Thursday, June 29, 2006

Cowher's Future in Pittsburgh Uncertain

Retired Steelers running back Jerome Bettis and coach Bill Cowher pose for a picture with the Lombardi Trophy following a White House ceremony to honor the Super Bowl XL champions (6/3/06).

A month before camp, Cowher's future in Pittsburgh uncertain

By The Associated Press
Thursday, June 29, 2006

PITTSBURGH - Coach Bill Cowher will take his 15th Pittsburgh Steelers team to training camp in one month. The question now is whether there will be a 16th season - or a 17th or an 18th.
With the Super Bowl champions' vacation time dwindling down to weeks instead of months, Cowher - who has two seasons left on his contract - has not signed an extension despite offseason talks between the team and his agent.

Asked recently how many more years he would coach the Steelers, Cowher said, "I'm taking it year by year" - an answer he had never given before.

Previously, the Steelers have never allowed the man with the third most victories among active NFL coaches go into any season with fewer than two seasons left on his contract. They signed him to an extension even after the Steelers missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons from 1998-2000, and Cowher's next team went 13-3 and reached the AFC championship game.

But, for the first time in the career of only the second Steelers coach in the last 37 years, circumstances are different.

First, the Steelers have won the Super Bowl that had eluded them for 26 years and Cowher for the first 13 seasons of a career that saw his teams reach six AFC championships game before he won the NFL title.

Cowher had long called not winning the Super Bowl "the void" that had always been there in his career and now it's gone.

Second, Cowher - one year away from age 50 - has begun to show signs that he might be getting weary of the nearly year-around grind of being an NFL coach and is looking toward retirement.

Cowher has always said he planned to coach the Steelers until his three daughters graduated from high school. Two daughters, Meagan and Lauren, are now varsity basketball players at Princeton, while the third, Lindsay, will be a high school sophomore.

However, unlike her two older sisters, Lindsay apparently will not finish her scholastic basketball career at Pittsburgh's suburban Fox Chapel High School. Cowher and wife Kaye recently purchased, through a trust set up by his agent's company, a $2.5 million home in Raleigh, N.C.

Cowher's wife and youngest daughter apparently plan to live there this fall so Lindsay can attend school and play basketball there. Bill and Kaye Cowher both graduated from North Carolina State and have long planned to live there after Cowher's coaching career ended. They also own a summer home on the North Carolina coast where they were staying the week of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident.

While the Cowhers purchased the home last fall, news of the transaction did not break until after the Steelers won the Super Bowl. It caught the Steelers by surprise, since Cowher had not given any signs of moving from the $900,000 home in Pittsburgh that he bought shortly after being hired in 1992.

With a big new house located out of state and no new contract, Cowher may be looking beyond Pittsburgh and the Steelers. And what the Steelers don't know is if Cowher might be inclined to coach a team other than theirs, perhaps after he tried retirement for a year or two in his early 50s and decided he wanted to coach again.

Also, the Steelers likely must pay substantially more for a coach than they ever have before if they are to re-sign Cowher. His current contract is worth about $4 million, but Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren's recent deal raised the bar for upper-tier coaches to the $7.5 million to $8 million range - about double what the Steelers are paying Cowher.

The Steelers have the same policy with coaches as they do players, and that means no contract talks once a season begins. Should Cowher not get an extension before the Sept. 7 opener against Miami, the Steelers face the possibility of going into the next offseason with Cowher in the final year of his contract.

Team president Art Rooney II has said only that the Steelers want to get a new deal done before the season starts.

With a 141-82-1 record, Cowher ranks 14th in NFL history in coaching victories.

Herb Brooks Headed to Hockey Hall of Fame

Head of Miracle on Ice also coached Penguins
Thursday, June 29, 2006

By Chuck Finder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The late Herb Brooks, who directed the most stunning upset in hockey history -- a bunch of college boys beating the Big Red Machine that was the Soviet Union on ice -- was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame yesterday.

"It's well deserved, and well beyond its time," Mike Eruzione said yesterday between flights around the country as one of America's leading motivational speakers, which is what scoring the winning goal against the Russians did for him in that 1980 Miracle on Ice. "But let's not be negative. He got in, and that's great.

"It's really appropriate, what he meant not only to USA Hockey, but as the ambassador he's been for the game, his coaching. ... He qualified in every area."

Yesterday, almost 80 days short of three years since his death in an automobile accident in his native Minnesota, Brooks, who much later served the Penguins in several capacities including coach, was elected to the Toronto-based Hockey Hall in the Builder's Category reserved for coaches, general managers and other officials. He was picked by a selection committee consisting almost entirely of Canadian-born NHL players, coaches, administrators and media, among them former Penguins coach and front-office type Scotty Bowman. It was basically the final honor eluding Brooks, who spent the final eight hockey seasons of his life with that club.
"It's great for his legacy to get the one thing he didn't have," Eruzione said.

"It's finally here," continued Dan Brooks, Herb's son. He was in Mankato, Minn., at a meeting for securities company RBC Dain Rauscher when his mother, Patti, telephoned with the news that friend and fellow Minnesota hockey legend Lou Nanne had been predicting for so long. "Louie for the last three years has been saying, 'Your dad is going to get into the Hall of Fame.' Deep down, we were hoping for it. It's special, especially being an American. The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto really is a Canadian institution, and to be honored by his good friends up north is so gratifying. If he were alive, he would be so honored."

Joining Brooks in this Builder's Category class was former NHL chairman of the board Harley Hotchkiss. They will be enshrined Nov. 13 at the Hall along with longtime Montreal and Colorado goaltender Patrick Roy plus Dick Duff, a winger with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Brooks, elected in 1990 to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, also coached the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and Minnesota North Stars in the NHL and came back for a 2002 Olympics turn with the U.S. team in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Yet it was that 1980 gold-medal victory in Lake Placid -- alongside assistant Craig Patrick, later his boss as Penguins general manager -- that gripped an America in the throes of an Iranian hostage situation, oil crisis and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In athletic terms alone, that performance transformed hockey into a sport that American kids began to play in record numbers.

"Herb's missed a lot of good things," Eruzione mused. "His portrayal in [the movie] 'Miracle.' Now this Hall of Fame induction."

"That's the neat thing: He's going to be in there with Craig and some other guys," added Dan Brooks. "He'd have been thrilled. He'd have been thrilled."

In addition to Patrick and Bowman, other former Penguins in the Hockey Hall include: Mario Lemieux, Bob Johnson, Joe Mullen, Larry Murphy, Paul Coffey, Bryan Trottier, Andy Bathgate, Leo Boivin, Tim Horton and Red Kelly. Tony Esposito and Glen Sather put in brief stints with the Penguins, but not in the player and manager categories, respectively, in which they were enshrined.

Ex-Penguins goaltender Tom Barrasso along with former NHL stars Dino Ciccarelli, Doug Gilmour, Mike Richter and Pavel Bure were among the notable recent retirees eligible for player selection.

