Saturday, December 31, 2005

Clemente's Son to Re-enact Fateful Trip

December 30, 2005
Filed at 8:16 p.m. ET

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The son of Hall of Fame baseball player Roberto Clemente will head to Nicaragua on Saturday to distribute humanitarian aid -- mirroring a trip that claimed the life of his father 33 years ago.

Clemente, a 12-time All-Star who had 3,000 hits for the Pittsburgh Pirates, died in 1972 at age 38 in a plane crash on New Year's Eve. The Puerto Rican native was taking relief supplies to victims of a Nicaraguan earthquake.

Roberto Clemente Jr. will take the same amount of food, medicine and other items that his father carried during the original trip.

''It's been 18 months that I had a spiritual awakening in which I communicated with dad. It was the first time that I really cried for dad ... and it was then that I understood I had to make this trip to obtain spiritual peace,'' he told The Associated Press.

Clemente Jr. was 6 when his father was killed. He said he had a premonition of his father's crash and pleaded with him not to go.

''For me, definitely, it's a trip full of emotions,'' he said. ''For many years I was filled with a feeling of guilt for not stopping what happened and this closes a chapter in my life.''

Major League Baseball hands out the annual ''Roberto Clemente Award'' to a player who ''demonstrates the values Clemente displayed in his commitment to community and understanding the value of helping others,'' according to the MLB Web site.

Clemente Jr. said his vision was to send help one time a year to a country in need to honor his father's memory. He planned to make the Nicaragua trip last year but decided to send aid to victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami in Thailand.

Vera Clemente said the only thing that worried her about her son's trip was the date.

What happened 33 years ago, ''for me is if it was yesterday,'' she said. ''I have faith in God that all is going to go well for him.''

Friday, December 30, 2005

Big Ben expected to step up as leader for postseason push

Friday, December 30, 2005
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Ben Roethlisberger is not a quarterback of many throws, but he certainly knows a good pass when he sees one. And Bill Cowher delivered one the other day, figuratively tossing the leadership torch to his second-year quarterback.

Like a good receiver, Roethlisberger deftly accepted the toss and cradled the honor to his sternum.
"I think they can count on me," Roethlisberger said. "And I want them to be able to count on me."

The Steelers voted on their most valuable player yesterday, and the winners were receiver Hines Ward and nose tackle Casey Hampton, the second time in the past four years there have been co-MVPs. But there is probably little question which player means the most to the Steelers and their chances in the playoffs, should they get there -- Roethlisberger.

He is 21-3 as a starter in the regular season, leads the league in yards per attempt and touchdown percentage and is one of three NFL quarterbacks with a passer rating over 100.

"I think the guys have kind of accepted that with me and I think I try to go on the field and play that way," Roethlisberger said. "I'm not a guy who's going to be yelling or ranting and raving and trying to talk to be a leader. I'd rather lead by example. It's made me feel more comfortable out there on the field."

Roethlisberger has attempted fewer passer (252) than any of the top 24 rated quarterbacks in the league. But when he does throw, the results are outstanding.

He is the only active quarterback who is unbeaten (11-0) in career games in which he has thrown 20 or fewer passes, according to Stats LLC. And he is 18-0 in games in which he has attempted 25 or fewer passes.

Three of those victories were accomplished in the past three games against Chicago, Minnesota and Cleveland, when Roethlisberger attempted a combined 55 passes. He has not thrown an interception in those games, despite facing secondaries that have combined for 61 interceptions.
"Ben is a leader out there for us, there is no question about that," coach Bill Cowher said. "He's a very focused player right now and he needs to be, we are all kind of following his lead."

"You got to perform to be a leader," said Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca. "You have to. You can't really say much when you're not really doing it yourself. You got to pull your own weight and show what you're willing to do to get others to follow."

There is no greater illustration of the impact Roethlisberger has had on the Steelers than to compare his development with Detroit's Joey Harrington, the quarterback he will oppose Sunday at Heinz Field.

Harrington was the third overall choice in the 2002 draft, but he has won 18 games in four seasons with the Lions -- three fewer than Roethlisberger. He has been so erratic and inaccurate that he was replaced for four games this season by veteran Jeff Garcia. Harrington ranks 32 out of 34 NFL quarterbacks with a passer rating of 68.7.

Roethlisberger is the opposite. He has completed 64 percent of his passes (357 of 557) since he was the 11th overall pick in the 2004 draft and is coming off a game in which the players and coaches are still talking about the accurate throws he made in the 41-0 victory in Cleveland.
"He's a big kid at heart," Ward said. "When the pressure is there, when times are tough and you need to make a big play, he might make a comment where he loosens everyone up and get things going. He's done a great job of handling everything. This year, he's been in every scenario possible -- coming from behind, doing the two-minute drill, he was in a shootout. He's experienced all that and he's going to continue to grow."

Roethlisberger (103.4) is one of only three quarterbacks in the NFL with a passer rating of 100 or higher. The others are Peyton Manning of Indianapolis (104.3) and Cincinnati's Carson Palmer (101.4). His completion percentage (63.9) trails Manning's (67.4) and Palmer's (67.9), but he leads the NFL in average yards per attempt (8.93) and touchdown percentage (6.7). His average gain of nearly 9 yards proves he likes to throw the ball downfield and is successful doing so.

"We only ask him to throw 15 or 17 times, but, when you ask him to throw those 15 or 17, over half of them are third downs," coach Bill Cowher said. "I think that is a lot of pressure to put on a guy, to say we are going to throw now and you have to complete this so we can keep the drive going.
"I think, in a lot of respects, it is probably a lot harder than a guy who is throwing the ball 25 or 30 or 35 times because he can throw a couple incompletions and all the focus isn't just on that. I think what we ask him to do is probably a lot more demanding, from that perspective, than what other people in other systems are in."
Cowher's point is well-founded, if not slightly skewed. In the five games in which Roethlisberger has attempted 20 or fewer passes this season, the only game in which half his attempts were on third down was against Chicago. Roethlisberger completed 13 of 20 passes for 173 yards against the Bears but was 6 of 10 for 80 yards on third down.

In the past three games, Roethlisberger has attempted 55 passes -- his fewest in a three-game stretch since he attempted 55 in games against Philadelphia, Cleveland and Cincinnati last season. Of those, 23 came on third down, or 41.8 percent.

"Coming into this year, I felt a little more comfortable," Roethlisberger said. "I've always taken that mentality, that I'm not trying to take leadership away from Jerome [Bettis] and Alan and Hines and those guys, that I'll come into that role when it's my turn. I think slowly it kind of has been passed on to me. Not that I'm the leader over those guys, but equal to them, or close to equal. And I think that's the role of a quarterback."

(Gerry Dulac can be reached at or 412-263-1466.)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Roethlisberger should be Steelers MVP

Thursday, December 29, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers will select their Most Valuable Player today. The players vote secretly and then it goes to an Electoral College of One: Bill Cowher. He counts the votes and announces the winner(s). Tallies in Iran could be cleaner.

I don't have a vote, but I'd give it to Ben Roethlisberger with a big thumbs up. Clearly there is no player more valuable, more indispensable than the second-year quarterback. If he had not gotten hurt, this team would be at least 12-3 and perhaps 13-2 at this point with the No. 2 playoff seed in the AFC beckoning.

They would not have lost at home to Jacksonville in overtime with Roethlisberger. That was the Beginning of the End game for Tommy Maddox, who imploded in Heinz Field like a bottle rocket gone awry. Yet the Steelers almost won it. Maddox also was at his ineffective best in Baltimore Nov. 20 when the Steelers lost in overtime.

Toss in their loss Dec. 4 against the Bengals at home by 38-31. Roethlisberger injured his thumb the previous Monday night against the Colts and he threw three interceptions against the Bengals, one obviously because he had landed on his thumb on the previous play.

Of course, they also might have won in Baltimore had Charlie Batch not gotten hurt and played that game. And they might have beaten Jacksonville had coach Bill Cowher showed up for work that day.

Nevertheless, Big Ben has become the Big Man on the Steelers. He has not thrown an interception the past three games, one big reason the defense has been able to buckle down and hold those three foes to 12 points. It's a lot easier to keep scores low when your quarterback isn't throwing comeback pitches, the kind Turnover Tommy has made infamous.

Roethlisberger is second in the league with a 103.4 passer rating, .9 behind the great Peyton Manning. No, he doesn't throw much, but as Bill Cowher pointed out the other day, that makes the passes he does throw that much more important and come under that much more pressure, usually on third down.

He may complain about his injuries a tad too much to suit his coach, but he plays through them and plays with pain and he's a tough kid. I've been told he takes a painkilling shot to his thumb before each game, or at least he did during the early weeks of the injury.

As Jerome Bettis said on Wednesday, the face of the Steelers is no longer his but Roethlisberger's. They've gone from a Bus to a Big Ben, and today, he should get the MVP award.

But will his teammates vote for him? I don't know. There are other possibilities. My second vote would go to Hines Ward. His receptions may be down but his touchdowns are up on a team that doesn't throw much. His 11 TDs are one short of Marvin Harrison, who leads the AFC with 12. And nothing else about Ward has changed: He catches the tough ones and blocks like Dan Kreider.

Other possibilities: Alan Faneca, Joey Porter, Troy Polamalu.

