Sunday, July 31, 2005

Joe Bendel: Bettis, Staley Poised to Finally Reach Big Game

By Joe Bendel
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, July 31, 2005

Between them, they've covered 10.7 miles running the football. That translates into 18,910 yards, 56,730 feet or about the distance between Pittsburgh and Monroeville.

Their bodies have been poked, pushed and punished, and their injury reports are Evel Knievel-esque.

Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley - the Steelers' 30-something running backs - have experienced pretty much everything on a football field, with one significant exception:
Playing in a Super Bowl.

"It's what every player strives for," said Bettis, who begins his 13th NFL training camp today at St. Vincent College, near Latrobe. "Who wouldn't want to win it all?"

"Getting to the big game and winning is always the goal," said Staley, a nine-year vet. "You only get so many chances to get there."

And therein lies the rub for these Steelers backs, particularly the 33-year-old Bettis, who contemplated retirement after carrying the Steelers to the AFC Championship game last season. He's already been on the cusp of three Super trips -- last year, 1997 and 2001 -- but watched each opportunity slip away in the AFC finale.

"Close," Bettis said. "But close doesn't count."

Staley has experienced even more near-misses than his backfield mate, as he's played in four conference title games (three with the Philadelphia Eagles and last year with the Steelers) but failed to make it to the NFL's biggest stage on each occasion.

In all, that's seven shots at the Super Bowl between the two runners -- with zero results.
It makes a person wonder if these men are doomed for the runner-up spot, for the bronze and silver medals but never the gold. Have the football gods decided to put Bettis and Staley in the "Never Been to the Big Game" category with players such as O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders and Earl Campbell?

Time will tell if that is the case, but this much is certain: The window gets closer to shutting each year.

"You only get a little bit of time to play this game, really," Bettis said. "You have to make the most of your opportunities."

Barring a change of heart, this is likely the final season for the burly Bettis, his last chance to join the pantheon of great ball carriers who've won Super Bowls, players such as Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Franco Harris and John Riggins.

It also would represent a crowning achievement -- in his hometown of Detroit (site of Super Bowl XL), no less -- for a man who ranks fifth on the all-time rushing list, has been to six Pro Bowls and is as gregarious and accommodating as any athlete of this generation.

"I'd be foolish to say that playing in the Super Bowl didn't factor into my decision of coming back," Bettis said. "It would be a great ending to a magical ride, so to speak. To think, a chubby kid from Detroit would get to start his career and finish his career in Detroit, it would be a storybook ending. It was always in the back of my mind ... then it worked it's way to the front."
Ditto for many of Bettis' teammates.

"Jerome ...," said wideout Hines Ward, who could be a no-show for the start of camp unless a contract extension is in place. "He deserves a championship. He's one of a kind. You want to win with him, for him. He means so much to this organization."

"It would be great to get this thing done for him," wideout Antwaan Randle El said. "He's done enough for us, that's for sure."

"It'd be a nice touch," said Staley.

Maybe Bettis will be the lightning rod for the Steelers this season. Perhaps the combination of his desire to win and his teammates' desire to get him there will carry the franchise to its first Super Bowl appearance in a decade. Bettis hopes the scenario plays out that way, but he also believes that the team's most direct route to Detroit will run through Staley, not him.
"Duce is the guy, no question about it," Bettis said.

Clearly, Bettis is willing to put his ego aside for the good of the organization. He is content being the team's second option, a role he held in '04 before Staley went down with a hamstring injury. But he'll prepare as if he's expected to run the ball 300 times.

"You have to," he said.

He employed the same approach last season, during which he served as a goal-line back early and assumed the starting role in Week 8. He promptly ran for 100-plus yards in four consecutive games and finished with six 100-yard efforts on the season. He finished with 941 yards (just missing his ninth 1,000-yard season) and 13 touchdowns in leading the Steelers to an NFL-best 15-1 record.

Staley, meantime, carried much of the load in the season's first half, rushing for 707 yards in his first seven games. He finished with 830 on 192 carries, as he and Bettis produced a combined 1,771 yards in helping the Steelers rank second in the NFL in rushing.

Staley expects to play a larger role in the offense this season, provided he maintains his health. Also, young backs Verron Haynes (272 yards, 4.9 average) and Willie Parker (186 yards, 5.8 average) could become more involved in the running game, possibly taking carries from Bettis.
All of which might force Bettis to the bench more than any other time in his career, but he doesn't seem to mind.

"As long as we're winning games, I'm going to be a happy man," he said.

Joe Bendel can be reached at joecbendel@aol.com or (412) 320-7811.

Back to headlines

Today's Most-Read Articles
1. Wait for Ward may begin today
2. Five questions facing Steelers heading into camp
3. Bettis, Staley poised to finally reach big game
4. Analysis: It all begins again for Steelers
5. Notebook: Trade deadline quiet for Bucs, Littlefield

Chuck Finder: The Evolution of The Next One


How Sidney Crosby developed into hockey's latest wunderkind
Sunday, July 31, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

OTTAWA -- Don't judge the Penguins' latest savior by his hotel room. What a mess. Not because of a lack of neatness, either. It's just that Sidney Crosby, heralded across Canada as the The Next Great One after The Great Wayne Gretzky bestowed the comparison, got into an argument with the best friend who happens to be the next-best prospect in yesterday's NHL draft.

So he and Jack Johnson settled their Thursday night argument in a logical, teen-aged manner.
They wrestled for it.

Despite the fact Johnson stands 2 inches taller and 10 pounds heavier. You could imagine the gasp such a free-for-all would have induced from Penguins management, had they known it involved their No. 1 overall draft pick yesterday and their hope for years of tomorrows.
"The room's kind of a shambles right now," Johnson said the next afternoon. "That's Sid. He's competitive about anything."

Crosby has carried a nation's hockey expectations for almost four years. But the challenge was there that day, and he refuses to pass up one of those.

Tomorrows? He cannot think of that, with the morning workout, the weight-lifting, the daily regimen that often includes an early lights-out. Sidney Crosby reached this pinnacle, this exalted place where he was seemingly canonized at this draft in Canada's spectacular capital city, because of grasping each day for its sweat, toil, focus, ice time. No. 87, a number derived from his upcoming 18th birth date of 8/7/87, is hockey 24/7. Except for when he's goofing off like the teen-ager that he is, somewhere deep down in his 5-foot-11, 193-pound frame.

"The main thing with me is, try not to look too far down the road," Crosby said at his third news conference of the day Friday, a day when he was paraded before nearly 2,000 fans pushing closer for his autograph ("it's like the Beatles," said his agent, Pat Brisson). "Worry about the present. The future will take care of itself."

This must be how a kid takes to hockey with such panache that he's giving his first media interview at age 7, to The Daily News in nearby Halifax, Nova Scotia.

This must be how a kid raises such a Canadian commotion that he is signed by Brisson and the famed International Management Group at 15, scolded at 16 on national television for hot-dogging, and crowned both the youngest winner of the country's junior-hockey scoring title and the youngest goal-scorer in Team Canada history in the World Juniors -- over previous team 16-year-olds named Eric Lindros and Gretzky.

This must be how a kid signs lucrative Reebok and Gatorade deals at 17, becomes not only the subject of two books but a key marketing prong in the NHL's relaunch before he even makes his pro debut, and infuses a Penguins franchise with rocketing ticket sales, immediate playoff-contention plans and one tremendous asset for a foundation of hope that concrete might soon be poured for a new Downtown arena.

Cole Harbour is a fishing village a 10-minute drive -- or ferry ride -- east of the Nova Scotia twin cities of Dartmouth and the capital Halifax. It's a vast region, numbering only 350,000 souls, who on Atlantic time are an hour ahead of us, but in no hurry.

"Fishermen, working people -- there's not too many factories there," described Penguins scout Gilles Meloche. "And they take life easy."

Troy Crosby, a former Quebec Major Junior Hockey League goalie torched by one Mario Lemieux a generation ago, and his wife Trina had this little boy. When Sidney first grabbed a stick at age 2, it was as if his DNA was perfectly assigned: He immediately went into a perfect shooter's grip. When he took to skating, he whizzed across the ice. It wasn't merely his father's genes, either. His mother came from a hockey family, with brothers Harry and more so Robbie Forbes -- a 1981-82 Laval Voisins teammate of Lemieux -- known across Nova Scotia for their ability to make the puck dance.

"I don't know if he's genetically predisposed for hockey, but he's at least genetically predisposed to be a great athlete," Robbie Forbes told The Halifax Herald this week. Crosby has been universally proclaimed the draft's greatest prospect since Lemieux in 1984. Of that connection, Forbes added: "It's a little bit ironic, for sure. Even at that age you knew he was destined to be something spectacular, and Sidney brings out those same types of emotions. You just know there's something special."

Perhaps that explains why Troy Crosby built a roller-blade rink in the family basement, and the kid pounded pucks off the washer and dryer all night long. Amazingly, the dryer still works.
Nova Scotia caught on early to the Crosby phenom. "When he first stepped on the ice as a Timbits Novice, I thought he might have registered in the wrong group because of his ability to skate. Even at age 5. Tremendous skater. Hands above the other guys," recalled Paul Gallagher, twice Crosby's coach and now a scout for the St. Louis Blues.

Canada came to embrace him at age 14, in 2002, on a team called the Dartmouth Subways. Crosby played on a Major Midget club of 16- and 17-year-olds, and "he tore things up, basically," said Subways Coach Brad Crossley. At 13, Crosby made the prestigious Maritimes team but wasn't allowed to play by the local governing body, which maintained he was too young. A year later, still two and three years younger than the rest, he rang up 106 goals. And 217 points. And a plus-103 rating.

"We all knew what he could do here," said Crossley, whose team went 61-17-5 that splendid season. "But when he showed what he could do at the national level, it was really his coming-out party."

