2009 Offseason: Summer of Death

July 28, 2009

Summer of Ben: The Sequel

Just as he did the last time the Steelers were getting ready to defend a Super Bowl title, Ben Roethlisberger provided the biggest offseason news.
It made me sick to read about it. It became obvious that Roethlisberger's mind is not on football when ... he shot an 81 at Bethpage.

That's right. Big Ben beat Michael Jordan, Justin Timberlake and Phoenix police officer Larry Giebelhausen in the U.S. Open Challenge on Long Island on June 12.

But seriously, Roethlisberger is facing a civil lawsuit in which a Nevada woman claims he sexually assaulted her. However, I don't think it will affect his performance on the field like his motorcycle crash did in 2006. It will be much easier to block that situation out of his mind than it was to overcome the physical toll of the motorcycle crash and emergency appendectomy just before the start of the 2006 season.

Coincidentally, Roethlisberger's 81 at Bethpage came on the three-year anniversary of his motorcycle crash. I don't think Bethpage allows motorcycles on the Black Course.

Roethlisberger didn't have to get up in front of the media last week and deny the Nevada woman's claims. He took a risk by doing so. He could have hurt his standing in the court of public opinion. But I don't think he did. I'm not saying that he did or didn't do it. I'm just saying that there seemed to be a lot of conviction behind his words. And it quelled the media frenzy. All is quiet on the Roethlisberger front this week, at least until Friday.

I would guess there will be a lot of questions about the case when training camp opens at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.

So in this calm before the storm, let me explain why I decided to hibernate from Steelahs.com from May 5-July 21.

The book that almost was

Mainly, it was because I tried to write a book, but ultimately decided to put it on the shelf, so to speak.

The book was going to be an anthology of columns from this site. I was going to include all of my game columns from the 2008 season as well as certain columns from 2007, my rookie season as a Steelers blogger.

I came up with the idea for a book a week or two after the Steelers won the Super Bowl. I figured the Steelers' sixth championship might make a book remotely marketable. I was going to publish my columns as is, exactly as they appeared on the site. Then I was going to add footnotes to modify certain sentences or paragraphs with further comments.

By late June, I had assembled all of the columns through Super Bowl XLIII. I was just going to go back and self-edit the book and then publish it, most likely electronically.

Then I decided against it.

It would have only costed a few hundred dollars to publish it as an e-book (among the working titles, by the way, were "Towel Boy," "God, One-Hit Wonders and the Steelers" and "The Steelers Bathroom Reader." Seriously). But with the uncertain economy, I thought it would be better to hold onto that money.

Another reason I stopped the project is because, frankly, I didn't really think the book was good enough. Since I've only been doing this site for two years, I don't have a deep enough body of work from which to cull material for a book. It would have been like swimming in a kiddie pool (oh what the hell do I know about that, I can't swim).

Maybe if the Steelers win another Super Bowl or two in the near future, I'll try again. If the Steelers win the Super Bowl this season, the story of how they wrested Team of the Decade status from the Patriots would make a great book, along with a cultural look back on the past decade (life, and the world, has changed quite a bit since Y2K, hasn't it?).

But that would be incumbent upon the Steelers to repeat as Super Bowl champions. What do you say, guys?

Training camp starts in three days.

While I was out

Let's quickly catch up on Steelers news that unfolded during my absence.

The Steelers signed left tackle Max Starks to a four-year contract. The best news there is that NFL contracts aren't guaranteed. Let's hope another year together makes the Steelers' offensive line more effective.

The Steelers made the customary visit to the White House as Super Bowl champions, but with a twist. President Obama put the Steelers to work. They assembled care packages for the military. It was cool that the Steelers and Obama worked together to do something more than the usual grip-and-grin-sports-champion-White House visit.

Speaking of the government, Dan Rooney officially became U.S. ambassador to Ireland. That was a mere formality.
But the biggest news during my vacation from Steelahs.com (yes, a vacation from a non-paying job) doesn't involve the Steelers directly, but can be linked to the Steelers.