All are worthy of mention, but the landslide tally in my world would go to Big Ben. And if he does win it, there could be a string of them from here on as long as his victory streak.

(Send your Steelers questions to BGI's exclusive Fan Q&A.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Bettis Making One Final Stop

Sunday's game probably last one at Heinz Field for the Bus

Wednesday, December 28, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

More Coverage:
Steelers Notebook: Cowher praises Big Ben's leadership
Dungy recalls son as fun-loving teen with compassionate heart

Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field could turn meaningless for the Steelers, but try telling that to Jerome Bettis. Sunday likely will be his last home game.
"I'm a realist in a sense that I do understand there is a good chance it is my last game," Bettis said yesterday.

Bettis will wait until after the season to reveal his plans, but people in the organization fully expect him to retire, and yesterday he sounded as if that is the road he will follow.

"I look at it like it'll last forever," Bettis said of an NFL career that has covered 13 seasons and should land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "But I know it has to come to an end. If this is it, then I want to enjoy it."

Coach Bill Cowher paid tribute to Bettis yesterday at his news conference and hinted that the organization has plans to honor Bettis Sunday.

"Certainly, we will take all of those things into account. ... This guy has been a consummate pro, a tremendous team player. I don't know if I've ever been around a player more respected on a football team."

How they honor him could be tempered by the fact Bettis has not announced his retirement and they might need to beat Detroit to make the playoffs. If San Diego beats Denver Saturday, it clinches a spot for the Steelers and would make Sunday's game meaningless to their playoff situation.

Cowher could choose to start Bettis at halfback, even for ceremonial purposes of introducing him one last time to send him bouncing out of the tunnel at Heinz Field and dancing through lines of teammates

"The don't have to," Bettis said. "I mean, it'd be nice, but it's not necessary. Whatever they do is fine with me. I started in so many, that's not critical. It wasn't on my Christmas list."

Neither is another 100-yard game. He recorded his 61st Dec. 11 against the Bears in Heinz Field. That's fifth on the NFL career list. He owns the Steelers record with 50 100-yard games.
"Of course, that would be sweet but it wouldn't make it any sweeter," Bettis said. "I've done it. A win in Heinz Field makes it sweet because now we're going to the playoffs. That's the sweetest part of all."

Bettis has rushed for 13,621 yards, fifth most in NFL history. He'll go down as the best big running back the game has seen. Yet he has never been to a Super Bowl. He returned to play this season after contemplating retirement for weeks after the Steelers lost in the AFC championship game in January. He doesn't regret doing so, even though his role was to back up Willie Parker this season. If he starts Sunday, it would be his first this season. He is second with 100 carries for 327 yards rushing and leads the team with six rushing touchdowns.
Yet he has enjoyed taking on a new role as mentor to Parker, an undrafted rookie who rushed for 1,067 yards in his second NFL season.

"It was definitely worth my while because it gave me an opportunity to get more football out of me," Bettis said. "As I look back on last year, if I would have retired last year, it wasn't out of me. And so to go through this year and to go through what we've had to go through, the ups and the downs, I think has made me appreciate what we were able to accomplish last year, what I was able to accomplish this year.

"I also was given an opportunity to be in a different role in terms of helping with a guy's progress and seeing that. And that was a journey in and of itself, to see Willie from the start, to see him gain 1,000 yards. I was so happy for him. It was fun.

"So this season for me has been fun because I've been able to maybe see more. ... I've had an opportunity, not to take a step back, but not to be a central focus.

"It's been fun."

"I'm a realist in a sense that I do understand there is a good chance it is my last game."

(Ed Bouchette can be reached at or at 412-263-3878.)

Start the Bus on Sunday
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Black & Gold Insider
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers should start Jerome Bettis Sunday, whether the game means nothing or everything. Send him through the tunnel one more time, let him, his teammates and the fans enjoy the ride.

And, whether it means something or not, I'd keep him in the game for awhile. His teammates will tell you no one gets them pumped up in a huddle more than Bettis. The place will be juiced and so will the Bus. I'd give him the ball and not stop and I'd bet he responds with his best game of the season.

Bettis responds to big games. Unfortunately, he's never been in a Super Bowl and he's been hurt in many of their post-season games. I talked to Tom Donahoe Tuesday morning about him and that's what he remembered most about Bettis too, that he was a big-game player.
"The tougher the stage, the better he played," Donahoe told me.

Donahoe is the man who brought Bettis to the Steelers, for a lousy fourth-round draft choice in 1997 and a flip-flop of choices in 1996, the Steelers giving the Rams their second-round pick for the Rams' third-rounder that year. It's the greatest trade in Steelers history. One of the best in NFL history. You don't usually get a Hall of Fame running back for, essentially, a fourth-round draft choice in a trade.

He's meant more than that to the Steelers, however. His attitude has permeated the locker room for a decade. Players go to him for advice. Young backs such as Verron Haynes and Willie Parker flock to him. Bettis told me on Tuesday that one of the joys he's taken out of this season was watching Parker blossom into a 1,000-yard rusher.

During one home game, Parker ran sideways a few times when he should have cut it up. He lost yardage. He came off the field and you could see Bettis talking to him for several minutes, gesturing how he should have cut it up. Parker corrected it during that game and has not repeated his error since.

When Bettis leaves, he will leave one big hole in the Steelers. Fans may not notice it and players come and go, but Bettis is one of those special players who come around once in a long time.
Plenty of players have talent, but there aren't many who have the talent, use it, turn it into the fifth-leading rusher of all time and carry himself on and off the field as if he were something manufactured out of an old Jimmy Stewart movie. Bettis stayed in Pittsburgh when he could have left. He became a part of the community, working for and with charities. He was a leader of his team on and off the field. He handled all the questions from the media with aplomb and intelligence, standing up in good times and bad.

Jerome Bettis would have been an asset to Pittsburgh and the Steelers if he had been half the player that he was. That he also was one of the best running backs in NFL history -- the best big back for sure -- and that he did it for 10 of his 13 seasons in Pittsburgh, places him among their most revered players ever.

Start him on Sunday, no matter what the circumstance.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Steelers' Defense gone wild and the timing is perfect

Allowing a total of 12 points in the past three games makes it clear the Steelers have peaked at the right time -- if they can clinch a playoff spot this week

Tuesday, December 27, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

More Coverage:
Steelers Notebook: Could be day of rest for some players

If the Steelers make the playoffs as a wild-card team, they will not own the ideal formula for reaching the Super Bowl. But they have found an excellent blueprint for winning games and have followed it to perfection the past three games.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been efficient, dangerous as a deep threat and nearly error-free. Their ground game is at its peak. And their defense is in crushing form.
The Steelers have outscored their past three opponents, 80-12, including two games on the road, where they will play in the postseason if they make it as a wild card.

Their 209 yards rushing Saturday in Cleveland completed their best three-game stretch of the season. They have amassed 541 yards on the ground and Roethlisberger has not thrown an interception in those three games. Yet five of his 20 completions for 25 yards or more came in the past three games.

Then there is their defense. It has allowed three points in the past two games, both on the road, and one touchdown in the past three. The Steelers' defense has allowed an average of 64 yards rushing in the past three games and 146.3 passing, their best three-game stretch in both areas.
Their eight sacks of Browns rookie quarterback Charlie Frye lifted them to 46 with a game to go, surpassing their 41 from last season.

The Steelers have reasserted themselves as a dominant defense, ranked No. 3 in the NFL overall (281.9 yards per game) and No. 2 against the rush (84.2). As a team, the Steelers have allowed the third-fewest points per game in the NFL at 15.8, but one touchdown came on an interception return and another on a blocked field goal. There also was a kickoff returned to their 3 that became a touchdown two plays later.

If not Blitzburgh, their defense certainly is controlling offenses at the perfect time.
"If we do have an opportunity to go into the playoffs, we're going to move that way," linebacker James Farrior said, pointing his finger at the ceiling.
Those 12 points allowed in the past three games are the fewest they have surrendered over such a stretch in the past 51/2 seasons.
"We're peaking at the right time," linebacker Larry Foote said.

No player epitomizes the rising play of the defense better than outside linebacker Joey Porter. His three sacks Saturday left him with 101/2, five over the past three games. That ties his career high from 2000, which is 12th most in one season for the Steelers. He has 53 career sacks and needs one more to move past Greg Lloyd (53.5) and into fifth place in club history.

Porter wears No. 55 after changing his number from the No. 95 issued to him as a rookie after a training camp in which he felt too many people compared him to Lloyd, who previously wore that jersey number. Porter's play as a three-time Pro Bowl at outside right linebacker, though, compares favorably to one of the leaders of the mid-1990s Blitzburgh defense.

Plus, for the second time in the past three seasons, Porter has had to overcome a summer injury. In 2003, he was shot in the buttocks and thigh outside a nightclub in Denver one week before the regular season opened. This year, he had arthroscopic surgery to remove some cartilage in a knee the first week of August.

"I'm definitely healthier than I was in the beginning of the season," said Porter, who has not missed a start this year. "I'm going to go out there and play under any circumstances because I know I have a lot of young guys following my lead."

The linebackers have rounded into top form after earlier injuries. Clark Haggans missed three games in October after groin surgery, yet has a career-high nine sacks. Farrior missed two games in November with a sprained knee ligament.
"Right now, we're getting a lot of guys back healthy," Porter said. "You want to play your best football in the month of December to get you into the month of January, and, right now, we're playing our best football."