Too young at 15 to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Crosby found a hockey outlet south of the border. Minnesota's Shattuck-St. Mary's parochial school was playing in the same Calgary tournament as Crosby's Dartmouth team, and Shattuck Coach Tom Ward admittedly tried to make the rink rounds so he would bump into Troy Crosby. Never happened. Yet when Ward returned to the Faribault, Minn., school, he found in his e-mail a message from the Crosby's father inquiring about attending.

"I think he enjoyed his time away from the limelight in Canada, where he was the next great whoever," the straight-talking Ward said. "No one gave a spit who he was walking down the halls here. He's not just a big, dumb jock, either. He's worldly for being a young boy. He's got his wits about him."

Living in a dormitory room with Calgary native Ryan Duncan, a junior one year ahead of him, and playing on an esteemed prep team with players a couple of years older, Crosby tried to keep a low profile -- as low as a shooting star can. He scored 72 goals and 162 points in 57 Shattuck games on a team that won the scholastic national championship.

"You could tell back then, not the way he played, but the way he handled himself off the ice that he would be the No. 1 pick," said Jack Johnson, the fellow Shattuck sophomore that season and best friend who spent last week in Cole Harbour with the Crosbys.

"He was real serious about things, focused."

"I think that's what makes Sidney Crosby the way he is," said Duncan the old roommate. "The way he prepares himself off the ice, his focus, sacrifices he makes. He'll go to bed early and miss going out and chasing after girls like most 15-year-olds."

The next season, Crosby was the opening pick by the woebegone Rimouski Oceanic and the darling of Sher-Wood, the stick company that signed him to a five-year deal before he played a junior game. Soon enough, this teen was filling the net with goals, QMJHL barns with fans and the national media with breathy descriptions. "Sidney is the greatest thing to happen to junior hockey since Mario," said Marc Lachapelle, who chronicled both for the Journal de Montreal.

He was profiled in Sports Illustrated. He was chastised on national television by Don Cherry -- Canada's hockey cross between the late Howard Cosell and Rush Limbaugh -- for being a hot dog after a game in which he picked up the puck on the blade of his stick and wrapped it around the right post for a lacrosse-style goal. Too young to vote, he was named one of the 100 people of power and influence by The Hockey News. He scored 135 points in 59 games in 2003-04 and added -- ahem, Penguins watchers -- 66 goals and 168 points in 62 games this season.

Last January, after he steered his country to its first gold medal in the World Junior Championships since 1997, all of Canada seemed to be searching for his stolen, red Team Canada sweater (it was finally found in a west-Montreal mailbox). Meanwhile, his white sweater was fetching $22,100 for charity on eBay.

Everywhere, there are comparisons and contrasts.

Marcel Dionne, Pat LaFontaine, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic and Paul Kariya are but a few of the lesser names invoked; the first two are Hall of Famers, the rest appear well on their way.

Gretzky once proclaimed Crosby the best player he'd seen since Mario Lemieux, then predicted Crosby could break The Great One's NHL scoring records. Crosby was 15 then.

"He's more of a [Peter] Forsberg-type, the way he plays; he's very physical in the corners," said Lemieux, who worked out alongside Crosby with a trainer in Venice, Calif., and played pickup games when that workout gang hit the ice. Added the Penguins' part-owner/player, "Very strong on his skates. Anticipates the play very well. A great passion. He's just ... a great player."
When the NHL performed its draft lottery July 22, the Penguins had a 6.25 percent chance of getting the top pick.

When Commissioner Gary Bettman got to the envelopes of the final five teams, Penguins Vice President Tom McMillan inhaled audibly before a roomful of media watching on satellite television at Mellon Arena: "I gotta sit down for this." Five, four ... McMillan couldn't sit still. Three. Then the final two: either the Mighty Ducks or the Penguins would pick No. 1.
And the envelope read: Penguins. "Quite a day for us," Lemieux fairly gushed.

Yet as much as folks marvel at Crosby's sturdy legs, his speed and vision, his uncanny ice sense, they adore the makeup, the drive, the inner workings of this teen seven days shy of his 18th birthday.

"For him to be where he is today, he's faced a lot of pressure," said Don Waddell, the Atlanta Thrashers general manager and executive vice president. "Forget about him as a player, he's an outstanding person, too."

"There won't be much of a transition period," said Stan Butler, a commentator and coach who worked with Crosby at IMG camps, where he would have to shoo the star pupil off, the last to leave the ice. "He's too bright. Sid'll figure it out in the NHL pretty quick."

"He handles himself like he's 25 years old already. It won't be a culture shock for him" in the NHL, said Gilles Meloche, the Penguins' Quebec league scout and a longtime pro goaltender who played with Lemieux and against Gretzky. "He's going to get his share of points, but you can't expect miracles the first year or two."

Oh, maybe not just the first year or two.

(Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724.)

More National Hockey League news

No. 1 Pick Crosby May Live With Lemieux Family First Season

Sunday, July 31, 2005
By Chuck Finder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

OTTAWA -- The Penguins yesterday landed not only a potential next franchise savior, a hot-ticket commodity and a playmaking center for Mario Lemieux's line, but they also might have found a new babysitter for the Lemieux family.

Canadian teen icon Sidney Crosby quite possibly could be moving in with Mario, Nathalie and their four children.

"If it's there, I'll gladly take the offer," Crosby, 17, said moments after slipping on a No. 87 Penguins jersey and Penguins cap handed him by the part-owner/player with whom he has shared a friendship and a Southern California trainer for the past 18 months.

Sharing the same roof? He and Lemieux discussed the possibility over a Penguins/Crosby camp dinner at a restaurant Friday night, just hours before the sterile 2005 NHL Entry Draft was held in the Westin Hotel's Confederation Ballroom, in front of only team personnel, league types and the media. Lemieux left the decision to Crosby, who sounded keen on the idea -- embraced by his parents, Troy and Trina of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia -- that he billet with an experienced player. There may be no one more suited than a former potential franchise savior, hot-ticket commodity and playmaking center who was a No. 1 draft pick after a nationally monitored career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Yes, the Big Guy has traveled the same path as the 5-foot-11, 193-pound Crosby.

"Obviously, I'm young," added the humble Crosby, star of the QMJHL's Rimouski Oceanic, Team Canada's 2005 World Junior Championships winner and Reebok hockey merchandise coming soon to an outlet near you. "I'm going to be a rookie. Hopefully, if I get to play in Pittsburgh next year" -- as if his ability remains a question -- "I'll get the opportunity to learn from one of the best ... and try to be a sponge.

"I'm going to learn as much as I can on the ice, but off the ice there couldn't be anyone better [than Lemieux]."

So how will Lemieux handle those babysitting fees?

"Put that in the contract," he said.

There was one small piece of irony yesterday: The 1984 first-overall pick escorted Crosby to a Penguins draft table where Lemieux refused to report a generation ago, all due to his agents' ire over slogging, predraft contract talks with the club.

Signing Crosby could be something of an adventure, if only for the fact that such negotiations often are slow and bumpy. Penguins general manager Craig Patrick had protracted talks with the agents representing Marc-Andre Fleury, the first pick in the 2003 draft and, coincidentally, a teen-ager who bunked with the Lemieux family for one week before Fleury's representatives pulled him from there and Penguins training camp in a bid to budge stalled talks. He signed soon after, but never returned to the Lemieux's Sewickley abode as a resident.

This live-in arrangement worked well for Lemieux 21 years ago, when he lived with the Mathews family of Mt. Lebanon. Such an indoctrination seems in order for the Next Mario from the Quebec League, especially one whom Lemieux so enjoys that he once gave the kid a sunrise-hour ride to the Los Angeles airport after time together with Venice, Calif., trainer T.R. Goodman.

"I want to make this adjustment as [smooth] as possible," Crosby said. "I know it'll take a little time to feel comfortable with the size and speed of the game."

Adjusting to Pittsburghese might take a while longer, although this kid became fluently bilingual by learning French his first year in the Quebec League. He won't come to Pittsburgh for a fortnight, minimum, because the young man is going west. First, he wants to spend a week training in suburban Los Angeles and then report to Team Canada's Vancouver/Whistler, B.C., camp for World Junior Championship prospects Aug. 10-15 -- though it's doubtful his new boss/landlord/linemate would allow him to play in that tournament next winter.

Crosby is a two-time scoring champion over all of Canada's major-junior hockey leagues -- Quebec, Ontario and Western -- and the undisputed young king of the country's native sport.
The coronation was completed this weekend in the nation's capital. He was whisked from one photo op to the next, packed the new Ottawa Senators practice rink for a simple youth clinic. His drafting yesterday launched three-plus hours of news conferences, satellite-TV interviews and photo sessions.

"It's busy," Crosby said after it all. This from a fellow who gave his first media interview at age 7, a fellow who attracts Canadian cameras and microphones as if he's super-magnetized. "I've been involved with the World Juniors and the Memorial Cup. The NHL is definitely busy."

Friday, a day before he officially became a Penguin, Crosby signs autographs at one of the many public events surrounding the draft this weekend in Ottawa.Click photo for larger image.
Three hours after his selection, the Penguins got to the anticlimactic business of making six far less consequential picks, some of whom are bound never to see their ice. In the second round, they drafted left winger Michael Gergen of the same Shattuck-St. Mary's High that Crosby once attended. Then, they plucked rising defenseman Kristopher Letang from Val d'Or in the third round, Finnish defenseman Tommi Leinonen in the fourth, blossoming right winger Tim Crowder of South Surrey, B.C., in the fifth, eye-of-the-beholder defenseman Jean-Philippe Paquet of Shawinigan in the sixth and St. Louis-born forward Joe Vitale in the seventh.

One pick not on the board yesterday, yet vital to the upcoming season for Penguins and Crosby and the Youth Movement, was 2004 second-overall selection Evgeni Malkin. He and his family back in Russia continue to mull over the possibility of him coming to America and joining the Penguins, something club officials seek next.

