, we should remember that this is the weather we're talking about. Think about it: How many millions of times have you heard faulty weather forecasts...or is it just me? So with all of this consternation and worrying going on, we thought we'd once again bring in our resident prognosticator and History Channel TV star, Michel de Nostradamus in to help clarify what the future holds for the Pittsburgh version of the "Winter Classic".

By the way, lest you may have forgotten his Stanley Cup and SuperBowl predictions of two years ago or the fact that he predicted that the Steelers would go 12-4 this year (they're currently 11-4) we'll leave it up to you to decide if you want to sign off on his next set of predictions, so here goes:

ABOVE: Nostradamus cranks out another prediction show for the "History Channel". He divides his work between "History" and "Pittsburgh's Black and Gold".                                                                                                                                              

"Maybe it won't be snowing, but I'm going to predict a high temp of 42 with no rain. There, didn't that make you feel better? It's not going to rain, but there will be some mist in the air...nothing to sweat about. And, oh yeah, the Pens are going to win 5-2, Sid will have a goal and two assists and Bruce Boudreau will let loose with another hail of expletives between each period and at the game's conclusion. Mario Lemieux, meanwhile, is going to make monkeys out of the Washington old-timers while scoring two goals and an assist. Look for the Pens geezers to light the lamp seven times en route to a 7-3 rout. I've gotta go now. I have another "End of the World" show to finish up" --Michel


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

STEELERS TO FACE BIGGEST NEMESIS IN LAST TWO GAMES: THEMSELVES

ABOVE: A typical "booby trap". You may substitute the words "Carolina" or "Cleveland" here.

The Pittsburgh Steelers  find themselves today in a situation that many, laughably, would describe as being "enviable". They have already qualified for the playoffs and have a game coming up with the pathetic Carolina Panthers then finishing up with a Cleveland Browns team that, although game for most of the year, has apparently decided to "shut 'er dahn early".

If you fall into the class of Steeler fans who actually believe this, you apparently haven't been following this team as closely as you should. The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been a team that collectively should jump up on a psychologist's couch, because for decades they have consistently managed to play down or play up to their level of competition.

Take for example their recent epic battle against the Ravens. The team laid it all out there and got it done. However, this is by and large the SAME TEAM that lost to three completely-awful teams last year, the Raiders, Chiefs and Browns to effectively cost themselves a shot at the playoffs. Two victories would give the Steelers an important opening-round bye, more than likely a number two seed and a legitimate shot to make it to the AFC Championship game. So the team definitely has something to play for, albeit it will come against mediocre competition... That's what worries me.


ABOVE: World War II vintage booby trap.

Contrast this with the fact that the year before, against a schedule that was universally proclaimed as being the most difficult regular season schedule in the modern day (last 50 years) history of football that the team went out and won the SuperBowl.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been a team that thrives under the pressure of the big game, loves being an underdog and relishes the chance to go up against a team that is considered to be an even bigger bully than they are. When these circumstances are present, it is very unusual for them to give a lackluster effort. However, when the reverse is true and the competition is very downtrodden, unmotivated and mathematically eliminated...well that's when everything seems to "go to hell in a hand basket" as they say.

Call it loss of focus, call it lack of intensity even a lack of respect for the inferior opponent. You can call it whatever you want to call it but these next two games worry me more than if we were playing Indianapolis and San Diego. At least then I'd feel sure that the Steelers were planning on bringing their "A" game.


ABOVE: This is what happens when you don't bring your "A" game against a National Football League opponent: Anybody is capable of beating anyone else. Just ask the 2009 Raiders, Browns and Chiefs!                    

GAME NOTES: Troy Polamalu will more than likely miss the final two games while rehabbing a strained achilles tendon...Aaron Smith may be ready to play come playoff time, but don't expect him for the final two games either...Heath Miller has been cleared to play on Thursday night. Miller suffered a concussion against the Ravens.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

DOING THE UNTHINKABLE...AGAIN

                                                                                                                                                      
"CLEARING MY DESK"

                     by Angelo Spagnolo
                            
Once upon a time there was a guy who decided to celebrate his wife's birthday in grand style...He decided to spring for a weekend trip to New York City in early December. On the agenda was shopping, fine dining and of course, a broadway play. The play was to be "42nd Street", one of the biggest shows at the time.

Once in the "Big Apple" and after getting situated, this guy decided to take a walk along Broadway with the missus. While walking down the bitter cold street he saw the theater where the hit show "Cats" had just debuted a month or so before. It was all the rage. 

"Oh honey, look" he said excitedly! "It's "Cats" ! "Would you like to go?"

"Oh yeah, sure, like you're going to be able to get a ticket," she replied sarcastically.

"It doesn't cost anything to ask," he said while approaching the box office window.

"Do you have tickets for tonight's performance," he asked while half-expecting the cashier to laugh?

"Yeah, we have tickets," the street-tough cashier responded. "$200 bucks."

ABOVE: How not to "win friends and influence people". Buy tickets for you and your wife to see "Cats" and then do the unthinkable.

He wheeled around and asked the birthday girl if she wanted him to splurge for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She nodded "yes" excitedly and then they had about five hours to kill before the show.

In between, this couple shopped, walked, ate, walked, shopped, walked and got colder and colder as the day wore on. A half hour before the big show. they headed for the theater, cold and tired. But this was their big night! They were going to see "Cats"!

Once inside the theater, the guy noticed that they had about the worst seats in the house. They were so far away from the stage that he felt like he needed a telescope to see what was going on. On top of that, he noticed how warm it was inside the theater...or was it because he had been frozen solid all day long in the frigid, windy New York air?

As the show started and the lights went down, the man got more comfortable in his seat. He had now taken off his coat and he had it across his lap, almost like a blanket. Yes, he was really starting to get comfortable.

Meanwhile, the musical was not exactly holding his attention. A bunch of people dressed up like cats singing and dancing and jumping around wasn't exactly his "cup of tea". But yes, he was at least feeling more and more comfortable.

His eyelids began to get heavy. "Oh no," he thought. "This can't happen. I paid $200 for this seat!"

Then, out of the blue, he was overtaken by a sudden pain in his ribcage. Was he having a heart attack, gall bladder maybe? No it was his wife elbowing him because he was snoring loudly. So much for spending $200 wisely.

Fast forward about 20 years to last Wednesday night. This same guy has been looking forward to seeing the replay of the 1960 World Series game seven. Fortunately he has the MLB network on his satellite package so he'll finally be able to see it (he was six years old when it happened and outside of pandemonium, he remembers little else about the event).