Summer of death

I can't remember so many celebrity deaths in such a short time. It started with Ed McMahon on June 23 and was followed by Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mays, Karl Malden, Walter Cronkite and Frank McCourt. They say these things happen in threes. There have been a lot more than three, although Saturday's death of Vernon Forrest made it three in the boxing world after Alexis Arguello and Arturo Gatti.

Have I missed any?

Oh, that's right.

There's the most famous celebrity to depart (Michael Jackson) and the most shocking (Steve McNair). Both of these stories have Steelers angles.

The McNair story has an obvious Steelers angle, considering he was a respected Steelers nemesis.

Let's not kid ourselves. McNair wasn't the only NFL player (he recently retired, but you know what I mean) to have relationships with females outside his marriage. If you're a star athlete, women will throw themselves at you. I read once that Joe Montana could be on an airplane, see a picture of a model in a magazine, call his agent and be with that woman the next day.

I'm not saying the McNair death should turn all pro athletes into monks, but hopefully it at least teaches them to choose their women more carefully.

Then there's Michael Jackson.

The cap

How could I possibly connect Michael Jackson to the Steelers, you ask?

Check out Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" video. Did you see the dancer with the Steelers cap? I had that exact same Steelers cap. It was 1987, my junior year in high school, and I thought wearing the same cap as a dancer in a Michael Jackson video gave me some street cred, even though the cap was only visible in the video for a total of about 2.7 seconds.

I thought for sure my Steelers cap would make me look cool enough for Susan to dance with me.

I was obsessed with this brunette for about a year and a half in high school. I never uttered a word to her, mind you. I was pretty clueless as a teenager. I had no idea that you're supposed to start by making small talk with a girl and build a rapport before asking her out. My only communication with Susan was eye contact. I would steal a glance whenever I could. A couple of times I got picked off (that's what I call it when someone catches you checking them out). Looking back on it now, I must have creeped her out.

I went to my first high school dance that fall. But Susan was dating a guy on the football team. It killed me to watch them slow dancing to Michael Jackson's "I Just Can't Stop Loving You."

But Susan and Bernie (yes, this guy's name was Bernie) broke up not long after that dance. My plan was to go to the next high school dance and ask Susan to dance with me.

When I finally got up the courage to ask her to dance. She said no.

That's life.

But hey, let's say she had danced with me, and we started dating, and we stayed together throughout high school and college, and we got married.

She'd be a football widow by now.

I have no idea what became of Susan. Or my vintage 1987 Steelers cap.

Have I mentioned that training camp starts in three days?

July 23, 2009

Minute man

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says that Steelers football is 60 minutes.

It took Ben Roethlisberger exactly 60 seconds today to make a statement denying allegations of sexual assault in a civil suit filed last week by a 31-year-old woman.

The suit stems from an alleged incident that took place July 11, 2008 in a Harrah's hotel suite in Lake Tahoe, Nev.

Roethlisberger's statement was vehement and emotional. It began with the words "I did not," which immediately brings to mind Bill Clinton's denial of sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky about a decade ago. At one point during the address he even used a Clintonian hand gesture, putting his left hand forward in a semi-fist with the thumb pointing upward.

When I saw Roethlisberger's statement for the third time this afternoon, I couldn't help but think of the "Buckwheat is Dead" skit on Saturday Night Live in the early 1980s. I'm not saying that to make light of this situation, I'm saying it to make the point that the brevity of his address will allow it to be played over and over again in its entirety.

For me, this story has put a damper on my anticipation of training camp and the upcoming season. Whether this incident happened or not, I've been reflecting on the priority I've placed on football. The NFL is full of people who have had scrapes with the law in various degrees.

But this afternoon, when ESPN showed highlights of Roethlisberger from last season, those fan juices started flowing. It was sort of a Pavlovian reaction to seeing No. 7 in that black and gold uniform with the shiny helmet.