No word yet if the Lemieuxs have enough room for two boarders.

(Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724.)

Friday, July 29, 2005

Bob Smizik: Steelers, Ward Need Each Other

Friday, July 29, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers are a football team but, as Hines Ward is learning, they play hardball, too.
There might not be a more formidable team in professional sports negotiations than the Steelers.
That doesn't mean they're cheap. They're not. They spend as much as most teams, more than some. But unlike so many teams that will pay whatever it takes, the Steelers pay whatever they think is fair. No more.

Once they draw a financial line, they don't often cross it.

Which might not bode well for the 2005 season.

Ward, one of the premier wide receivers in the NFL and highly integral to the team's offensive success, is entering the final year of his contract. He wants an extension that will pay him what he considers the going rate for players of his caliber.

If he doesn't get it, he said he won't report to training camp Sunday. He also suggested that he would sit out the 2005 season if a contract to his liking is not forthcoming.

Without Ward, the Steelers would be a pale imitation of the team that was 15-1 in 2004 and advanced to the AFC title game. He is their best receiver and a peerless blocker whose zest for physical play not only enhances the running game but helps to make him the team's most popular player and the one who most embodies the Steelers' way.

His absence would be felt even more profoundly since the Steelers already have lost their other starting wide receiver, Plaxico Burress, who signed in the offseason with the New York Giants.
If Ward does not play this season, it would leave second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger without his go-to guy and with a severely depleted receiving corps.

Asked if he would report to camp without a contract, Ward said, "I will not be there."

Asked if he would sit out the entire season, Ward said, "If that's what it has to come down to."
He quickly added he didn't think it would go that far.

It all depends on how hard Ward wants to play his hand. The Steelers might bend in these negotiations, but they won't break.

Ward was particularly annoyed that so little had been done in the way of negotiations to this point. He pushed last summer for a new contract and considered not reporting to camp. He backed off that stance before acting on it and had another brilliant year and played in his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl.

At the time, the Steelers said signing Ward to a contract extension would be a "priority." The fact they signed first-round draft choice Heath Miller, who received a $5 million signing bonus, before Ward makes that priority somewhat suspect.

Fans have rallied to the support of Ward, whose all-out style of play, ever-present smile and willingness to speak candidly on a variety of subjects makes him one of the most popular figures in recent Pittsburgh sports history.

What must be understood in these discussions is that there is no right or wrong here. Both sides can be right. Both sides can be wrong. There's no scientific formula for evaluating the worth of a player. Like buying a house, the value is in the eye of the beholder. Understandably, the player might have a higher opinion of his value than the team.

The Rooney family knows full well Ward is a premier player and toward that end they have made him a healthy offer which is believed to include a signing bonus in the $8 million range. That sounds impressive, but without knowing the dollar amount of the annual contract it's fairly meaningless. Signing bonuses are the only guaranteed money a player receives and exceedingly important. But a player of Ward's stature is going to make a significant annual salary, and it's not like he's in danger of being cut and not receiving it.

Ward and his agent, as is their right, have declined the Steelers' offer and made a counteroffer, which is where negotiations currently stand.

Ward made clear he's not seeking the kind of money the Indianapolis Colts paid Marvin Harrison. But he wants to be close to the best-paid wide receivers.

Where does it go from here? It depends on how entrenched the sides are.

The Steelers need Ward. Without him they are not a championship contender. But the Rooney family has shown in the past it will put financial principle above even winning.

Ward needs the Steelers. With or without Ward, the Steelers will have gross revenues well into the nine-figure range. If Ward sits out, his gross revenue is zero. More significant, if he sits out, he does not get the service time that would make him a free agent at the end of the season. He'd be right back where he started.

Cooler heads and softer stances will prevail. Ward might miss some training camp, which means nothing. He's so good and so dedicated he could report the week of the first game and not only be ready to play but be a significant factor.

Somewhere between now and then, this will be settled. Both sides have too much to lose not to do so.

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

Chuck Finder: Pen's Top Scout Sold on Crosby at 14


Friday, July 29, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

OTTAWA -- Thirty teams, seven rounds. No matter. It's all about the one, the number one, The Next One. The NHL Entry Draft begins tomorrow with Sidney Crosby. Not that it ends there. But the gravity of the day, the months of scouting preparation, the years of fans eyeing this teenager from the Maritimes, the future of a franchise suddenly teeming with on-ice saviors -- it all comes into focus starting at noon tomorrow in Canada's capital.

Funny, the lad who has held the hockey spotlight of an adoring nation ends his long amateur dance inside a Westin Hotel ballroom. The music stops, and he becomes the property of the once star-crossed Penguins.

"Winning the lotto," was how Penguins head scout Greg Malone phrased it, meaning the draft sweepstakes Friday as much as the game's grand prize over the past generation.
When commissioner Gary Bettman opened that final envelope Friday afternoon, effectively rendering obsolete months and years of scouting work, it left Malone some kind of hacked, right?
"Well, we had to fix the ceiling," Malone said, referring to how high he jumped in celebration. "I love it. The only thing that it does, we're just going to have to work a little harder to see who's going to be there [when the Penguins pick next at Nos.] 60 and 61. Obviously, it's a lot different. But I'd just as soon be in this position. I'm one of those guys who'd probably like to go to Ottawa, make the No. 1 pick and go home."

On the eve of the club's most important single selection since Mario Lemieux in 1984, it seems an appropriate time to spin the Penguins' Scouting Sidney memories, especially considering the player has been on the North America hockey radar since leading a Nova Scotia team to a rare appearance in the 16-and-under Canadian national championship game ... at age 14 and the youngest on the ice.

Malone first saw him play, in person, a few months later. He was on his way to a North Dakota event when he decided to stop in at his son Ryan's old school, Shattuck-St. Mary's, in Faribault, Minn., where Crosby spent a year before playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Malone's inaugural scouting report: "Yeah, he's the real deal." And still only 14. Crosby proceeded to score 72 goals and 162 points in 57 games for an elite high school hockey team.

With Crosby becoming the first pick of the QMJHL draft by the Rimouski Oceanic that next season, 2003-04, the scouting duties then fell to the Penguins' Quebec scout, Gilles Meloche, a goaltender who played with Lemieux and against Gretzky. He never saw those fellows play in junior hockey. But it didn't take him long to form an opinion on the latest Canadian hockey treasure.

"He was no secret: At 15, we knew he was the next great one to come out," Meloche said. "I've been scouting for 15 years; for me, he's the best junior player I've seen. By a long run.
"He keeps you on the edge of your seat. He gets off the ice, you can't wait to see him get back on, because there's always something happening. The big thing now, he's physically stronger. Two, three guys in the corner, and he always pops out with the puck. From the waist down, his legs must be unbelievable.

"I still can't believe we lucked out."

Malone found himself back in North Dakota last winter, at the World Junior Championships that rate to hockey Canada on the same level as Olympic or maybe even NCAA tournament basketball to America. The 5-foot-11, 193-pound center from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, scored six goals in as many games and helped to guide Team Canada to its first World Junior gold since 1997. That, to the Penguins' head scout, wasn't even the coolest thing to watch at the tournament.

Forget offense and creativity and flair. The kid played winning team hockey.

"He was able to do it this year in the World Juniors in Grand Forks when he played for Team Canada, he was able to play the team concept," Malone said. "He didn't just say, 'OK, this is The Crosby Show.' And he was a big part of that team. What I liked this year about him, he was a lot stronger, he was a lot quicker off the mark. He gets the puck, and the thing is, he always seems to make the right play.

"He makes some great plays that you're amazed at where he's setting up guys and the puck ends up on their stick uncannily. But I've also seen him be very patient, hang on to it, hang on to it, then get it away and score, and you go, 'Wow.' And he'll do whatever it takes to win battles. I mean, he puts guys on their behinds.

"I saw him play at the Memorial Cup, too. There were some other good players there, and you started to question their ability. They are good players. But he was at another level by himself."
Finally, they met in early June, at the prospects' camp in Toronto. Crosby showed up 15 minutes early for his interview, effectively ending the Penguins' session with another prospect. Even in an interview, Crosby dazzles -- Malone called it one of his most impressive prospect chats in 15 years of scouting. They spent nearly 45 minutes together, after which Malone recalls telling general manager Craig Patrick: "As good as he is on the ice, he's just as good or better off the ice."

"He's not only going to be good for Pittsburgh," Malone concluded the other day, "but he's going to be good for the entire hockey world."

NOTES -- As for the remainder of the Penguins' draft, Malone said the team approaches the flip-flopping order as if they have two third-rounders, two fifth-rounders and two-seventh rounders. "At 60 and 61, there will be a couple of players that we really like," he said, of the team's late second-round and early third-round choices, without specifying. ... Several Pittsburgh-related sons could get drafted: Christian Hanson, son of film-star "Hanson Brother" Dave, the former Johnstown minor-league hockey player and RMU Island Sports Center general manager; Patrick Mullen, son of Penguins coach and former player Joe; Chris and Matt Clackson, sons of former Penguins player Kim; and Taylor Chorney, son of former Penguins player Marc. ... The capital city will get a view of Crosby and the top prospects at a noontime affair today, one of a handful of opportunities for the public to fawn over the star. "There's going to be a lot of noise in Ottawa," Malone said.

(Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724.)

More National Hockey League news

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Rocco DeMaro: Polamalu the Quiet Steeler Star


By Rocco DeMaro
SteelersLIVE Xtra
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Monday, July 25, 2005

Imagine the following scenario if you will as far-fetched as it may seem:

A strong safety correctly reads 'run' pre-snap. The play starts. The safety makes his way toward the line of scrimmage, sheds a blocker and makes a bone-jarring tackle 2 yards into the backfield.
Now the best part:
The safety hears the whistle, gets up and prepares for the next play.
That's it.
No celebration dance. No elaborate gesticulation. No cell phones. No taunting.