He watches Bob Costas from the Byham Theater introducing all the celebrities and players in attendance, then follows intently watching each inning unfold. His wife, not a sports fan in the least, has long since vacated the room in search of another television. The game is captivating, but for some reason, he has a chill and so he gets a Steeler blanket to help warm him up. It's now the eighth inning and it's getting to be rug cutting time.


ABOVE: Dear Mr. Mazeroski: Please accept my congratulations and most-sincere apologies...

Once under the blanket and warming up, he was truly enjoying watching this all-time classic, but  was now lying down and had his head on a pillow!

Oh no, not again!

It seemed to him as though he had closed his eyes for just an instant, but when he opened them up and looked at the clock on the wall he saw that there were two hours of "missing time". On the television was a commercial for a vegetable chopper. Had he been the victim of an alien abduction? Possibly, but more likely it was just another case of "Mr. Sleepy Head" playing another cruel trick.

Sleeping through "Cats" was an expensive mistake, true. But missing Bill Mazeroski's homer was a shameful act that will take a long time for him to recover from.

The moral of the story: Do not ever lay anything on you to raise your body temperature...a coat or a blanket... unless you want a painful rib shot or even worse, the guilt of knowing that you'll have to wait how much longer again before you finally see the ninth inning of game seven of the 1960 World Series.


Friday, December 17, 2010

PITT'S HAYWOOD: JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED

I liked Dave Wannstedt...a lot...as most people did. Dave was a former Pitt player, a Pittsburgh guy and a genuinely-good man. He bled Pitt and would have stayed-on until they carried him off, like they will someday with JoePa. But here's the problem: Dave didn't or couldn't elevate the Pitt program. It didn't fall apart on his watch, but the impression is certainly there that his teams under-performed...especially this season.

The Pitt players are an interesting group for sure. They'll cry foul because their coach was let go and yet play as miserably as they did in a multitude of national exposure games for him. These guys were an embarassment to Pitt and Wannstedt especially with their off-field antics. It was clear to this writer that Wanny was too much of a buddy to them. They didn't fear or respect him, they just liked him. You need more than a friend for players to excel, you need to have someone for them to worry about. Enter this guy, Mike Haywood.

ABOVE: Oh yeah. I don't know this man and never saw him coach, but I can tell you that his demeanor screams Mike Tomlin. I don't see many players slacking off with Mike Haywood in the vicinity, nor do I envision them throwing people through glass doors on the South Side either!

Probably the most encouraging thing that I heard all week about Haywood is that an assistant compared him to former Steelers assistant head coach under Chuck Noll, Georgie "Porgie" Perles (as Myron Cope used to refer to him). Perles had a brilliant football mind and was known for being a hard-nosed coach. After he left the Steelers, he eventually became the head coach at Michigan State. 

ABOVE: George Perles (right) with a young coaching protege' of his at Michigan State (who now runs the Crimson Tide by the way).

Yes, to this writer, I feel Pitt may have hit one out of the park, just as the Rooneys did hiring Mike Tomlin who just may be the best coach in the NFL. Is Tomlin good because he's a brilliant X and O type of guy? Is he great because he's a brilliant game planner? I can't answer those two questions, but one thing I am certain about: Tomlin is in his players' heads and he has the uncanny knack to get them to give him their all, each and every week. That is what makes Tomlin great and what will make Haywood great too.

They would never admit it in public, but the Steelers are fearful of Tomlin. They fear crossing him or being singled-out by him. He keeps them accountable. Chuck Noll had the same knack for causing stomachs to churn during the '70s and '80s.

I think Mike Haywood has the coaching pedigree and inner makeup to become one of the greatest coaching hires at Pitt since Ben Howland was hired out of Northern Arizona. People howled back then about not getting a bigger name from a Division I school and look how he turned out. Of course we know how his assistant turned out too.

Yeah, I feel bad about Dave, I would have loved to have seen him be more successful, but in defense of the university, I think they gave him plenty of time to get it done. It's time to give Mike Haywood a shot. He'll get it done, or kick somebody in the rear end if they don't!

ABOVE: Haywood will look even more menacing in navy blue and gold.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

STEELERS WIN, BUT ANOTHER PYRRHIC VICTORY IN TWICE-ANNUAL RAVENS BLOODBATH?

The Pittsburgh Steelers may have won part two of their annual Roman gladiator contests against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night with a gut-wrenching 13-10 victory... and if Ben Roethlisberger didn't already have a reputation for being the toughest quarterback maybe ever in football, he certainly is well on his way to it now. It was one of those types of games that forever can be etched into a fan's mind. But was it a Pyrrhic victory? Did the Steelers win the battle but could they lose the war because of ever-mounting casualties? Yes, the NFL season is certainly a war of attrition.

ABOVE: When he's not rearranging our quarterback's face, the Ravens' Haloti Ngata hawks motor oil. Don't buy Lubriguard Steeler fans!

After deferring the opening kickoff and stopping the Ravens on a three and out, Big Ben was sacked on third and seven by the Ravens' behemoth lineman, Haloti Ngata. Ngata took a swipe to the helmet of Roethlisberger and the result was an ugly, badly broken nose for the Steelers quarterback and blood, blood everywhere. Of course there was no foul called as this was a blow to the nose of the Steelers quarterback as opposed to the head of any other quarterback in the National Football League.    

Why is this?

ABOVE: Just three minutes into the game and already a rearranged face for Ben. Fortunately for the Ravens, injuries such as this one are not spelled out verbatim in the NFL rule book. Ben, as any village idiot could clearly see, took a blow to the nose and not the head, another clearly-different body part not covered in the extremely complex NFL rules.

Why is it that quarterbacks around the NFL are treated like the most delicate of Christmas ornaments, yet because the Steelers happen to have the biggest and strongest quarterback in the league, opposing teams are allowed to manhandle him to their hearts content such as last week's foot mangling? Do the rules say, "If a quarterback is big and strong you are free to maim him to your heart's content"?

ABOVE: Once again, the refs were doing their zebra impression while Steeler fans would have loved to have been able to rip into them, just like these fortunate lions did.


 ABOVE AND BELOW: Tough guy Jameel McClain plays with the same wreckless abandon as his Nakatomi Plaza brethren, John McClain. Neither McClain ever gets flagged although Jameel just had to fork over forty grand to "Raja" yesterday. Chump change.