This is a civil case and not a criminal case. So it's not a matter of whether Roethlisberger is innocent or guilty but whether he's responsible. It's not jail he's facing, it's a lighter wallet, and it doesn't seem like Roethlisberger is going to write a check to make this thing go away. He appears ready to dig in and fight.

I've read much of the complaint filed by the woman. It's very detailed in terms of the chain of events. So either this really happened or the woman has used the past year to concoct one hell of a story in order to get a big payday.

We just don't know.

July 21, 2009

Rude awakening

Well, I was hoping to write a nice, light-hearted piece to announce that I was back up and blogging again after taking a couple of months off.

Instead, a very serious situation has jolted me out of my 77-day hibernation.

Last week, a woman filed a civil lawsuit against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, claiming he sexually assaulted her in his room at Harrah's in Lake Tahoe on July 11, 2008. There has been no criminal complaint. You can read more details about the story in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and ProFootballTalk.com.

The lack of a criminal complaint, and the fact that a year has passed between the alleged incident and the filing of the suit, create the appearance that the woman is just looking for money from Roethlisberger.

This does not mean that sexual assault should be taken lightly. It's an act so heinous that I don't think a lighter wallet is enough of a punishment. I would think that a victim of such a crime would want to see the attacker in jail right away.

I'm going to go with innocent until proven guilty here.

However, this and the murder of former Titans and Ravens quarterback Steve McNair reminds us that we don't really know these guys who we cheer for so wildly every Sunday. There are probably several Steelers players who we wouldn't want to spend five minutes with.

It's just the latest lesson that sports should be kept in perspective, and these guys aren't automatically role models just because they're athletes.

I'll write more when we know more.

May 5, 2009
Break time

By Mike Batista

Happy Cinco de Mayo to everyone!

As Cliff Clavin would say, it's a little-known fact that Cinco de Mayo comes a day after another important holiday.

Yesterday was the two-year anniversary of the day I launched Steelahs.com. What better way to celebrate two years than to take two months off?

Now that the Larry Foote saga is officially over (the Steelers released him Monday), it's a good time to take a break.

With the possible exception of the Steelers' visit to the White House or the unveiling of their Super Bowl rings, this is my last post until training camp, which will begin sometime in mid-July.

Of course I'll come out of hibernation for any earth-shattering Steelers news, but hopefully if any Steeler rides a motorcycle, he'll be wearing a helmet.

There are other things I need to get done, including a possible project related to this site. But before I go on hiatus, let me empty any Steelers thoughts from my head.

A.Q. and the Tank

I think I finally figured out the most succint way to express why I'm so excited about the Steelers' draft.

Basically, when you're rooting hard for a fifth-round pick (Frank "the Tank" Summers) and a seventh-round pick (A.Q. Shipley) to make the team, you know it's a good draft.

The 5-foot-9, 241-pound Summers, as I've said before, could be the short-yardage back the Steelers have been missing since Jerome Bettis retired. He'll at least get some work on special teams. And while I'm not expecting a Bettis-type career, Summers has fan favorite written all over him. And of course I'm partial to short guys.

Shipley, meanwhile, has an automatic cachet with Steelers fans because he's from Moon, Pa., as well as Penn State. The 6-foot-1, 304-pound center makes up for a lack of ideal physical tools with his blocking technique. The Steelers have a lot of tradition at the center position. How great would it be if this underdog type is able to carry that torch for a decade or so?

Of course the Steelers also drafted Ziggy and Sonny, Keenan and Joe, a Mike Wallace (how perfect would it be for Wallace to star in a 4:15 CBS game and lead right into 60 Minutes?) a D.J. and my favorite name of all their draftees, Kraig Urbik.

While it would be cool if Summers and Shipley have an impact, it's just as important to the Steelers' future, if not more so, for the early-round picks to succeed.

First-round pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood of Missouri needs to be ready, most likely at defensive end, when the production of the Steelers' aging defensive linemen starts to decline. Third-round pick Kraig Urbik of Wisconsin, who just from his name sounds immovable, is going to have to provide some serious competition at guard.