Welcome to Polamalu country -- where the tackles are hard, the effort is intense and the frivolous celebrations are non-existent.

Hines Ward's #86 Steelers jersey is seen just about everywhere in greater Pittsburgh. You can't watch a Steelers game without seeing hundreds of 86's in the stands.

Fans love Hines' attitude, his aggressiveness, his tenacity. They love the fire with which he plays the game. They LOVE that he throws his undersized frame around with the reckless abandon and courage that would make a hollywood stuntman cringe.

And he smiles. He always smiles.

The abundance of 86s on gameday is a fine tribute to a fine player from a city that craves character in their sporting characters.

Which brings us to Troy.

He also possesses all the above characteristics in abundance (the smiling part, included). But for some reason, finding his #43 jersey at Heinz Field on Sundays is easier said than done.

That could be because Troy Polamalu is the 'Bizarro' star of the 21st century NFL.

"He's probably the most respectful and humble person I know. Troy's one of the nicest and greatest people I know," said Keary Colbert, Polamalu's former roommate at USC and now a wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers. "That's not just a front or a show, either. That's who he is, on and off the field."

Polamalu is a soft spoken, spiritual man. He doesn't seek out the spotlight.

…Touchdown!! And T.O. has just pulled something from his sock…is that a sharpie?...
He's humble.

…another TD for Randy Moss!! That makes it…wait a minute. It looks like Moss has just mooned the fans here at Lambeau Field!...

He describes football as an art form.

…Touchdown New Orleans!! Joe Horn!! And Horn has somehow produced a cell phone!!…
He shows respect to his teammates and opponents alike.

…Another touchdown for T.O.!! And he's doing it again! Owens is running to the Star at midfield here in Dallas for the second time today…

When asked of his most admired quality in people Polamalu replied simply, "Honesty."

In short, he's not what you'd expect from an NFL player in 2005.

"Let me say this, Troy Polamalu is the best safety in the game today, and I'll go on record in saying that. The things you ask him to do and the production that he has, and what he does week in and week out, I wouldn't want any other guy."
-Bill Cowher, '04

Troy Polamalu made his first Pro Bowl in 2004, in just his second season. He's an all-world athlete with superior skills and the heart of a warrior.
He makes the highlight reel plays (see Steelers v. Bengals) as well as the routine.
He's a beast in run support and an emerging ball hawk in coverage.

And best of all, he's a throwback. A down to earth man who just happens to be a football player.
He's everything a fan-and particularly a Pittsburgh fan--could possibly want out of a player.

Did I mention that Polamalu, a multi-millionaire, arrived at training camp last season in his Kia? A Kia.
Now about those jersey sales.

Rocco hosts Weekend Sportsline with Rocco DeMaro Saturday's 1-4 p.m. on FM Newstalk 104.7. He can be reached at mrd163@hotmail.com .

Bob Smizik: 'Cancers' Not a Disease of Losing


Brian Giles

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In the vast and basically uncharted jargon of baseball, there's not an uglier way to describe a player than as being "a cancer in the clubhouse." If such a malignancy lurks in a baseball locker room, purists would have us believe the team involved is in great peril.

The Pirates once were considered such a team. Their clubhouse was described in this newspaper as "dysfunctional." Talk shows repeatedly referred to various "cancers in the clubhouse," most notably Jason Kendall.

Well, the cancers have been excised. Kendall was shipped away after last season and before him, his buddies, Brian Giles and Mike Williams, also were dealt.
In their place is a feel-good clubhouse populated with men dedicated to victory. There's the upbeat leadership of Matt Lawton, the quintessential good-guy veteran. There's the solid professionalism of Rob Mackowiak, the contagious exuberance of Jack Wilson, the quiet mentoring of Jose Mesa. It's quite a contrast to the sullen presence of Kendall, who dominated the room without saying a word.
And the result of this new and improved clubhouse?

After 100 games this season, after their win Tuesday against the Florida Marlins, the Pirates were 44-56.
In 2004, with Kendall, they were 48-52 after 100 games.
In 2003, with Kendall for the entire season and Giles and Williams for about two-thirds of it, they were 47-53.
In 2002, with all of those players they were 47-53.

If you take these numbers to mean clubhouse cancers are overrated, you would be correct. Winning breeds good chemistry and not the other way around. Losing breeds unhappy clubhouses and unhappy players.

Kendall was not the ideal teammate. Nor were Williams and Giles. But all three were significantly more successful than most of their teammates when it came to producing on the field.

So what if they were grumps in the clubhouse? So what if they were too cliquish? So what if they treated young players, particularly Wilson, like unwelcome visitors?
It doesn't mean a thing once the first pitch is thrown.

Kendall dominated the Pirates' clubhouse not because he was the highest-paid player or the one with the most longevity. He dominated because he was respected. The players looked to him, whether he wanted them to or not, because he played the game the way it was supposed to be played. He was a throwback. He was a guy averaging $10 million a season who never wanted to sit and who responded to every infield bouncer off his bat with an all-out 30-yard dash to first base.

Such a player is not a cancer in the clubhouse; he's a catalyst in the clubhouse.
The Pirates needed more players such as Kendall, Giles and Williams, not fewer.
Look at what these so-called cancers are doing today.

Kendall is catching and batting first for the Oakland Athletics, the hottest team in baseball. The Athletics and Kendall got off to slow starts and his many critics loved it. But Oakland is 28-7 since June 17 and going into last night was in first place in the American League wild-card standings.

After a slow start, Kendall is batting .277. More to the point, his on-base percentage going into games of yesterday was .394. Among leadoff hitters with more than 175 at bats, that's second in the majors to Brian Roberts of Baltimore. Kendall's on-base percentage was 11 points higher than Johnny Damon's, 15 points higher than Derek Jeter's and 43 points higher than Ichiro Suzuki's.

In the criticism of Kendall, it was suggested he couldn't or didn't want to handle a pitching staff. How does that explain Oakland's June earned run average of 2.45, which was first in the American League, or its July ERA of 3.66, also first in the AL?

Giles quietly remains one of the most effective offensive players in the National League and is a major reason the San Diego Padres are in first place in the National League West Division. Among outfielders, his on-base percentage of .433 was tops. He was fourth in OPS (on-base plus slugging), which is the greatest statistical barometer of a player's offensive value.

There's a lot of talk these days about the Pirates' recent infusion of youth and with it the suggestion that because these players were on winning teams in the minors it bodes well for the club's future.

That's nonsense. Minor-league victories don't translate into major-league equivalents. If they did, the emphasis in the minors would be on winning and not development.

If this youth movement generates winning seasons in the future, it won't be because Chris Duffy is being enthusiastic about the game or because Zach Duke has been a winner throughout his career.

It will be because they're good players. Talent trumps everything -- even clubhouse cancers.

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

Monday, July 25, 2005

Karen Price: Accolades Follow Crosby On and Off the Ice


The Crosby file

* Will turn 18 years old on Aug. 7.
* 5-foot-10, 193 pounds, native of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
* Plus/minus with Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team Rimouski Oceanic was plus-78 in 2004-05. Scored 66 goals and 102 assists in 62 games. Led the team to the Memorial Cup final.
* Has already signed endorsement contracts with Reebok (reportedly for five years, $2.5 million) and Gatorade (reportedly the richest deal a hockey player has ever signed with the company)
* Scored 148 goals and 214 assists over 148 games as a 16- and 17-year-old junior.
* QMJHL and Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year and CHL's leading scorer both years of junior hockey.
* Helped Canada to a silver medal in 2004 and gold in 2005 at the World Junior Championship.

By Karen Price
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, July 23, 2005

There are the things people say about Sidney Crosby's play on the ice, comparing him to players such as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Peter Forsberg.

There are the stories about what he's like off the ice -- so mature for his years that it's like he's 17 going on 35, and incredibly down to earth. When fans of his junior team, the Rimouski Oceanic, lined up overnight for playoff tickets this year, Crosby hand-delivered coffee and doughnuts.

And now that the Penguins won the draft lottery Friday and will select Crosby with the first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft on July 30, there are already headlines that read "Steel City Savior," furthering comparisons to Lemieux and resting the future of the franchise on Crosby's 17-year-old shoulders.

But what impressed Penguins head scout Greg Malone during the team's interview with Crosby at the combine last month in Toronto was his answer to a question about handling the immense pressure already on him.

"He said, 'How many people would love to be in my shoes? I'm ready to accept the challenge,' " Malone said. "That line there probably was the thing that threw him over the top. He knows what he's gotten himself into, but he's accepted it because he's worked hard to put himself in this position.¨

And he's done it, say those who've watched him play over the years, under a tremendous amount of pressure as a player who's been hyped since before he entered junior hockey in 2003-04 as hockey's next great superstar.

"(Opposing players) beat him, they chopped him, they did everything to him," said one of his representatives, Dee Rizzo, who lives in the Greenfield section of Pittsburgh. "They cross-checked him from behind, they slashed him in the face and he never whined about it. He overcame all that."

Crosby, 5-foot-10, 193 pounds, turns 18 on Aug. 7. A native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, he led the Canadian Hockey League in scoring during both of his years in the league, and was a two-time Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Player of the Year and CHL Player of the Year.

In 148 games as a 16-and 17-year-old, he scored 148 goals and 214 assists for 362 points.
He's known as a play-making centerman who can also score, someone who's quick on his skates, knows what's going to happen seconds before anyone else on the ice and isn't afraid to go in the corners or throw his weight around.

Still, the comparisons to Gretzky and Lemieux might seem a bit much for a player who has yet to pull on an NHL sweater. Even Malone, who said that after winning the lottery he now knows how it feels to win a couple million dollars, wasn't ready to pin such titles on Crosby just yet.
Close, though.