Lemieux said in a statement released by the Penguins last night: "On behalf of the entire Pittsburgh Penguins organization, I want to congratulate the Brooks family on this prestigious honor for Herb. Herb's passion and dedication to the growth of hockey in the United States was second to none. He was a valued member of the Penguins organization, and we are thrilled and proud that he has been bestowed this tremendous honor."

"He showed that North Americans could play hockey that was beautiful to watch, something poetic ... free-flowing," said Penguins announcer Paul Steigerwald, echoing a sentiment that Brooks' style resembled what the NHL played this past season. "He's truly a builder."

And pro-U.S.

Dan Brooks said the induction ceremony will mark his first trip to Toronto. Eruzione laughed at that notion. "That's typical Herb," he said. "They vacationed in American places."

(Chuck Finder can be reached at or 412-263-1724. )

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hot-hitting Sanchez is no fluke

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By Rob Rossi
Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Freddy Sanchez has his doubters.

They have their reasons, too.

After all, a Pirates fan needs only to remember the 2005 season, when Rob Mackowiak came off the bench to join the everyday lineup and immediately jumped into the National League batting race.

Mackowiak ended up hitting a respectable .272 for the season. He was then traded to the Chicago White Sox during the offseason.

So, there's at least one difference between Mackowiak and Sanchez -- one was shipped out of Pittsburgh, while the other figures on being here for quite some time.

Another difference...

"What he's doing is no fluke," said Sean Casey of Sanchez. "I saw it last year when I was with Cincinnati and he started getting a chance to play more. He was the Pirates' toughest out. He's probably the toughest out we have on this team.

"He's a great hitter. He has ridiculous hands; they're sick. That guy has a knack for getting the barrel of the bat on a baseball. He can be off-balance, out in front of the pitch, backing away from the pitch, you name it -- he almost always gets the barrel of the bat on the ball. That's exactly what great hitters do consistently."

Casey should know. He has a career batting average of .305.

When Joe Randa went down in late-April with a bone contusion on his right foot -- an injury that would cost him five weeks -- Sanchez was given the opportunity to start every day at third base.

Sanchez took his opportunity and had made a case to become the Pirates' third baseman of this season and the ones to follow.

His .351 batting average was third among National League entering Monday, behind only Matt Holliday of the Colorado Rockies (.353) and Nomar Garciaparra of the Los Angeles Dodgers (.362).

Coincidentally, back in 2003, when Garciaparra was still the beloved hero of Red Sox Nation, Sanchez was an acclaimed prospect for Boston, considered to be a batting champion-in-waiting.

Boston's need for a starting pitcher during the stretch run of 2003 resulted in Sanchez coming to the Pirates in return for Jeff Suppan, Brandon Lyon and Anastacio Martinez. General manager Dave Littlefield also reacquired Mike Gonzalez in that deal.

Gonzalez is the Pirates' designated closer of today and tomorrow.
As for Sanchez, consider the following scene:

Upon his return from a minor-league rehab stint with Class AAA Indianapolis, Randa sat down with manager Jim Tracy to discuss his place on the roster.

"Joe completely understood that there was no way we could take Freddy out of the lineup," said Tracy. "As a professional, he realized that this team was better off now with Freddy at third. He also realized that Freddy was the future at third."

The sudden conversion of third-base prospect Jose Bautista to a center fielder certainly speaks to Sanchez's future in Pittsburgh.

"This organization gave me my first chance to show what I can do at this level," said Sanchez. "Pittsburgh has been great for me and great to me. I'm very happy here."

Those noticeable chants at PNC Park ("Fred-E!, Fred-E!") are evidence of just how happy Pirates fans are to have Sanchez -- even if some are privately are waiting for the shoe to drop and flatten his awesome average.

"People are going to be waiting a long time if that's what they are waiting for," said Jack Wilson. "He's a feel-good story, but not that kind that is waiting to be exposed. Freddy has always been a great player. He just needed a chance to play. Now he's got that chance and everybody is seeing what he can do."

Rob Rossi can be reached at or (412) 380-5635.

Penguins Employ the Perfect Staal Tactic

Shero waited until the last minute to reveal what he knew Friday
Sunday, June 25, 2006
By Dave Molinari, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Jordan Staal never denied that he found the idea of playing alongside his older brother, Eric, intriguing.

And he certainly was aware that Carolina was angling to acquire the No. 2 pick yesterday in the entry draft from the Penguins so it could unite the two of them.

But Penguins general manager Ray Shero never was so taken with any deal offered by the Hurricanes -- or any other club -- that it convinced him to part with the pick, which he used to claim Staal, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound center from Peterborough of the Ontario Hockey League.

And, much as the idea of having his oldest brother for a teammate appealed to Staal, he professed to be delighted about being selected by the Penguins.

"It really didn't matter where I ended up," he said. "This seems like I great organization. I'm really proud to be part of it."

He really didn't know that would happen, though, until Shero announced his name from the stage at GM Place. Not only because he figured a trade was possible, but because the Penguins had been noncommittal about their plans.

"I honestly had no idea what was going to happen," Staal said.

Maybe not, but Shero obviously did. While there was great suspense about what the Penguins would do with their selection, Shero said it was fairly evident by Friday night that no club was willing to part with enough to merit a trade.

"I knew [then] we weren't going to do anything," he said. "But [listening to the offers] was a good exercise. When I was coming off the stage with [Staal]), he said, 'This is a perfect fit.'
"And I just told him I wasn't trading the pick. In the end, I wanted him."

Although there had been no consensus about which prospect was the second-best in the draft -- defenseman Erik Johnson, who went to St. Louis first overall, was a clear-cut selection as the top choice -- Shero said Staal's potential separated him from the likes of Jonathan Toews, Phil Kessel and Nicklas Backstrom.

"For us, the absolute upside of the player [made the difference]," Shero said. "He's got a lot of room to grow, and this kid has uncanny hockey sense. ... He's so skilled. It's hard to contain guys like that. When you're drafting at [No.] 2, I want to take the upside of the player, and I think he's got it."

Staal, who will not turn 18 until Sept. 10, is the youngest of the elite prospects in this year's talent pool, which is part of the reason many scouts believe he will benefit from at least one more season in junior hockey.

That also is part of the reason the Penguins aren't penciling him into their 2006-07 lineup, although they aren't writing him off as a candidate for a spot on the team, either.

"I don't want to block anybody's progress," Shero said. "I don't want to block any aspirations he has of making our team next year, so we're going to have an open mind and we're going to see how he does during the rookie camp, how he does in the exhibition [games], then make a decision from there."

Staal had 28 goals and 40 assists in 60 games with the Petes last season, while often being cast in a defensive role. He expects to "get the opportunity to play more offensively" if he returns to Peterborough in the winter.

And if he somehow sticks in the NHL, Staal will become part of a club that he believes has exceptional promise.

"I see a young team that's got the potential to be a great team," he said. "They have a lot of talent."

Staal will get his introduction to pro hockey, and some future teammates, when the Penguins' rookie camp opens Sept. 7. Even now, though, he recognizes that he'll have to upgrade his speed -- "It's really fast hockey [in the NHL]," Staal said -- and overall strength to establish himself at the next level.