The Steelers also seem to be stockpiling cornerbacks. Just before the draft, they nabbed one of their few tormentors from 2008 and made him one of their own, signing Keiwan Ratliff from the Colts. Ratliff had an interception in the Colts' 24-20 win over the Steelers on Nov. 9.

The Steelers also drafted cornerbacks Keenan Lewis from Oregon State in the third round and Joe Burnett from Central Florida in the fifth round. They're trying to fill the void left by Bryant McFadden. William Gay, who started a few games last season, has the inside track on starting opposite Ike Taylor. But it looks like he'll have plenty of competition.

Another area where the Steelers are loading up is receiver. Joining Ratliff in their annual bargain-basement free agent shopping bag is Lions receiver Shaun McDonald, who had 949 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2007. Just like they're not handing the starting cornerback job to Gay, the Steelers are going to make Limas Sweed work for the job at No. 3 receiver. Wallace, who they drafted in the third round from Mississippi, also could give Sweed a run for his money.

Even if Wallace doesn't win the No. 3 receiver slot, he and Burnett could contribute in another way. They both have returning ability. Gary Russell always got the Steelers past the 20 on kickoffs last season, but he was never going to break one. Through the draft, the Steelers now have speedsters who could provide a source of field position and maybe even points that they didn't have last season.

I kind of left out kick returning when I said that the Steelers' draft needs were defensive line, wide receiver, cornerback, offensive line and short-yardage back. So when you think about it, the Steelers addressed six needs in this draft. Not too shabby.

My two least favorite picks in the Steelers' draft are defensive lineman Ra'Shon "Sonny" Harris from Oregon in the sixth round and tight end D.J. Johnson from Arkansas State in the seventh round. Every draft includes at least a couple of names that will be long forgotten in three years. These guys are the two most likely candidates for that honor.

Numbers game

This info is more fun than useful, but here are the uniform numbers the Steelers draftees will wear: Hood 96; Urbik 65; Wallace 17; Lewis 20 (McFadden's old number); Burnett 40; Summers 44; Harris 73; Shipley 61; Johnson 85 (Nate Washington's old number).

Speaking of numbers, I can't count. When I was getting giddy about the Steelers' draft during my live blogging, I said that while it's not quite 1974 caliber (not yet, anyway), it was a great way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that draft. Problem is, it was 35 years ago. Woops.

The 1974 Steelers draft, considered by many the best NFL draft of all-time, included Lynn Swann (first round), Jack Lambert (second round), John Stallworth (fourth round) and Mike Webster (fifth round).

While I admit it's ridiculous to grade a draft before any of the picks have played a down, I do it because it's just plain fun. So how about I grade the first two Mike Tomlin drafts? These grades also are subject to change, as it will be a few more years before we can really close the book on a draft assessment.

2007: Five legitimate contributors from this class. Lawrence Timmons (first round) is ready to start at inside linebacker. LaMarr Woodley (second round) is a force opposite James Harrison at outside linebacker. Matt Spaeth (third round) is a serviceable backup tight end. Punter Daniel Sepulveda (fourth round) was on injured reserve last season and choked in key situations as a rookie. But he has such a strong leg that you have to figure he'll be an asset going forward. William Gay (fifth round) started a few games last season and has a good chance to start at cornerback in 2009. Wide receiver Dallas Baker (seventh round) is still hanging around. The only ones completely out of the picture are defensive tackle Ryan McBean (fourth round) and guard Cameron Stephenson (fifth round). Two-year grade: A