"It all depends on how you look at him and where you set the bar for him," Malone said. "If you set it way out there like the next Gretzky, he may come under the bar. Set it as the next true superstar, he'll probably hit the bar. Is he the next Mario? I'm not ready to say he's the next Mario right now. But who knows how far he can take his team? He could take it to that level or he could fall a little short where he's a true superstar like Mark Messier.

"But as far as being a first-rounder and first overall and doing what he's supposed to, I'd bet my mortgage on it that he's going to reach his peak."

Crosby took everything in stride yesterday, despite hype that included Canadian network TSN doing a half-hour selection show devoted entirely to him and the NHL setting up a satellite truck in his front yard in order for him to do interviews.

"He was nervous," said agent Pat Brisson, who was with Crosby and his family. "It all made for quite a lot of excitement. But to end up in Pittsburgh is a blessing. It's an opportunity to start his career with one of the best athletes in all of sports, someone who's been there, done that who could help him, guide him and protect him. It's a great situation."

Lemieux, who trained with Crosby last summer in Los Angeles, was equally as enthusiastic about the idea of Crosby playing alongside him.

"He's just a great person and a great hockey player," Lemieux said. "He's very strong on his skates, sees the ice very well and anticipates the play as well as I've seen a young kid do throughout my career. He's a great player."

Lemieux also didn't seem too concerned about the pressure possibly overwhelming the young phenom.

"There's always a lot of pressure for the first pick overall, but I think he's been dealing with pressure for probably his whole career," Lemieux said. "He's kind of used to it by now. What makes a great player great is they're able to deal with it and perform better under a lot of pressure. That's what he's been able to do his whole career. I don't think that's going to affect him."

Although Crosby grew up a fan of the Montreal Canadiens and has long said it would be a dream to play for them, Rizzo said Pittsburgh was on the list, too.
"Last month we were eating lunch in Toronto, and I said, 'Between you and I, what are your top five choices of cities?' " Rizzo said. "Pittsburgh was one of them."

Rizzo said that with the approval of Lemieux's wife Nathalie, he'd love to see the young Crosby find a home in the Lemieux household.

"That's going to be up to Sidney, obviously, to decide that," Lemieux said. "But we're going to be taking care of him. Whatever he needs to make him feel more comfortable, we'll be there for him."

Karen Price can be reached at kprice@tribweb.com.

AP: Landing Phenom Changes Penguin's Outlook


Jul 23, 7:24 PM EDT
By ALAN ROBINSON AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Sidney Crosby has yet to pull on a Pittsburgh Penguins' No. 87 jersey. Has yet to sign his first contract, attend his first training camp, play his first shift, go through the hassle of his first eight-cities-in-12 days road trip.

But it was evident Saturday, from the we've-just-hit-the-lottery enthusiasm displayed by everyone in the organization from player-owner Mario Lemieux on down, that this 17-year-old phenom from Nova Scotia has already changed everything about hockey in Pittsburgh.

The team's worst team when the NHL last played a regular-season game in 2004, the Penguins can now look upon the playoffs as a realistic goal this season. And ticket sales, which sagged after years of near-capacity crowds in the league's oldest and least fan-friendly arena, picked up substantially minutes after the Penguins won the No. 1 pick Friday in the NHL draft lottery.
The Penguins sold scores of season ticket packages Friday night to fans from 10 states and Canada, even though ticket-buyers had to wait 45 minutes on hold just to get an operator.

Other phones are ringing, too. With hundreds of players about to be dumped on the free agent market Aug. 1, some had their agents call general manager Craig Patrick.

They are eager for the chance to play alongside Lemieux, Crosby and Mark Recchi, in front of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, to get back to the player-friendly venue which lost stars such as Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Alex Kovalev and Martin Straka not because they wanted to leave, but because the Penguins couldn't afford them.

Thanks to a salary cap that will shrink the gap between the Penguins' payroll and that of the upper-tier teams from $55 million in 2003-04 to about $10 million in 2005-06, they can compete again on the open market for top-tier players.
"We didn't have the budget to give them," Patrick said. "Now we do, and we can pay the going rate."

And with one less need to fill. Patrick has a plan going into the free agent signing period, with needs prioritized as A, B,C and D. "But A just got filled," he said.

Patrick, like most general managers, guards against hyping a young player to avoid creating premature expectations of greatness by the fans. But he fairly gushes about Crosby, saying, "People have said he's got the vision of Wayne Gretzky and the goal-scoring and playmaking ability of Mario Lemieux."

So much for not creating expectations.

But how could the Penguins not be excited about a player who caused Florida Panthers GM Mike Keenan to observe, "He can pass the puck as well as anyone I've seen play this game - maybe with the exception of Wayne (Gretzky) and Mario."

All of a sudden, maybe Ben Roethlisberger isn't the best passer in Pittsburgh any longer.
And Lemieux, leaned upon so often for so many years by the Penguins he even had to buy the team to keep it from leaving town, now has a successor in place - a star in waiting, a potential franchise-saver, just as he once seemed to have in Jagr. The player for whom future teams will be built around, just as every Penguins team that Lemieux has played for was built around him.
"He's going to have a major impact," Lemieux said.

How's this for quirky synergy? When Lemieux was drafted No. 1 in 1984, a goalie from his same Canadian junior league was chosen 240 spots later by Montreal. Troy Crosby never made it to the NHL, but his son will, starting Oct. 5.

Then Troy Crosby can put another picture on his wall in Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia.
"I've been told he's got a photo in his den where he's looking back into the net ... I was on a breakaway and I roofed it," Lemieux said Saturday, describing a long-ago goal in the Quebec junior majors that No. 66 scored on the elder Crosby. "He was a little late on it."

This time, though, a Crosby's timing couldn't be more right. Sidney Crosby is arriving just when the Penguins need him most, with a new arena still not a certainty and with the urgent need to re-establish the franchise at a critical time before its current arena lease expires in 2007.
"This is huge," Lemieux said, relating how the momentum generated by Crosby's presence could spur the arena effort.

"We're on Cloud 9," team president Ken Sawyer said. "This has probably been the greatest 24-hour period of building a team here since 1984."

The Penguins did stage one ceremonial jersey-wearing ceremony Saturday: Recchi put on his No. 8 again, nearly a year after re-signing with the Penguins. But he knows he's not the biggest news in town right now.

"It's not Crosby, sorry," he said, tugging on the Penguins jersey he last wore 13 years ago. "But that's coming."

The Penguins can't wait.

Dave Molinari: Few Question Crosby's Potential for Greatness


Sunday, July 24, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

E.J. McGuire of NHL Central Scouting is a thoughtful man with a heartfelt passion for his game, and the people in it.

So when McGuire insists that he does not want to add to the pressure on Sidney Crosby, hockey's looming legend and the Penguins' savior-in-waiting, there is no doubting his sincerity.

And when he expresses his belief that it is premature -- if not flat-out inappropriate -- for people to compare a 17-year-old to Hall of Famers such as Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, it's clear McGuire means it.

"I worry for the kid," he said.

His concern is genuine, admirable and understandable. But while discussing Crosby's knack for sensing how a play will unfold long before it does, even McGuire couldn't resist temptation.

"Mario lets the puck come to him and has a plan as it's coming to him," he said. "I'm sure a master chess player [thinks], 'I'm going to do this, then that's going to happen over here, and this is how it's all going to work out.' [Crosby] seems to have that uncanny ability."

OK, anyone could slip up once. McGuire wasn't about to draw any more parallels between Crosby, whom the Penguins will claim with the No. 1 choice in the NHL entry draft Saturday in Ottawa, and Lemieux. So when the conversation shifted to the broad range of Crosby's offensive talents, there wasn't a single reference to Lemieux.

Instead, McGuire brought up, uh, Gretzky. The one who has 2,857 career NHL points.
"Think back to the days when Gretzky was at his peak," McGuire said. "He wasn't the biggest, strongest, toughest.

"Gretzky was in the top five of accurate shots, was in the top five of hard shots, was in the top five of fastest skaters, but I don't think he was No. 1 in any of those categories. Across the line, there was always this Gretzky thread across the top.

"In junior hockey, I think it's fair to say that Crosby is in that realm. When he goes pro, at least at the beginning, he won't be No. 1 [in any category]. But, you know what? In almost every category, you won't have to look far down to see the word, 'Crosby.' "

Crosby, it should be noted, said the comparisons to Lemieux and Gretzky don't faze him because "it's virtually impossible" to perform to the standards they've set, and his father concurred.
"I don't think we set the bar that high," Troy Crosby said. "Maybe the media or people like that are setting the bar high. I don't think it's fair to him. He doesn't even consider trying to measure up to that expectation because it's impossible to do that, for a lot of reasons.

"Those two guys are pretty great players to measure yourself against. It's hard to be in their class. And the game is different, as well. ... He doesn't compare himself to those two guys, that's for sure. They're role models to him."

Crosby seems to be a pretty quick study, because his offensive output while playing for Rimouski in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season reminded a lot of folks of the way Gretzky and Lemieux used to produce points.

Crosby scored 168 points in 62 games, an average of 2.71. That's the second-highest figure in major-junior history, surpassed only by the 4.03 Lemieux averaged in 1983-84, his final season with Laval in the QMJHL.

Those junior numbers will forever link Lemieux and Crosby, as will their superior skill levels and hockey sense. But while their results are similar, the ways Lemieux and Crosby go about generating them really aren't, at least on some levels.

At 5 foot 11, Crosby is about five inches shorter than Lemieux and lacks the wingspan that has been such an asset for Lemieux.

He isn't exactly a clone of Gretzky, either. Crosby is feisty and will throw his 191 pounds around, whereas the only body contact Gretzky had during most nights came if a teammate bumped into him during a goal celebration.
"[Crosby] has a nice competitive edge," Philadelphia assistant general manager Paul Holmgren said.