Later on, in the third quarter with Baltimore up 10-3, Pittsburgh's tight end, Heath Miller nearly had his neck broken but did suffer a serious concussion in as clear-cut of a case of helmet to helmet contact as you'll ever see in your entire lifetime. Watching this play, no more than 5 yards away was a side judge with his hands on his knees peering intently at the play. Unbelievably no flag was thrown.

What was he looking at?

GOOD QUESTION!!!

In the case of the Roethlisberger injury, the lack of a flag forced the Steelers into a punting situation that never should have been. Instead of punting from near midfield, the Steelers should have had a first and 10 at the Baltimore 30. The game at this time was still scoreless, so this lack of a flag was of gigantic consequence. Ngada was fined a measly $15,000 for this hit by the league office yesterday, the cost of a Big Mac to you and I, but I'm sure that Ben Roethlisberger would have preferred the 15 yards instead of the league collecting $15,000.

Later, the puzzling lack of a call on the Heath Miller hit was only offset by another heroic play by Big Ben. The Steelers had the ball on the Baltimore 40 when Miller was knocked into "La La Land". The phantom personal foul would have given the Steelers the ball on the 25 with a fresh set of downs. Mystically, no call was made. Since Miller, after all, did regain consciousness, it couldn't have been that bad of a hit after all. I mean, he walked off the field, right?


ABOVE: Heath Miller visits with some of his friends along with birds, puffy clouds and lollipops in "La La Land". After you return from "La La Land" and back to reality, the lollipops are replaced by a nightmarish headache that just won't quit for days on end.

If it hadn't been for Big Ben scrambling and then finding Emmanuel Sanders at the two, this drive would have also been stifled once again by the zebras.

As tough as the Ravens are...and they are tough...once again the Steelers found themselves not just playing against the Ravens, but the referees as well. During this amazing stretch of recent games, the Steelers have repeatedly found ways to win (as good teams will) despite one poor call (or non-call) after another. In fact, Sunday night's non call in the Heath Miller incident was so bad that the league office called the ranting NBC broadcasting team of Al Michaels and Cris Collingsworth to tell them that it should have been a penalty! When have you ever heard of that happening before???

Clearly, the NFL had another severe case of "Egg McGoodell on its' face" brought on, once again by their incompetent officials and the most cryptic set of rules ever known to man. I'm sure their switchboard was also short-circuiting on Madison Avenue.


ABOVE: The NFL switchboard gets swamped with calls..."I'm sorry, Mr. Goodell is in a meeting, may I take a message?...You said he's a what?"

Sunday night's win was a game for the ages as far as regular season games are concerned, that's for sure. But while I was thrilled with the win and the toughness and grit that the Steelers showed, I came away from this game more furious with the NFL than I was elated over this wonderful victory.

_______________________

Something is very, very wrong with this picture. The NFL right now is broken and spinning out of control, as far as this writer and life-long fan is concerned.

_______________________


GAME NOTES: With the game scoreless in the first quarter and the ball on the Baltimore 36, Mike Tomlin, facing a 4th and one, elected to punt instead of going for the first down. The punt was downed on the eight, but just three plays later Anquon Boldin had pulled in a 61 yard catch leading to the opening touchdown of the game for Baltimore moments later. The 92 yard drive was the longest of the season given up by the Steelers defense. The Steelers would not get the lead back until 2:51 of the fourth quarter...Bryant McFadden, battling a hamstring problem, was obviously the prime target of the Ravens offense. After an already-dreadful game, McFadden topped it off on the Ravens' last drive by incurring a stupid penalty by shoving Boldin out of bounds on a pass that was clearly uncatchable to everyone in the country...Troy Polamalu's monster sack of Flacco late in the fourth quarter has all of Baltimore now in an uproar. Why were the Ravens passing on second and five this late in the game? Why not run the ball twice and use up the clock and Pittsburgh's timeouts? Good to see that Bruce Arians isn't the only offensive coordinator who gets second-guessed! After Polamalu's interception two years ago in the playoffs, Ravens fans must despise him as much as we loathe Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis. Yes, there's no better rivalry in the NFL than this...Isaac Redman's phenomenal touchdown run was one of the most improbable plays you'll ever see. After catching the ball in heavy traffic over the middle, Redman proceeded to run to his right and not directly towards the end zone. It was mond-boggling to me that against this defense that he was able to pull this off...Big Ben's lefthanded throwaway while being assaulted by Suggs had to rank as the greatest incompletion for no gain in NFL history...Kicker Sean Suisham, who continues to impress (he's now 6-6 in kicks attempted and made) had to serve as the emergency punter as Daniel Sepulveda suffered another torn ACL. Sepulveda, torn up knee and all, hobbled into the game to hold on the field goals and extra point attempt. It was that kind of game...George Stephanopolis, reporting on "Good Morning America" from Afghanistan on Monday morning, reported that every large screen television on the U.S. military base in Kabul was tuned into the Steeler-Ravens game. After all, what better outlet for our military heroes could there be than to tune in to some real violence between the Steelers and Ravens...It was great seeing Hines Ward laying a great crack-back block on an unsuspecting Ray Lewis on the NFL Network. Lewis jumped up immediately and was in Ward's face...If the Steelers were ever to play themselves, what do you think that game would look like? The Ravens just answered that question on Sunday night. There is no other team, save for perhaps the New York Giants, that plays the physical type of game that these two teams pride themselves in playing. That's why while they may greatly dislike each other, they also have a tremendously-deep respect for each other as well. They know deep down inside that they're looking at their mirror image every time they play...Tight end Heath Miller (concussion) and offensive right tackle Flozell Adams (high ankle sprain) are expected to be out for next Sunday's game against Cincinnati. Ben Roethlisberger (broken nose and subsequent surgery) is expected to play but punter Daniel Sepulveda has been placed on injured reserve because of a second torn ACL...Sunday's kickoff is at 1:00. How'd that happen? 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

JAMES HARRISON FINED AGAIN; NFL CONTINUES EFFORTS TO DEFANG STEELERS FOOTBALL

ABOVE: One of the largest "charitable contributors" in the city, the Steelers' James Harrison.


James Harrison was fined again by the NFL today to the tune of another $25,000. Each time I see Harrison fined, my hatred for Roger Goodell's new flag football league grows exponentially.

Think about it: Here's a guy who has had $125,000 literally stolen from him while on virtually every play where he rushes the quarterback he is held and held and held.

