Friday, December 30, 2011

STEELERS: KEEP BEN ON THE BENCH. PLEASE

In all likelihood, Ben Roethlisberger will start Sunday afternoon for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Cleveland Browns. In all likelihood, the Steelers will beat the Browns. In all likelihood, the Steelers will finish the regular season 12-4. In all likelihood they'll do so with a hobbled quarterback, and without an AFC North title or bye to show for it. (What, you've got supreme confidence in the Bengals coming through in the clutch?)

In all likelihood, it's just more evidence that Mike Tomlin does not run this team.

Ben Roethlisberger does.

For a long time we've been well aware that the world of sports is very much a "What have you done for me lately?" kind of universe. From coaches to players to owners, contracts might as well be written on a fresh roll of Charmin, because that's about what they're worth. Loyalties somehow end up misplaced based on what gives the best chance of winning. Not in 10 years, 5 years, or even next year, but NOW.

It's how you end up with the wishes of a guy who left the franchise with it's shorts in the wind just 18 months earlier superseding the wishes of the head coach.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made their choice, and their franchise may as well belong to Ben Roethlisberger rather than any Rooney.

At times it's great that Roethlisberger has the power and control he does. When he asks for the no-huddle and is allowed to march down the field calling the shots, it's offensive football at it's finest. When he comes hobbling back in to a game to put away an inferior opponent, it shows a pain tolerance many of us who haven't given birth before wouldn't recognize. He is a truly elite quarterback, and he deserves some leeway and a large amount of input to many aspects of the team.

He should NEVER supersede the Head Coach, though.

NEVER.

Mike Tomlin's ability to manage a clock may be about as solid as Antoine Walker's ability to manage money, but he's still the head coach and should still call the shots until his shot-calling services are no longer needed.

That includes deciding when his QB, the best player on his team, the man singlehandedly more important to his team's on-field success than any other person, should sit down. Two Monday nights ago, Tomlin did not make the call to remove Roethlisberger when he clearly was being limited by his injury and could do no more to lead his team back to victory. It was not the Browns' defense and a single-score deficit being fought against. It was one of the best defenses in the NFL and a 17-point hole deep enough to frack for natural gas.

The Steelers did not need to risk Roethlisberger's wonky ankle, and with it, their shot at postseason success, to prove anything. Ben does not need to prove himself to his teammates on the field ever again. Two rings, a third trip to the Super Bowl, and some of the gutsier performances in recent NFL history have proven Roethlisberger's manhood. (Go ahead, you know you want to: Make a joke about Roethlisberger and his manhood and Milledgeville. Preferably something also referencing his devil t-shirt and Charlie Daniels. I'll wait.)

All that is up for debate right now is the here and now, as in the next six weeks. The Steelers have clinched a playoff spot, and with it just as much as a shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February as any other playoff team. They've proven in the recent past that a Wild Card team can make the road warrior run to a Super Bowl title. And unless the Baltimore Ravens lose in Cincinnati, the Steelers will have to do so again.

In all likelihood, Roethlisberger or not, impending thumping of the Browns or not, the Steelers will not get a home game in the playoffs. And even if the Ravens choke, as they did in San Diego and Seattle and Jacksonville and Tennessee, are the Steelers the sort of team that can't beat the Browns, even without Roethlisberger?

At this point, it simply makes too much sense for Tomlin to sit down Roethlisberger and tell him that letting his high ankle sprain heal for almost a full three weeks before a Wild Card game in Denver or Oakland is the best thing to do for the team, even if it doesn't placate Big Ben's oversized desire to be John Wayne in spikes. At this point though, when we all know Tomlin doesn't call the shots in regards to Roethlisberger - when we all know no one short of Dan Rooney does - it's useless. Roethlisberger will play against the Browns. And whether he can walk or not, he'll play in that Wild Card game on January 7th or 8th. And if his ankle prohibits him from playing the kind of game he's capable of - if he plays again in that Wild Card game like he played in San Francisco - the Steelers will lose to an inferior opponent.

In all likelihood, you already knew that though.

Friday, December 9, 2011

STEELERS: PLAYING WHEN NO ONE ELSE COULD

Say what you will about Ben Roethlisberger. He may have the social skills of Matthew McConaughey's character in Dazed & Confused off the field.



