Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Ed Bouchette: Bettis, Steelers Start Talks on New Contract

Tuesday, February 22, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jerome Bettis may be leaning toward returning to play for the Steelers next season, provided the sides can work out a new contract.

Steelers' free agents

The Steelers have exchanged proposals with Bettis' agent.

Bettis is contemplating whether he wants to retire. In the meantime, the Steelers would have to reduce his salary of $4.484 million by March 2 or possibly release him because they will be above the NFL's salary cap.

Lamont Smith, Bettis' agent, said last night that he hopes a contract could be worked and that the Steelers would not release Bettis.

"To release him would change the dynamics of this whole thing," Smith said.

If the Steelers and Bettis can reach a new contract agreement, Bettis is expected to play in 2005.
In another matter, the Steelers likely won't protect Plaxico Burress from becoming a free agent when the deadline rolls around to designate their "franchise" player at 4 p.m. today.
The Steelers will have to release some players before March 2 to comply with the NFL salary cap that goes into effect starting that day.

Each team's salary cap should rise to around $85 million for 2005, up from $80.582 million last year, when the new figure is calculated soon. Despite the increase, the Steelers would be over the cap unless they cut salaries or players in the next week.

At least two veterans affected by this are cornerback Chad Scott and Bettis. Both could be released before March 2, although in Bettis' case it might not be final. Today is the first day veterans can be released.

Bettis currently counts $5.484 million against their cap, which includes $1 million from a prorated signing bonus. The Steelers could release him next week and then sign him to a new contract later, if he decides to play again. Last season, he took a pay cut of nearly $2.7 million to play for $1 million, but he did so before the March 2 deadline.

The Steelers would prefer to have a new contract with Bettis in place before March 2 even if he later decides to retire.

Bettis said in Jacksonville, Fla., the week of the Super Bowl that he wanted to return to Pittsburgh and speak with coach Bill Cowher before he makes his decision about retirement in "three or four weeks." He has not yet done that. Cowher and his staff will leave this week for the NFL scouting combine, which runs from Thursday through next Tuesday in Indianapolis.

Scott is scheduled to earn a salary of $3,885,000 in 2005 and count a little move than $4 million against the team's cap. He is signed through 2006. Mason Ashe, Scott's agent, said yesterday the Steelers have not informed him of any plans they might have for Scott, whether it would be to release him or ask him to take a pay cut. Ashe noted they did not inform him before they released another of his clients, linebacker Levon Kirkland, early in 2001.

Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations, declined comment yesterday on any aspects of free agency. Colbert and his scouts also will leave for the NFL scouting combine today.

The Steelers have the option to put the franchise player tag on Burress today, but that would cost them $7,768,000 in a one-year deal. That represents the average of the top five salaries of wide receivers in the league. Unless the Steelers work some financial magic over the next week, that would not fit under their cap.

Each team can freeze one potential free agent by making him a franchise player. The Steelers have used the tag judiciously in the past, on tight end Eric Green in 1994 and linebacker Jason Gildon in 2002. Gildon eventually signed a long-term contract and did not play under the one-year franchise deal. The Steelers released him in June 2004.

The Steelers were $80,000 under the salary cap in the first half of last season before they reworked some contracts to free up $500,000.

They long have known they would be over the cap for 2005 and would have to release players or rework contracts. But their cap was further reduced because more players earned more incentives in 2004 than expected and that will count against their 2005 cap. Those so-called "unlikely to be earned" incentives from 2004 will reduce their salary cap by about $5 million more than they had once thought.

Their salary cap situation also should prevent them from pursuing many free agents this year.

Click here for more National Football League news.

(Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3878.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Bob Smizik: Briles Left Perfect Mark on Baseball

Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Side by side with the sad news of his death earlier this week was the recollection of the most famous piece of pitching by Nelson Kelley Briles.

If you're a Pittsburgher of a certain age, you know it was Nellie Briles who put the Pirates in position win the 1971 World Series with a Game 5 masterpiece against the Baltimore Orioles. It was Briles, who had to sit out his turn in the National League Championship Series because of injury, who pitched a two-hit shutout and set the stage for Steve Blass' classic in Game 7.

That might have been the most famous performance of Briles' career, but not his best.

On a pleasant late August night in 1972, when the Pirates seemed cruising toward another World Series appearance, Briles literally was inches away from an accomplishment that would have dwarfed his masterpiece of 10 months earlier.

The Pirates were playing the San Francisco Giants in a matchup of the NLCS participants from the previous year. But the Giants had stumbled that season and were 14 games under .500 and 21 1/2 games out of first place, which is why there were only 9,389 in the stands at Candlestick Park.