When he gets there, he'll have Sidney Crosby for a teammate. And while Staal repeatedly stressed that he's not in the NHL yet, he allowed himself a few seconds to imagine how they could work as linemates.

"I'm sure I'll be putting up some numbers if I do get a chance to play [alongside him]," he said.

Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who is expected to come over from Russia this summer, will give the Penguins an exceptional 1-2 punch at center. While it's possible that Staal could bump one of them out of a job, he was adamant that he'd be willing to move to the wing if the Penguins want.
"I'll play wherever they put me," he said. "It doesn't really matter to me. As long as I get an opportunity to play, I'll be happy."

And, who knows? Perhaps by the time Staal becomes a regular with the Penguins, Shero will have persuaded Carolina GM Jim Rutherford to trade him Eric Staal.

OK, so that's a long shot, but Shero did get a chuckle when that concept was put to him.

"I hadn't thought about that," he said. "I don't think I'll bring that up with Jimmy today."

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Complete team by team draft selections through seventh round

Pirates Put History on Display

Tuesday, June 27, 2006
By Chuck Finder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Pirates yesterday unveiled a lineup that made history, and not the sad-sack version of events scrawled by the current team.

The organization drew back the curtain on its new Highmark Legacy Square project inside the left-field entrance at PNC Park, where life-size bronze statues and interactive kiosks commemorate seven Pittsburgh Negro League greats: catcher Josh Gibson of the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords, Crawfords pitcher Satchel Paige, Crawfords/Grays outfielder Cool Papa Bell, Grays/Crawfords center fielder-manager Oscar Charleston, Grays first baseman Buck Leonard, Grays/Crawfords infielder Judy Johnson and Grays pitcher Smokey Joe Williams.

In all, they played a combined 78 seasons on those storied Pittsburgh teams circa 1925-50. In order, Paige, Gibson, Leonard, Bell, Johnson and Charleston were five of the first six Negro League stars to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

"A lot of people probably don't realize the incredible history we have here," Pirates managing general partner Kevin McClatchy said at a morning ceremony. "Kids today probably don't know about segregated players in different leagues, eating in different restaurants. ... This will tell the story of the Negro Leagues. Because it is a huge part of our baseball history."

The Pirates, who began honoring that history as long ago as the late 1980s, thus become the first Major League Baseball team with what amounts to a miniature Negro League museum. In Kansas City, Mo., home of the celebrated Monarchs of Paige and Buck O'Neil, not to mention the Negro League Baseball Museum, the Royals a decade ago erected a single-wall exhibit at Kauffman Stadium to that city's black-baseball heritage. Yet, nowhere except the NLBM is there a display approximating this one: seven statues, huge commemorative bats overhead and an indoor, 25-seat Legacy Theatre where visitors can see an interactive fans wall created by Carnegie Mellon University and watch a 12-minute video focusing on black baseball in Pittsburgh. The film was written with the help of Pitt professor Rob Ruck and narrated by ESPN's Joe Morgan.

The architect, Ed Scheele, and the sculptor, John Forsythe, joined forces on the Kansas City museum and, as of December, on this Pittsburgh project -- which opens a fortnight before PNC Park plays host to the All-Star Game.

"This was a real fast-track project for us," Scheele said moments after overcoming a technical glitch with a video viewing. He added that usually six months is devoted to a single sculpture and interactive kiosk, let alone seven in that time.

(Chuck Finder can be reached at or 412-263-1724. )

Friday, June 23, 2006

As Expected, Ovechkin Wins Calder Trophy

2006 NHL Award Winners

Lester Pearson (MVP as voted on by the players) -- Jaromir Jagr, New York Rangers
Lady Byng (sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct) -- Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
Jack Adams Award (coach of the year) -- Lindy Ruff (Buffalo Sabres)
Vezina Trophy (outstanding goaltender) -- Miikka Kiprusoff (Calgary Flames)
Masteron Trophy (perseverance and dedication to hockey) -- Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Mighty Ducks
Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy (goal-scoring leader) -- Jonathan Cheechoo, San Jose Sharks
King Clancy Memorial Trophy (leadership and humanitarian contributions) -- Olaf Kolzig, Washington Capitals
Frank J. Selke Trophy (defensive forward) -- Rod Brind'amour, Carolina Hurricanes
Norris Trophy (top defenseman) -- Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) -- Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Hart Trophy (MVP) -- Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

By Karen Price
Friday, June 23, 2006

VANCOUVER -- Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Washington Capitals winger Alexander Ovechkin finished four points apart in scoring in 2005-06, Crosby with 102 points and Ovechkin with 106.

The voting for the Calder Trophy for the rookie of the year award wasn't nearly as close.

As expected, Ovechkin took home the honor Thursday and was a near-unanimous selection, receiving 124 of 129 first-place votes and five second-place votes for a total of 1,275 points. Crosby finished second with four first-place votes and 95 second-place votes for 831 points. Calgary Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf had no first-place votes and finished in third with 580 points.

"To win the Calder Trophy means a lot," the 20-year-old Moscow native said. "It means a lot. I don't have words. I could tell you in Russian."

Before the ceremony, Crosby, all decked out in a tuxedo, walked the red carpet at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts with Ovechkin, and the two gave interviews in front of the television cameras seated next to one another.

Earlier in the day, Crosby, 18, said he wouldn't be disappointed if he didn't win the trophy.

"Not at all," Crosby said. "By no means am I going to measure my season based on this. It's a bonus if I get it, but if not, it's not something I'm going to be too disappointed about or put a lot of emphasis on. It'd be nice, but I'm not measuring my season on it."

Crosby, who led all rookies in assists with 63 and became the youngest player in the history of the NHL to reach 100 points, was named to the All-Rookie Team and finished third in voting for the All-Star Team at the center position.

He said before the event that he was just enjoying being part of what he's watched on television so many times before. And he also was enjoying getting to know his main competition for the award, too.

"It's nice to get to hang out with (Ovechkin) and talk a little bit," Crosby said. "Obviously, when we play each other, we don't get that chance. I think in the media it's always built up as such a rivalry, and we don't really know each other, so it was nice just to meet him. It's fun to see there's another guy going through a lot of similar things, and we can relate to a lot of the same things, so it's pretty unique."

Ovechkin, who became the second rookie in history to tally 50 goals and 100 points in a season, had similar good things to say about Crosby.

"We speak a little bit," Ovechkin said before the ceremony. "He's a great player, and he's a good person. I wish him good luck."

Crosby said he feels like he met the goals he set for himself coming into the season.

"I just wanted to come in and adjust as soon as I could and just play the same type of game at the same type of level that I did in other leagues," he said. "I felt I adjusted pretty fast and felt comfortable, so I'm pretty happy."

The Professional Hockey Writers Association votes on the Hart, Norris Selke, Lady Byng, Calder and Masterton Trophies. The general managers vote on the Vezina Trophy, while the NHL Broadcasters' Association votes on the Jack Adams Award. The King Clancy Award is voted on by a panel of representatives from the PHWA and NHLBA. All voting is done at the conclusion of the regular season.

Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar received one third-place vote for the NHL All-Star Team and one fifth-place vote for the Norris Trophy for the top defenseman. Crosby received one second-place vote for the Lady Byng.

Karen Price can be reached at

Joe Starkey: Appalling Low For Bucs

Joe Starkey
Friday, June 23, 2006

Reporters recently questioned the Pirates' media-shy chairman of the board, Robert Nutting, about his family's pending purchase of Seven Springs Mountain Resort.

No, they didn't ask if there would be pierogi races in the snow, February fireworks shows or a cigar bar at the Main Lodge Hotel. They didn't wonder if the payroll would be covered through ski resort revenue-sharing or if Kevin McClatchy would become the face of the establishment, either.

They wanted to know if the sale would create a conflict of interest with Major League Baseball because of the proposed gambling casino at Seven Springs.

Rest assured, Nutting said, "We will do nothing to embarrass Major League Baseball."

Nothing but continue to field one of the worst products in the league, anyway -- and this season has suddenly become way beyond embarrassing.

The Pirates have been swept by the Kansas City Royals.

So, the question must be asked: Did the 15-7 loss Thursday -- the one that extended the Pirates' losing streak to eight games and dropped them to a season-worst 22 games below .500 -- represent the low point of the McClatchy/Nutting era, or perhaps even the low point in the franchise's 14-year losing streak?

Granted, there's plenty of competition. I mean, where do you start?

With the raising of ticket prices after a 100-loss season in 2001?

With Derek Bell or Raul Mondesi?

With Jim Leyland quitting in the middle of a contract?

With the massive payroll purge of 1996, which occurred 20 days after Nutting's dad, G. Ogden Nutting, upped his stake in the franchise?

How about the time Al Martin blew a game by failing to score from third on a single; the day Aramis Ramirez was traded for a pack of sunflower seeds; or the day the Pirates left Chris Shelton exposed in the Rule 5 draft but made sure Jason Boyd and Carlos Rivera were protected?

Which do you weigh more heavily -- leaving a productive Joe Randa unprotected in the 1998 expansion draft, or signing a washed-up Joe Randa to a $4 million deal eight years later?

I know. There's plenty more.

We haven't even mentioned first-round busts such as Clint Johnston and J.J. Davis, losing 25 of 30 to finish the '98 season, or McClatchy saying this on the day he hired Lloyd McClendon: "We got the guy we felt would get us winning the fastest."

I grant you all of that and more. I just wonder if any of it tops getting flushed by the Royals, whose roster is replete with Pirates castoffs such as Emil Brown (three RBI yesterday) and who have, for much of the season, been justifiably compared to the worst teams in baseball history.

The Royals became the first club in more than a century to post two double-digit losing streaks (11 and 13 games) before their 44th game and recently were on pace to finish 41-121, which would set a modern-day record for losses.

Today, those same Royals are just 2 1/2 games behind your Buccos, who were supposed to be "turning the corner," who supposedly are "this close" to being a good team and who will be hosting the All-Star Game - perhaps with the worst record in the majors -- in 18 days.

Oh well. At least Jason Bay might start in left field that night.

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

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Pirates Reach Deal With Lincoln

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Prisuta: No relief in sight

By Joe Rutter
Thursday, June 22, 2006

It didn't take a Rocket scientist for Pirates first-round draft pick Brad Lincoln to realize he had a lot in common with Roger Clemens.

Being a hard-throwing right-hander who lives in the Houston suburbs and crafted an impressive college resume, Lincoln knew comparisons existed on several levels.

Like Clemens, Lincoln has Texas-sized tenacity, a trait that was evident when he approached his idol last year.

Clemens was watching his eldest son, Koby, compete in a summer-league game at the same University of Houston field where Lincoln eventually would excel. Lincoln spotted Clemens in the seats and decided it might be the only time he could get insight from the six-time Cy Young winner.

"It was kind of intimidating," Lincoln said Wednesday after coming to terms on a $2.75 million signing bonus. "The guy is huge, and he's as big a name as there is. It's hard to go up and introduce yourself. But once we started talking, it was great to get to know the guy. I told him I might have a chance to move on, and we talked about pro life and what it's like compared to college."

Clemens' best piece of advice?

"He told me to keep my head on straight when the bad times come," Lincoln said.

So far, the 21-year-old Lincoln hasn't had many.

After going 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA in 17 starts and reaching 97 mph on the radar gun during his junior season at Houston, Lincoln elevated himself into the first round of the amateur draft.
The Pirates selected Lincoln with the fourth overall pick and needed little more than two weeks to wrap up negotiations.

Lincoln embarked on his professional career last night when he boarded a flight to Bradenton, Fla., site of the Pirates' Gulf Coast League affiliate. Because he hasn't thrown a pitch in several weeks, Lincoln will work out under the supervision of minor-league pitching coordinator Gary Ruby. Then, he will pitch in several games for the rookie-level Pirates before likely being sent to Single-A Hickory for the remainder of the minor-league season.

Coming off a season in which he threw 1272/3 innings -- more than seven per start -- Lincoln will have his workload strictly monitored and probably won't exceed 80 pitches in any outing this summer. Considering that Lincoln had three complete games, two shutouts and 151 strikeouts this past season, it's not surprising the Pirates want to use the kid-gloves treatment on him.

"We're cognizant that he was a high-pitch guy, and we want to bring him along slowly," Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said.

That's fine with Lincoln, who can't wait to begin his pro career. Asked whether he wanted to start at Bradenton, Williamsport or Hickory, Lincoln said, "If there's some dirt on a hill in the middle of a field, I'm ready to throw off it."

Lincoln's contract, which includes an invitation to the 2007 major-league camp, was negotiated almost as quickly as his fastball reaches the catcher's mitt.

"The ultimate goal is to get Brad to the big leagues," said Peter Vescovo, Lincoln's adviser. "The only way he's going to do that is by getting out there and playing."

After some loose ends were wrapped up, Lincoln arrived in Pittsburgh on Tuesday to take his physical.

"I didn't want to be one of those guys who holds out until December or January," he said. "It's huge to let people know you're not a greedy guy. You just want to get a chance. I'm getting a very good opportunity to excel in what I do."

If Lincoln encounters any bumps along the way, he can always reflect back on his talk with Clemens.

"I took some great things from that conversation," Lincoln said. "He knows what he's doing, so maybe I can follow in his footsteps."

Joe Rutter can be reached at

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Gene Collier: City Held Its Breath After Ben's Smashup

Signs wishing Ben Roethlisberger a quick recovry have sprouted at the intersection of Second Avenue, the Tenth Street Bridge and the Armstrong Tunnel, where the Steelers quarterback was injured in a motorcycle-car collision Monday morning.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Not 200 yards from the emergency entrance to Mercy Hospital sits Ryan's Auto Glass, its frontage on Forbes Avenue displaying an array of helpful information.

"Most windshield repairs," one sign says, "take about 20 minutes."