That's part of the reason Lemieux likens him to Peter Forsberg, arguably hockey's finest two-way center for the past decade.

If anyone inside the industry believes Crosby is destined for something shy of megastardom, they've never said so publicly. There are, however, varying opinions of which talent is his greatest.

Some scouts are partial to the way he sees the ice, others to his anticipation. His skating gets mentioned a lot, too, as does his sheer refusal to fail.
"He hates to lose," Troy Crosby said.

And he loves to set up goals, at least as much as he enjoys scoring them.
"He makes unbelievable passes when there are no passing lanes," Chicago general manager Dale Tallon said. "He creates something out of nothing a lot of the time. His passing and vision are things that draw me out of my seat sometimes."

Turns out it's a lot easier for Crosby to pull people out of their seats than it is for opponents to bump him off his feet.
"For a young guy, he's really strong on his skates," Holmgren said. "He's hard to knock off the puck."

Because of that, Crosby is comfortable in traffic, along the boards and in the corners, places where some skilled players don't often venture.
For all that Crosby has accomplished, and all the promise before him, his father is adamant that his game can -- will, must -- be upgraded.

"He can be faster, I think," Troy Crosby said. "He could be stronger. If he wants to go to the next level, he's going to play against grown men, so he has to learn to get stronger, quicker. Maybe get his shot better. Every year, you try to improve all the skills of your game."

Of course, if Crosby had stayed true to his pedigree, he might be working on his kick saves now. His father tended goal for Verdun, while Lemieux was with Laval, and was good enough that Montreal spent a 12th-round draft choice on him in 1984.

Predictably, Sidney Crosby gravitated to the crease when he took up the game.
"When he first started playing hockey, he always wanted to be a goalie," Troy Crosby said. "He could skate pretty well at 5 or 6 years old, and still wanted to play goalie. I kind of discouraged him, for that reason."

If not for the prodding of his dad, Sidney Crosby might have developed into the Patrick Roy of his generation. Or maybe a guy whose hockey is limited to recreational leagues.
"I don't know where I would be right now if I was a goalie," he said. "I have a lot of fun playing goal, but I don't think I'd be here if I was a goalie."

Probably not, but if you blend Crosby's athleticism, work ethic and drive to succeed, it might be risky to rule out anything.

"He doesn't ever appear satisfied," Phoenix general manager Mike Barnett said. "The exceptional players, even when they've accomplished what they've accomplished, set their own bar and always look for ways to improve. Ways to get better every day, even if they become their own measuring stick."

Which Sidney Crosby won't have to do. Not as long as anyone remembers Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky.

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

Ron Cook: Olczyk Driving Fancier Car

Sunday, July 24, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Flick the fast-forward button to October ...
The Penguins and New York Rangers have just played 65 minutes and are tied, 5-5. Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk looks down his bench and sends out his three skaters for the shootout as the frenzied sellout crowd at Mellon Arena gets ready for the climax of a spectacular hockey game.
"We're going with Alex, Ziggy and Mario," Olczyk barks.
That would be Alexei Kovalev, Zigmund Palffy and you know who.

Mark Recchi is left on the bench. He's off to a fast start this season with six goals in four games, pushing his career total to 462.
Rookie phenom Sidney Crosby also is bypassed, much to the dismay of the big crowd. Crosby has been everything they said he would be and more, torching the Rangers for three more goals, his second hat trick of the young season.
Kovalev is ready ...

OK, back to real time ...
"I'm hoping we don't get in too many shootouts," Olczyk was saying the other day. "I'd like to win in regulation and save some of the hair I have left."
Maybe save his job, too.

No one's life changed more than Olczyk's the instant the Penguins won the Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes Friday. Just like that, he went from being Lloyd McClendon -- the coach of a small-market, low-budget team with no expectations -- to practically Joe Torre or Terry Francona -- a coach whose yearly mandate is win it all or else.
At least that was my interpretation of something Penguins president Ken Sawyer said in those wonderful moments immediately after the Penguins got the marvelous news about Crosby.
"I expect this team to be what it was in the '90s once we get this thing put together."
Is that pressure or what?

No one said Olczyk was a bad coach when the Penguins were the NHL's worst team in 2003-04. It wasn't his fault. The system was to blame. The Penguins had no chance to be competitive.
But everything has changed. The NHL has a new collective bargaining agreement. The Penguins have Crosby. Soon, they could add a few more world-class players through free agency. Kovalev and Palffy seem like realistic possibilities.
Surely, everyone will be saying Olczyk is an idiot if the Penguins aren't in first place by, say, Oct. 12. Absolutely, they'll be saying it if the team doesn't make a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs next spring.

"I know one thing. I know I won't work any harder than I did before," Olczyk said. "I won't be any more demanding on myself or my players than I was then. I'm still going to coach the way I believe is right. That's with the goal of winning the Stanley Cup."
Any coach who is worth anything will tell you he'd rather have the pressure and big expectations because that means he has a chance. Those low-pressure jobs in sports are greatly overrated. You had better believe McClendon isn't having a lot of fun with the no-chance Pirates.

"Everybody knows you've got to have guys capable of being difference makers," Olczyk said.
The Penguins will have them this season. But who can say for sure what Olczyk will do with them? It was hard to judge him as a coach in 2003-04, his team was so short-handed. Sure, it made progress as the season went on, especially in the final 20 games. Some of the young players improved. Ryan Malone and Konstantin Koltsov come to mind. And Ric Jackman finally found a home after years of wondering. But it's still a long way from worst to first.
For the players and the coach.

"Fasten your seat belt," Olczyk said, "it's going to be a wild ride."
It's nice to think Olczyk won't wreck the car. He was a great student of the game as a player, which isn't all that common for a 40-goal scorer. He's also young enough and, because of his playing background, has the ability to relate to his guys, from Mario Lemieux and Recchi to Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Olczyk will need all of his strategic and communicative skills. He has got to find the right line combinations, defensive pairings and goaltender rotation. He has to convince his players that defense still matters in the new, hopefully wide-open NHL. "I don't care if they eliminate the red line and take the blues lines with it, you still have to play defense at certain times to win a championship," Olczyk said. And he has to keep everyone happy with their roles and ice time. That wasn't a problem on a young team with no stars, Lemieux aside. It could be a big problem on a team with better players and bigger egos.

Of course, Olczyk's immediate challenge will be to help with Crosby's assimilation. The kid comes with enormous expectations, but it's still a sizable jump from juniors to the NHL.
"It will be my job to put him in the best possible situations to succeed," Olczyk said.
Lemieux will be a huge help with Crosby. He has been in those skates, a young, can't-miss superstar who is asked to rescue an ailing franchise. Lemieux already knows Crosby and has a relationship with him. They trained together last summer. "We're well ahead of the curve there," Olczyk said.

Recchi also will help. He is one of hockey's best teammates and leaders.
But, in the end, it will be Olczyk who is judged, not just on Crosby's development, but on the team's wins, in shootouts or otherwise.
"Good players make good coaches," Olczyk said, shrugging. "Great players make better coaches."
We'll see.

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

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Robert Dvorchak: Pirates Welcome Baton for Next Year's Classic

Thursday, July 14, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

DETROIT -- The ceremony might have lacked the Olympic formality of lighting a new torch for the next venue, but the All-Star baton has been passed from Detroit to Pittsburgh.

Before the gala at Comerica Park had concluded, officials from the Pirates and representatives from the city and county sat down over eggs and coffee at a breakfast meeting Tuesday with the staff of Major League Baseball. Their sole focus was on July 11, 2006, the date of the 77th All-Star Game.

"It really was the kickoff for next year's event," said Kevin McClatchy, the person most responsible for bringing the All-Star Game to PNC Park. "We've got a ton of work to do, but there's no reason why we can't put on the best All-Star Game ever.

"How we do this All-Star Game is how people will perceive us as a city. I think everybody's going to rise to the occasion. People are proud of their city and want to show it off," McClatchy added. "It's not the Pirates' All-Star Game. It's Pittsburgh's game."

About 60 people from the city and county made the trip to Detroit to see how things work at baseball's annual gathering of stars, from the receptions to FanFest to the transportation plan to the parties.

Among those attending the breakfast were Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, Mayor-in-waiting Bob O'Connor, Mark Schneider of the Sports & Exhibition Authority and Joe McGrath of the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau. Also in Detroit were representatives of the Allegheny Conference, Aramark, Levy Restaurants and C.B. Richard Ellis, the company that manages PNC Park.

In truth, work already has begun on the 77th All-Star Game. Morgan Littlefield, director of special events for Major League Baseball, already has made several trips to Pittsburgh and will be making more in the months ahead.

No relation to Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield, she is responsible for FanFest, a sort of baseball theme park that runs for five days as part of the All-Star events. FanFest drew 100,000 visitors at Cobo Hall in Detroit, and the open views of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center will give it an airy feel. Plus, the convention center is much closer to the ballpark than it was in Detroit, and organizers envision a lot of pedestrian traffic.
"We're excited about it. It's a beautiful building," Littlefield said of Pittsburgh. "We feed off the energy of the ballpark when we're closer to it."

The focal point of Pittsburgh's FanFest will be on the 119-year history of the Pirates, including a number of items from the Hall of Fame. Also being celebrated will be the rich history of Negro League teams such as the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays.

Claude Molinari of the convention center trekked to Detroit to prepare his "to do" list. For one thing, it'll be a two-week job to unload and set up 200,000 pounds of exhibits, roughly equivalent to 150 tractor trailers. He figures the convention center will need 300,000 square feet of wall-to-wall carpeting and will need to procure a number of lifts to handle the 400 rigging points for exhibits and signs hung from the ceiling.

"It was really worthwhile being here," Molinari said.
Security requirements also were apparent.

In addition to Detroit and Michigan State Police, security details in Detroit included the FBI, ATF agents and National Guardsmen who periodically checked Cobo Hall for hazardous substances.