The Pirates were 30 games over .500 and had an 11 1/2-game lead in the National League East. Everyone knew they were going to the playoffs and most believed they would repeat as World Series champion. It was a team without a weakness. The batting order had Robert Clemente and Willie Stargell in the middle, flanked by the likes of Al Oliver, Manny Sanguillen, Dave Cash and Richie Hebner. The rotation was led by Blass and Dock Ellis. In the bullpen, closer Dave Giusti and left-hander Ramon Hernandez bordered on unhittable. The bench, with Vic Davalillo, Gene Clines, Rennie Stennett and Jose Pagan, was so good the team didn't falter when Clemente missed a long stretch because of an injury.

Briles was matched against Juan Marichal, a future Hall of Famer and one of the dominant pitchers in the game. Marichal gave up a leadoff single to Davalillo, who was quickly erased on Cash's double-play grounder. Clemente reached second on an error and Stargell followed with a run-scoring double. Marichal then picked Stargell off second base.

Briles had a run and he knew it might be all he'd get against the great Marichal. It was. But it made no difference.

The Giants went up and down in order through the first six innings. The tension was mounting at Candlestick. Not a hit, not a walk, not a baserunner. Everyone knew Briles was working on a perfect game.

In the seventh, Bobby Bonds and Chris Speier led off with infield outs. That brought up Ken Henderson, the quintessential journeyman. Henderson was a lifetime .257 hitters with seven teams. He ripped a shot toward right that was rising as it reached Stargell at first base. Willie jumped. The ball was catchable. But not this time. It hit off Stargell's glove and went to right field. The official scorer had no choice. Even though the ball was catchable, it clearly was a hit.

Briles never wavered. He retired Willie McCovey to end that inning and got the next six Giants.
Briles, as classy as a player as he was in later life as a Pirates executive, handed the postgame interviews like a pro. But afterward, as the Pirates boarded their bus for a trip to the airport and a flight to Los Angeles, he wondered aloud what the fame of a perfect game might have done for his budding entertainment career.

In the early 1970s, the salaries of baseball players weren't much more than the average man. Some of the younger players made about as much as a newspaper reporter. Briles had capitalized on his World Series fame to kick off a singing career. He was good. He made some television and nightclub appearances. The publicity that comes with a perfect game might have sent that career spiraling.

But it wasn't to be. His near masterpiece became a forgotten one-hitter. The Pirates famously lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the playoffs on a wild pitch and finished under .500 the next season. General manager Joe Brown believed moves had to be made and Briles was sent to Kansas City.

Briles bounced around baseball after that with four teams before retiring after the 1978 season with a 129-112 record.

Eventually, he made his way back to the Pirates' family, where he was vice president of corporate projects at the time of his death.

He was a wonderful asset for the franchise, a humble hero of rare class who was equally at ease with the common fan or the business tycoon.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the First Presbyterian Church in Greensburg. Viewing will be from 7-9 p.m. tomorrow and 2-7 p.m. Friday at the Kepple Graft Funeral Home in Greensburg.

Nellie Briles never got that perfect game, but he always remained baseball's perfect gentleman.

(Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com.)

Monday, February 14, 2005

Obituary: Nellie Briles

Obituary: Nelson Kelly 'Nellie' Briles / Former Pirates pitcher and front-office official
Monday, February 14, 2005
By Nate Guidry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nelson Kelley "Nellie" Briles, a former Pirates pitcher who hurled a brilliant two-hit shutout against the Baltimore Orioles in the fifth game of the 1971 World Series, died yesterday of an apparent heart attack.

Mr. Briles, who was 61, was playing golf in an annual Pirates alumni event in Orlando, Fla., when he passed out. Among the golfers playing behind Mr. Briles were Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski, who was visibly upset when Mr. Briles collapsed.

"Obviously it's a big loss to the Pirate family," Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy said. "Nellie was just a valuable part of our organization."

Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said he spoke to manager Lloyd McClendon, former manager Jim Leyland and many other people in the organization to let them know what had happened.

"Everybody had such good things to say about him," Littlefield said. "He was a class guy. A real Pirate through and through."

"I'm just stunned," said Steve Blass, broadcaster and Mr. Briles' former teammate. "It blindsided me. I was just with him at the Fantasy Camp [in Bradenton, Fla., Jan. 23-30]. He ran that camp as well as it can be run. I had no awareness of any heart problem history. He was tireless."

Mr. Briles, who worked in the Pirates organization for more than 24 years, most recently as vice president of corporate projects, grew up in Chico, Calif. At Chico High School, he lettered in football, basketball and baseball. During his senior year, he averaged 40.5 yards per punt and was named to the all-league football team.