Good to know, but how long does it take to repair a quarterback who hits a windshield, spider-webs it like a 240-pound brick, and then bounces off the pavement?

That was, essentially, the sickening question that flattened the city's quotidian rhythm into a grim daze just before noon yesterday and never really let up.

Big Ben Roethlisberger, almost as though he were carrying out the inevitable cataclysm foreshadowed by amateur clairvoyants from Bill Cowher to Terry Bradshaw, plowed his motorcycle into a car on his way to the Steelers' offices, turning himself into a helmetless projectile at the mercy of auto glass, concrete, and providence.

And the words of the prophets are written in blood along Second Avenue.

That Big Ben was not killed was apparently not blessing enough for talk show callers, who seemed to express more outrage at his recklessness than concern for his health.

This is, for better or worse, a football town first, after all, and the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers is effectively our most prominent citizen. No one identifies us to the nation like Big Ben and a fine youthful swashbuckling image it's been.

Mercy Hospital has been standing there on the Bluff for 159 years, churning out fateful shipments of hope and heartbreak pretty much independent of the fortunes of the local football team, but its convenience to yesterday's crash scene turned its atmosphere into an almost surreal cityscape.

It was 1:24, more than two hours after the accident, before any medical information was available, and then only in a few short sentences from Dr. Larry Jones, chief of Mercy's trauma and burn unit. Dr. Jones walked with Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett from the emergency entrance to the edge of the driveway, where a skittish media enclave had horseshoed itself around a manhole cover that looked to be serving as the doctor's spot.

"Mr. Roethlisberger is in serious, but stable condition," he said.

Had the manhole cover blown 100 feet in the air at the minute, it would not likely have affected anyone's concentration. "He'll be taken into surgery."

What little Dr. Jones said before being turned around by a hospital spokesperson added little to anyone's understanding of the exact seriousness of "serious but stable" and that was just enough uncertainty to inflame the day.

By 2:11, someone in an olive suit and dark tie was singing "Amazing Grace" on the lower sidewalk, and when back-up quarterback Charlie Batch left the front of the building around 2:30, there were more than enough people around to start an argument over what Batch should have said, instead of nothing.

"How's your mom?" one guy screamed as Batch got to his car.

Batch looked back and waved.

"Do you know him?" another man asked the screamer.

"Know him? He's one of my homeboys. I'm from Homestead. I raised him."

"Then why didn't he stop and talk to you?"

"I don't know."

Before 5 o'clock, someone in a white, hand-lettered T-shirt reading PRAY FOR BEN on the front had taken up a post adjacent to the rush-hour traffic. On the back, the shirt read, "Our lives are in his hands." Not exactly official NFL merchandise.

The uncomfortable aura along Marion Street had been thick with irony for hours, even before the unidentified man in the powder blue WINSLOW jersey walked out of the emergency doors. That jersey represents former San Diego Chargers great Kellen Winslow, whose son, a top draft pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2004, the same year the Steelers chose Roethlisberger with the 11th pick, had his career derailed by a motorcycle accident.

But the greater ironical juggling was playing out throughout a community that had tried not to worry itself sick in advance of almost exactly these particulars. A collision, a windshield, and Big Ben's blood on some unforgiving city street. He wasn't wearing a helmet.

Maybe some time today we'll dispense with the I-told-you-so's.

(Gene Collier can be reached at or 412-263-1283. )

Friday, June 09, 2006

Ed Bouchette: Cowher's Long-term Coaching Plans Unclear

Steelers head coach Bill Cowher unveils the sign for newly renamed Cowher Way behind Hawthorn Presbyterian Church in Crafton. Officials there designated the former Alley Q as "Cowher Way" in honor of former resident and 1975 Carlynton High School graduate Cowher (5/20/06).

'I'm just taking it year to year'

Friday, June 09, 2006
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Related article
Steelers Notebook: Cowher says rookie will learn lessons

There is a growing feeling inside the Steelers organization that Bill Cowher may coach one more season or, at most two, and then retire to the $2.5 million home he and his wife bought in Raleigh, N.C., this year.

That sentiment was underscored yesterday with Cowher's answer to a question about whether this might be his final season coaching the Steelers.

"I'm just taking it year to year," he said, reiterating words he first spoke at the NFL meetings in March.

His brief comment came during a press conference yesterday to mark the end of the Steelers' spring workouts. Cowher declined, through a spokesman, to speak further about his future.
That answer conflicts with one he gave two years ago in March just before negotiations began that extended his contract through the 2007 season.

"I have a seventh-grader," he said then, "and I know for at least the next five years, if not longer, I plan on coaching."

His youngest daughter, Lindsay, reportedly left Fox Chapel High School to enroll as a sophomore in the fall in a school near Raleigh, where she will play basketball.

Talks between Cowher's agent, Phil de Picciotto, and Steelers President Art Rooney II have been ongoing to extend the coach's contract, something that has always been accomplished when he has had two seasons left on his deal. It's possible no deal will be struck before the regular season begins and if not, Rooney said talks would then stop until the season ends.

"There's always a chance," Rooney said yesterday. "As you know, he has two years left on his contract. No one's sitting here saying we have to absolutely have something done this year. We can always continue the conversation next year."

Rooney declined to reveal the progress of talks.

"The only thing I can say is we've had some conversations and I expect to have more. The important thing is that Bill's focus is entirely on the challenge of the 2006 football season and that's where it should be."

Asked if he thought this might be Cowher's final season coaching the Steelers, Rooney paused before saying he did not.

"I hate to speculate about things like that, but I would say I would be surprised if this were his last year. I'm sure he's given it some thought at some point about how long he wants to coach. He's at the 15-year mark and that's a long time in this league."

Some members of the organization believe Cowher's decision could hinge on how the 2006 season turns out, but he expressed his desire to possibly retire to at least one person last fall.

Cowher, 49, told an associate not connected with the team last October that he was growing tired of the grind of coaching professional football and might soon retire. It was about the time that he and Mrs. Cowher picked out their new home in North Raleigh, near where his wife grew up. When news of their purchase of the 7,400-square foot home broke in March, it stunned most in the organization. The Cowhers also own a summer home on Bald Head Island, N.C., and the first home they bought when the Steelers hired him in 1992, in Fox Chapel.

There was at least one television report that Mrs. Cowher and Lindsay would move to Raleigh and that Cowher would "commute" when he could, a difficult task for an NFL coach during a season that includes seven-day work weeks from late July to, in the Steelers' case this year when they won the Super Bowl, early February. Cowher's eldest daughter Meagan will be a sophomore at Princeton University and his middle daughter Lauren is enrolled there as a freshman and will play basketball.

Before the Steelers won the Super Bowl, Cowher said it was the one void in his coaching career that he had yet to fulfill. He is the longest-tenured coach in the league with one team. His record of 141-82-1 in the regular season ranks third among active coaches in victories and 14th in NFL history.

"We would hope that he continues to coach for a good while," Rooney said.