This league has developed such serious credibility issues with me that it has already begun to diminish my interest. Take away physical play from the NFL and you can have it as far as I'm concerned.

Count this wavering fan as being one who doesn't really enjoy seeing 50 passes thrown per game by prima donas who can't even be looked at let alone hit. Goodell is in the process of ruining the most popular sport in America...literally killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

If James Harrison continues to be fined as he currently is, I think we can expect to see him suspended one of these "fine" days...probably the first week of the playoffs.

If the league wants to be a flag football league, have the guys take off the pads, have them wear just a helmet and advertise it as such. But don't pass this watered-down garbage off as football. As a man who has watched football for 50 years, I'm about ready to adopt the NHL as my favorite sports league.

I never, ever thought that I could ever, ever, ever consider such a thought.

Congratulations to all of you geniuses on Madison Avenue and on behalf of Steeler fans everywhere, thanks for tearing down what we have loved all of our lives...

Bozos.

Monday, November 22, 2010

300th POST A HAPPIER OCCASION, OR IS IT?

STEELERS KILL HATED "RAYDAS"

Yes, today marks our landmark 300th post here at "Pittsburgh's Black and Gold", and thank goodness that we have something good to write about...or do we?

While the Steelers did kill the despised Oakland Raiders 35-3 as well as sullying their well-known "Commitment to Excellence" bullcrap theme, this wonderful victory was nonetheless troubling as this game featured a record breaking number of penalties against the Steelers as the zebras once again were in a penalty-calling frenzy.

ABOVE: Officials masquerading as zebras "get what they deserve" from fed-up lions. The officials yesterday would have been given the same treatment had they ventured into the stands.

Friends I almost hate to say this, but this already-watered-down version of the NFL that we're now seeing every weekend is only going to get progressively worse. The league is now in the process of legislating "gentleness" into tackling and defense so that none of their precious offensive players get hurt. In the meantime, they're calling a helmet-to-helmet penalty on Ryan Clark who hit a player in the middle of the back and then calling roughing the quarterback on poster-boy James Harrison for having the audacity to fall into a quarterback with a glancing blow. That second penalty also cost the Steelers a touchdown!

If you think this league isn't watered-down already, go watch a tape of football in the 70's. You'll wonder what game you're watching.

Of course now everyone is waiting breathlessly to see what penalty Richard Seymour gets for decking Big Ben after he'd thrown a touchdown pass. Please. Retribution in this case should have been left up to the players. You don't punch a team's quarterback and get away with it.

The NFL is eroding in front of our eyes.

This game of football will certainly continue long into the future, but just as people of my age will remember that head slaps were once legal, so too will younger people remember years from now how Hines Ward used to love to "earhole" unsuspecting opponents. This is no longer real football.

Until the NFL can develop recyclable football playing robots (as was shown in an episode of "The Jetsons" cartoon show back in the 60's) look for the NFL to continue to legislate more and more rules into the game not because they're so worried about the welfare of their players, but because they're worried about their millionaire investments.

All the while, the calling card that's always been the Pittsburgh Steelers...their toughness...is being pulled, one tooth at a time by this horrible commissioner, Roger Goodell. Note to Commissioner: It would be a bad idea to try tailgating in Pittsburgh as you did two weeks ago in Cincinnati. Pittsburghers boo Gary Bettman vociferously (who did nothing to ever hurt the Penguins). Can you imagine the reception they'd ever give to you at Heinz Field?

Monday, November 15, 2010

KICKED IN THE HEAD: STEELERS DESTROYED BY BRADY, PATRIOTS 39-26


ABOVE: A male zebra that was killed after it was kicked in the head by another male zebra. As expected, the whole incident revolved around a female zebra. The beneficiaries will be the local lion population

No, the zebras had nothing to do with this miserable excuse for a Steeler game, as from the opening kickoff, alarm bells could be heard going off all over Heinz Field and in the heads of Steeler fans around the country.

Where were the real Steelers? Were they abducted? Are they being held for ransom somewhere? Has the mayor been alerted?

When the Steelers suffer a team collapse of the magnitude of last night's national embarrassment, sorry to say it's usually symptomatic of other teams having watched the film and done their due diligence to exploit weaknesses.
Make no question about it, this team has many cracks now in its' armor.

Last night, not only did the Steelers defense come out looking extremely flat, the team also had to deal with an offensive line that is back to being extremely, well, "offensive". Held together seemingly by scotch tape Elmer's glue and baling wire, this line has been so ravaged by injury that it is hardly recognizable any more.

Just last week alone, the Steelers lost about 700 pounds of beef as Max Starks (injured reserve disc in neck) and Chris Kemoeatu (sprained knee) were lost. Add Willie Colon (lost to the i.r. before the season even started) and you have a team that is clearly not playing with its' best people in place.

Hines Ward was also knocked into "la la land" and it remains to be seen if he'll be able to return next week. Not having Ward on the field left a huge hole in the Steelers receiving corps. There were many dropped passes last night in situations, early in the game, where it would have made a difference.

Meanwhile, after playing a miserable first half, the Steelers were still only down, incredibly, 10-3. With New England having deferred to the second half, the Steelers would have to shut down Tom Brady and crew hopefully by making some good adjustments.

The Patriots came out and in a complete carbon copy of the game's opening, they marched the ball straight down the field... So much for halftime adjustments. Speaking of which, this was one game where I would have to give the Steelers coaching staff an "F" for this game plan. True, the coaches don't block or tackle, but in my mind, this whole game plan was wrong and these players were obviously not ready to play. That's the coaching staff's responsibility.

The Steelers never ran the ball effectively when just a week earlier, Cleveland had gashed the Patriots for 180 yards rushing by the Browns' Peyton Hillis. Rashard Mendenhall wasn't even on the field much early in the game. By possessing the ball, it also would have kept Tom Brady off the field and maybe allowed a few less chances for that leaky secondary to be further exposed.

But getting back to the defense, either 1) the Patriots have the greatest collection of blockers in history, 2) the Steelers didn't come to play, or 3) Dick LeBeau just blew it by not applying more pressure. Whatever the reason, the defense, as a result, looked very "pedestrian" at best and hardly ever exhibited their nasty side all night. Brady sat in a rocking chair all night as he picked them apart.

When NFL teams have games as bad as this one, they just leave you scratching your head. True, people have bad days and you're not got going to win them all, but this was a complete team collapse on a national stage against another 6-2 team. Who do the Steelers think they are, Pitt? Truthfully, they didn't even look like they belonged on the same field let alone sharing the same record. The final score, 39-26 wasn't nearly as close as it sounded.