After graduating, Mr. Briles attended Chico State College and Santa Clara University and in 1963, signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. He spent only one year in the minors.

In 1967, Mr. Briles led the league with a .737 win-loss percentage. He went 14-5 that season with a 2.43 ERA in 49 games.

In January 1971, Mr. Briles was obtained by the Pirates from St. Louis.

Mr. Briles was a valuable addition to the Pirates as a spot starter and reliever. He posted a 7-2 record in a starting capacity. He was inserted into the starting lineup in late August and won three of four decisions, including two shutouts.

A leg injury kept Mr. Briles idled during the championship series against the San Francisco Giants, but he bounced back in the fifth game of the World Series to pitch a two-hit shutout over the Orioles.

"As a teammate, he was terrific," said Blass. "We got him from the Cardinals [who won the World Series in 1967 and 1968], so he had been down road with championship teams. The postseason experience he brought to us was tremendous."

In 1973, Mr. Briles was traded to Kansas City and later to Texas and Baltimore.

After his retirement he returned to Pittsburgh and in 1979, served as a television broadcaster.

In May 1986, Mr. Briles joined the Pirates' front office as director of corporate sales. He also
directed the club's annual Fantasy Camp and was the founder and president of the Pirates Alumni Association and president of the Pirates Speaker's Bureau.

Sally O'Leary, editor of The Black and Gold, the Pirates alumni magazine, said she and Mr. Briles worked together closely over the years.

"We formed the newsletter in 1987, the year the Pirates turned 100 years old. He will be missed," she said.

Mr. Briles was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, Western Chapter, in 1992, and the Pennsylvania State Sports Hall of Fame in 1994.

"He wasn't a homegrown Pirate, but he became part of the Pirate fabric," said Blass. "He spoke everywhere. He was tireless with the alumni. He was an absolute plus to the organization and the city whenever he represented the Pittsburgh Pirates."

McClatchy said that Mr. Briles "was very dedicated to the organization and the Pirate family. He just loved working for the Pirates." He kept alumni involved, he said.

"Our alumni association is regarded [by other major league teams] as one of the best -- if not the best -- in baseball. But beyond that Nellie was a great guy. His loss will be felt by all of us."
His easygoing personality was mentioned over and over by those who knew him.

"He was a cheerful and as pleasant a man as I've ever know," said Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown. "He was the perfect ambassador for the club. The thing that most impressed me about him was how comfortable he was under any circumstance. He really was a pleasant, pleasant guy. It's really a shame. It's a terrible loss for the club."
Mr. Briles, of Greensburg, is survived by his wife, Ginger, a son, David, and three daughters, Christina, Kelley and Sarah.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete last night.

(Nate Guidry can be reached at nguidry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3865.)

Friday, February 11, 2005

Gerry Dulac: Steelers Feel at Home in Pro Bowl's Setting

It's old hat for coaching staff, many of 9 players
Friday, February 11, 2005
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When Jerome Bettis walks into the locker room that houses the AFC Pro Bowl team, he will be a long way from the South Side, both in distance and climate. But, even in Hawaii, where the temperature is 85 degrees and the palm trees sashay in warm ocean breezes, he will feel as if he's back in the 'burgh.

"It will be like walking into our locker room," Bettis said.

That's because Bettis is one of nine Steelers who will be part of the AFC team Sunday in the Pro Bowl in Honolulu --one shy of the club's 1979 record.

In addition, Bill Cowher and his staff will coach the AFC team, meaning there will be nearly 30 members of the Steelers, counting trainers and medical personnel, on the sideline.

"It should be easy to implement our game plan," said offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
The Steelers will have five players on offense, four on defense -- more than any other NFL team, including the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

Six players were voted to the team --guard Alan Faneca, center Jeff Hartings, wide receiver Hines Ward, safety Troy Polamalu and linebackers Joey Porter and James Farrior. Faneca and Ward are each making their fourth appearance in the Pro Bowl; Porter is making his second.

Three other players have been added --Bettis, offensive tackle Marvel Smith and defensive end Aaron Smith. Bettis, who is making his sixth Pro Bowl appearance, was named by the NFL three days ago to replace injured Patriots running back Corey Dillon as much for his career accomplishments as his performance during the 2004 season.

Marvel Smith and Aaron Smith were voted as alternates to the team. They made it to Hawaii because of injuries to Kansas City tackle Willie Roaf and New York Jets defensive end John Abraham.

The addition of Marvel Smith means the Steelers will have three offensive linemen in the Pro Bowl for the first time. They have had two offensive linemen in the game on two previous occasions -- in 1983 (tackle Larry Brown, center Mike Webster) and '93 (center Dermontti Dawson, guard Carlton Haselrig).