If he does retire in the next year or two, assistant head coach Russ Grimm or offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt would be strong candidates to succeed him. Both have been candidates for head coaching jobs in the NFL.

Other successful coaches have retired at early ages, although many later returned. Dick Vermeil retired after seven seasons as Eagles coach at age 46, only to return to coaching 15 years later in 1997. Bill Parcells left the New York Giants at age 49 after winning two Super Bowls, returned three years later to coach the Patriots and Jets for seven seasons and retired again after the 1999 season. He came out of retirement once more in 2003 to coach the Cowboys, where he enters his fourth season. Joe Gibbs retired after the 1992 season at age 52 after coaching the Redskins to three Super Bowl victories and returned to coach them in 2004, after he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Cowher could coach another season or two, "retire" for a few years and, if he wanted, be in high demand as a coaching candidate in his mid-50s.

Asked yesterday what he might do in retirement, Cowher said, "That's a good question. I wouldn't be able to talk to you guys. I'd miss you guys. That's why I'm still here."

Two years ago he said that he loved competing and that he would miss coaching. "Besides that, I'm not sure what I would do with myself. It's something that I love to do . . . I don't foresee taking a break anytime soon, to be honest with you."

He said in March 2004 that when his youngest daughter became a senior and only he and his wife were left at home, "maybe at that point what I need to do is sit back and reassess where I'm at."

That evaluation seems to have begun earlier.

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

Saturday, June 03, 2006

President Opens the Door of His House to Steelers

Saturday, June 03, 2006
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

More Coverage:
Full text of President Bush's remarks at Super Bowl XL champions ceremony

Steelers' Day at the Whitehouse Photo Journal
Mission accomplished for 2 Steelers

WASHINGTON -- President Bush, according to some polls, has only a 35 percent approval rate, something even the Steelers might appreciate after they pulled into the final four games of the 2005 regular season with a 7-5 record.

"Halfway through the season, a lot of people counted the Pittsburgh Steelers out, said you don't have a chance,'' Mr. Bush said during a 14-minute ceremony yesterday afternoon at the White House to honor the Super Bowl champions.

"I kind of know the feeling."

Mr. Bush lauded the Steelers for being "champions on the field and off the field,'' joked around with several of them and even threw a short pass to Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward in the East Room of the White House. The ceremony had been moved indoors because of thunderstorms around the nation's capital.

"You had a ring for every finger,'' Mr. Bush said, "and now you got one for the thumb.

"It's a tough brand of football. It wasn't always flashy, but you learned how to win and you're the kind of team that Pittsburgh Steelers fans like to watch -- hard-nosed football.''

Team President Art Rooney presented Mr. Bush with a black Steelers jersey with his name and the number 43 on the back to honor him as the 43rd president of the United States. Mr. Ward presented Mr. Bush with a Super Bowl XL football autographed by the team.

Sens. Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter, both R-Pa., and U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St.
Clair, attended, as did Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and former Pennsylvania Gov. Richard Thornburgh, a former U.S. attorney general

Also attending along with his family was the new CIA chief, Gen. Michael Hayden, a native of Pittsburgh's North Side. Gen. Hayden was once coached in youth football by Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney.

"You have no greater fan than the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency," Mr. Bush said.

The president alluded to the Steelers going after a second straight championship next year when he commented, "I'll be around here next year to see you come back."

As the ceremony ended, Mr. Bush threw a short pass back to Mr. Ward with the football.

"One hundred percent very accurate," Mr. Ward said afterward with a big smile. "It had a nice spiral to it."

Mr. Bush shook hands with many of the Steelers standing behind him, and singled out linebacker Joey Porter and nose tackle Casey Hampton, who threw his arm around the president as their photos were taken.

Mr. Porter, who joked two weeks ago that he would walk into the White House with a swagger, wore big dark sunglasses during the entire ceremony.

"You got a man known for his swagger," Mr. Bush said. "I've been looking forward to Joey Porter's new dance." Mr. Porter smiled, and the two shook hands.

Mr. Hampton, who played football at the University of Texas, used to lift weights at the school with Mr. Bush when he was Texas governor.

"You got a Longhorn -- we used to pump iron together," Mr. Bush said, prompting a round of laughter from the room. "His took, mine didn't."

The president did commit a faux pas, if you will, when he said he was a fan of the "Texas Cowboys." He quickly amended that to the Dallas Cowboys. Mr. Bush was once a part owner of baseball's Texas Rangers.

The Steelers filed into the East Room with chants from the crowd of "Here we go, Steelers, here we go.'' After hearing that, Mr. Bush remarked, "Sounds like some people have been drinking some Iron City Beer here."

The president praised Jerome Bettis for his charity work and Mr. Ward for his attempts to help fight racism in his native Korea, calling his trip to Seoul with his mother "an act of a champion."

Mr. Bush also poked fun at coach Bill Cowher's history of angry sideline displays.

"He has the most unusual expressions on the sideline,'' he said. "So I told the vice president I was going to be able to congratulate Coach Cowher in person. And he said get him to give me some tips on his scowl."

After the ceremony, Mr. Cowher said the visit, which included a tour of the White House for the team, will be "a day we will always remember."

Earlier, six players headed by Mr. Bettis visited wounded U.S. soldiers from Iraq at the Walter Reed Army Hospital.

Several players who left the Steelers as free agents, such as Antwaan Randle El, Kimo von Oelhoffen and Chris Hope rejoined their old teammates for the White House visit as did Willie Williams, who was released. Quarterback Tommy Maddox, also released, did not attend.

"It was an honor to be here,'' Mr. Cowher said. "It was a special year with a special group of guys and a chance to reflect on all of it."

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

Memorable quotes from President Bush at Super Bowl XL champions ceremony

"Thank you all for coming. Please be seated. It sounds like some people have been drinking some Iron City beer here. It's such an honor to welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers here to the White House. Congratulations on being the champs. You had a ring for every finger; now you've got one for the thumb."

"I want to -- look, I was a Texas Cowboy fan, you know. Dallas Cowboy fan -- and -- yes, I know, I know. It's kind of hard for me to admit, but the Steeler franchise is one of the really great franchises in football history. And one of the reasons why is because of the Rooney family."

"[Cowher] is a -- he's an amazing coach. He's got the most unusual expressions on the sideline. So I told the vice president I was going to be able to congratulate coach Cowher in person, and he said, 'Well, get him to give me some tips on his scowl.'"

"About halfway through the season a lot of people were counting the Steelers out. They said you didn't have a chance. I kind of know the feeling. (Laughter.) But you won eight games in a row, including three on the road in the playoffs, and of course, Super Bowl XL in Detroit. You had some amazing unexpected players step up to help you play. You had the quarterback make an important tackle, and you had yourself a receiver make an important pass."

"Super Bowl XL included other entries in the record book -- Fast Willy Parker, 75-yard touchdown, the longest run in Super Bowl history. Looking sharp, too. Your quarterback was the youngest quarterback in history to win an NFL title. But the most amazing thing about the victory, it seemed like to me, and for a lot of other fans, was you had a fine man, a man you call "The Bus," retire in his home city of Detroit, with the Lombardi Trophy in his arms. It was a touching moment for football fans."