Meanwhile, kicker, Jeff Reed, continued on his farewell tour from the Black and Gold by missing a chip shot field goal later in the game after the offense had failed to connect in the red zone. Reed, who said he didn't want to make excuses, proceeded to do just that, blaming "the worst turf in the league" on his miss. He then complained because fans at Heinz Field have apparently tired of his act. Reed currently trails the entire NFL in kicking accuracy. But as he said a week ago, "Kicking for touchbacks is overrated." With that kind of an attitude it's no wonder that he rarely has them.

ABOVE: Kicker, Jeff Reed, continues his season-long filibuster to find another team.

Next week, more trouble is on the way in the form of the bye-week-rested and suddenly-resurgent Oakland Raiders. The Raiders beat the Steelers last year in the midst of their mid-season swoon where they lost five in a row. They suddenly have a ton of injuries to deal with and players who for some unknown reason are playing without their usual intensity. This season could begin unraveling quickly and this next game worries me...a lot.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

PITT, STEELERS BOTH TO WIN THIS WEEKEND

Mark this down: The Pitt Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers are BOTH going to win again this weekend.

The Panthers, going up against the Louisville Cardinals, are finally maturing as a unit, particularly quarterback Tino Sunseri. As Sunseri has improved on the passing game, so too, coincidentally has the Pitt running game begun to start producing big games out of Ronnie Graham and Dion Lewis.


ABOVE: Tino's been looking better and better each week.

Pitt's shaky defense has also made strides of late as the offense has continued to put things together, so look for a third consecutive strong showing in the Big East and a 28-17 victory.

Meanwhile, the Steelers, proclaimed by many experts as the strongest team in the league at the moment are on the road in the Superdome in a major clash against last year's champion, the New Orleans Saints.

The Steelers seem to have their very best games on the largest stage, so look for them to bring their "A" game on Sunday night. With the team fairly healthy for six games into the season, I look for the offense to be the defense's best friend in this one. The Steelers will play ball control while keeping drew Brees and his flying circus on the bench. 

Result: The Steelers defense will throttle Brees and Co. in a surprisingly convincing 24-10 victory.


ABOVE: The Steelers will need a "large" effort from Big Ben.


While "P.B.& G." is not charging you for this information, we don't expect any hate mail if Pitt or the Steelers don't cover either!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

STEELERS SURVIVE ROLLER COASTER DECISION, DOLPHINS FANS, AH... NOT SO MUCH

By this time, you, like me, have seen the Ben Roethlisberger replay at the Miami goal line more often than you have fingers and toes to keep track of them all. It has been replayed almost as much as the Santonio Holmes controversial touchdown a couple seasons ago or Jerome Bettis' "Heads-tails call" on Thanksgiving day several seasons ago.

But now that we have had a chance to examine this modern day example of the "Zapruder Film" frame by frame, what have we learned from it?


ABOVE: The famous "Zapruder Film" frame #232 taken by a parade bystander during the Kennedy assassination in Dallas.

BELOW: Big Ben fumbles at the goal line last Sunday in Miami. Some people would put this on a par with Zapruder's famous footage!


Basically what I learned from it is that football has to have the most complicated set of rules of any game on the planet!

Let me see a show of hands: When you were watching that replay, you more than likely came to the same conclusion as the referee that the ball had come loose prior to crossing that mythical, invisible, creation of the NFL competition committee known today as "the plane". But how many of you expected to hear what came next in part two of Referee Gene Steratore's final ruling on the play? 

Just like I thought, no hands showing. As a result, this play will now be lodged forever in the Pantheon of bizarre Steeler plays that drew bizarre referee calls. Let's re-examine exactly how Steratore described this play:

"After further review, the ball had come loose before crossing the plane of the goal line," (loud cheer by Dolphins fans). "HOWEVER," (crowd falls silent) "We do not have clear evidence of the defense recovering the football. Therefore, the Steelers will maintain possession of the football at the half yard line. Fourth down," (Steeler fans go wild).

ABOVE: Tony Sparano berates one of the other officials (not Gene Steratore) who strayed too close to him on his side of the field. Steratore was presumably on the Pittsburgh sideline, choosing instead to break the good news to Mike Tomlin personally.

Of course while waiting for this verdict, anyone who's ever watched a football game before in his life, knew that the entire outcome of this game would hinge on Steratore's decision. But what a strange outcome! I never expected the fumble recovery to be taken away from the Dolphins either.

However the NFL has come out in support of the "Steratore Film".  Carl Johnson, the NFL vice president of officiating said on Wednesday that, "A crucial decision not to award anybody a recovery of a Ben Roethlisberger fumble was "properly handled through replay in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 23-22 win against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday." He also said the league, "Regretted another replay decision that took a touchdown away from the Minnesota Vikings."

But in this case, it was the infamous "goal line plane" that contributed to the confusion. As soon as Steratore saw Roethlisberger cross that invisible line he signaled an immediate touchdown. So no officials were going to worry about who recovered the ball. While it appeared that Miami had recovered it, Big Ben said that he, "Had an arm on it and the referee slapped him on the back to get up and said, 'It's a touchdown'". Roethlisberger said that he then let the ball go. "I didn't want to get my arm torn off or anything."

While the referee's call makes perfect sense in retrospect, it is the fact that once the player crossed the plane, that the touchdown was signaled and the play was ruled over... is where the competition committee has to get this rule straightened out. Even though it was a decision that gave the Steelers a win, I'm sure that if the shoe had been on the other foot that Steeler fans would have been screaming.

How is it that a play ends instantaneously once the ball crosses the plane of the end zone? My thinking is that the reason this rule exists is that the players would be savaging ball carriers once a player had entered into "The Promised Land". 

One other area where I feel the league is leaving itself wide open for criticism is having an official from a home town refereeing a game for his home team. While Gene Steratore apparently did nothing wrong in the eyes of the NFL, it would have been better is the referee's place of residence had nothing to do with the call that determined who would win this football game.

Steratore's a great official and I'm proud that he's from Pittsburgh and an NFL ref. But he's got enough things to worry about if he's even officiating San Francisco and Oakland. Why add another layer for people to potentially criticize his decisions?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

GOODELL CONFIRMS: NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE TO BE RENAMED "NATIONAL HYPOCRISY LEAGUE"

"CLEARING MY DESK"
                        By Angelo Spagnolo
                               Publisher "Pittsburgh's Black and Gold" 


LEFT: James Harrison is the embodiment of every Steeler fans' idea as to what the perfect Pittsburgh Steeler should be. Now he's being legislated out of the league in much the same way that Hines Ward and Mel Blount before him had their playing styles also "altered".