"We'll have the entire left side of our offensive line," Whisenhunt said. "How many teams can say that?"
The players have different feelings about the Pro Bowl than the coaches.

They would have been in Hawaii even if they had managed to beat the New England Patriots in the AFC championship at Heinz Field. Win or lose, they were going to bask in the tropical sun as one of the best players in the AFC.

"It would have been nice to be in Hawaii after winning the Super Bowl," said Farrior, who will start for the AFC along with Faneca.

Not the coaching staff. They're only in Hawaii, coaching the AFC team, because they lost to the Patriots, small consolation for a staff that is getting far too accustomed to reaping such spoils.
"I'm sure, at some point, it will be nice," coach Bill Cowher said, when asked if the Pro Bowl is becoming a drag.

This is the third time in the past eight years and fourth overall that Cowher and his assistant coaches have been, uh, punished and exiled to Hawaii. Some, like running backs coach Dick Hoak, are a little weary of the assignment.

"The flight's too long," said Hoak, the only assistant who has made every trip to Hawaii with Cowher. "I'd rather not go."

Nonetheless, the coaches enjoy working with the AFC's best players, even if some of them are their own. And it is not a grueling week of work.

There are two-hour practice sessions, beginning at 9 a.m, consisting mostly of getting the non-Steelers players accustomed to simple versions of the offense and defense.

Whisenhunt said he has installed 42 basic plays for the offense. Compare that to the 120 to 125 he has at his disposal for a regular-season or playoff game.

"The toughest thing is getting them to understand the terminology," Whisenhunt said. "They might run a similar play with their teams, but they might have different names for it."

NOTES -- Porter and Ward will compete in the Pro Bowl Skills Challenge that will be aired at 6 p.m. tomorrow on ESPN. Porter will compete in the strongest man competition, along with Buffalo linebacker Takeo Spikes, Dallas defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, Detroit defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and Philadelphia linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. Ward will compete in the best hands competition against eight other receivers, including Marvin Harrison of Indianapolis, Chad Johnson of Cincinnati and Muhsin Muhammad of Carolina.

Click here for more National Football League news and stats.

(Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1466.)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Gerry Dulac: Bettis Named to Pro Bowl Team

Will replace Patriots RB Dillon for AFC
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It was one thing to begin the season in a backup role and end as the team's leading rusher. It was another to agree to a nearly $2.7 million pay cut and end up posting seven 100-yard rushing games.

But, in a season of amazing circumstances, Jerome Bettis might have saved his greatest performance for last:

Getting named to the AFC Pro Bowl team.

The NFL will announce today that Bettis has been added to the all-star squad as a replacement for New England running back Corey Dillon, who had to withdraw from the Pro Bowl because of an injury received in the Patriots' 24-21 victory Sunday against Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXIX.

"Super cool," Bettis said last night. "It's gratifying because of the sacrifices you make for a team game, and to be recognized for that by your peers and the football community, it's very humbling."

Dillon was added to the team last week after Indianapolis' Edgerrin James pulled out because of a back injury that happened during the regular season.
Bettis will be making his sixth Pro Bowl appearance -- four with the Steelers, two with the Rams.
"Going to the Super Bowl last week and seeing all the players, your competitors, congratulate me on the season, that was impressive," Bettis said. "To play in the Pro Bowl, that's special."
The addition of Bettis, who was 12th in the AFC with 941 rushing yards, brings to nine the number of Steelers who will participate in the Pro Bowl game Sunday at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. It is the most players since the Steelers had 10 in the 1979 Pro Bowl.

In addition, Bill Cowher and his coaching staff will coach the AFC team, a consolation for losing the conference championship game to the Patriots. Jim Mora and the Atlanta Falcons staff will coach the NFC team.

"It will be really special because of what you had to endure to get here," Bettis said. "You were pretty much off the radar screen to start the season and to be off the radar screen and become a blip is pretty special."

Bettis, who has two years remaining on his contract, agreed to take a pay cut of nearly $2.7 million from $3,757,000 to remain with the Steelers this season in a reduced role.

But after Duce Staley's hamstring was injured in an Oct. 31 victory against the Patriots, Bettis stepped in and rushed for 100 or more yards in each of his next seven starts, including a playoff victory against the Jets. The only start in which he didn't rush for more than 100 yards was in the 41-27 AFC title game loss to the Patriots, when he had 64 yards on 17 carries.

"At the end of the day, that's what you have to look at, regardless of the situation you're in -- always be ready," Bettis said. "It can be a good teaching tool, as well, because you're able to tell young players you got to be ready, too, just look at that guy, No. 36.