2008: Last year at this time, I gave this draft a B. Running back Rashard Mendenhall (first round) showed some promise before he got hurt. Limas Sweed (second round) was still learning for most of the season. The key here is that Tomlin says players tend to show the biggest improvement between their first and second year. Let's hope that's true with Sweed as well as outside linebacker Bruce Davis (third round) and offensive tackle Tony Hills (fourth round). Davis played a little on special teams last year, but stayed in Pittsburgh during the offseason and supposedly lived in the weight room. All I can say about Hills is "Hello, are you there?" Quarterback Dennis Dixon (fifth round) is trying to be the Official Ben Roethlisberger Insurance Policy if Charlie Batch ever retires. He also could be used for his "Slash" ability, so don't give up on him just yet. Safety Ryan Mundy (sixth round) is still on the payroll. The only one gone is linebacker Mike Humpal (sixth round). Two-year grade: C-minus

Get well soon

Best wishes to Rich Behm, Joe DiCamillis, Greg Gaither and the other nine people, as well as their families, who were injured Saturday when the Dallas Cowboys' practice structure collapsed in heavy winds.

Behm, a scouting assistant, is paralyzed from the waist down. DiCamillis, their new special teams coach, was scheduled to have surgery Monday for a fractured cervical vertabrae. Gaither, an assistant athletic trainer, had surgery to repair a fracture of his tibula and fibula in his right leg.

As much as I hate the Cowboys, I don't like to see anything like this happen.

A 4-12 record every year? Now that we can wish on the Cowboys. I also enjoyed it when the Steelers bum rushed Pacman Jones on a kickoff return during their Dec. 7 game last year at Heinz Field. If you don't remember what I'm talking about, slip NFL.com 20 bucks for the Game Rewind and check it out.

It's one of the hidden gems of the Steelers' 2008 season. Pacman was already down, but the pile of black jerseys on top of him kept getting bigger and bigger. Maybe it's just me, but it looked like the Steelers were exerting a little frontier justice on that play. Yes, certain Steelers players have had their scrapes with the law, but the Rooneys would never tolerate a Pacman Jones.

Jones deserves a few broken bones. But the victims in Saturday's disaster didn't deserve what they got.

April 27, 2009

Steelers' draft grade: A-minus

By Mike Batista

The only bad thing about the Steelers' draft is that it made me wish I had made the train ride from Yonkers to see it in person.

Almost every pick the Steelers made was worth a loud cheer and a wave of the Terrible Towel. But I read that fans start lining up at Radio City Music Hall at midnight the morning of the draft. I figured fuck that. I'll just stay home, watch it on TV and blog live.

So on a gorgeous, summer-like weekend, I stayed in my studio apartment and blogged for about 14 hours on Saturday and another eight or nine hours on Sunday, when the Steelers made eight of their nine picks.

Why does the first nice weekend of the year always come on draft weekend?

Here's a look at the Steelers' picks, with most of the information coming from Scott Wright's Draft Countdown, NFLDraftScout and my own stream of consciousness.


32, Evander "Ziggy" Hood, DT, Missouri (6-foot-3, 300): For the second year in a row, the Steelers catch a player unexpectedly falling in the first round. Last year, it was Rashard Mendenhall dropping to 23. This year it's Hood, who I had going to the Falcons at 24 and NFLDraftScout ranked as the 26th best player on the board. ... A prototypical Steelers' defensive lineman in that he's more likely to be a solid contributor than a star. The Steelers don't need stars on their D-Line. They just need guys to keep blockers occupied while the linebackers get the glory in the 3-4 defense. ... Hood also has a Steelers-type toughness. After getting hurt his sophomore year, he played with a screw in his foot.

79, Kraig Urbik, OG, Wisconsin (6-foot-5, 328): In this draft, the Steelers have chosen a Ziggy and a Sonny, an A.Q., a D.J. and a guy named Mike Wallace (as Mike Tomlin says, Steelers football is 60 minutes). But for some reason out of the nine names this is the one that sticks in my head the most. Maybe it's because it's the toughest sounding name of all the Steelers' picks. Maybe it's because Wisconsin is known for churning out good offensive linemen. ... In 2005, Urbik became the first freshman in nine years to start on the Badgers' offensive line. ... When Urbik was hurt in 2008, the Badgers lost five of six games, then won three out of four when he returned. ... Urbik's a hard worker who plays with a mean streak. ... The first guard the Steelers have chosen in the draft since they lost Alan Faneca. ... He also can play right tackle.