(Ed Bouchette can be reached at or 412-263-3878.)

What a difference five years make for Penguins and Lemieux

Tuesday, December 27, 2005
By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

More Coverage:
Penguins Notebook: Travel, injury put Therrien in bind

Five years ago, much about the setting was similar.

The calendar read Dec. 27. The Penguins, owned by Mario Lemieux, were preparing to play the Toronto Maple Leafs at Mellon Arena. The day and month, the teams and the site will be the same tonight, but the game against Toronto will have a much different flavor.

On this date in 2000, Lemieux was the man of the hour. That was the night he ended his retirement and returned to the team, this time as player/owner.

After an emotional, invigorating pregame ceremony in front of a standing-room crowd of 17,148, Lemieux had a goal and two assists to lead a 5-0 rout of the Maple Leafs.

Don't expect any eerie repeats tonight.

Lemieux still owns and plays for the team, but he is out of the lineup while being evaluated for a heartbeat irregularity. As of last night, tickets were still available. The Penguins have not shut out an opponent this season and, for that matter, are struggling to beat anyone.

And there will be no carefully planned salutes before the game.

"It was electrifying," Penguins assistant general manager and interim assistant coach Eddie Johnston said yesterday of that night five years ago. "It was amazing just to be there."

The Penguins, who had retired Lemieux's No. 66, lowered the commemorative banner from the roof to signify that the man who had steered them to two Stanley Cup championships in the early 1990s was returning.

"Just to have [Lemieux] back ... I don't think people realized how hard he worked to be able to come back because he wouldn't come back unless he could play at a certain level," Johnston said. "Then, he stepped on the ice, and you knew he was back right away."

Just 33 seconds into the game, Lemieux, from behind the net, set up Jaromir Jagr for the game's first goal and the first of Lemieux's three points.

Although he had been off the ice more than three years, since April 26, 1997, Lemieux was running on more than adrenaline from the atmosphere that night.

He kept up the production and had 35 goals, 76 points in 43 games and helped the Penguins reach the Eastern Conference final.

"It didn't just help our club; the rest of the year, you couldn't get into anyplace we went. It was great," said Johnston, who, as the Penguins' general manager drafted Lemieux first overall in 1984 and has watched the Hall of Fame forward's career closely.

"I can't believe it's been five years [since the comeback]. It seems like yesterday."

For the franchise, it has been a long five years. With financial constraints, the team failed to make the playoffs the following three seasons, before the 2004-05 season was wiped out by a work stoppage. Now, it is faced with the possibility of being sold and moved if there are no imminent plans for a new local arena.

With hopes raised by a new collective bargaining agreement, the Penguins retooled their roster for this season, building it around Lemieux and another top overall pick, Sidney Crosby.
Yet they are last in the Eastern Conference, despite having changed coaches and a few faces in the lineup.

When the puck drops tonight, with Lemieux's absence, there will be no Penguins players or coaches who were there five years ago on the night of the comeback.
One person who was on the bench that night and will be tonight is longtime equipment manager Steve Latin.

"It was like he'd never been gone," Latin said. "He just slowed the whole game down to his pace and he just did what he wanted to do."

Latin said Lemieux is a creature of habit, not one who jumps at change, so the equipment that Lemieux used that night was, for the most part, the same that Latin had saved when Lemieux retired.

So for Latin, the impact of Lemeiux's return hit not during the pregame ceremony but moments earlier.

"It was just exciting seeing him in the dressing room getting dressed again," Latin said.

(Shelly Anderson can be reached at or 412-263-1721.)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Milt Dunnell's Original Appreciation of Roberto Clemente From 1973

Milt Dunnell, the legendary former Star sports editor, turns 100 on Dec. 24. This is the seventh in a daily series of Milt's 10 finest columns.

Roberto Clemente: Unappreciated during his career, he was one of baseball's greatest.

Dec. 20, 2005. 01:00 AM
The Toronto Star
Appeared Jan. 2, 1973

TORONTO—This time, there can be no doubting the seriousness of Roberto Clemente's injuries. Roberto Clemente, one of the most talented baseball players of his time — and, until recent years, one of the most unappreciated of superstars — is dead.

Clemente, who spent most of his 18 years as a big leaguer defending himself against insinuations that he was a hypochondriac — that he was the type of athlete who would apply a cast to a hangnail — lost his life on a mission of mercy.

He could have been enjoying the festive season at his elaborate home near San Juan. Had he wished, he could have been picking up easy money in the Caribbean winter league. He could have been fishing or playing golf.

Clemente had given his name to the organization which was appealing for aid to the victims of the earthquake in Nicaragua. That would have been enough to guarantee its success in Puerto Rico, where he was a household idol.

He was anxious to do more than that. Throughout the holiday season, he participated in television and radio appeals for relief supplies and money. When the mercy flight was ready, he insisted on seeing the job through. The plane had gone only a short distance before it crashed into the sea.

Thus, fate provided a grimly fitting chapter to the career of an athlete whose aches and pains, injuries and disabilities had been ridiculed by scoffers who couldn't carry his shoelaces, practically from the day he joined the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955. The stature of the man is clear, at last.

Clemente supplied them with ammunition by worrying out loud about his physical condition. He always was afraid that he wouldn't be able to play up to his potential.

The last time big league fans were destined to see him was that autumn day at Cincinnati when Bob Moose came out of the Pittsburgh bullpen to make a wild pitch that ended a tight five-game series and established the Reds as champions of the National League.

The Pittsburgh hitting had dried up in areas where it was supposed to be most productive and damaging — Clemente, Willie Stargell, Richie Hebner — and Clemente's head-wagging contortions became more vigorous with each appearance at the plate.

He believed the shoulder-shrugging and head-bobbing relaxed his muscles. They may have had a psychological value, too. Rival pitchers had to be aware that he was a dangerous money hitter — who batted .414 in the World Series of 1971.

There was little optimism in the Pittsburgh clubhouse after that game. The Pirates firmly believed they were a better team than the Reds — better than any other team in the world.
"There will be another time," Clemente consoled himself. "Yes, I will be back if I feel good."

Clemente seldom confessed to feeling fine. In 1956, the year after the Pirates stole him from the Dodgers for the $4,000 draft fee, Clemente was hitting .335 when he was certain that something in his elbow had popped.

The following season, he had the miseries in his back. Doctors despaired of finding the cause. They finally separated him from his tonsils. Roberto hired two chiropractors, during the off-season, to work on his back.

The injury which provided the most material for cracks about Clemente's fragility occurred in December of 1964. Roberto was using a new power mower to manicure his lawn in Puerto Rico.

The mower churned up a rock which hit him on the hip. By this time he was one of baseball's top hitters. That he should be bruised by a pitch thrown by a lawnmower was good for much witty prose.

It wasn't so funny — especially for the Pirates — when he collapsed en route to first base after pinch-hitting in the Puerto Rican all-star game. Why was he playing baseball when he had a stone bruise on his hip? Well, the folks down there asked him to help them at the box office. He obliged.

The leg injury and subsequent complications were much more serious than even the Pittsburgh club had suspected. He finally had to undergo surgery to relieve pressure caused by internal bleeding.

Then he caught malarial fever. Doctors said that probably came from his hog farm. All the Pirates knew was that he had to miss the early part of training camp.

When the season was over, they had to admit it hadn't been such a calamity, after all. Clemente appeared in 152 games. He batted .329 to retain his league title. Another significant figure: he walked 43 times.
For a good hitter Clemente usually received few walks. He blamed this correctly on his impatience. When he got to the plate there was one thing on his mind — hit the ball.

Although he prided himself on being a team player, Clemente, on occasion, refuted the very principle which he proclaimed. After the 1960 World Series, which turned Pittsburgh into a madhouse of joy, Clemente took off for San Juan. He bypassed the various clambakes at which the village heroes were applauded.

Clemente's feelings had been hurt because he felt his feat of hitting safely in every game had been withheld from public attention by the sportswriters, for whom he had something less than brotherly love.

His relationship with them was not improved when the baseball writers named Dick Groat, of his own club, as the league's most valuable player. Clemente felt it was an honour which he had earned.

Recognition, strangely enough, was something which seemed to shun him. His first contract as a ball player came because he played softball in a city league. One of the softball players tipped off the owner of a local baseball team that a prospect was in their midst.

Later, when the Dodgers had him stashed away at Montreal, where he was used sparingly, a Pittsburgh scout, Clyde Sukeforth, happened to spot him while he was on a mission to watch a pitcher — Joe Black.

The most frustrating incident occurred in the 1961 all-star game at Candlestick Park. Clemente hit a triple, a sacrifice fly and a single that drove in the winning run in the 10th. Next day, all the columnists wrote about the gale that blew pitcher Stu Miller off the mound.

Even Clemente would have to agree that the final assessments of his career have been factual. He has been described as one of the greatest ball players of all time — a statement of fact.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bob Smizik: Therrien preaching new gospel to Penguins

New coach sees bright future for team
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Used to be when the Penguins practiced at the Island Sports Center they would leave their homes, drive their vehicles to the complex at Neville Island, dress for practice, practice, change back into their street clothes and drive home.

Not anymore.