For the Pirates' front office, the Detroit experience was an opportunity to see how things ran and a chance to think about new approaches for next year.

A red carpet parade of the All-Star players was a new addition to the baseball pageant this year. Players rode in convertibles from the Fox Theater to Comerica Park before Tuesday's game, and that red carpet parade would be well-served by a ride across the Clemente Bridge.

A behind-the-scenes tour of Comerica Park was arranged to see how the Tigers converted storage space and nooks and crannies into interview rooms. Attention also was paid to the use of parking lots for galas and parties.

In addition, notes were taken on the ballroom space needed for pregame news conferences. The news conference announcing the World Baseball Classic was a cramped affair. The media horde also had to be squeezed into and out of an adjacent space for player interviews at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

"It's been a wonderful event. Detroit set the bar high, and we want to reach or surpass that bar," said Patty Paytas, vice president of communications for the Pirates. "There are some logistical challenges that will require coordination and cooperation. I think everybody is eager to get going on it. People are already generating ideas on how we can do things."

One of the first orders of business for next year is to unveil the logo, which already has been created for Pittsburgh. It will be shown soon at a news conference and then put on display at PNC Park, probably when the Pirates return from their road trip in Chicago.

As representatives of the host city, McClatchy and Ogden Nutting, the West Virginia newspaper magnate who has made the largest investment in the Pirates' ownership group, sat next to the commissioner in the front row boxes of Comerica Park at Tuesday night's game.

"I challenged everybody before we left that we have a lot of work to do," McClatchy said. "Our marketing slogan in 1997 was Let's Go To Work. We're going to have to go to work all over again to pull it off."

But Pittsburgh will be at the center of the baseball universe for five days next summer, and the potential is on everyone's mind.
"We're going to have a lot of people in our city looking for places to spend their money," McClatchy said. "The city has an opportunity to show itself off."

(Robert Dvorchak can be reached at bdvorchak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1959.)

Chuck Finder: Penguins Return Should Boost City's Economy

Penguins return to the ice should have a major impact on city's economy
Thursday, July 14, 2005
By Chuck Finder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jeff Butya stood behind the bar of his restaurant-lounge yesterday and reveled in the moment. It was a great day for a hockey season-ticket holder. It was a great day for a proprietor whose living gets a considerable sports bounce from an NHL soon reopening for business.
"The world's great in Robinson," Butya crowed. "Hockey's settled. Dick Butkus is coming. The Steelers are around the corner. It's football, it's hockey, it's the flow of the way things should be.
"Life is looking up."
The apparent end to the 301-day NHL lockout was all the talk in his suburban corner of Pittsburgh, a city that lost a precise $1.6 million in tax revenues and an estimated $48 million in overall economic impact because the Penguins were dark for 40-plus nights this past fall and winter. Such losses were felt not only Downtown and throughout the city, but also to Butya's in Robinson -- where Butkus will be coaching nearby Montour High School football for a television reality show -- and beyond. No wonder everyone from patrons, pointing to the settlement stories on his lounge TVs, to a friend calling from Indianapolis couldn't stop buzzing about the same subject yesterday.

The pucks are back.

Mario Lemieux is set to return to Mellon Arena ice.
Hockey-loving North America's long refrigerated nightmare is over.
"I don't think it's going to be as hard getting the fan back as it was with baseball [after its 1994 strike]; a lot of fans, they went straight from baseball to NASCAR," said Butya, for 20 years a Penguins season-ticket holder and a gent whose business long has attracted Penguins front-office staff, coaches and players. "Hockey fans are a different breed. I get people coming in here all the time asking, 'What Penguins come in here?' Pittsburgh has a connection with their hockey players. Those months are long, too. You have nothing else to turn to.
"Just think of this winter," Butya added, "how long it would've been if the Steelers had lost?"
Perish the thought, economically speaking.

As it was, a successful Steelers season and two January playoff games wasn't enough to offset the bottom-line bleeding for some businesses Downtown, the city and the region as a whole. City Treasurer Richard Fees said the direct loss in amusement, parking and occupational taxes from a Penguins-less September to May came to $1.6 million. And, Fees added, "we can use every penny we can get." The Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau estimate: a $48 million economic loss locally.
"Of course, that includes businesses in the area -- hotel revenue, restaurateurs, T-shirts, hats, ancillary things," said communications director Bev Morrow-Jones. "Having a sports team in town is big business. As long as the team is playing and they're putting people in seats, they're bringing visitors."

Linda Wilson could see the adverse effects at the Ramada, one block down Centre Avenue from Mellon Arena. The hotel, where she serves as group sales director, entertained far fewer guests from Buffalo, Toronto and Philadelphia who would come to town when their teams visited the Penguins. Its Ruddy Duck Lounge likewise served far fewer diners and drinkers on hockey nights in Pittsburgh.
"It was hard September through January, when we were losing both room revenue and lounge revenue," Wilson said. "Obviously, we can never make up the revenues. The number on that would be priceless."
Yet she chose to look at the positives, at the future. The hotel plans to reopen as a Double Tree around Labor Day, when the Ruddy Duck will reopen as a still-unnamed new restaurant and lounge.
"We'll be ready to go for the hockey season," Wilson said. "I can tell you, it's good to have hockey back. I'm ready. Drop the puck. I'll drop it, if they need any help."
The Souper Bowl on Fifth Avenue never opened its top and bottom floors this past winter, as it usually does on the nights of Penguins home games. So, part-owner Jim Sypherd is equally as ecstatic about an NHL resumption as is owner Kevin Joyce of the Carlton restaurant, where, beyond a dismal fourth quarter of 2004 and first quarter of 2005, fewer pregame steaks translate into fewer staff, less business for the food retailers from whom he buys and on down the local-impact line. Yet Joyce frets about just that, a local-impact issue still hanging -- a new Penguins arena to ensure the team remains here.
"Now that we've got it solved on the global level, we have to solve Pittsburgh's problem," Joyce said. The Penguins are "something that keeps us a major-league city, even though we're hanging on by our fingernails. Now that the [lockout's] over, we can start rebuilding this sport in Pittsburgh."

(Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724.)

Dave Molinari: Tough Questions Remain for NHL

Analysis: Tough questions remain for NHL
6-year contract clears up some issues, not all

Thursday, July 14, 2005
By Dave Molinari, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association yesterday reached a new six-year agreement, but whether they did so in time to save the league from severe, perhaps permanent, damage won't be clear for some time.

A long list of issues -- from possible rules changes to a new national television partner to lower ticket prices -- will have to be addressed before training camps open in early September.
If adopted by the league this week and the players next week, the agreement will end the league's 301-day lockout, which scuttled the entire 2004-05 season.
The proposed agreement links revenues and payrolls, giving players a maximum of 54 percent of the money the league generates. That will translate to a salary cap of about $39 million for the 2005-06 season; some teams have had payrolls twice that size in previous years.
Although it could hurt big-spending teams like the New York Rangers, the salary cap could help the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Officials of the Penguins, whose payrolls have been among the league's smallest in recent seasons, have gone on record as saying the team will aggressively pursue free agents once the agreement has been approved. For most of this decade, they have lost, not acquired, high-impact players through free agency.
Penguins president Ken Sawyer realized long ago that his team's long-term viability hinged on altering the economic structure of the league.
For him, losing the 2004-05 season to a labor dispute was a small sacrifice to make for that kind of epic change.
"We had to do whatever we did to make that happen," Sawyer said at a Mellon Arena press conference yesterday.
Smaller-market teams such as the Penguins, which have been victimized by free agency, now will have a chance to profit from it. Clubs such as Philadelphia and Detroit, which usually are big spenders, might be forced to buy out the contracts of some high-priced veterans so their payrolls do not exceed the salary cap.
It still isn't clear precisely which free agents the Penguins plan to target -- hundreds will be available once the agreement is ratified -- but it's no secret they are intent on upgrading their roster.
"We expect to have a very competitive team," Sawyer said. "And we're very excited about that."
The league wants to showcase its top stars, but for that to happen, a new national television package will have to be negotiated.
ESPN declined to exercise a $60 million deal for the cable rights during the coming season, and NHL executives refused to lower the fee they wanted the network to pay. Other cable outlets have shown interest in acquiring those rights, but it is not clear when -- or if -- a successor to ESPN will be chosen.
The league's only national TV package at the moment is a revenue-sharing deal with NBC, which will carry a limited number of games.
Despite the limited scope of that over-the-air arrangement, NBC executive Dick Ebersol reacted enthusiastically to yesterday's tentative agreement.
"We are thrilled for the fans that hockey is returning to the ice, and we're delighted to be the network television partner of the NHL as it moves into what I believe will be an exciting new era," he said, in a prepared statement.
Reports out of Canada suggest that advertising spots on NHL telecasts for the 2005-06 season are being sold at discounts that project up to a 20 percent drop in viewership. In this country, the NHL might have a hard time getting many games, let alone ads, on national TV.
The Penguins' broadcast rights for the coming season already are spoken for -- they have a multiyear TV deal with Fox Sports Net, and one year left on a radio deal with Clear Channel.
Part of selling the sport on national television will be how the league handles possible rules changes to make the game more entertaining.
The only official change so far is a reduction in the size of goaltenders' equipment, but there are strong indications that the NHL will crack down on obstruction and interference infractions -- tactics that negate the talents of skilled players -- and make several other significant revisions.
There is strong sentiment to employ "shootouts" to produce a winner in games that are tied after overtime, and some people in the industry are advocating such radical steps as "removing" the center red line for purposes of two-line passes, arguing that would add another element of offense to the game.
In a shootout, teams select players -- usually three or five -- to go one-on-one against the opposing team's goaltender. The team scoring the most "shootout" goals is the winner.
The move to revise some rules is designed to give the game's most gifted performers the best opportunity to display their skills.
Getting fans back into arenas when the season begins in October also will need to be addressed by the league and its 30 franchises.
Near the end of the 2003-04 season, the Penguins -- mindful that a protracted lockout could be coming -- made across-the-board cuts in season-ticket prices for the team's next season. Those reductions, which range from six to 45 percent on full season tickets, were reaffirmed by Sawyer yesterday.
Cutting ticket prices is a strategy that has been considered by numerous teams, particularly those in cities where public support can be soft, but the Penguins are one of the few to implement reductions so far. Washington, San Jose, St. Louis, Florida and the Rangers are among the others that have done so.
But just how all this translates into the sport getting its fan base back to pre-lockout numbers remains to be seen.
(Dave Molinari can be reached at 412-263-1144.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Montour High To Get a Real Dose of Butkus


Wednesday, July 13, 2005
By Chico Harlan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

His scowling face -- square as steel -- inhabits the bloodiest corridors of NFL iconography, still, and possibly forevermore. Dick Butkus' most destructive hits still resonate, strictly because of their pure and brutish power, even though Butkus retired from the NFL in 1973.
As a perennial All-Pro with the Chicago Bears, Butkus changed things, rearranged them. The momentum of running backs. The faces of opponents. The game itself.