I'm sure that there are greater hypocrites in this world than the "good" folks who run the National Football League. My problem is that I've yet to come across them.

The National Football League is without a doubt, the biggest collection of money-grubbing, thousand dollar suited, carpet-bagging, users of humanity ever assembled on this planet. They have become so big, so greedy and so powerful that they think they can even "lawyer" themselves out of a mess that's been of their own creation over the past hundred or so years.

Take for example the recent James Harrison $75,000 fine. It is a high point even by the lofty standards previously set by the National Hypocrisy League! Harrison, who is the poster boy for what the National Football League has always represented, is now becoming the focal point instead of a concussion witch hunt. The funny part about the hit on Mohamed Massaquoi is that Harrison actually held back! He could have planted the Browns receiver into the tenth row if that's what he wanted to do. But a concussion resulted anyway, so the result is a player who's now talking about retiring, if you can believe that. He's that sick of the hypocrisy, imagine that.


                              Associated Press photo
ABOVE: James Harrison, one nanosecond after putting Mohamed Massaquoi "To sleep".

The National Hypocrisy League has a licensed site that sells game photos and guess what? Two of the major "hits" from last weekend were featured on this site! You can't have it both ways National Hypocrisy League! If you want to promote your sport and make money selling photos based on bone-jarring hits and the injuries they generate, then you can't fine guys like Harrison for playing the way that they do.

In another example of uneven handling of player conduct issues, The National Hypocrisy League threw the book at Big Ben, yet Bret Favre, Vince Young and many others have gone unpunished. Why? Another hypocrisy, that's why.

But make no mistake about it: The National Hypocrisy League is not fining these players because they are so concerned about their fellow man. Are you kidding me??? The suits on Madison Avenue and their lawyers are merely looking to insulate themselves from what they feel will surely be a massive lawsuit someday filed by either the player's union (for unsafe working conditions) or on behalf of some either injured, quadraplegic or even killed player. The high-priced National Hypocrisy League attorneys reason that by establishing an evidential trail that they have "tried to discourage" this type of activity, this will remove the "treble damages" from the hands of some future jury. The National Hypocrisy League will then be safe to continue peddling their violent yet non-violent game (or so they'd like us to think) long into the future.

The only other plausible reason for legislating some of these hits out of the game is because the owners have invested millions into their "livestock". If these pieces of meat can't play, then what good are they on the sidelines or in a whirlpool? When they're through in their average of 3.7 years, you simply throw them into the meat grinder to finish turning them into hamburger: Scrambled brains, wrecked backs, torn up knees, you name it. But hey, they're making millions, right? True, but if they're dead, paralyzed or in a wheel chair what good is it? Ask Mike Webster! Oh wait, you can't, he's dead.

If the National Hypocrisy League wanted to stop people getting concussions, they could easily do so by changing the helmets these players are now wearing. The problem is that the helmets are so impervious to breaking that the players subconsciously have no fear of injury. As a result, they're not afraid to lead with their head. If the players wore a helmet made of the new space aged foam that's used now on mattresses, you'd better believe that they'd stop using their head as a weapon and start protecting it instead. This will never be done though, because then there would be no sound of helmets cracking together for National Hypocrisy League Films to capture for their highlight reels. Let's face it, the sound of foam hitting foam isn't very exciting or compelling. It also wouldn't look good on the videos at the stadium either during the playing of "Renegade".

ABOVE: If there's a scarier sight than this in the National Hypocrisy League, I'd like to know what it is.

But would even this extreme measure signal the end of concussions? Sadly, no. Today's players are too big, too strong, too fast and too dumb for that to happen. Think about it: The human body was not made to absorb this type of massive punishment. But the National Hypocrisy League will still fortunately be able to move forward as it always has because it's now been insulated from lawsuits and has that ever-eager farm system of college draft choices lined up and ready to step forward to collect their fat new paychecks, along with cracked vertebrae, shredded cartilage, mutilated tendons and addled brains.

As much as I love the Steelers and truly admire their toughness, I have grown to literally despise the hypocrites who own and run this league. The salaries they pay the players are grandiose, true enough, but the human suffering that goes on for these players for the rest of their lives is incalculable not to mention the number of years of their lives that are lost.

But please,  just don't lie to us about it. Don't challenge our intellects by acting as though you are now shocked at the violence in the game and the obstinate players who refuse to tone it down. What game have you been watching for the past hundred years anyway? Do you think that hard hitting is a new phenomenon in the National Hypocrisy League? Or have you been making billions in profits during the last century because of it? You can't have it both ways.

Maybe all of the injuries are telling us that the accelerated athletic development of the players in this league has created such a toxic environment that it is now literally impossible to legislate injuries out of the game?

 Is football's time as a sport coming to some cataclysmic end? Don't laugh, they don't have gladiators fighting lions and tigers in Rome anymore either!



ABOVE: The movie "Gladiator" showed the earlier days of the NFL, long before hypocrisy became so much "en vogue". Under most circumstances, my money would be on the tiger, but this is, after all, Russell Crowe and we know he can't die!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

TIGER IN HENHOUSE; MORE RYDER CUP WOES



 ABOVE: The U.S. team has just lost the Ryder Cup Tournament, now Tiger has to survive keeping his eyes focused...somewhere else...anywhere else. More pressure. When does it end?

Monday, October 18, 2010

"COCONUT HUNTERS"


ABOVE: A future Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker hones his skills in this tropical setting. The heretofore unknown secret to the Steeler linebackers' vicious play is hereby revealed. When the coconuts hit the ground with vicious force, they are "concussed" thus releasing their juicy coconut milk and tasty baking ingredients.

Okay,  okay, I know, the NFL is trying to eliminate helmet-to-helment contact from the lexicon of American football, but who out there thought that James Harrison was trying to purposely concuss two Browns players yesterday? While we're on the subject, who among you doesn't enjoy seeing James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons and Company unloading on their offensive quarry? Hasn't hard play been the calling card of the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past 40 years? Would you ever want to see this change?

The Steelers put a beat-down on the Cleveland Browns yesterday, winning by a 28-10 score. The defining storyline of this game...other than Big Ben's triumphal return...was the incredible Steeler defense which continues to strangle the life out of its' opponents.