This week when the Penguins practice at Neville Island, they drive their vehicles to Mellon Arena, where they dress, board a bus for the Island Sports Center, practice, get back on the bus for a ride back to Mellon Arena, then participate in off-ice conditioning, then change back into their street clothes, then drive home.

There's a new sheriff at Mellon Arena, and he doesn't buy into the country-club atmosphere that has prevailed for too long with this franchise.

Coach Michel Therrien is 0-2 since succeeding Eddie Olczyk last week, but his distinct style is inspiring hope in what is an otherwise awful season. Therrien preaches discipline and hard work, which are new-age ideas for the Penguins. He brings a calm presence that the franchise badly needs. His strong personality is reassuring to an organization that has jumped from coach to coach without ever believing in any of them.

Therrien brings a gospel that inspires belief.

A recently as a week ago the Penguins thought they had a system with structure along with discipline and conditioning. Once Therrien took over, they learned they had none of that.

Step by step, game by game, Therrien is attempting to remold a mind-set -- that starts at the top of the organization -- which believes that offensive talent is all that's needed to succeed in the NHL. As the current edition of the Penguins, a roster filled with impressive offensive resumes, has discovered, that doesn't work anymore and hasn't for some time.

General manager Craig Patrick insisted that the system being used by the Penguins was the same one employed by the team's top minor-league affiliate at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where Therrien was the coach until last week. Thirty minutes into Therrien's first practice it was pretty clear what he was teaching was not what Olczyk had been teaching.

There was little Therrien could do taking over one day before a home-and-home series with the streaking Buffalo Sabres. The Penguins lost both games, but it gave Therrien a chance to see what he had and a chance for all the players to see their new coach in game circumstances.

When the Sabres took a 2-0 lead only seven minutes into the second game between the teams, Therrien called a time out and delivered a profanity-laced tirade that got his team's attention. The Penguins outscored the Sabres, 3-2, the rest of the way but lost, 4-3.

Olczyk, a first-class guy who had no previous professional coaching experience, treated his players like men, and they responded by not responding to his motivation. Therrien won't accept that and will resort to whatever level of treatment is necessary to obtain results.

"Why did I call a timeout?" Therrien said in his office at Mellon Arena yesterday. "Because concentration was not there and our work ethic was not there. I'm never going to accept that."

There is no mystique about Therrien's system, and he makes no attempt to portray himself as some kind of innovative genius.

"A lot of team use this system," he said. "It's not new. I'm not the guy who invented the game."
Then he spoke of what sets him apart.

"I like to pay attention to details. I'm really strict about where we're supposed to play. I know when a team plays all together inside the structure, that's a tool a hockey team can use to win some games.

"That's all I can do. I can put a system in place, I can bring some structure to the hockey team. I can bring conditioning. But the players still have to play."

He asks a lot of his players, but not more than they can give.

"I don't demand a guy scores two goals or three goals," he said. "What I'm demanding is that if you have a dollar in your pocket, I'm expecting that you give me one dollar. If all you have is 50 cents, bring me your 50 cents, and you'll be fine."

Therrien didn't have to jump at the opportunity to coach the Penguins and probably didn't. He had to know another NHL team would come along shortly for someone with his resume, which includes coaching the Montreal Canadiens. But he took the job -- after leveraging enough power that he was able to bring assistant Mike Yeo and strength coach Stephane Dube, both highly regarded, to help with this massive turnaround -- with high hopes.

What attracted him was not just the chance to get back in the NHL but what he had been watching at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
"I know this team," he said. "I know the young players. We've got a bright future, and I want to be part of it."

(Bob Smizik can be reached at

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Ron Cook: It's now time for the great No. 66 to retire

[Just reading the headline of this piece made me sick to my stomach...Mr. Lemieux is one of my two favorite athletes of all time...the other being Roberto Clemente. I'm of the opinion that no one gets to tell legends when they should retire...they decide that for themselves. Lemieux's legacy is intact...he can never do that harm...He remains the single most breathtakingly gifted and skillful hockey player that I have ever seen. I do not believe that any other hockey player had the gifts that he possessed...great size (6-5, 230lbs), great hands, speed, vision, touch, hockey intellect, passion...the consumate and unstoppable total package. I also believe that few athletes have overcome more in their careers than Lemieux...cancer, herniated discs, back surgery. Returning to play in the game in Philadelphia on the day of his last radiation treatment in 1993 to score a goal and an assist is still one of the most inspiring sporting achievements of my lifetime. I hope we haven't seen the last of him on ice but if so, I'm eternally grateful for having had the privilege of watching. - jtf]

Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Related Coverage:
No ice work for Lemieux

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

That it's time for the great Mario Lemieux to call it a career?

How can you not be thinking that? After Lemieux's second heart scare this month? After watching him play even before his heart problem was diagnosed when he looked like a fading legend, 40, with little left in the tank? After seeing the Penguins struggle all season, their high expectations shattered, replaced by the harsh reality of an 8-18-7 record? And with so much at stake for the franchise in this city off the ice?

By far, Lemieux's health is the primary concern. It was troubling he had to miss the game Saturday at Buffalo after a recurrence of an irregular heartbeat during the game the night before. Doctors thought they had the situation under control with medication.

Chances are Lemieux will be fine. It's nice to think the doctors will solve his problem by tweaking his meds. But even if he's cleared to play again, he has to be wondering if even the tiniest of risks is worth it at this stage of his career. Certainly, his wife and kids have to be wondering.

Beyond Lemieux's health issue, it's fair to wonder if he has the same motivation to keep playing. The main reason he came out of his first retirement during the 2000-01 season after taking the Penguins out of bankruptcy was to protect his investment by selling tickets with him as the No. 1 draw. That's no longer necessary. Despite the team's woeful record, Sidney Crosby is worth the price of admission at Mellon Arena. So is Marc-Andre Fleury. So will Evgeni Malkin be, once he gets here.

Better days clearly are ahead for the Penguins.

Better days also are ahead for Lemieux's financial interest in the team. There still is a chance he and his ownership group will be awarded a slots license. If he is, he will be printing money long after he fulfills his promise to build a new arena. Even if Lemieux doesn't get the license, a new arena still could be built, if you believe Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato. That would put the Penguins on solid financial ground. The third possibility -- that the Penguins would be sold and moved out of town after next season -- is one that no one wants to think about. That would break our hearts and -- forgive the poor choice of words -- Lemieux's. But it surely wouldn't hurt Lemieux's bank account. He would recoup his investment and a whole lot more.

Lemieux needs to devote all of his time to securing the Penguins' future, one way or the other. That's much more important than worrying about playing. It might be different if the Penguins were a Stanley Cup contender. That seemingly real possibility energized Lemieux during the summer when the Penguins landed Crosby and acquired such respected veterans as Ziggy Palffy, Sergei Gonchar, John LeClair and Jocelyn Thibault.

How could it not energize him? When you're 40 and you think you have a chance to win, you feel 30. Unfortunately, the Penguins haven't won and aren't going to make the playoffs. They've lost so much that Lemieux must feel 50. How much fun can he be having? And does he really want to stick around for another season, going through another summer of grueling conditioning work, to have another chance at the Cup?

There's one other compelling reason for Lemieux to think hard about retiring. The Penguins made Michel Therrien their coach last week. Therrien, a man with a tough edge, was a terrific hire and is just what the soft, underachieving Penguins need. But for him to have his best chance of being successful, he needs Lemieux out of the locker room.

It always has been a bit awkward having Lemieux -- the team owner -- on the roster. That would be hard on any coach. Eddie Olczyk, Rick Kehoe and Ivan Hlinka never said it, but it had to have been hard on them. No matter how demanding they wanted to be with their players, how demanding could they be of Lemieux, their boss? And if Lemieux received special treatment, what message did that send to the other players?

The situation was workable when Lemieux was still one of the game's elite players. He led the Penguins to the Eastern Conference final in 2001. You bet Hlinka was glad to have him on the team.

But Lemieux no longer is among the best players, especially in the new NHL, which puts such a premium on skating. He's not a bad player. He wouldn't be a bad player at 60. But it's not exactly breaking news to suggest he isn't what he was. He was the greatest athlete this city has ever known, but he's also human. And no human can outlast time.

No matter how inevitable we know Lemieux's retirement is, it will be sad to say goodbye to him as a player. We thought we did it when he retired for the first time in 1997. But we got lucky. He came back and gave us a few more seasons, a little more precious time to enjoy his extraordinary talents.

Sadly, though, I'm thinking that time is up.

(Ron Cook can be reached at or 412-263-1525.)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Gene Collier: Steelers get their kicks in every shape and size

Monday, December 19, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

MINNEAPOLIS -- In the minutes after Ben Roethlisberger executed his frat-boy-off-a-pool deck dive into the Minnesota end zone for the game's only touchdown, Jeff Reed popped up the kickoff, watched it fall near the 30 and took a track toward the Steelers' sideline that seemed prudently designed to take him as far as possible from Bill Cowher.

Cowher turned to find his kicker, the likelihood of a spittle shower and a verbal thunderstorm at about 90 percent, but, instead, he offered only a knowing nod and the good-job body language kickers crave from their head coach.

Something was afoot, and, on a day when there were more penalties than points, when neither team had a running back gain 85 yards or a receiver manage 60, the Steelers won as much on Jeff Reed's foot and Chris Gardocki's foot as anything, and Cowher's blueprint for the kicking game soon would be exposed as critical.