On the field though, he could be the toughest quarterback to play in the NFL since the days of single bar facemasks.

It used to be, as recently as two seasons ago, you would hear open mockery of Ben among fans  everytime anything less severe than "out (Chrysler)" was mentioned next to his name on the injury report. Doubtful (head). Questionable (ankle). Probable (knee). You could spin one of those crazy dual money wheels from a church carnival, with one wheel containing status and the other body parts. Every week, it seemed, Ben was trying to enhance his legend by mentioning some sort of tweak.

Last year, battered and bruised headed into a Sunday night game in Baltimore, Roethlisberger began to thumb his nose to the critics (Yours truly among them.)  when it was bloodied and broken by Ravens' DT Haloti Ngata.

For Monthy Python fans,  Roethlisberger was starting to become a living, breathing, football-firing embodiment of the black knight.



"'Tis a flesh wound!"

Last night, in the cold that kept half of us from even leaning out the front door to unplug our Christmas lights, that big, dumb, corn-fed Ohio redneck put enough blue in his collar for every tired, out-of-date cliche that's been muttered about this town.

After taking a hit that twisted his left foot - his plant foot when throwing - to somewhere around 45 degrees past what human ankle joints are supposed to be able to handle without breaking, Roethlisberger limped back into the game after halftime like the black and yellow-shrouded ghost of Willis Reed.



Apologies to Brad Nessler, the NFL Network play-by-play man who used the comparison last night, and to any Knicks fan who can remember the impact of Reed's gimpy comeback in the NBA Finals, but Roethlisberger gutting out what should have been a gimme over the Browns will be the turning point for his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Again, this should have been a walkover for the Steelers. And yes, it will be more of a soul-sucking loss for the Browns, who stuck around until late the 4th quarter, than boost for Pittsburgh.

Do not overlook though, what Roethlisberger's pugnacity does for this team's psyche and his reputation in the locker room. A year and a half ago, no matter what anyone says now, this was a team waiting for it's quarterback to step up and show some maturity, on and off the field. With his off-field issues seemingly far behind him now, Roethlisberger has transcended just being the guy who makes the play in the clutch that no one else could.

He is now the guy who simply plays the game when no one else could.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

#HIRECHRISMACK

With the annual Festivus 'Airing of Grievances' still a few weeks away, I wanted to capitalize on the good will I'm feeling now before it all melts away.



I want to thank all of you who have jumped on the #HireChrisMack bandwagon. For the many who undoubtedly haven't had the time to email Terry Foxx, the Program Director at 93.7 The Fan (terry.foxx@cbsradio.com), or tweet @937TheFan, and ask him to consider how I could help his radio station make the leap from 'good' to 'great,' I ask you take just a few minutes to do so at some point this week. Sure, you could be spending the holiday season with your family, or supporting a needy charity, but wouldn't it warm your heart to help a smart-ass, big-mouthed, "bridge-burning," over-opinionated sports talk show host find a job?

Thanks to everyone, from those of you in CBS, to the rest of you in the media and blogosphere, to those of you who just enjoy someone speaking honestly on the radio, for supporting me. Also, thanks to those who have suggested I knock this crusade off because all it will do is entrench Mr. Foxx even more in his "Chris Mack is clearly an unprofessional jerkface, therefore I must not hire him" position. I appreciate your concern and support as well. At this point though, if it hasn't been demonstrated what I and my listeners and followers and friends are capable of in just a few days, and what that could mean for The Fan's advertisers if given a shot on their airwaves, then I'm clearly barking up the wrong tree.

Regardless of what the future holds for me professionally, radio or otherwise, I want to thank everyone again for the support. Especially my wife, who would sometimes rather I abandon the industry that's treated me like crap for the past year. Your patience with me has been incredible, Tara.

Thank you.

Now go get the Festivus Pole out of the basement.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

PENN STATE: NO FOOTBALL, PLEASE

It is time to stop playing football at Penn State.

Football is no longer important in State College and at Penn State University. It can’t be. Not with the lives of so many children hanging in tatters. And with so many more unknown victims out there.