"He didn't look like he would be asked to do much this season, but when the opportunity came he was ready for it."

The Steelers had six players voted to the team -- guard Alan Faneca, center Jeff Hartings, wide receiver Hines Ward, safety Troy Polamalu and linebackers James Farrior and Joey Porter. Faneca was the only player voted a starter, though Farrior will be a starter, too, because Baltimore's Ray Lewis will miss the game because of an injury.

Two more Steelers players were added to the AFC team because of injuries -- defensive end Aaron Smith and left tackle Marvel Smith. They replaced New York Jets defensive end John Abraham (knee) and Kansas City tackle Willie Roaf (ankle).

Bettis said he will fit right in with the rest of his teammates.

"It's not like I have to do much to get ready," he said. "I know the offense."

(Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1466.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Ron Cook: Care For the Game? Not These Guys

Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

You have to wonder if they even care.

Barry Bonds, the best ballplayer of our lifetime, who will forever be linked to the cream and the clear as much as to Ruth and Aaron.

Jason Giambi, who has admitted to using steroids.

Sammy Sosa, who has used a corked bat for sure and, if the whispers are true, steroids.

Gary Sheffield, whose name came up in the BALCO scandal.

And Jose Canseco, whose tell-all book doesn't just acclaim the wonders of steroids but outs just about everyone from his time in the game, from Mark McGwire to George W. Bush.

No, the president didn't use steroids.

But he tacitly condoned their use during the time he ran the Texas Rangers, Canseco writes.

Do you think any of them give a damn that they have stained the sport that was so good to all of them?

I don't, either.

Steroids in baseball are very much in the news again because of Canseco's book, which is due out this month. This is the saddest part of his little snitch:

He is a loser and a low-life with virtually no credibility, yet the rat's story he tells is thoroughly believable.

How sad is that?

How sad has baseball become?

We know too much now to dismiss Canseco's tale merely because he has been in one legal scrape after another, has done jail time and is so desperate for money and attention that he has been selling himself -- literally -- for years with his vain spend-the-day-with-Jose events ...


You thought Bonds and Alex Rodriguez invented the $7,500 handshake-and-10-minute-chat?
According to the New York Daily News, Canseco writes in his book that he injected McGwire in the backside with steroids in a clubhouse bathroom stall and watched McGwire and Giambi inject each other when they all played for the Oakland Athletics. What is so hard to believe about that? After Giambi has admitted to steroid use later in his career? Especially after the BALCO scandal, which has disgraced Bonds and will leave a figurative asterisk next to his records for eternity?

McGwire, of course, denies using steroids. His character witnesses already are lining up to say how reprehensible they think it is that Canseco is trying to bring him down for a monetary gain. Tony La Russa, their former manager with the Athletics, is among them, telling the New York Times, "I am absolutely certain that Mark earned his size and strength from hard work and a disciplined lifestyle."

Is it just me or do you believe that about as much as you did Bonds when he said he didn't know the cream and clear substances he used were steroids?

Canseco also writes he introduced teammates Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez to the miracle of steroids after he was traded to the Rangers in 1992 and that Bush had to have known about it. Bush began to condemn steroid use a few years ago, about the time doing so became politically expedient. He went so far as to pick the preposterous time of his 2004 State of the Union address to rail against it. But is it really so hard to believe that he looked the other way when his players were using? Is it so hard to believe that all of the owners looked the other way when they saw how home runs were selling? Did it really matter to them what McGwire, Sosa, Bonds and the others were doing, as long as they kept hitting those long flies and the fans kept coming to the parks?

But back to the original question:

Do you think this generation of players and owners regrets smearing the game almost beyond recognition and leaving us in a very bad place, trying to guess what is real and what is the result of modern chemistry?

That really is a stupid question.

Canseco writes as much. He says he never would have hit 462 home runs or been the 1988 American League MVP without the help of steroids. He leaves little doubt that he would do it all again.

Life was good for Canseco and McGwire when they were known as the "Bash Brothers" on the Athletics. They were young, strong, wealthy and famous. (For those with prurient interests, Canseco writes about how easy it was to satisfy his sexual hunger in those days, although you might be surprised and disappointed to learn that he says he never slept with Madonna). It's no wonder Canseco would laugh when warned about the potential long-term health risks of steroids.

"He'd say, 'Come on, man, what are you talking about? I got the world by the tail,' " La Russa told the Times.

Maybe that's the real problem here.

Too many people in baseball have the world by the tail. The money is outrageous. The fame. The adulation ...

The players and owners got theirs.

They wouldn't re-write history even if they had the chance.

The hell with the game.

(Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1525.)