"At No. 4 in the NFL and No. 1 in the AFC, Koren Robinson is a special returner," Cowher said after his club smuggled an inelegant, 18-3 victory out of the Metrodome yesterday. "We didn't want to give them a big play to get back in it. Jeff did a great job today. Chris did a great job. We were just trying to disrupt their timing."

But they disrupted plenty more with a series of wildly varied kickoffs and monstrously effective punts, and, if Kimo von Oelhoffen is blocking a field goal and Antwaan Randle El is fleeing 72 yards down the far sideline on a punt return on the same workday, you're getting the kind of special teams play and vastly superior field-position politics that separate playoff teams from Norsemen pretenders.

Cowher didn't mind Reed's short kick at all, as it fell to running back Ciatrick Fason at the 27 and meant the Vikings would start that possession at the 31, but to start the second half, Reed went back to the deep kickoff, with Robinson quickly reminding the Steelers why you don't do that.
He ripped off a 43-yard return to the 46 that should have been a catalyst for a scoring drive (von Oelhoffen's field-goal block snuffed it). That's why, after Reed's second field goal put Pittsburgh ahead, 13-3, on the next possession, Cowher went back to the bloop kickoff and got the result that virtually vacuum-sealed his team's ninth win.

Robinson lined up inside the 5, but Reed lofted it toward the ceiling high above the 30. Robinson raced forward, looking frantically for Reed's kick against the dull gray man-made sky. Fason was parked under it, and the little collision between two Vikings and one football left the pig on the faded Minnesota carpet, where Steelers' special-teamer Tyrone Carter jumped on it.
"When you do a bloop kick, a lot of times someone who isn't used to catching the ball like that will have to catch it," Carter said. "He wasn't used to that."

Carter's recovery set up Reed's third field goal, the one that made it 16-3, and, while that 26-yarder flew into Steelers history as the one that lifted Reed past John Stallworth on the club's all-time scoring list, the 13-point cushion it established virtually guaranteed an end to Minnesota's six-game winning streak. In his head-coaching career, Cowher's teams have had a lead of 11 or more points exactly 100 times. They have lost once.

"I was trying to put it a little bit outside the numbers, but I didn't want to take a chance on it going out of bounds," said Reed. "I got good hang time on it."

The Steelers went into another must-win afternoon with every confidence that Reed could rescue an offense that again came up a little skittish in a domed setting. Asked what his indoor range was yesterday, Reed said he'd made a 57-yarder in the warm-ups.

"Fifty-nine," Roethlisberger corrected from the next locker. "I saw Jeff hit one from 59."

But, on a Minneapolis afternoon where the outside temperature was a blood-freezing three degrees, no one in black & gold seemed happier to be inside than Gardocki, who made the field-position issue his personal parlor game. He punted 47 yards to the Vikings' 17, 58 yards to the 8, 49 yards to the 36, 48 yards to the 2, 27 yards to the 14, and 53 yards to the five.
"Inside is good," he said.

Inside the opponent's 20 is even better, and Gardocki dropped it in there four times. The one that Chidi Iwuoma flopped on at the 2 led directly to a safety when Larry Foote and Joey Porter drilled Michael Bennett a yard deep in the end zone on the very next play.

"This game was about field position, and we knew going into it that we didn't want them to have good field position," said Vikes' defensive end Lance Johnstone. "That's our biggest disappointment."

The bigger one will come when Minnesota fails to make the playoffs in the dreadful NFC North, but the Vikings can save themselves a lot of what-if neurosis by realizing that the Steelers thumped them from one end of the roster to the other.

(Post-Gazette sports columnist Gene Collier can be reached at or 412-263-1283.)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Mike Prisuta: Lack of competitve fire Pens' problem, not Edzo's

Mike Prisuta
Friday, December 16, 2005

Loyal to a fault to the end on Thursday, former Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk lamented not his firing, but the need for Mario Lemieux and the organization to make a change.

"My biggest disappointment is I let Mario and the team down," Olczyk said. "That's what hurts."

Not that it matters now, but it was the other way around.

The responsibility for 8-17-6, for as profound a disappointment as this franchise has ever experienced, all things considered, isn't Edzo's. It falls instead to the feet of owner/slash/captain Mario Lemieux, to General Manager Craig Patrick and especially to the players who too often refused to perform for a guy who trusted and respected them and treated them as professionals despite their steadfast refusal to embrace the role.

Sometimes, nice guys really do finish last, or in this case aren't permitted to finish.

Now, we'll see how the Penguins respond to a screamer.

To the anti-Edzo.

Olczyk, apparently, just wasn't mean enough for the job.

"I tried pushing all kinds of different buttons," he allowed. "You're always second-guessing yourself. Should I play this guy? Should I do this on the power play? Should I give guys days off?

"Should I throw somebody under the bus?"

Olczyk never sold out his players.

"That's the way I would hope I was treated as a player," said Edzo, who played 16 seasons in the NHL for six different organizations, including the Penguins. "It just didn't work."

The Pens' response was to throw Edzo under the bus.

Therrien, meanwhile, is likely ordering more buses.

He's also installing the neutral zone trap and talking first and foremost about "attitude," which, sadly, is the Penguins' most alarming problem.

The Pens thought they were assembling a collection of potential champions when they opened their checkbook in celebration of the NHL's new CBA.

What they got instead turned out to be what long-ago Pens coach Bob Berry once referred to as "circus performers."

Sergei Gonchar isn't the only one of those; just the most obvious.

The team lacks structure, not because Olczyk disdained it but because he couldn't make his players accept it and because they never took it upon themselves to embrace it. No one was called out during a team video review -- Olczyk wasn't a big believer in better coaching through the VCR -- or otherwise disciplined at the expense of their reputation.

What resulted was a team that wasn't remotely competitive enough from night to night and shift to shift.

"It baffles me how guys didn't compete at a high level," winger Mark Recchi said.
There can be no more damning indictment of a group of players.

Therrien's bombastic approach may shock some response out of these zombies, but only briefly.
Players that have to be threatened to extract effort aren't going to win anything significant, no matter the structure or system.

That's no longer Edzo's problem, which perhaps explains his disappointment for Lemieux.

Mike Prisuta is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Bob Smizik: Therrien is given lots of clout

Therrien's job is tough -- clean up the mess Patrick has made
Friday, December 16, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If being fired is a sign of failure -- and that's a reasonable assumption -- then the Penguins have had five failed coaches in less than a decade. That's an alarming rate in any business and particularly so in pro sports.

These five coaches -- the latest being Eddie Olczyk, who was fired yesterday -- did not share much in common. Three were former NHL players, two were not. Two had previous NHL head-coaching experience, three did not. One learned the game in Europe, two in Canada and two in the United States. One had a winning record when he was fired, the other four did not.

But the one thing they had in common was that they were all put on the job by Craig Patrick. That's five consecutive failed coaches for Patrick. How many chances does a guy get?

Michel Therrien, appointed yesterday, might be the last chance for Patrick, whose contract expires at the end of the season. Of Patrick, it could rightly be asked: What have you done for us lately?

Patrick was the general manager of Stanley Cup champions in 1991 and 1992 and oversaw some very good to decent teams following that. More recently, the team has been mostly awful and hasn't been within sniffing distance of a winning season since 2000-01.

It's entirely possible Patrick got it right this time when he named Therrien, who had been coaching the team's top minor-league affiliate. The Penguins' franchise, often compared to a country club, might more resemble a prison under Therrien.

"He's very straightforward and blunt and hard," Patrick said. "He's a no-nonsense guy. You're going to do it his way or you're not going to play. From what I've seen this year, we definitely need that."

Therrien inherits a mess. He takes over a team that has won eight of 31 games, that has lost eight of its past nine, that has allowed more goals than any team in the NHL and one that also has become offensively deficient with only 11 goals in the past eight games. It's a team that failed to respond to its previous coach and one that is widely regarded as too old and too slow.
A large share of that mess rests with Patrick.

He's the man who hired Olczyk, although Olczyk had no previous pro coaching experience.
He's the man who signed NHL bust-of-the-year Sergei Gonchar to a five-year, $25 million contract.

He's the man who has had Marc-Andre Fleury, the team's best goalie, playing most of the season in the minors.

He's the man who left Olczyk unprotected this season with a coaching staff -- all of whom also were fired yesterday -- that was way too light on NHL experience.
He is the man who put together the roster that quit on Olczyk.

Patrick has been the Imperial General Manager for too long. He has the complete confidence of owner Mario Lemieux, who again yesterday absolved Patrick of any particular blame.
"It's not one guy," Lemieux said. "It's the whole organization. You can't blame the GM or the coach or the players. It's the organization as a whole.

But Patrick is the face of the organization. He hired the coach and signed the players. He determined the payroll and who made the team.

Some of the power might be ebbing away. Therrien looks to have more control than any coach since Bob Johnson.

Although Patrick would not talk about the length of Therrien's contract, the new coach said it was for three years. Which means he has more security than Patrick -- and possibly as much power.

It wasn't surprising that Patrick fired Olczyk. Considering how poorly the team was playing, something had to be done. But it was surprising that long-time loyalists like assistant coaches Joey Mullin and Randy Hillier were fired, and it was positively stunning that strength coach John Welday, who was in his 17th season with the club, was let go. Goaltender coach Shane Clifford, in his first season, also was fired.

