Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wallace chosen as Steelers' rookie of the year

Thursday, December 31, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Wide receiver Mike Wallace was the unanimous Steelers rookie of the year and linebacker James Farrior won The Chief Award in a vote by the Pro Football Writers.

Wallace is fourth on the Steelers with 37 receptions and tied for second with five touchdown catches. His 18.7 yards per catch leads the top 50 AFC receivers.

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace has caught five touchdown passes this season.

He is the third consecutive rookie of the year who was not the team's top draft pick. The previous two were punter Daniel Sepulveda and undrafted special teams player Patrick Bailey. Before those three, the team's first-round draft choice won it five consecutive years.

"I have all of the confidence in the world in my abilities," said Wallace, a third-round draft pick who earned the job of No. 3 wide receiver early in the season. "If somebody is giving me the opportunity to get out there when we have all of those guys, I am not trying to give it back. I am taking advantage of it."

The award Farrior earned is named in honor of franchise founder Art Rooney Sr. and is presented to the member of the Steelers' organization who best exemplifies Rooney's spirit of cooperation with the media.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at

Ed Bouchette's blog on the Steelers and Gerry Dulac's Steelers chats are featured exclusively on PG+, a members-only web site from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Our introduction to PG+ gives you all the details.

First published on December 31, 2009 at 12:00 am

Pittsburgh in the 2000s: City of Champions Part II

The Associated Press
December 29, 2009 11:59 AM

There hasn't been a decade like it in western Pennsylvania sports in, well, decades.

There was so much new construction during the first decade of the new century: Heinz Field. PNC Park. The Petersen Events Center. The nearly completed Consol Energy Center. Every sports team in town, it seemed, got a new address, a new home, a new start.

There was new talent, too, like Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger, DeJuan Blair and Sam Young. LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis. Bill Cowher gave way to Mike Tomlin. Mario Lemieux came out of retirement, then retired again to make way for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Still, much about the decade made it seem like the old days: The Steelers went to two Super Bowls and won them both. The Penguins went to two Stanley Cup finals, and won one. Pitt reached No. 1 in the poll _ only in basketball, not in football. The Pirates? As good as their new ballpark was, they were as bad on the field as they were during the final seven seasons of the 1990s.

Nope, nothing new there.

And how about this tagline from the past: the City of Champions.

The final year of the decade brought out the best in Pittsburgh like no time since the final year of the 1970s, when Pittsburgh first gained its we-are-the-champions nickname. During a parade-filled five months in 2009, the Steelers won the Super Bowl and the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, the first time any city, large or small, has been the home of both champions in the same year. And Pitt briefly ascended to No. 1 in college basketball.

That Pittsburgh is the smallest big city with three major pro sports teams, plus two major college teams with Top 10 rankings, made the year all the more memorable. Especially for fans who went from 1979 until 2005 without seeing any team but the Penguins (1992-93) win a league championship.

Worst to first, indeed. Consider this: in 1999, the Pirates (78-83), Steelers (6-10), Pitt football (5-6) and Pitt basketball (14-16) all were losers; the Penguins (38-30-14) were winners, but were bumped by Toronto in the playoffs.

In 2009, the Steelers won 15 of 19 and a second Super Bowl in four seasons. The Penguins went 45-28-9 before winning the Stanley Cup. Pitt basketball finished 31-5 and missed by a 3-pointer of going to the Final Four. Pitt football won nine of its first 10 to return to the Top 10 before losing last-minute heartbreakers to West Virginia (19-16) and Cincinnati (45-44) to miss out on the Sugar Bowl. Robert Morris went to the NCAA basketball tournament, and Duquesne basketball - which enjoyed the biggest revival of all during the decade - went to the NIT.

Oh, the Pirates? They lost 99 games during a 17th consecutive losing season, the longest run in history for any major American pro sports team.

The first decade of the 2000s was a 10-year washout for a franchise that, from 2000-09, had the majors' second worst record (681-936); only Kansas City's 672-948 was worst. By comparison, the Pirates ranked 14th in victories during the 1990s, despite having winning records only in 1990, 1991 and 1992.

There were big changes in Pittsburgh sports not long after the new century began.

The Steelers and Pirates each played their final seasons in Three Rivers Stadium in 2000 as PNC Park and Heinz Field rose nearby. Three Rivers came tumbling down in early 2001, after a 30-year run in which the Steelers won four Super Bowls and the Pirates won two World Series.

Franco Harris caught the Immaculate Reception there. Roberto Clemente got his 3,000th and final hit there. The Steel Curtain and the Lumber Company called it home. Now, all that remains of Three Rivers are an historical marker and one of the entrance stanchions.

Three Rivers "was the catalyst that brought everything together," former Steelers coach Chuck Noll said.

The Pirates welcomed the 2001 move to PNC Park, an improved version of Forbes Field that features unmatched views of Pittsburgh's skyline and, yes, a much-welcomed return to grass. The ballpark has been called baseball's best, but the on-field product couldn't be much worse.