Saturday, February 05, 2005

AP: Cowher, Roethlisberger Honored by Sporting News

Posted on Wed, Feb. 02, 2005

Manning, Cowher, Roethlisberger honored by Sporting News
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS - Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw a record 49 touchdown passes this season, has been named NFL player of the year for the second straight season by the Sporting News.

The St. Louis-based publication also Tuesday named Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher coach of the year and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger rookie of the year.

Details will be released in the Feb. 11 issues, on newsstands Thursday.

Manning, 28, broke Dan Marino's single-season touchdown pass record, long considered one of the NFL's most cherished records. His passer rating of 121.1 also broke a record held by San Francisco's Steve Young.

"Peyton Manning turned in the most remarkable season we have ever seen in the history of the NFL," Sporting News editor John Rawlings said.

Cowher, 47, led the Steelers to a 15-1 regular-season record and an appearance in the AFC championship game, where they lost to New England.

Roethlisberger, 23, was 14-0 as a starter during the regular season and had a passer rating of 98.1.

NFL pro scouting directors voted on player and rookie of the year; league coaches selected the coach of the year.

The scouting directors also selected the Sporting News all-pro team:

OFFENSE: Wide receivers Terrell Owens of Philadelphia and Marvin Harrison of Indianapolis; tight end Antonio Gates of San Diego; tackles Walter Jones of Seattle and Orlando Pace of St. Louis; center Jeff Hartings of Pittsburgh; guards Alan Faneca of Pittsburgh and Brian Walters of Kansas City; quarterback Manning; and running backs Edgerrin James of Indianapolis and Curtis Martin of the New York Jets.

DEFENSE: Ends Dwight Freeney of Indianapolis and Julius Peppers of Carolina; tackles Richard Seymour of New England and Kevin Williams of Minnesota; linebackers James Farrior of Pittsburgh, Ray Lewis of Baltimore and Takeo Spikes of Buffalo; cornerbacks Champ Bailey of Denver and Chris McAlister of Baltimore; and safeties Brian Dawkins of Philadelphia and Ed Reed of Baltimore.

SPECIALISTS: Kicker Adam Vinatieri of New England; kick returner Terrence McGee of Buffalo; punter Shane Lechler of Oakland; and punt returner Eddie Drummond of Detroit.

Joe Starkey: NHL Players Better Wake Up

By Joe Starkey
Saturday, February 5, 2005

The argument against the NHL players can be fairly characterized in one sentence:
Chris Pronger makes $10 million.

OK, Pronger actually receives $10,000 per month in union-generated lockout pay. The point is that the St. Louis Blues -- essentially at gunpoint -- signed Pronger to a one-year, $10 million contract last July.

Yeah, right around the time the players were insisting that the market was "correcting itself."

More accurately, around the time union boss Bob Goodenow was telling the players to insist that the market was correcting itself.

See, the players don't think for themselves. If they did, they would vote on the NHL's latest proposal or maybe work to improve their lot within the limits of that proposal, which featured, among other things, a minimum $32 million payroll per team.

The Columbus Blue Jackets had a $32 million payroll last season, and nobody had to subsist on Ramen Noodles.

In fact, more than half of Columbus' opening-day roster (12 players) made at least $1 million. Three made at least $3 million and six "earned" $2 million-plus (including defenseman Luke Richardson, who was minus-11 with six points in 64 games)

Not a single player was ticketed for less than $425,000, not even Chris Pronger's brother, Sean, who was coming off a season in which he had 13 points and a minus-26 rating in 78 games.

Need proof that players don't have a real say in their plight?

Check this out:
A few days after the union announced a surprising proposal that called for a 24-percent rollback on existing contracts, Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said, "A lot of us learned about it through the media."

Hmmm. Do you think Goodenow and his executive committee -- composed of hilariously overpaid players such as Bill Guerin (2003-04 salary: $8.7 million; times he's reached 70 points: once) -- might have had the courtesy to clear a 24-percent pay cut with their constituents?

Meantime, go stand at any bus stop in America and ask 10 people to identify Chris Pronger. If more than one can do it, you've got a scoop.

Pronger is a very good player, but nobody in this league should be making $10 million, even if some misguided owner offers as much.

One other thing about that $32 million minimum payroll -- it implies significant revenue sharing among owners. How else would low-revenue teams such as the Penguins be expected survive while radically increasing their payrolls to meet minimum standards?

The owners must have a fairly extensive revenue-sharing plan. They better.

Goodenow keeps telling everyone that the players merely want to continue to work in a free-market system. Truth is, there never was a free-market system.

Not when so many players were guaranteed a 10-percent raise regardless of their production. Not when players could go to arbitration and win inflated contracts based on their peers' salaries (instead of what owners would have chosen to pay). Not when there was a minimum salary.