These were moves made not by Patrick, who puts loyalty ahead of competence, but by Therrien, who wants his own people covering his back -- not Patrick's.

Therrien's highly regarded assistant, Mike Yeo, will join him, as will his goaltending and strength coach from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. It also was pretty clear Therrien will have major input into who else is hired.

Therrien has leverage with Patrick, something few, if any of his predecessors (other than interim coach Herb Brooks) had.

Therrien didn't need this job. He didn't come crawling. He was almost certain to get an NHL job by the start of next season based on his previous experience with the Montreal Canadiens, the high regard he has throughout the game and the outstanding job he has done with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

"He'll have a say in the other assistant coach, for sure," Patrick said. "He had definite ideas of what he wanted here and that had a lot to do with what changes were made."
Looks like someone else other than Patrick has some power in the day-to-day decisions of the organization. It's about time.

(Bob Smizik can be reached at

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Bob Smizik: Once Again, Bettis Proves He's Special

Monday, December 12, 2005

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

He is 33 and in his 13th season of taking the brutal pounding that comes not just from being a running back in the National Football League, but also from being the kind of big running back whose preferred route is through tacklers, not around them.
By every measure known to the game, he long ago should have been rendered ineffective by the ferocity of those hits and sent on to retirement. History tells us that such backs rarely last past their 30th birthday.

But Jerome Bettis is not your ordinary running back. That's a fact he proved one more time yesterday in the muck of Heinz Field as he helped keep the Steelers season alive with a 21-9 victory against the Chicago Bears.

In a performance that rightfully could be called astonishing, Bettis came off the bench to rumble and roll for 101 yards, all but one of which came in the second half.

This performance came in only 17 carries against the No. 1 defense in the NFL and from the man who in the previous four games had run 25 times for 50 yards.

"He amazes me every day," said teammate Verron Haynes. "It's just amazing at this stage of his career to still be rumbling the way he does. You can never count out No. 36."

When Bettis was finished for the day, he had 3,453 carries in the NFL. To put that number in perspective, consider the total carries of some of the other great big backs in NFL history:

Jim Brown quit at his peak with 2,359 carries. But Earl Campbell was done after 2,187, as were Larry Csonka after 1,891 rushes, Jim Taylor after 1,941 and John Riggins after 2,916.

Bettis started slowly yesterday, carrying once -- a 1-yard touchdown run -- in the first half.

He replaced Willie Parker early in the Steelers' second possession of the second half and ran for 2 and 8 yards. Parker returned on the next play, but when the Steelers got close to the goal, Bettis got the call. He ran for 3 yards to the 5 and then, on a play where he looked as spry as a rookie, he bolted through the line, evaded the safety and collided with All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher about 2 yards short of the end zone.

"I knew it was [Urlacher]," Bettis said, in recounting the play. "I was trying to bang off him and use his leverage against him. I knew it was going to be a very big hit. I just tried to keep those legs churning.

"He didn't let go, but I made a living carrying people. That's why they call me The Bus."

That's why it was another Steelers' touchdown.

The next time Bettis touched the ball, he ran left, broke through the line, cut to the outside and for a second looked like he might outrun the Chicago secondary. But only for a second. As cornerback Charles Tillman was about to run him down, Bettis headed out of bounds.

Was he out of gas?

"I never had much gas," he said to gales of laughter. "My job is to get all the yards I can get and live to fight another day.
"I knew I wasn't going to make it to the end zone. That's the difference between me and Willie Parker. He's the home-run guy. I'm the bunt, get-on-base, manufacture-a-score guy."

It says so much about Bettis that he accepts a role behind Parker, the unproven second-year player who gives the Steelers the speed at running back they've never had in Bill Cowher's tenure.

"This is Willie Parker's opportunity and I'm backing him up," Bettis said. "I'll just keep doing the same thing that I'm doing, and, hopefully, when they call my number again, I'll be ready."

A back of Bettis' stature -- a certain Hall of Famer and the fifth-leading rusher in NFL history -- could easily use this performance to lobby for more playing time. But he not only accepts his backup role, but he also embraces it.

"He epitomizes what the Pittsburgh Steelers are all about," Hines Ward said.
"You can't say enough about what he means to this team," Cowher said.

The wear-and-tear of the season and steady second-half snow showers, made the field perfect for Bettis.

"I've always been known as a mudder," he said, "and the field really played into my favor in terms of being able to run the ball.

"I know where I'm going and they don't. I get a head of steam going, and they have to play off blocks, and it's hard for those guys to stay in there and get leverage on me. This type of weather is very beneficial for me."

Cowher called the Steelers "desperate" and no one appreciates that more than Bettis.
"When you're in a situation where it could be your last play, not your last game, it is a real sense of desperation," he said.

"I'm just trying to encourage my teammates and lead by example. We have to find a way."

(Post-Gazette sports columnist Bob Smizik can be reached at or 412-263-1468.)

Ron Cook: Lemieux is not Blowing Smoke

Penguins' exit strategy not just saber rattling

Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

You knew it was coming, this little game of Mario Lemieux hardball.

You just knew it would happen eventually, a frustrated, regretful Lemieux going public and playing the last card in his hand, threatening to move the Penguins if he doesn't get the new arena he is convinced he has coming.

Sadly, it happened over the weekend.

Under ordinary circumstances, you would shrug and dismiss it as routine posturing, a necessary part of all high-stakes negotiations. Lemieux isn't the first sports owner to turn up the heat on local politicians to get what he wants. He surely won't be the last.

But these are not ordinary circumstances.

One reason is the timing. Lemieux can start shopping the Penguins in June, a year before their lease is up at Mellon Arena. Don't blink. June will be here quickly.

Another reason is the hard feelings against millionaire sports owners. If it were up to public opinion, Heinz Field and PNC Park never would have been built. That didn't stop the local officials from getting the deals done. One, they knew it was the right thing to do. And two, despite the public sentiment, they feared a significant backlash if they allowed the Pirates to leave.

The problem now is that hockey isn't nearly as entrenched in our sports culture. Most kids play baseball in the back yard. Not nearly as many play hockey. Most of their parents don't understand the importance of cycling or a good penalty kill, but they surely know what it means when Jason Bay hits a home run on a beautiful summer night at the ballpark.

That's why there isn't the same sense of urgency to save the Penguins.

The local officials don't want to lose the team, but they give the impression that they'll get over it if happens.

That's unfortunate. It's a tragedy when this city loses any business and the jobs that go with it. It would be especially bad to lose a high-profile business such as the Penguins, who bring a lot of positive attention to the region and provide a much-needed entertainment diversion through the long, cold winter months.

But forget about Lemieux and his team for a moment. Hockey club or no hockey club, the city needs a new civic center and will get one sooner rather than later. Mellon Arena, which opened in 1961, is aging badly as all public facilities usually do. Why not get the deal done now when there still is time to save the Penguins? I like to think Lemieux would keep the team at the Mellon Arena for a few years beyond the 2007 lease expiration if he knew for sure a new building was coming.

In the meantime, Lemieux's frustration is understandable. He believes that he was promised a new arena when he took the Penguins out of bankruptcy. Beyond that, he believes that the NHL made itself a viable sports league by shutting down for a year and getting its financial house in order.

Hockey is no longer like baseball. The Penguins aren't doomed to long-term failure the way the Pirates are under their current ownership. You wouldn't know it by the NHL standings this morning -- the Penguins, including Lemieux as a player now, are underachieving or over-the-hill -- but there's reason to think that will change soon. The nucleus of a winning team for years to come is in place with Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury and will be solidified when Evgeni Malkin gets here.

You, too, would feel betrayed if you were Lemieux.

And you won't be able to blame him if he makes a smart business decision and sells the team to an out-of-town buyer rather than continue to play in an old building.

We can hope it won't come to that.

I've always defended the government officials' handling of the Penguins' situation -- until now. I believe that they were sincere when they told Lemieux in 1999 he would get his new arena. I also believe that the building would be open by now if not for the tragedy that changed the world -- 9/11. Just about every city has suffered economically because of it. Just about every city would have trouble finding millions to build a new arena.

But, at least in our case, the solution is right there in front of us. It's the slots revenue. I'm not advocating that Lemieux be given the precious slots license so he can build the arena and then bankroll millions for the rest of his life. I'm against that, actually. Call me old-fashioned, but I hate to see a sports interest climbing into bed with a gambling interest of any kind.

But that doesn't mean the slots license shouldn't be tied to a new arena. That wouldn't just save the Penguins. It would give us a facility we badly need. It also would give us a reason to feel good about ourselves. Heaven knows we haven't had many of those lately.

That's why it's encouraging that Mayor-elect Bob O'Connor and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato are behind the idea of using slots revenue for an arena. I still believe, in the end, that they'll find a way to get a deal done. It's just too bad that the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force isn't ready to recommend the arena-for-slots plan to the Harrisburg regulators. All of us -- not just the Penguins -- could lose as a result.

There's one other troubling aspect of all of this.

Is it just me or does it seem as if the endless political haggling is going to prevent any slots revenue for any purpose? In our lifetime, I mean?

"I think we're really running out of time," Lemieux said.

That's not posturing. That's a fact.