84, Mike Wallace, WR, Mississippi (6-foot-0, 199): A legitimate vertical threat who can return kicks, which is something the Steelers need. ... Not a great route runner and can drop passes, but with Nate Washington gone, it's nice to see the Steelers won't sink or swim with Limas Sweed or Martin Nance as the No. 3 receiver.

96, Keenan Lewis, CB, Oregon State (6-foot-1, 208): Physical, good in run support. ... Gets his hands on a lot of passes but not a lot of interceptions. ... Not the greatest tackler. ... Also might be able to play some safety. ... A New Orleans native whose family had to evacuate during Hurricane Katrina.


168, Joe Burnett, CB, Central Florida (5-foot-9, 192): Another guy who can return kicks. Four-year starter had three career punt returns and two career kickoff returns for touchdowns, and then there's the 16 career interceptions. ... A good athlete, was nominated for the McDonald's All-American game in basketball.

169, Frank Summers, FB, UNLV (5-foot-9, 241): Hopefully this pick will help spare the Steelers the embarrassment of getting knocked backwards trying to run the ball in from the 1-yard line. ... I wanted the Steelers to get this guy badly. He's been called a "bowling ball" of a running back and a "junior Bus." Gary Russell tried, but he wasn't really the short-yardage back the Steelers needed. ... Summers can run, block and catch passes.

205, Ra'Shon "Sonny" Harris, DT, Oregon (6-foot-4, 298): This pick is one of the reasons for the "minus" in the Steelers' A-minus grade. ... Even after they got Hood in the first round, I said the Steelers needed another body for the aging defensive line. Harris meets that qualification in that he has a body. ... He's an underachiever who started just one year in college. ... Stamina is a concern and he doesn't have a great work ethic. But he's a good athlete with a lot of upside. It's going to take some coaching.

226, A.Q. Shipley, C, Penn State (6-foot-1, 304): Like Summers, this is an undersized guy who was on my radar as a late-round pick, and someone I would have cheered loudly for had I been at Radio City Music Hall. ... Justin Hartwig's done a nice job at center, but he's not going to hold down the position for a decade or more like Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Jeff Hartings. Since Hartings retired after the 2006 season, there's been an interlude in the Steelers' center tradition. Perhaps it will take a Penn State guy like Hartings to restore that tradition. ... Shipley makes up for his lack of size with technique. Scott Wright's Draft Countdown calls him "the type of guy you hate to doubt." ... An overachiever. ... Won the 2008 Rimington Award as the nation's top center. I'm surprised he stayed on the board as long as he did.

241, D.J. Johnson, TE, Arkansas State (6-foot-1, 260): This is the other reason for the "minus" in the Steelers' grade. ... Although not a need this season, they could have used an inside linebacker or a safety with Larry Foote and Ryan Clark potential free-agent departures after next season. ... As a tight end-fullback hybrid like Sean McHugh, Johnson is a redundancy. His only chance to stick will be if he can prove he's better than McHugh.

I feel better about this year's draft than I did about last year's. After Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed, I hadn't heard of any players the Steelers picked last season. This year, I recognized the names of all the players picked by the Steelers except for Johnson. Maybe it's because I did more research on prospects this year. Or maybe it's because unlike last year, the Steelers addressed areas of need in this draft.

Of course it's way too early to declare the 2008 draft a bust. I think Mendenhall could be the Steelers' running back of the future. I think Sweed has a chance to win the No. 3 receiver spot. And don't give up on Bruce Davis and Tony Hills just yet.

The 2007 draft is looking really good after two years. Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Matt Spaeth and William Gay all were factors in the Steelers' championship in one way or another. Punter Daniel Sepulveda will probably regain the starting job after missing last season with an injury. And Dallas Baker is still hanging around.