No Pirates team of the decade lost fewer than 87 games and seven lost 93 or more, including the inaugural season 100-loss team. The managers changed (Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon, Jim Tracy, John Russell) and so did the players (all too frequently) and owners (Kevin McClatchy, Bob Nutting).

The decade was so dreary amid an assortment of patched-together rosters with tiny payrolls and scant hope of winning, the Pirates had only three 20-game winners - that is, three pitchers who won as many as 20 games in nine seasons combined at PNC Park.

No wonder, after being traded last summer, former Pirates pitcher Sean Burnett best summed up the situation: "They're the laughingstock of baseball."

The highlight game of the 2000s at PNC Park didn't feature the home team; the AL beat the NL 3-2 in a tense and well-played 2006 All-Star game that is considered one of the best in the midsummer game's history.

Unlike the Pirates, the Steelers upgraded themselves in a hurry upon moving into their new home in 2001. With more money to spend on contracts, the Steelers went from 9-7 in 2000 to 13-3 in 2001 and looked to be headed to the Super Bowl until being upset at home by New England in the AFC championship game.

Three years later, after drafting a quarterback on the first round for the first time in 24 years, the Ben Roethlisberger-led Steelers went 15-1 before losing in the AFC title game, again to New England. They came back a season later to capture their first Super Bowl in 26 years, winning road playoff games in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver before beating Seattle 21-10 as 90 percent of the Super Bowl crowd in Detroit waved Terrible Towels.

Advertisement Remarkably, a team that lost so many AFC title games at home (1994, 1997, 2001, 2004) ended its big-game jinx by going on the road.

"We will always be remembered for the way we did it," former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter said.

Cowher, who replaced Noll in 1992, resigned a year later and gave way to a surprise hire, Mike Tomlin, who had spent only one season as an NFL coordinator. But Tomlin made an immediate impact, leading the Steelers to a 10-6 record in 2007 and their second Super Bowl win in four seasons during the 2008 season.

The decisive drive of that 27-23 win over Arizona ended with Roethlisberger's perfectly placed 6-yard TD pass with 35 seconds remaining to Santonio Holmes, whose tiptoe catch is one of the best in Super Bowl history. The game was, too, with a wild play to end the first half, too - James Harrison's huffing-and-puffing, 100-yard interception return touchdown.

"Two championships in four years - that's crazy, that's great," wide receiver Hines Ward said.

The Steelers' .540 winning percentage during the decade was eclipsed only by their .692 during the championship-filled 1970s.

No Pittsburgh team had more ups and downs in the decade than the Penguins.

Already a contender with a team led by multi-time scoring champion Jaromir Jagr, the Penguins got the surprise of a lifetime when Hall of Famer Lemieux, who had bought the team in federal bankruptcy court only the year before, ended a 3 1/2-year retirement on Dec. 27, 2000.

Lemieux set up a goal during his first minute on the ice, and went on to total 76 points in only 43 games. Lemieux's comeback carried the Penguins to the Eastern Conference finals, but New Jersey's neutral zone trap shut down both Lemieux and Jagr and Pittsburgh lost in five.

Injuries and other physical problems limited Lemieux to no more than 26 games during three of the next four seasons - though he ended with 91 points in 2002-03 - and he retired in January 2006 following a heart scare. He played long enough during that 2005-06 season to welcome rookie Sidney Crosby, hockey's most prized prospect in a generation.

Luckily, the Penguins went bad at exactly the right time. Their 2001-04 seasons were three of the worst in franchise history, yet they allowed the Penguins to draft Crosby, Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal. The new kids didn't need much time to get good, leading the Penguins back to the playoffs in 2007, the finals in 2008 and to the Stanley Cup itself in 2009.

No NHL team since 1971 had won a finals Game 7 on the road, yet the Penguins did that by beating Detroit 2-1 as the 21-year-old Crosby, who was injured for nearly all of the third period, became the youngest captain to win a Stanley Cup.

"It might be something out of a storybook, but I don't care," said Talbot, who scored both goals in Game 7. "We won the Cup."

Now, the Penguins enter a new decade eagerly awaiting the opening of their new arena, which will replace the NHL's oldest, 48-year-old Mellon Arena.

Pitt basketball also was a huge success story. The Panthers took off under coach Ben Howland in 2001-02, the season before they opened their own new arena, and went 29-6 that season and 28-5 a year later. Howland then left for UCLA, but assistant Jamie Dixon took over to lead six consecutive 20-win seasons: 31-5, 20-9, 25-8, 29-8, 27-10 and 31-5 as the Panthers became one of the elite schools in the sport.

Led by twin stars Young and Blair, Pitt hit No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time last season, but its last-second 78-76 loss to Villanova in an NCAA regional final kept the Panthers from their first Final Four since 1941.

Pitt football also changed stadiums as the school tore down once-proud Pitt Stadium to make way for basketball's Petersen Events Center and a football move downtown to Heinz Field. Pitt also changed coaches as Walt Harris left and Dave Wannstedt took over in 2005. The Panthers also replaced one of the nation's best running backs in McCoy, who led a stunning upset of then-No. 2 West Virginia in 2007, with Lewis, a little-recruited player who became a second-team All-American as a freshman this season.

