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?