As far as this draft goes, I'm giving the Steelers an A-minus because they addressed all the needs I outlined on April 1. I ranked the Steelers' needs as 1) Defensive line 2) Wide receiver 3) Cornerback 4) Offensive line 5) Short-yardage back. They got two defensive linemen, a wide receiver, two cornerbacks, two offensive linemen and a short-yardage back.

The ESPN analysts aren't mentioning the Steelers among the draft's biggest winners or losers. That's because they didn't make a big splash. They just got the job done.
April 13, 2009

Harrison Rules

The NFL has enacted some emergency rule changes in light of James Harrison's new six-year, $51.75 million contract with the Steelers.

The league has decided that the Holding-Is-Allowed-On-James-Harrison-Rule doesn't go far enough.

Now, players attempting to block the Steelers' linebacker will be allowed to trip, headlock, bite, clothesline, club, Mace, lasso, handcuff, hogtie and Taser him.

And he'll still probably get double-digit sacks.

The 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year had a team-record 16 sacks last season along with seven forced fumbles, 101 tackles and an interception.

And his Super Bowl-record 100-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII still needs a name, a la The Drive and The Catch. How about The Dash, or The Harrison 100 or The Pick?

Harrison will be 31 next season, which means with the six-year deal Silverback will likely be in black and gold until he has silver hair, if he ever grows hair. Of course, he's smart to not grow hair, because offensive linemen would probably be allowed to pull it.

March 31, 2009

Stop the madness!

On this final day of March, let me say that the NFL is giving new meaning to the term "March Madness."

Not only does commissioner Roger Goodell want to add games to the regular season, but I heard yesterday on ESPN 1050 in New York that if games are added to the regular-season schedule, it could push the Super Bowl to mid-February, and that because of weather issues in northern cities, playoff games could take place at neutral sites.


It's a given that the Super Bowl is played at a neutral site. It's just as much an event as it is a game. So I got no problem with that.

But if a cold-weather team earns home-field advantage, it should reap the benefits. I've always said that warm-weather and indoor teams should be required to win at least one game in the elements to be considered a true champion.

Remember the 2002 Buccaneeers? They hadn't won a game in sub-40 degree weather in their first quarter-century of existence. Then they acquitted themselves in cold weather before beating the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. They beat the Bears in Chicago on the last weekend of the regular season. Then in the NFC championship, they beat the Eagles in the cold of Philadelphia.

And who can forget the Giants beating the Packers in sub-zero Green Bay in the 2007 NFC championship game?

Playoff games are already held in mid-January. That's already the dead of winter. Is it that much colder in late January or early February?

An 18-game regular season? Pre-Super Bowl playoff games at neutral sites? I'm not liking these possible changes.

Hey, Roger. The NFL is like your hair. You never need to fix your hair. And you don't need to fix the NFL.

March 27, 2009

Aren't I enough of an asshole?

Doesn't Roger Goodell realize there are enough football widows?

The NFL commissioner wants to increase the regular season from 16 games to 17 or 18.

Now it is highly unlikely that I will be survived by a football widow when the coin is flipped at Heinz Field at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 10, but even so, I think 16 regular-season games is enough.

If the regular season were 18 games, that's two more days during the year in which I pray I'm not asked to work. Two more days in which I will not attend weddings, birthday parties, cookouts, family reunions or my relatives' pan flute recitals. Two more days in which I would be a self-centered, insufferable prick.

Hey Rogie, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Mike Batista

March 24, 2009

Steelers going green?

What's Big Ben doing wearing green, you ask? Let me stop you right there.

First of all, he's not Big Ben. Get used to calling Ben Roethlisberger "Moneypoint." Why? Because if Steelers owner Dan Rooney is confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Ireland, then we won't be able to use a British landmark as a moniker for the Steelers quarterback.