And now, Butkus is taking that same mantra -- to reverse what he sees -- and applying it to a most unlikely scenario. As a part of a new ESPN prime-time reality program, Butkus will work as an assistant coach at Montour High School, trying to rebuild a program that has failed to make the playoffs for six years in a row. He'll work with Lou Cerro, in his first season as coach at Montour. He'll live in the community. He'll serve as the centerpiece of a TV show that explores the nexus of community and football, following all the drama that results.

The show is called "Bound for Glory -- The Montour Spartans," airing at 10 p.m. Sept. 20 and every Tuesday night throughout the season. Already, the show is pulling lives into overdrive, as administrators and students known currently only by friends and family prepare for lives as public characters, as pieces in a story line.
They will be stars. They also will be working daily with one of the most imposing linebackers in NFL history.
"We're welcoming in the people from Hollywood," Montour athletic director Mitch Galiyas said.
The idea was born in Los Angeles among some of the brightest minds in reality television, then planted in Montour -- an area that perfectly fit the requirements producers had in mind.

Two years ago, the idea for this reality series was proposed to executive producer R.J. Cutler, the president and founder of Actual Reality Pictures, which is producing the show in step with Reveille and Full Circle Entertainment. He immediately loved the idea.

"It's a very simple idea about a school and town where football is in many ways the lifeblood of the community," Cutler said.
"We hear pitches all the time, but the minute we heard this, we knew it was great," said H.T. Owens of Reveille. "Think 'Friday Night Lights,' the book. So what happens if we go in there and try to foment a change, bringing in an iconic NFL player. Wouldn't that be great?"

Next they needed a player and a school.

They found a player who has acted in more than a dozen films. His previous coaching experience? It's a stretch. He coached a basketball team in NBC's teen television show, "Hang Time."
"I guess that's my only coaching experience," Butkus said. "Maybe I'll have to draw off that. Of course, that was scripted."

Butkus, 62, will move from Malibu, Calif., and live in the Pittsburgh area during the show. That's what producers required. Executives from the show interviewed more than 20 former NFL players before deciding that Butkus had the right presence -- and the right dedication -- for the job.
"We not only talked about who'd work well on camera," Owens said. "But we also thought about who would take it the most seriously. Who would get up early? Who would really work with this team?"

Since being selected for the show, Butkus has communicated with Galiyas and Cerro. Butkus asked for a Montour playbook. When camera crews begin shooting Aug. 8, when the Spartans begin training camp, Butkus will be there, well-studied.
The sudden onslaught of attention and cameras will, of course, barely qualify as a starting point, because the process that delivered such attention and cameras to Montour started months ago.
Executives of the show wanted to find a school that met two qualifications: First, football ran thick through the community. Second, the team had struggled in recent seasons, despite a proud past.

When "Bound for Glory" representatives arrived to visit Montour, a surge of enthusiasm swept over them. Two dozens students met them at a Downtown hotel, welcoming them to Pittsburgh. The school ordered 1,200 black T-shirts that read: "Bound for Glory." Administrators organized an assembly featuring cheerleaders, band members and a student-created multimedia presentation about the football program and the town.

So now, Montour is getting ready. Reality television, it turns out, can prompt change just as quickly as Butkus can. Montour is in the process of constructing a new locker room, revamping its weight room and building a new scoreboard. Cerro is even receiving a new office.
The goal is only partly designed for exposure. Mostly, its intentions are the same as Butkus': to change a team that went 1-8 last year into a school that can win. Regularly.
"High school football can be one of the better times in somebody's life," Butkus said. "I just want to mold them and help them turn things around."
"We've got to remember, even with the cameras around, we're still trying to win football games," Cerro said. "Blocking it all out will be the biggest challenge. Discipline will be even harder."
This time, though, Cerro has Butkus to help.
"The last few years we've been lacking, I don't want to say it's been weakness, but maybe we haven't been so aggressive," said senior lineman Anthony Pastin. "Maybe this will help us out."

(Chico Harlan can be reached at aharlan@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1227.)

Friday, July 08, 2005

Rocco DeMaro: Bettis is the Best Ever


Record setting
All-time rushing yardage leaders
1. *E Smith 18,355
2. W Payton 16,726
3. B Sanders 15,269
4. *C Martin 13,366
5. *J Bettis 13,294
6. E Dickerson 13,259
7. T Dorsett 12,739
8. J Brown 12,312
9. M Allen 12,243
10. F Harris 12,120
11. T Thomas 12,074
12. *M Faulk 11,987
13. J Riggins 11,352
14. O Simpson 11,236
15. R Watters 10,643
16. *E George 10,441
17. O Anderson 10,273
18. *C Dillon 9,696
19. E Campbell 9,407
20. T Allen 8,614
21. J Taylor 8,597
22. J Perry 8,378
23. E Byner 8,261
24. H Walker 8,225
25. R Craig 8,189
26. G Riggs 8,188
27. L Csonka 8,081
28. F McNeil 8,074
29. *G Hearst 7,966
30. J Brooks 7,962

All-time rushes leaders
1. *E Smith 4,409
2. W Payton 3,838
3. *J Bettis 3,369
4. *C Martin 3,298
5. B Sanders 3,062
6. M Allen 3,022
7. E Dickerson 2,996
8. F Harris 2,949
9. T Dorsett 2,936
10. J Riggins 2,916
11. T Thomas 2,877
12. *E George 2,865
13. *M Faulk 2,771
14. R Watters 2,622
15. O Anderson 2,562
16. O Simpson 2,404
17. J Brown 2,359
18. *C Dillon 2,210
19. E Campbell 2,187
20. T Allen 2,152
21. E Byner 2,095
22. R Craig 1,991
23. G Riggs 1,989
24. H Walker 1,954
25. J Taylor 1,941
26. L Csonka 1,891
27. M Pruitt 1,844
28. *G Hearst 1,831
29. *E James 1,828
30. R Hampton 1,824




By Rocco DeMaro
SteelersLIVE Xtra
Monday, June 27, 2005

Jerome Bettis is the Neil Armstrong of the National Football League.

Or the James T. Kirk if you will… or Jean Luc Picard depending on your tastes. Bettis is boldly going where no man has gone before.
At least no man his size.

Put simply, he's the greatest 'Big Back' to ever play the game. And every carry Bettis makes pushes him farther from the pack, and farther into uncharted territory for 'Big Backs'.

Career rushes is an often overlooked statistic, yet it's as telling a stat as there is for a running back's career. The top 10 in career rushes are a virtual who's who of all-time backs.
Bettis ranks third on that list behind only Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton.

To get the number of carries Bettis has, you not only need to be durable for a long period of time, but you need to be effective as well.

Durability and effectiveness aren't qualities one normally associates with 'Big Backs'. Especially backs as big as Bettis.

To put Bettis' size into perspective, comparing legendary 'Big Backs' Jim Brown (232), Earl Campbell (232), John Riggins (230), Larry Csonka (235) or Franco Harris (230) to Jerome Bettis (265) would be akin to comparing them to the likes of Barry Sanders (203), Gale Sayers (200) and Tony Dorsett (195). It's a 30+ lb. weight difference each way.

For further perspective, here are some other current RB's with weights approaching Bettis' 265 lbs.: Ron Dayne (250), Mike Alstott (250), T.J. Duckett (250) and Greg Jones (250). That's it. That's the list. Those guys aren't even starters let alone Hall of Famers in waiting. The Ravens' Jamal Lewis weighs in at 240. He's the closest elite RB to Bettis' weight class.

An NFL running back's career, on average, lasts 2.57 years. That's because RB's have the unfortunate job description of 'being chased and tackled by eleven giant men each time they touch the ball'-which for a first-string running back can be more than thirty times per game.

It's therefore in most RB's best interest to be as elusive as possible, to reduce the amount of punishment to their body and extend their career. As such, the average weight for an NFL running back is about 215 pounds.

Jerome Bettis, for all his skill, is not elusive and does not weigh 215 pounds. His style as a 'Big Back' is to seek out contact and wear opposing defenses down. And that makes his incredible longevity all the more improbable.

Jerome Bettis though, for all his greatness, is slowing down.. He's said the upcoming 2005 season, his thirteenth as a pro, will probably be his last. So what will his legacy as a player be?
Will he be known as the greatest 'Big Back' ever? Or maybe, (and hopefully) he'll be known as the biggest Great Back ever.
Whatever his legacy, he's a freak of nature. A large freak of nature. And it'll be a long time before another like him comes around.

Rocco hosts Weekend Sportsline with Rocco DeMaro Saturday's 1-4 p.m. on FM Newstalk 104.7. He can be reached at mrd163@hotmail.com .