(Ron Cook can be reached at or 412-263-1525.)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Mike Prisuta: Pirates Trying Again

Casey's return proves Pirates are trying again
Mike Prisuta
Thursday, December 8, 2005

It remains to be seen how many home runs Sean Casey will account for playing for his hometown team, but the Pirates have hit it out of the park merely by acquiring Casey's services from the Cincinnati Reds.

The trade that cost the Buccos under-appreciated lefty Dave Williams makes a statement whether Casey goes deep often or infrequently.

Based on his first 29 career games at PNC Park, the ballpark that's been waiting since its opening in 2001 for a lefty besides Brian Giles to really exploit that right field porch, Casey should be expected to provide close to 14 home runs and 67 RBI at home assuming he plays all 81 games on the North Shore. That translates into some potentially intriguing power numbers throughout the course of a complete season, home and road, particularly from a guy who can be expected to hit for average, an over-.300 average, as well as swing for the fences.

But Casey's value goes far beyond numbers.

He'll be a fixture not just at first base, but in the clubhouse and the community as well, and those are three areas where the Pirates have long been in need of some fixing.

And Casey will personify what is continuing to look suspiciously like a we're-finally-getting-serious-again commitment on the part of Pirates management.

Casey might even become the face of a franchise that apparently doesn't want to be perceived as a laughingstock any more by the time it hosts the 2006 All-Star Game.

Think of what the Pirates have done since their 13th consecutive losing season mercifully came to a close:

They've hired an honest-to-goodness major league manager in Jim Tracy, a guy who has a resume and a track record and one who, at first glance, at least, may be able to pull off the impossible by selling hope.

They've allowed Tracy to bring coaches with him from Los Angeles, suggesting the Pirates have upped the budget for their staff as well as for what they're willing to pay a manager.

And they've rewarded monstrously productive outfielder Jason Bay with a lucrative contract extension, not because it delays Bay's ability to become a free agent -- it doesn't -- but because it was the right thing to do (you can't have your best player playing for relative peanuts and be taken seriously).

Now, comes Casey, an on-the-field ambassador who will exude energy and leadership and reach out to the fans and the players around him like a pinstriped Hines Ward.

Casey should also be able to take advantage of all that real estate in left-center field while helping the Pirates take small but significant steps back toward legitimacy.

That'll translate into $8.5 million minus whatever the Reds are contributing toward his 2006 salary into money well spent.

Any homers Casey manages to contribute will be a bonus.

Mike Prisuta is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bud Carson: An Unmistakable Legacy

Former Steelers coach dead at 75

By Mike Prisuta
Thursday, December 8, 2005

The image is unforgettable for those who roamed the halls of St. Vincent College with the Steelers in the early to mid-1970s: A dark room on the first floor of Bonaventure Hall and a projector grinding out flickering images on a screen interrupted only by the wafting smoke from an ever-present cigarette.

That was Freeport native Leon Halden "Bud" Carson.

The legacy is unmistakable: NFL teams such as the undefeated 2005 Indianapolis Colts confounding opponents by playing the "Cover 2" defense first concocted more than 30 years ago by a relentless strategist who never tired of studying players and schemes and tendencies and trying to come up with an even better way of playing the game.

That was Bud Carson, too.

Carson passed away Wednesday in Sarasota, Fla., after a battle with emphysema.

He was 75.

He is survived by his wife, Linda; daughters, Dana and Cathi; a son, Clifford; a stepson, Gary Ford; three brothers, Guy, Harry and Gib; two grandchildren; and the scheme that made Carson a football immortal in the estimation of at least one of his former players.

"For the last decade or so, I've told people I thought he should be in the Hall of Fame," former Steelers safety Mike Wagner said. "He was the major contributor to the Pittsburgh defenses in the 1970s.

"We played the 'Cover 2' defense that is still in vogue but also still a mystery."

Wagner said Carson never took credit for pioneering "Cover 2," but current Colts coach Tony Dungy, a Steelers defensive back from 1977-78, has said the "Cover 2" techniques he's relied upon in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis came "straight from the 1973 Steelers playbook."

Steelers running backs coach Dick Hoak seconds the notion that Carson helped father the concept built upon two safeties splitting the field deep as a hedge against blitzing defenses falling vulnerable to the big play in an increasingly pass-happy NFL.

"I know Bud was one of the first to run 'Cover 2,' " Hoak said.

Carson went 27-27 as the head coach at Georgia Tech from 1967-71. He became the Steelers' defensive coordinator in 1972, the same year Hoak and defensive line coach George Perles came aboard.

At the time, Chuck Noll had experienced three losing seasons in three years as the Steelers coach and could offer nothing in the way of long-term guarantees.

The Steelers went 11-3 in 1972 and won Super Bowls following the 1974 and 1975 seasons.

Carson's 1976 defense pitched five shutouts, including three in a row, and allowed just 28 points in nine games after quarterback Terry Bradshaw was injured during a 1-4 start.
"Quite a feat," Steelers chairman Dan Rooney said.

"Bud Carson really understood that the game is played with athletes and not necessarily with head-butters," former Steelers scout Bill Nunn said.

Carson never stopped scheming ways to get the most from the athletes Nunn, the scouting staff and personnel department provided.

"I can remember standing in a tunnel waiting to come onto a field and Chuck (Noll) would be reminding me of our checks," Wagner said. "And I'd tell him, 'No, Chuck, Bud changed that on the way from the locker room to the field.' "

Carson left the Steelers following the 1977 season to take a job with the Rams, believing he'd eventually have a better chance to become a head coach in Los Angeles.

He wound up having to wait until 1989 before finally becoming one, replacing Marty Schottenheimer as the coach of the Cleveland Browns.

Carson went 9-6-1 and to the AFC Championship Game in his first season and was fired following a 2-7 start in his second.

His reputation as a defensive genius never lost an ounce of luster.

Carson went on to coordinate defenses for the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and St. Louis Rams before retiring in 1998.

Rams coach Mike Martz convinced Carson to return as a consultant midway through the 2000 season.

"Bud is one of the top two or three defensive coaches in the history of the game," Martz said at the time.

Rooney put it in terms Carson might have found more appealing.
"I might say he coached the greatest defense that ever played in the National Football League," Rooney said.

"He will be missed."

Mike Prisuta can be reached at

Sean Casey: As good off the field as he is on it

Thursday, December 08, 2005
By Paul Meyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The sadness in Kathy List's voice was palpable.

So was the excitement in Jim Casey's voice.

The emotional reactions to Sean Casey joining the Pirates -- and leaving Cincinnati -- definitely ran the gamut yesterday.

"It's a big loss -- a huge, huge loss," said List, executive director of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati. "Sean and his wife [Mandi] ... It's a loss for the Reds and a loss for the community."

List paused.

"Our loss is your gain -- plain and simple," List managed.

"I'm totally ecstatic!" said Jim Casey, who with his wife Joan might have the most to gain. "I'm absolutely enthralled! Euphoric! My grandkids are coming to town!"

As is their dad, Sean, 31, father of three, including 2-week-old Carli Renee.

Sean Casey, the Upper St. Clair High School graduate acquired from the Cincinnati Reds for left-hander Dave Williams in trade that is expected to be formally announced today, will play first base for the Pirates next season.

But that's just for starters.

A whole lot more comes with Sean and Mandi.

"They're a Big Couple of a young boy here," List said, referring to the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program that pairs couples with disadvantaged youths. "Sean was matched as a 'Big' before anybody even knew who Sean Casey was, and he's stuck [with it] for six years. The boy is in high school now.

"The relationship has survived offseasons, travel, road trips. Sean's integrity and sincerity are unquestioned. Sean is the real McCoy. What you see is what you get."

People see Sean Casey all over the place, not just first base.

For example, in Cincinnati in 2003 Casey started "Casey's Crew" -- a ticket program for disadvantaged youngsters. He provided 24 complimentary field-level tickets to each Saturday home game.

He was heavily involved with Make-A-Wish visits at Friday home games.

He often visited Cincinnati Children's Hospital and Shriner's Hospital for Children, sometimes on official Reds-sponsored trips, sometimes unannounced on his own.

Casey does other charitable work, but the point has been made.

Casey told the Dayton Daily News last season that his charity work springs from his faith.
"We're all on this Earth to make a difference while we're here," Casey told Hal McCoy, the Hall of Fame Reds beat guy from the Dayton paper. "When we're gone, we're gone. There is scripture that says, 'The Kingdom of God is now.' In Matthew 25:31-48, Jesus is talking, and He says ... when I was hungry, you fed Me. When I was thirsty, you gave Me drink. When I was homeless, you put a roof over My head.' "

"In all honesty, he's the finest person I've ever known," said Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman, the Reds' play-by-play voice for 30 years. "I've never met a baseball player -- never met an athlete -- who is as nice, as good and as giving as he is.

"There are certain people, when you're around them and you get that feeling, 'Nobody can be that nice,' but not with him. Sean's legitimate. There's not an ounce of phoniness in his body. I've never seen him be anything less than kind to anyone."

"He's very caring," said Frank Porco, who tutored Casey on hitting at the Bethel Park Grand Slam batting cages years ago and still helps Casey with his swing. "He calls me all the time wondering how I'm doing. He's very family-oriented, very down-to-earth. He's not a phony."