Moneypoint is a power station in Ireland that features two chimneys that are both 218 meters high, the tallest free-standing structures in Ireland. They drawf Big Ben, which is only 96 meters tall. Moneypoint would be a great nickname for Roethlisberger. He makes a lot of money, and he was money in Super Bowl XLIII. And that power station is just a tourist magnet. I know the name will stick. I just know it will.

Here's what else would happen if Rooney becomes ambassador to the Emerald Isle:

  • Instead of black with yellow numbers, the Steelers' alternate home jerseys will be green. Judging from the look on his face, Roethlisberger doesn't appear to enjoy wearing green. Either that or he's over-dramatizing another injury.
  • In training camp, veterans will be allowed to wear kilts during two-a-days in the August heat.
  • The accordion will be replaced by the bagpipe in the "Steelers Polka."
  • Heinz Field will serve green beer and green ketchup.

In other news, don't you feel better now that the Steelers have re-signed backup offensive lineman Trai Essex? That doesn't sound like someone you want protecting your quarterback. With a name like Trai Essex, he ought to be on the cover of Tiger Beat magazine.

Mike Batista

March 3, 2009

I feel the need ... the need for Sweed

As indicated in the above link, the Fighter Weapons School that inspired the movie "Top Gun" was established 40 years ago today.

How fitting, then, that the departure of Steelers wide receiver Nate Washington to the Tennessee Titans inspires some bastardization of "Top Gun" dialogue.

Instead of Commander Tom "Stinger" Jordan, picture Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. And instead of Maverick, picture Limas Sweed, who might be just a hair taller than Tom Cruise.

TOMLIN: Sweed, you did an incredibly stupid thing in the AFC championship game. There's a minute left in the first half, and we're clinging to a 13-7 lead. Roethlisberger throws a pass to you that would have been a touchdown. Then you look at yourself on the JumboTron. What you should have been doing was catching the ball! You don't own that JumboTron, the taxpayers do! Then after you drop the ball, you fake an injury, costing us a timeout.

And you're lucky to be here. Let's not bullshit. The only reason we drafted you is because Roethlisberger said he wanted a tall receiver, and no one else wanted you in the first round and a half. You need to be doing it better and cleaner than the other guy.

SWEED: Just want to serve my team, sir.

TOMLIN: Don't screw around with me. I'd like to bust your butt. But I have another problem here. I've got to do something. I can't believe it. I have to give you your dream shot. I have to put you on the field with the best, with Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. You were the Number 4 receiver. Washington was Number 3. He turned in his wings. You're Number 3. But remember one thing. You screw up, you'll be catching passes from a hung over quarterback in a Sunday morning flag football league.

SWEED: Yes, sir!

TOMLIN: That is all. Tell me about the fake injury some other time. ... Sweed?

SWEED: Yes, sir.

TOMLIN: Good luck.

SWEED: Thank you, sir.

That's right. Get used to seeing Limas Sweed on the field a lot more often with Nate Washington gone as a free agent.

In this day and age, a sports fan shouldn't get too emotional about players leaving their favorite teams. It's a reality. But when I read the story about Washington, I felt a pang of sadness when I came across the words "Division II Tiffin College." That unlikely path to the NFL sets Washington apart a little bit from all the other athletes getting their big payday. An undrafted free agent, Washington's first career catch came in the 2005 AFC championship game against the Broncos. How's that for a baptism by fire?

Washington also had a huge catch in perhaps the Steelers' most important win of the 2008 regular season, a 13-9 victory at Baltimore in Week 15. This happened to be Washington's 100th career regular-season reception, and I swear I meant to use this expression then, so I'm using it now:

Washington faked Samari Rolle into Hagerstown on a 24-yard reception, giving the Steelers a first down at the Ravens' 14 with 1:12 left. The Steelers, trailing 9-6 at the time, went on to score the winning touchdown.

The Steelers are going to need Sweed to do that kind of stuff now. He'll be side by side with the best of the best in Ward and Holmes. But if Sweed doesn't get better, the Steelers could be on a highway to the danger zone.