Friday, June 02, 2006

Steelers Set For Presidential Treatment

By Joe Bendel
Friday, June 2, 2006

Casey Hampton was going about his business in the University of Texas weight room one afternoon when the future president of the United States approached.

"He asked about an article that was written about me and my mom," Hampton said. "He was interested."

Hampton's conversation with George W. Bush -- governor of the Lone Star State while Hampton was starring at UT -- was no different from the many previous chats they'd had.

Bush was a big UT fan. Hampton was a big-time UT performer.

"He was cool, down to earth," Hampton said. "It was funny, because we always used to say, 'One day, that man's gonna be our president -- and we know him.' It's pretty wild."

At about 1:45 today, Hampton, along with the rest of the Steelers, will join Bush on the White House lawn to celebrate the team's Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks last February.
Former Steelers Antwaan Randle El, Kimo von Oelhoffen and Chris Hope, all of whom signed elsewhere after the season, are expected to be on hand, along with scouts, coaches and front-office personnel.

This marks the franchise's second White House visit, 27 years after the 1978 squad was honored by President Carter. The '74, '75 and '79 teams did not make the trek.

"The White House ..." backup center Chukky Okobi said, shaking his head. "This is when you start to realize how special winning the Super Bowl is."

Asked what he would say to the president, Okobi revealed a huge smile.

"What's up, George? How's it going?" he said, laughing. "Where are your daughters?"

Okobi paused.

"Just kidding," he said.

Okobi probably didn't want to stir up controversy, like the Northwestern women's lacrosse team did last summer when several players wore flip-flop sandals with their dresses and skirts. Critics believed the look was too casual for the White House.

A few weeks ago, Steelers linebacker Joey Porter elicited some reaction when he jokingly told media members that he had "something to say" to Bush. He didn't like the way the quotes came across in print and sent out a statement clarifying them.

The usually loquacious Porter has barely spoken with the media since.

"Joey was talking all crazy, just having fun," fellow outside linebacker Clark Haggans said. "That's all."

The Steelers were scheduled to touch down in Washington late this morning, tour the White House, then congregate on the lawn to be honored by the president. Most team members were anxiously awaiting the opportunity to celebrate their Super Bowl win with the commander in chief.

"I'll have my camcorder, so I can always remember it and show it to my kids," left tackle Marvel Smith said. "Just to be able to be a part of this, to be a part of a place with so much history, is an honor."

Indeed, Mr. Smith is going to Washington.

"I'm really looking forward to this," the big lineman said.

In recent years, Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel watched as other championship teams -- the New England Patriots, the Boston Red Sox, the Detroit Pistons -- celebrated on the White House lawn for all the world to see.

Now, it's his turn.

"When you see those other guys there, you think, 'Hey, they go there and get their picture taken, that's all it is,'" Keisel said. "But that's not right. It's one of the things that comes with being a champion, one of the things that make it special. I've been on the other side of the fence a few times, just checking things out. But to actually be in there, and being honored, it's going to be awesome. It really is."

Veteran center Jeff Hartings has experienced plenty during his 10 NFL seasons, and a trip to the White House will add one more powerful memory.

"I think it's a great privilege," Hartings said. "Politics aside, I think the opportunity to go to the White House is special. No. 1, we're going there because we're world champs. And whether you agree or disagree with the politics of the White House right now, I would hope everybody goes there with the feeling that it's a great privilege and honor that few get to experience."

As for Hampton, somebody asked if he expected Bush to single him out because of their history together.

"Probably not," Hampton said. "We'll see."

Joe Bendel can be reached at or (412) 320-7811.

Mike Prisuta: Crosby a Worldwide Leader

Mike Prisuta
Friday, June 2, 2006

In the end, Sidney Crosby's experience at hockey's World Championship in Latvia was both invaluable and bittersweet.

Although he punctuated his resume with an exclamation point, Sid The Kid was unable to deliver the gold for his native Canada (or the silver or bronze for that matter). Crosby also had injury added to insult when Swede Mika Hannula delivered a cross-check to Crosby's jaw in a quarterfinal matchup.

Hannula earned a game misconduct for trying to rearrange Crosby's face.

Crosby was provided with a prime example of how competitive it can get when the participants are playing for something other than a paycheck.

"That's part of it sometimes," Crosby said Thursday morning, when the Penguins made him available for an informal get-together with local media. "I was able to come out of it fine.
"The guy might have thought that I was whacking the goalie, because the puck was there. I guess that's a possibility."

Another possibility is that the Swedes had identified Crosby as a player they were not going to allow to beat them.

Crosby, 18, was well on his way to earning Most Outstanding Forward honors by then. While doing so, Crosby became the youngest player to lead the World Championship in scoring (with eight goals and eight assists in nine games), a distinction that had belonged to Canada's Gordon "Red" Berenson since 1959.

But beyond the statistical brilliance he was able to maintain, Crosby was exposed to an environment and atmosphere that will accelerate his development as a leader and a winner in the NHL.

The World Championship isn't the Stanley Cup final, but nor is it the World Junior Championship. The tournament is held in high regard around the globe, and the Europeans who take part are serious about winning, regardless of whether they're NHL regulars.

No wonder no North American "phenom" had dominated the proceedings as Crosby did since Wayne Gretzky.

"It was a high level," of competition, Crosby said. "The European game is a little different with the big ice.

"And when you're playing with guys that want to be over there, that want to play for Team Canada and are finished the (NHL) season but still are there competing, you benefit in that way because you're still playing at a high level and pushing yourself as you would in a playoff situation."

Crosby didn't sniff the playoffs as an NHL rookie.

But in his first World Championship he got an education, not unlike the one Mario Lemieux received playing in the 1987 Canada Cup.

"Playing with a guy like Brendan Shanahan, he's a great leader and he's won Stanley Cups, and getting to know him, seeing how he leads a team is unique," Crosby said. "You go there and you want to play well. If you're not going there with the frame of mind of playing well and winning the gold medal you shouldn't be going. I think we all realized it's important to play for your country and I think we all had a great time doing it.

"I'll definitely benefit from the experience."

So will the Penguins.

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

Steelers to Visit the White House Today

Friday, June 02, 2006
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Alan Faneca has one goal this afternoon when he meets the President in the Rose Garden at the White House.

"Shake his hand, hopefully," Faneca said.

Two days later, Faneca and the rest of the Steelers might have to think twice before they shake anyone's hand. Sunday, they will receive their Super Bowl rings in a private ceremony in a lounge at Heinz Field. Big, tough football players have been brought to their knees by their reaction to wearing a Super Bowl ring, not because of the emotion it brings, but the pain.

Chuck Noll once said that he discontinued wearing any of his four Super Bowl rings because of the pain it caused when he shook someone's hand. And those rings were small by comparison to the gold and diamond hubcaps Super Bowl teams receive today.