The Steelers lost two weeks ago to the Baltimore Ravens sans Roathlisberger. But how many of you out there feel that the Steelers would have lost this game if the "Large One" had played? I don't see many hands.

If you ask most knowledgable NFL analysts today, many of them would tell you that the Steelers, with Ben back in the lineup, are now the top team in the AFC. Barring the one thing that can derail any team's season: injuries, this team has all the pieces necessary to make another visit to the Superbowl. Yesterday, Brett Keisel went down with what could be a more-serious type of hamstring injury. If so, Keisel could miss four to six weeks if not longer. These are just the type of injury losses that no NFL team wants to absorb. But to their credit, the Steelers have quality depth and more important, hungry quality depth.

The Steelers will be embarking on three straight difficult road games starting in Miami this week. the Dolphins upended the Packers in Green bay yesterday so they are brimming with confidence today. For the Steelers, having these types of challenges in front of them seems to stoke their competitive fires and bring out the best of their abilities. Would you rather see the next three competitors be San Francisco, Carolina and Detroit? I didn't think so. This is a team that needs a challenge to be their best. I, personally, hate us playing a game against a bottom-feeding team.

So bring on the the Dolphins, Saints and those customarily-bottom-feeding Cincinnati Bengals. I think our coconut hunters are more than up to the challenge.

BELOW: A concussed coconut... nobody likes seeing this but everybody enjoys the succulent coconut inside. This is commonly referred to as a "dichotomy".


Thursday, October 14, 2010

LEMIEUX ADMITS CONSOL ENERGY CENTER "JINXED"; PONDERS MOVE

ABOVE: A glum Pittsburgh Penguins Chairman of the Board, Mario Lemieux admits, "I screwed up." 

In a stunning announcement, Pittsburgh Penguins Chairman Mario Lemieux revealed today at a morning press conference that the Consol Energy Center has indeed been jinxed. The Penguins have started out 0-3 in their new Taj Mahal facility this season, losing again last night, this time by a 4-3 score to the Toronto Maple Leafs of all people.

"Yes, it's a jinx, we know that," said Lemieux. "The building has been cursed by those who want the Civic Arena to be saved."

Admitting that he added "fuel to the fire" by pouring water from the Arena onto the ice surface at the Consol Energy Center, Lemieux is at a loss for what to do next.

"Yes, that was a big mistake, I realize that now," said the somber chairman of the board. "But who knew that it would result in the building being cursed? Believe me, I'm going to have a hard time getting the players to leave their new locker room facility to go back over to the Arena. If we lose our next two here, it may have to happen...we may have to abandon the Consol Energy Center."

This shocking turn of events was completely unforeseen when the Penguins very cavalierly decided to pursue tearing down the obviously jealous and angry building instead of transitioning it into another type of functioning facility.

"We really don't know if announcing that we are going to abandon the idea of tearing down the Arena would break the curse," said Lemieux. "But if we can't win at home anymore, we'll have to take a serious look at moving back into the Arena. Then we'd have to figure out what to do with the Consol Energy Center."

When asked about moving back to the Arena, Pens Captain, Sidney Crosby offered a unique player's perspective. "We'll play at the Arena, but we'll die before we give up our new locker room. The team can bus us up the hill if need be...I'll even pay for the bus if they won't."

As the pressure to win mounts, the players now know that they only have two more chances to win before Lemieux pulls the plug on Consol.

"Wow, that would be really bad," sighed Crosby.

Penguins President, David Morehouse, was conspicuously absent from the press conference. Morehouse has been the leading proponent of tearing down the venerable, old, Civic Arena and is obviously now a lightning rod for more "bad karma" for the team.

Consol Arena "rink rats" are whispering that Morehouse could indeed be on the way out if it would remove the curse on the Energy Center.


ABOVE: Darth Vader posed for this motivational poster while pouring water into a 2 liter bottle. This made no sense then...neither did Mario Lemieux pouring the Arena's water onto the Consol Energy Center's ice last week. Besides bringing a curse down on himself and the team, explain what good that did?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

BROWNS IN FOR A TERRIBLE BEATING; BIG BEN CLEANED UP, PRIMED AND READY TO GO.


ABOVE AND BELOW: There are two Big Bens currently undergoing an image overhaul, Pittsburgh's Big Ben and that "other one" over in London. Curious how both Big Bens have men with gold helmets around looking after them! Sadly enough for the Cleveland Browns, Big Ben will be striking 12 both here and abroad this coming Sunday.



I would not want to be Eric Mangini this week. He'll be bringing in his battered and bruised Cleveland Browns team into a typically-hostile Heinz Field minus his top two quarterbacks Seneca Wallace and Jake Delhomme and with a banged-up running back, Peyton Hillis.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Steelers will counter with a mostly-healthy starting lineup plus have their two-time Superbowl-winning quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, back in the saddle for the first time following his well-documented suspension for sexual hijinks in a Georgia college bar.

Roethlisberger is literally foaming at the mouth to play again and from all reports he is in the best shape of his entire career. If there is any danger that the Steelers may face in this game, it would be Big Ben trying to do "too much". If he plays within himself and allows the small patches of ferrous oxide to naturally wear off of his uniform, the Steelers should have no trouble dispatching the Browns and improving their record to 4-1. It could get grotesquely ugly before it's over with a "Harrison Slam" or two a possibility. Speaking of people whom I wouldn't want to be this week, the name "Colt McCoy" also springs into my mind. The Browns picked up a quarterback off the Ravens practice squad this week to back up McCoy, but the question is, "Will one be enough?"

ABOVE: Eric "Mangenious" has his hands full this week, minus two quarterbacks and possibly his featured running back, Peyton Hillis. The Steelers would be well-advised to look out for a major-league-sized dose of Joshua Cribbs in the wildcat formation on Sunday...but I think our own "Mangenious", "Dickgenious Labeaueinstein" will have already figured that out.

But in the back of every Steeler players' mind should be the horrible losses they suffered versus the Browns, Raiders and Chiefs last year. All three of those games were viewed as "eminently winnable" and the Steelers did have Roethlisberger for all three losses. However, they have a much different team this year. They are focused, seem to be on a mission to get back to championship status, are much healthier than last year and now have a quarterback who has been brought back to Earth by our wonderful N.F.L. commissioner. THANK YOU ROGER GOODELL!!!

All together now..."Happy days are here again....


LEFT: "Annette Hanshaw and Her Boys" could really play this song. Word is that the Pirates are looking to bring them in for a "Skyblast Show."