As for Pronger, the Blues had to offer him the same $9.5 million salary he made last season if they wanted to retain his rights. They did so (imagine the outcry if they hadn't) and threw in a $500,000 signing bonus.

"Owners have the ability to determine player values," Goodenow has said, "and to decide what they're going to compensate the players for."

Fair enough. And unless I'm missing something, the owners determined a few months back that every player's value is $0 (just like the league's network television contract) and decided that none would be compensated until a fiscally sane CBA emerged.

Hey, maybe this is a free-market system after all.

Joe Starkey is a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at jstarkey@tribweb.com

Ed Bouchette: Marino a Lock for Hall, Greenwood, Grimm Hopeful

[L. C. Greenwood did not get elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year...a result that is absolutely ridiculous...and while I'm at it, Andy Russell, Jack Butler, and Donnie Shell should also be voted in. The only thing more maddening than the Baseball Hall of Fame selection process is that of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. - jtf]

Marino a lock for Hall of Fame; Greenwood, Grimm hopeful
Saturday, February 05, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nominees for Pro Football Hall of Fame 2005

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Dan Marino, the Oakland kid the Steelers let get away, will finally celebrate victory at a Super Bowl. It will come a day early and a career late, but Marino will find glory on the big game's big weekend when he's elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame today.

It's not guaranteed because the 39 board of selectors must vote him in this morning, but that's such a foregone conclusion that it quickly brings about the next issue: Just how big a Pittsburgh flavor will today's new Hall of Fame class have?

Also among the 15 finalists for election are defensive end L.C. Greenwood and guard Russ Grimm. Greenwood played 13 seasons on the Steelers' defense that helped forge four Super Bowl victories. Grimm, a Scottdale, Pa., native, played at Southmoreland High School and at Pitt. He earned three Super Bowl rings as a dominant guard with the Washington Redskins from 1981 through 1991. Grimm is the Steelers' line coach and assistant head coach.

Marino, in his first year of eligibility, is the only candidate considered to be a sure thing today. Although he played in just one Super Bowl and never won, he rewrote the NFL record book for passing by the time he retired after the 1999 season, his 17th, all with the Miami Dolphins.

Among Marino's 17 NFL records are his 61,343 yards and his 420 touchdowns, and he was a bargain for the Dolphins at that. They drafted him with the 27th pick in 1983, after the Steelers infamously bypassed him and were cursed with instability at the quarterback position for a generation.

"It's humbling to even think about the opportunity to get into the Hall of Fame," Marino said. "... It's funny; I haven't thought about it a whole lot. It's this thing that's there and people talk about it, but before it actually happens it's hard to accept that fact if it does."

It's possible Marino, who played at Central Catholic High School, will have some Pittsburgh company today. Grimm, his former Panthers teammate, is among the 15 finalists for the first time and one of only two offensive linemen on the list. No member of the Redskins' famed Hogs offensive line is in the Hall of Fame.

Greenwood makes a return to the list of finalists after falling off the past few years. He has one more year of eligibility under the modern era list of candidates before he would be relegated under different and more difficult circumstances governing senior candidates.

Those who played with and against Greenwood believe it has been an oversight that he has not joined them in Canton.

"I'm saying a prayer for him," said tackle Bob Brown, inducted last year. He was "as good as I've seen -- one of the best."

"L.C. was a guy you didn't want to play against," said Dan Dierdorf, another tackle who had to fend off Greenwood.

Coach Bum Phillips' Houston Oilers played against the Steelers twice annually in the Central Division and also lost to them in consecutive AFC championship games in 1978 and '79.
"As good as we faced," Phillips said of Greenwood. "In the same class as Joe Greene. He was one of the best players on the best football team ever put on the field."

Greenwood stood 6 feet 6 1/2 and weighed 250 pounds. He played on the left side of the Steel Curtain defense, outside Greene at tackle and in front of linebacker Jack Ham, both in the Hall of Fame. Some believe that has hurt Greenwood's candidacy -- who wouldn't benefit playing next to those two?

But Greene and Ham long have said they were the ones who benefited by playing with Greenwood, who was as quick as a point guard and as big as a power forward.
"He made me and Joe Greene much better," Ham said.

His exceptional speed and quickness, combined with his height proved to be an overpowering combination. Running backs found it difficult to turn the corner on him and quarterbacks often had their passes slapped back in their faces. During Super Bowl IX, the Steelers' first, Greenwood knocked down three Fran Tarkenton passes.

"As athletic a defensive end as there was in the league," former Cleveland Browns coach Sam Rutigliano said. "He dominated everybody."