The Steelers will issue at least 150 rings to players, coaches and members of the organization Sunday and, yes, they will be gaudy. They still have a reputation as a mom-and-pop franchise as far as NFL teams go, but the size of their Super Bowl ring will keep up with the Joneses.

Dan Rooney, with help from Jerome Bettis and Ben Roethlisberger, came up with the idea for the ring. Rooney's initial plan was to design a ring that separated this championship from the franchise's first four. But Bettis convinced him otherwise. The retired halfback told him that the modern Steelers played in the shadows of the 1970s teams for so long that they finally believed they belonged with them now. Bettis wanted a ring that would display that.

So the design team of Rooney, Bettis and Roethlisberger came up with a ring that will display five Vince Lombardi Trophies on its face, all in diamonds. Rooney, though, did reject one of the players' requests, that the ring be constructed of white gold. Perhaps that might have represented their four postseason victories on the road in their white shirts, but, as Rooney said, "We're the black and gold." Yellow, not white.

"It really looks good in gold," Rooney said. "I'm pleased with it, and they're pleased with it, too."

For Rooney and a handful of others in the organization, this will be one for the thumb, a fifth Super Bowl ring after a 26-year quest.

"It's been a long time since we won that fourth one," said Dick Hoak, who will receive his fifth ring in the same job that he earned his first, as the Steelers' running backs coach.

Unlike many who store their rings in safe-deposit boxes, Hoak wears his, not daily, but on many occasions. During the season, he would wear the third or fourth ring on the day before the game.
"I don't know why people win them and don't wear them," Hoak said. "What's the sense of winning one?

"What I'll do now is put one of those away and wear this one. I just have to decide which one to put away. I just may wear this one now. Those other two are from so far back."

Receiving the ring not only represents the culmination of a pursuit for a generation, but also the beginning of the next one.

"Once we get it, we can kind of really put this year behind us," Hines Ward said. "It's really been a memorable year, and this ring is kind of the icing on the cake, something we worked hard for.

"Once you get it you look at it, reflect back on the year and all the people who supported you along the way. Then, after the ring ceremony, it's time to focus on starting a new chapter in the upcoming season. We really can't live off the past."

NOTES -- Retired Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope was released from UPMC-Presbyterian after nearly a two-week stay for pneumonia.

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

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Photo Exhibit Preview: Class of Clemente

Photo exhibit shows 'The Great One' in all his grace and glory

Thursday, June 01, 2006
By Patricia Lowry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

'Roberto Clemente -- Photographs by Les Banos'

Where: Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, Strip District.

When: Saturday through Dec. 31.
Information: 412-454-6000.

When, two days before Christmas in the winter of 1972, Franco Harris pulled a football out of the air and saved the Steelers' season -- if only for another game -- he also saved Les Banos' life.
If the Steelers hadn't played again on New Year's Eve, Banos would have been on a plane to Managua, Nicaragua, with Roberto Clemente, taking food and clothing to earthquake victims. Fearing his contributions would be diverted, as other U.S. aid had been, by official corruption, Clemente wanted to deliver the supplies himself.

"On the way home from the ball game on Dec. 31, I was on the Parkway and heard on the radio that his plane went down," said Banos, who's 82 now. "I had to stop the car, I was so shook up.
Not only because I was supposed to go with him, but because he was a very good friend."
Banos joined the Pirates in 1969 as a still and motion picture photographer, producing team portraits, candid shots and coaching films. During the off-season, he worked for the Steelers.

Along the way, he and Clemente developed a friendship that went beyond the playing fields and locker rooms, bonded in part, Banos thinks, by their immigrant backgrounds.
"Because as you can hear, I have a Hungarian-German accent. He said, 'Do they make fun out of you for the way you talk, too? The newspaper reporters not only make fun of me, but print it with an accent.' He respected me and I respected him."

More than 40 of Banos' black-and-white photographs of Clemente, freshly printed by Lawrenceville photographer Duane Rieder, go on view Saturday at the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, part of its "Summer of Baseball" roster of activities surrounding the July 11 All-Star game. Some of the images have never been seen by the public.

"You really get a sense of Clemente's personality and grace and the dignity with which he carried himself," said Anne Madarasz, the center's museum division director and the exhibit's curator. "There's something special about him as a man beyond his athletic talent. When great men like Clemente die in a tragic way, there's a sense of wanting to be closer to them, and you can see some of his character in the photographs. There's a real thoughtfulness and beauty to them that you don't see in a lot of sports photography."

"They were taken when I had a chance to," Banos said, at Forbes Field, at Three Rivers Stadium and on the road. "My favorite picture is of Roberto with his wife and three boys on Fathers and Sons Day at Three Rivers. Roberto is kneeling, and right next to him are all three of his boys in uniform, with Number 21, and [his wife] Vera in the background.

"I have a picture from when we came back from the '71 World Series of Roberto and Vera sitting in the plane with satisfied smiles. And a picture of Roberto and Maz in training camp in 1972, and the 3,000th hit picture, which shows the swinging of the bat in Three Rivers Stadium."
At Clemente's invitation, Banos traveled to Puerto Rico with him in 1971 and told him of his dreams of opening a chiropractic resort there after he retired. He wanted Banos to join him in the venture.

"He knew chiropractic practices," Banos said. Once, after two long cross-country flights, Banos said he got off the plane looking like a hunchback. Clemente told him to lie down on a gurney.
"He took the fat part of a baseball bat and pushed it down real hard on my spine from neck to tail bone, and put half a jar of Vaseline on his right elbow and pressed down from my neck to my tail bone real hard. Then he got on the gurney and put his knee down on my back and with his two hands pulled back my shoulders and I heard a crack," Banos said. "I have never had any problem ever since. That's a true story, believe me."

Banos is a story in his own right. Born and raised in Budapest, he was an Allied intelligence officer during World War II, as the liaison between Hungarian Nazi groups and the German SS, the Schutzstaffel paramilitary organization headed by Heinrich Himmler. Last year, Banos received an award from the Hungarian government, principally for hiding people from the Nazis.
He has written about those days in a manuscript he calls "If They Catch You, You Will Die," the mantra of his Allied trainers. He has asked the University of Pittsburgh Press to consider publishing it. After the war, Banos went to Pitt on scholarship, studying radio and television and later working at WQED and WTAE.

Clemente also was a writer, poet and sculptor, Madarasz said, although he's far better known as a humanitarian and a barrier breaker for Latino athletes. The Smithsonian Institution had planned a traveling exhibit about Clemente, she said, but when it was unable to fully fund it, produced the online exhibit, "Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente." The bilingual exhibit is available online now ( and will be featured in a computer kiosk within the photography exhibition. It includes games and activities for children and a teacher's resource area with free downloadable curriculum guides.

Both exhibits coincide with the arrival of a new biography, David Maraniss' "Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero." In it, Banos describes Clemente with a photographer's eye: "He was a sculpture. He could have posed for Greek statues," he said.
"What you saw with him was archaeology. He was a perfect model. Not an ounce of extra fat. All the right muscle. A perfect figure for a man of any age."

(Patricia Lowry can be reached at or 412-263-1590. )