Writing yesterday about how pervasive the Joe Paterno-IS-Penn State culture is in State College, central PA, and among alumni & students, I had no idea that those who identify with the community would be punched in the gut with yet another gruesome tentacle to the Jerry Sandusky child rape scandal.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

PENN STATE: OBLIVION


Since the news of the Jerry Sandusky child rape scandal broke and the response of Penn State’s leaders, from President Graham Spanier to Head Coach Joe Paterno, has become more and more egregiously inadequate, the word ‘vacuum’ has been used to describe the leadership, atmosphere, and climate in Happy Valley.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

PENGUINS: DOUSING THE FLAMES

Think of the opposing team you get more amped up to see than any other. Not necessarily because they're a rival, but because they're a great measuring stick. And you're tired of hearing how good they are. Now imagine they're coming to town for your team's season opener. Their superstar is out, so you're feeling good about your team's chance to get past 'em.

video

STEELERS: TITANS TIME

Even with the fresh news that Rashard Mendenhall will dress for the Steelers but in all likelihood not play, giving almost the entire workload at running back to Isaac Redman, there has never been a game that looked like more of a case for each team to simply RUN. THE. FOOTBALL.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

PSU: URBAN RENEWAL PROJECT

When the rumors of Urban Meyer someday inheriting the Penn State football program from Joe Paterno began again a few days ago, the natural reaction for anybody not chugging blue & white kool-aid was "Yeah, that'd be great IF JoePa were ready to get out of the driver's seat and publicly hand the keys to Urbs."


Friday, October 7, 2011

PENGUINS: ON PACE FOR 82-0

Two goals from Matt Cooke, a power play goal from Jimmy Neal just five minutes into the game, and a handful of strong-to-quite strong saves by Marc-Andre Fleury.

If not for the final 40 minutes of the game, we'd be asking if Vancouver is still standing.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

STEELERS: A PARADE FOR MAX STARKS

So this is what it's come down to, huh? We're throwing parades because Max Starks is back in black & gold?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

STEELERS: MIKE TOMLIN PRESS CONFERENCE RECAP - 10/4/11

Not many people would finish sleeping, breathing, or blinking with a broken orbital bone. James Harrison finished playing in a National Football League game with one.



That's a man who's son's baptism you don't want to get in the way of. (Just ask his baby's momma.)

Nonetheless, Harrison's injury WILL keep him out of the Steelers' lineup for several weeks, as he'll undergo surgery to repair the injury tomorrow. Lawrence Timmons will move to right outside linebacker, not because of any hesitance by Mike Tomlin to use Jason Worilds there, but because Worilds is injured too, with a quad strain that will in all likelihood keep him out of Sunday's game.

And that's just the beginning.


STEELERS: MIKE TOMLIN BINGO, WEEK 5

With plenty of high profile injuries, a disgusting performance by both the offensive line and the defensive front 7, and an overall "old, slow, and done" feel to the first quarter of the season, today's Mike Tomlin press conference could be a record breaker for both length of time AND number of cliches.

Here's your card for Mike Tomlin Bingo, Week 5:


Enjoy, and be sure to come back later for a wrap-up of what the coach had to say.

NFL: WEEK 4 IN REVIEW

The first fourth of the season is over in the NFL already, and I guess if we have to have a year where the Steelers are gonna look awful, we might as well have the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills meeting in the Super Bowl.

What, too early for that?

Here's what went down in Week 4, from my perspective:
Chicago Bears 34, Carolina Panthers 29 ... Cam Newton really looks for real. Really, though. Too bad it's him and Steve Smith against the world like Suge & 'Pac. And we know how that ended up.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

PENGUINS: CLEARING THE CREASE

Going 5-1 over the course of the preseason, you have to be pretty happy with what you've seen from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Evgeni Malkin is a house Russian nuclear reactor on fire. Tyler Kennedy looks like he could score 20 goals again. Steve Sullivan will be clutch when he's healthy. Kris Letang looks smooth. Joe Morrow made a hell of a run at making the NHL club as an 18 year old. And Brooks Orpik and Dustin Jeffrey should be back soon, giving this team some incredible depth.



If I have to nitpick though - and this will be just that -

STEELERS: LET'S RE-EVALUATE

Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, Aaron Smith, Jason Worilds, and Rashard Mendenhall all were injured at some point in the Steelers' loss to the Houston Texans. They'll all, more than likely, be re-evaluated tomorrow.



While we're re-evaluating things though, how about our expectations for a team