The competition for Grimm and Greenwood today will be stiff. A minimum of three and a maximum of six candidates will be chosen from the 15. Two other defensive ends are on the list, Richard Dent and Claude Humphrey, along with linebackers Derrick Thomas and Harry Carson. Guard Bob Kuechenberg previously reached the final six candidates before coming up short of enough votes to make it.

Joining Marino and Thomas as other first-time candidates are Steve Young and Michael Irvin.

(Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3878.)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Another Look: Robin Cole

Another Look - Robin Cole: Talented linebacker of the 1970s and '80s overshadowed by Hall-of-Fame teammates

Bob Barrickman, Beaver County Times Sports Correspondent

Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers featured a couple of legendary linebackers in Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, they were left a void when another famous linebacker retired following the 1976 season. "That's why I was a first-round (NFL draft) pick," said Robin Cole. "(The Steelers) were looking for someone to replace (Andy) Russell."

Cole was the first outside linebacker chosen in the 1977 draft as the Steelers selected him out of the University of New Mexico with their initial pick. A first-team All-American as a senior at New Mexico, Cole went on to play 11 seasons with the Steelers from 1977-87 and played his final year in 1988 with the New York Jets.Now a motivational and inspirational speaker, Cole and his wife, Linda, make their home in Eighty-Four, Pa., near Washington.

"I speak at schools and corporations," said Cole, 49, who has sons, Robin Jr., 26 and Jeremy, 23, and daughters, Lacie, 16, and Logan, 14. Robin Jr. played football at Robert Morris University, where his father was an assistant football coach."

I (also) work in the fitness business," said Robin Cole Sr. "I design fitness centers for schools and some health clubs."Cole's career with the Steelers got off to a rocky start in his rookie season."I broke my arm in the first game and missed the next eight games," he recalled. Cole returned and started the remaining games of the regular season and against Denver in a first-round playoff loss.

In Cole's second year, the Steelers reached Super Bowl XIII. Though Cole started most of that season, the Steelers decided to start veteran linebacker Loren Toews against the Dallas Cowboys."After a (few) series, I came in and played the rest of the game," remembered Cole, as the Steelers won, 35-31.

Coming into his own in 1979, Cole helped lead the Steelers to Super Bowl XIV. A native of Compton, Calif., near Los Angeles, Cole was excited for the Steelers to be going up against his hometown Los Angeles Rams. What added to Cole's excitement was that the Super Bowl was to be played in Pasadena, Calif.

"It was huge," said Cole of returning to his roots to play in the biggest game of the year. "I consider it my most memorable game."

It wasn't just "memorable" because of the opponent and the game's location. Cole's performance spoke volumes in the Steelers' 31-19 victory.

"I was told that I was the MVP going into the fourth quarter," Cole said. "I wound up second to (Steelers quarterback) Terry (Bradshaw). For a linebacker to be MVP, you have to play (well) the whole game. A defensive back can return a couple interceptions for touchdowns or a quarterback can throw a couple of bombs."

Cole didn't hesitate when he reflected on why the Steelers built a dynasty in the 1970s. "It started from the top with (coach) Chuck Noll," he said. "He knew how to build a team and he built it with men of character. A man with character is going to work hard. It's very easy to train and teach a willing person to get better."

It was difficult for Cole to receive his due recognition having played alongside Ham and Lambert. "I didn't get enough publicity," Cole admitted. "How could I when you have two Hall of Famers? There was no room for me. When they left, I started receiving accolades."

Cole was named to the Pro Bowl in 1984 when the Steelers reached the AFC championship game and was an alternate in 1985 and 1986. He left the Steelers a year later before wrapping up his career with the Jets.

"Our presence was phenomenal," Cole said about how the Steelers of the '70s were perceived by opposing fans and players. Nine players from those clubs are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and a 10th could be added if former Steelers defensive lineman L.C. Greenwood is named to the next class this weekend.

"I don't know why Russell keeps getting skipped over for the Hall of Fame, and Donnie Shell should be in," Cole said.

He said that in today's era of free agency and the salary cap, it would be very hard for a team to put together such a collection of talent like the Steelers did over two decades ago. "They'd all leave because of dollars," Cole said.

Cole said he never predicts Super Bowls but did analyze Sunday's game between New England and Philadelphia."These are the two best teams in the National Football League," Cole noted.
"New England is like us. When they take the field, they're saying, 'We're going to beat you.'"People say that it's hard to stay on top. But, you fight harder when you're at the top. You don't want it taken away from you."Cole said similar things 25 years ago when he collected two Super Bowl rings.

©Beaver County Times Allegheny Times 2005