The trading of Casey to the Pirates could be like the Reds trading Tony Perez, another first baseman, to the Montreal Expos after the 1976 season. The Reds, who won the World Series in 1975-76, finished second in their division in 1977-78, and former Reds general manager Bob Howsam later called the Perez trade "the worst I ever made."

"Casey meant so much to the team," Cincinnati outfielder Austin Kearns told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "He was a leader in the clubhouse and out on the field. It's always a risk when you trade a guy like that."

Casey's leadership ability became evident early in high school in Upper St. Clair. He belonged to "Natural Helpers" -- which according to Upper St. Clair baseball coach Jerry Malarkey was "a trusted group of students other students could talk to about anything." Casey's work there -- not to mention his baseball ability -- endeared him to Upper St. Clair residents.

This past season, during a Reds visit to PNC Park, Malarkey and the school retired Casey's high school jersey, No. 22. Malarkey didn't know how many people would attend the ceremony, mentioning to Casey the night before there might be 30 people there, perhaps 100.

More than 400 people showed up, including a few of Casey's Cincinnati teammates and a couple of Cincinnati front-office staffers.

The ceremony lasted 90 minutes.

"And, for most of that time, people talked about what kind of person he is and his leadership," Malarkey said.

"I think it's great [that Casey is joining the Pirates]. It will be a real spark for baseball in Pittsburgh. He will be a tremendous, tremendous influence in the community and in the clubhouse."

Casey's enthusiasm for life, people and helping has earned him the nickname "The Mayor." It has been reported that he got that monicker in Cincinnati. Actually, he acquired it in 1994 while playing for Brewster, Mass., in the Cape Cod League.

Casey shook hands with and talked to so many fans and relatives that summer that, according to Jim Casey, Brewster manager Mike Kirby told his first baseman: "Casey -- play baseball. You're not the mayor."

Sean Casey will be in Pittsburgh next summer to play baseball. What will it be like for him to play in his hometown?

Listen to John Wehner, the kid from Carrick who broke into the major leagues with the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium July 17, 1991, and who is now one of the team's broadcasters.

"For me, it was heaven," Wehner said. "But, at first, it was kind of tough. There were a ton of distractions. Just being in the big leagues for the first time was excitement enough.

"It will be a little different for him. He's established in the big leagues. His family and friends have seen him play here. I think it will go pretty smoothly for him. I'm sure it's going to be neat for him to put on a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform. This is the team he rooted for growing up."

There's an interesting tie between Wehner and Casey. Wehner hit the final home run in Three Rivers Stadium; Casey hit the first home run at PNC Park.

"Yep," Wehner said with a laugh. "We went back-to-back."

(Paul Meyer can be reached at 412-263-1144.)

Lemieux Hospitalized With Irregular Heartbeat

Results of tests will determine if and when he returns to Penguins' lineup

Thursday, December 08, 2005
By Dave Molinari, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mario Lemieux, the Penguins' player-owner, has faced a variety of health problems since early in his professional career.

Yesterday, he added a new chapter to his medical history.

Lemieux, 40, was hospitalized because of an irregular heartbeat. Penguins officials announced that he was to stay in the hospital overnight, but gave no indication when he would be discharged.

The Penguins did not release which local hospital Lemieux was being treated.

Lemieux participated in the Penguins' practice at Mellon Arena with no apparent problem -- "Nothing," coach Eddie Olczyk said -- but the problem that led to him being hospitalized surfaced shortly after the workout ended.

"Mario experienced an irregular heartbeat after practice today, and we thought the best precaution was to have him enter the hospital for observation," general manager Craig Patrick said.

Olczyk learned that Lemieux was having a problem about an hour after practice, during a visit to the team's training room.

His immediate reaction, aside from concern for Lemieux, was to wonder if he had overlooked any signs during practice that Lemieux was ailing. He could not come up with any, but acknowledged that Lemieux's ailment was cause for introspection.

"It stops you right in your tracks," Olczyk said. "You just kind of take a step back."

Lemieux was immediately ruled out of the Penguins' game against Minnesota at 7:38 p.m. today at Mellon Arena. When -- and whether -- he'll be able to resume playing depends on what tests determine about the nature and severity of his condition.

At this point, however, that is a secondary consideration for his friends and co-workers.

"First and foremost is to get him back to feeling good," Olczyk said. "To find out what happened, what's wrong."

Lemieux, who missed two games this season because of what team officials described as a stomach virus, is the Penguins' fourth-leading scorer, with seven goals and 14 assists in 25 games.

Health problems have forced Lemieux to miss 377 games since he entered the NHL in the fall of 1984. He survived a bout with Hodgkin's disease in 1993, back problems that bothered him for about a decade and a hip injury that required corrective surgery early in 2003.

He was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997, and became the Penguins' primary owner when the franchise came out of bankruptcy two years later.

(Dave Molinari can be reached at 412-263-1144.)

Lemieux released from hospital

Thursday, December 08, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Penguins player/owner Mario Lemieux, who entered a hospital yesterday with an irregular heartbeat, was released from the hostpital this morning.

His condition has been diagnosed as atrial fibrillation, which team General Manager Craig Patrick characterized as "a relatively common condition that can be treated with medication."

Mr. Patrick said Mr. Lemieux is scheduled to be exercising "in a matter of days and can return to the lineup in a brief period of time."

No specific time has been set for his return.

Patrick said Lemieux has has several episodes of this condition since mid-summer, but doctors could not determine the nature of the problem until after he was admitted to the hospital yesterday.

The Penguins face the Minnesota Wild at 7:30 tonight at Mellon Arena.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Gene Collier: Why Can't 6 Steelers Block 3 Bengals?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Urgent big-picture questions concerning the exact direction of the Steelers -- can they run the table now that they've tabled the run? -- and those kinds of things, didn't get much of an airing at Bill Cowher's weekly media rubdown yesterday.

It's just as well.

There's no point in trying to gauge whether the combination of persistent Steelers lethargy and the random mood swings of the Jaguars, Chiefs, Chargers and their scheduled foils will somehow result in a football season that extends past New Year's Day around here.

Far more elemental questions are just so much more confounding.

Like how come six Steelers can't block three Bengals.

You missed that Sunday?

Oh, you were already in the car when the Steelers took possession for the final time, down by one touchdown with 2:24 to play, plenty of time to do plenty of things, particularly with two timeouts in Cowher's pocket and the two-minute warning looming to stop the clock a third time.
Someday, there ought to be a news conference to explain the need to get to the car in that situation, but, you know, whatever.

On first-and-10 from the 24, Ben Roethlisberger thumbed a 6-yard completion to Hines Ward, and then the fun began. On second-and-4, right tackle Max Starks and right guard Kendall Simmons executed that rare and wholly unappreciated maneuver, the simultaneous false start, probably because they couldn't hear the snap count with all the car engines starting, and that made it second-and-9. While Ben was finding Cedrick Wilson free for an apparent first down at the 41, rookie left tackle Trai Essex was holding on to someone in a white shirt like grim death. That penalty made it second-and-19 from the 15, which is where the real curious stuff went down.

Blitzing rookie David Pollack sacked Big Ben to force third-and-24, on which Roethlisberger flipped an 11-yarder to Willie Parker. But on fourth-and-13, with 1:34 still on the clock, the Bengals deployed three pass rushers against six alleged blockers (five offensive linemen including two All-Pros and a tight end or blocking back). Defensive end Justin Smith, undeterred, wound up on top of Roethlisberger for a 2-yard loss and a Cincinnati victory.
"Inefficiency," Cowher said yesterday. "Probably lack of technique."

In the minutes after a third consecutive loss, Cowher had been careful to praise his club's effort, and gave no indication yesterday that he'd seen anything on tape to suggest otherwise. At least he wasn't biting on the notion that six guys unable to block three on the game's final offensive play is symptomatic of something beyond inattention to detail.

"It's just inefficient play; I don't think those players went out there and said, 'Well, the game's over.' I would never question that," he said. "Give some credit to [the Bengals]. They were able to create some pressure. Is it our inefficiencies or their good play? You judge it."

You wouldn't think a head football coach in the post-modern NFL, with his 15 assistants and his 15,000 quality control techniques, would lose sight of the importance of micromanaging, so it was no surprise to hear Cowher suggest that an even tighter focus would do his fellas a world of good.

"It's about each guy not getting too caught up in what's going on around him," Cowher said. "Just worry about yourself."

Uh-huh. And maybe that guy returning the kickoff. Maybe give him the once-over now and again, unless you don't mind having someone named Tab Perry (or as I like to call him, 2005 NFL draft pick No. 190) pile up more than twice the yardage of Chad Johnson or Rudi Johnson or T.J. Houshmandzadeh and almost as many yards on five kickoff returns (197) as Carson Palmer netted throwing 38 passes (227).

Cowher didn't finger anyone on coverage for that disastrous subplot yesterday but said contemplated changes to his special teams included "anything and everything."
"I don't want to overreact and overanalyze," he said evenly.

And why should he? He's got us for that.

As a former Oversimplifier of the Year in the knee-jerk reaction division, I can tell you it will take all of this team's concentration to scare up enough efficiency to beat Chicago, which Sunday becomes its third consecutive division-leading opponent. You don't have to score 30 to subdue these Bears, but when six Steelers can't block three Bengals, every challenge is monstrous.

(Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette or 412-263-1283.)