If you're a Pittsburgh Steeler fan, I'd say you're in for some good times the rest of the year. As was noted by our occasional prognosticator, Michel de Nostradamus, earlier this year he called for the Black & Gold to go 9-3 once Big Ben returned. Coupled with the 3-1 start that they managed sans the "Large One", that would have them finishing with a 12-4 mark and in the thick of things for another Superbowl appearance. But hold the fort, a lot of things can happen in the always-mercurial National Football League...just ask the Minnesota Vikings and their guy who's always trying to "Get out of his Levi's", Brett Favre. 

  Sports Ramblings From Hither and Thither....


I was glad to see the Pittsburgh Penguins sit down Marc Andre Fleury yesterday. I guess Dan Bylsma has finally joined the legions of Penguins fans who are sick and tired of Fleury's complete lapses in concentration...Don't be expecting some big name manager to be hired by the Pirates. They have already figured out that with their present pitching staff they'll win as many games with a "Joe Blow" manager as they would resurrecting Danny Murtaugh or Casey Stengle. They'll use some of the money they save to bring in acts like "Three Dog Night" or "Huey Lewis and the News" next year. Don't laugh, they're making money doing just this type of thing....Question: Is it me or are the Cleveland Browns the football antithesis of the Pittsburgh Pirates? Answer: No, they have no Skyblast Shows"...Talk about laying an egg, crapping the bed, stumbling out of the gate, whatever you want to call it. Who would have ever thought that the Penguins would have lost their first two games at the new Low Wattage Center? By the way, word is that the crowds have been none too vocal thus far this season. They're probably out enjoying those spacious concourses, dining on gourmet smoked kielbasa and luxuriating in those new bathrooms...From the always-competitive world of politics, who out there isn't sick of the political ads we're now being besieged with? I know this much, if half of the mud being slung around is true, God help our country, no matter who wins!!! Are these the best candidates that both parties could come up with???

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On Andy Van Slyke And My Surprise Choice For The Next Bucs Manager

ABOVE: If you want to get under this guy's skin real fast, just call him "Slyke".

Some of you may already be aware of my extensive golf prowess from an earlier lifetime, so I won't make you have to re-read that story here today. However, I do have a very interesting tale for you and one that might shed some light into the topic of Andy Van Slyke possibly being the next Pirates skipper. Van Slyke, by the way, has already interviewed for the job.

It was in the late 90's when I found myself sitting in a golf cart with my playing partner for that day: One Andy Van Slyke. The event was the Mario Lemieux golf tournament and it was absolutely loaded with some of the biggest names ever in the world of sports (my being there only added to the star-studded lineup of course). 

When I first met Andy, he seemed like a nice enough guy, but I could tell that there was an "edge" about him. I don't want to say that he was "standoffish" because I had just met him. But to give you an example of how surly he would become on this day...We were in our golf cart together driving towards our first tee and had just introduced ourselves to each other moments earlier. We were slated to start on #10 at Nevillewood and while we were en route to that hole, several young boys ages 10-12 came running up to our cart yelling for us to please stop.

These boys were yelling, "MISTER SLYYYYKE...MISTER SLYYYYKE! CAN WE HAVE YOUR AUTOGRAPH?? PLEEEASE??" I was stunned to see him stop the cart and hear him yell back, "IT'S VAN SLYKE KID AND NO!!! COME BACK LATER WHEN I'M DONE GOLFING."

I had never before seen an athlete treat young kids like this and I guess in his mind he figured that he's probably already signed a million autographs. But this incident stuck with me and actually really was one of the few things from that day that made a lasting impression...that and watching a naked Michael Jordan and John Elway snapping wet towels and arguing over golf bets in the locker room afterwards...priceless.


ABOVE: After first snapping wet towels in the locker room, these two cleaned up rather nicely.

I've always had a real soft spot for kids and I just felt as though for the minute or so it would have taken, that it wouldn't have killed us to stop. I didn't like this attitude at all, especially not at a celebrity event such as this. It's not like we were playing in the Masters or something, it was a celebrity golf event!

On the first hole (as I said earlier, actually number ten) I had a terrific drive, great approach and just missed a birdie putt. What a day I was going to have!!! Hold on there cowboy, not so fast. I then went on to have 17 of the most horrible holes of my already-legendary if not somewhat infamous career. I think that Van Slyke would have gladly cut his arm off with a chainsaw if he had one. Either that or cut my head off! He was that extremely uncomfortable watching me hack away. My sensing his unease did absolutely nothing to help me get my game untracked either. While I'm certain that I had to have set another course as well as Lemieux Tournament record for my score that day, the overwhelming feeling of being uncomfortable was the only thing I took with me. What should have been a memorable, fun day turned out to be my second-worst day ever on a golf course. You probably know what day was the first, but if not, this link will refresh your memory: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfIWNUW-lbg 

Maybe I'm wrong about "Slyke", but then again, maybe I'm not. He just didn't strike me as someone I'd want to go out and bust my butt for or who would be an inspirational type of leader. I saw him as a guy who could really get sour on people and then just ride them for the sake of riding them. I've coached with and been coached by people like this, and believe me, they're no fun to be around.

Maybe Andy was just in a bad mood that day? Who knows? But then if he was, it leads to the next question: How can you be in a bad mood playing in the Lemieux Tournament at Nevillewood on a perfect sunny day and before you've taken your first swing in anger? Hard to figure unless that's just your personality.

Now let me tell you who I feel would be THE GUY to manage the Pirates. Not "Slyke" or any of the other popular flavors of the day you've heard bantied about. How about this guy:

ABOVE: Every baseball comment I've ever heard from this man has been "spot-on". He's not afraid to call a "spade a spade" either or call out people if necessary. He's had a successful history as a pitcher for a franchise that has had darn few of them and I know that he would be a much more interesting manager for both the players and fans than the near-comatose John Russell was...incidentally another great Pirates personnel decision there.

But even if the Pirates could resurrect Danny Murtaugh, even he couldn't win with the horrible pitching staff that this team has. John Russell may not have been "Mr. Personality" but if you ever needed someone to stand in front of a firing squad, he'd be your guy. After all, he's done it on hundreds of occasions.

He wasn't my favorite manager by a longshot, but if anyone ever "took one for the team" it was him...every day.

But I like Bob Walk a lot for this job. So that being the case, don't bank on it happening because the Pirates have such great skill making these kinds of decisions as you well know.