Duquesne was one of the nation's worst major college basketball teams when coach Ron Everhart arrived shortly after a 3-24 season in 2005-06. The rebuilding program was rocked by the shootings of five players in September 2006 - forward Sam Ashaolu's career was ended by his head injuries - yet the Dukes have improved each season since. Their 21 victories last season were the most at the school in 38 seasons.

Athlete of the decade Tiger Woods played in one Pittsburgh-area tournament, tying for second behind the unknown Angel Cabrera in the 2006 U.S. Open at Oakmont. The Pittsburgh region's first regular PGA tour event, the 84 Lumber Classic, arrived in 2003 but lasted only four years until an economic downturn led the title sponsor to pull out.

Penguins' Crosby, Fleury make Team Canada

Thursday, December 31, 2009
By Dave Molinari, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

NEWARK, N.J. -- Sidney Crosby had craved this phone call for years.

He wanted it desperately from the time he watched Team Canada -- captained by a guy who would become his landlord a few years later -- win a gold medal at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.

But when word finally arrived yesterday morning that he had been selected to represent his country at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Crosby wasn't there to hear it.

It seems he was tending to a more pressing concern in a room deep inside the Prudential Center, where the Penguins were preparing for their game against New Jersey last night.

"We were in a meeting," Crosby said. "So I actually missed the first call."

Ivan Skretarev/Associated Press

Penguins forward Sidney Crosby played for Canada in the 2006 IIHF World Championships.

No problem. It's not like Steve Yzerman, Team Canada's executive director and Crosby's boyhood idol, was going to give Crosby's spot to the next name on his list because Crosby wasn't around to answer his phone.

Besides, if not being present for Yzerman's original call would have cost Crosby his place on the squad, Team Canada would have had to replace goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, too, because he was attending the same session.

Not surprisingly, then, Fleury found out the same way Crosby did that he will be spending a significant portion of February in British Columbia.

"Sid checked his phone and had a voicemail," Fleury said. "So I ran in to check it out [on his own phone] and had a nice voicemail."

In addition to Crosby, Canada's forwards are Jarome Iginla, Rick Nash, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Eric Staal, Jonathan Toews, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Patrice Bergeron, Brenden Morrow and Mike Richards.

Conspicuously absent from that list is Penguins center Jordan Staal, who was in a cluster of capable players vying for one of the final spots on the roster.

"Jordan Staal is a guy I'd want on my team," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "But having said that, I know there are a number of great candidates."

Staal acknowledged that, too, although it didn't seem to give him much consolation.

"The opportunity, I thought, was there," he said. "I didn't say I thought I should be on the team or anything like that, but it was definitely a moment where I thought I could make it.

"There's a lot of great players on that team who deserve to be there. I have plenty of years ahead of me, I guess."

So does Fleury, which might be why he seems willing to accept however the coaching staff divides the goaltending workload between him, Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo.

"I'll go, and whatever they tell me to do, I'll do," Fleury said. "I'll be there, happy to do it."

Crosby had been widely considered as a candidate to captain his country's team. Instead, Anaheim defenseman Scott Niedermayer will get the "C," while Crosby, Iginla and defenseman Chris Pronger will be alternate captains.

"There's a lot of guys who are more than capable of being the captain," Crosby said.

Crosby and Fleury will be joined in Vancouver by teammates Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, who will play for Russia, and defenseman Brooks Orpik is a good bet to end up on Team USA.

Some might think that facing a teammate in such a high-stakes competition could be awkward, but Gonchar dismissed any concerns about that.

"We're all professionals," he said. "It's not like it's the first time we'll be doing it.

"Sometimes you're playing against a friend you grew up with, sometimes one of your partners gets traded and the next day you're playing against him. At some point in time, you've done it already."

Still, it could be interesting if Canada and Russia collide as the tournament progresses. Russia and Sweden are widely viewed as the biggest threats to the favored Canadians, with the United States as a dark horse.

Given the ferocious rivalry that has existed between Canada and Russia since the Series at the Summit in 1972, Crosby said he doesn't expect to be trading verbal jabs with Malkin between now and the Games.

"It's probably something we don't even want to joke about because we realize the rivalry there," he said. "It's way beyond me and him. It goes back before he and I were even born."

Longer, even, than Crosby spent waiting for the phone call that came yesterday morning.

Dave Molinari can be reached at

Penguins Plus, a blog by Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson, is featured exclusively on PG+, a members-only web site from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Our introduction to PG+ gives you all the details.

First published on December 31, 2009 at 12:00 am

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Two Steelers selected for NFL's Pro Bowl

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Steelers have a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers for the first time in franchise history.

That wasn't enough for any of their offensive players to get selected for the Pro Bowl.

Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison was selected for this year's NFL Pro Bowl.

Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review

Both Steelers representatives for the annual all-star game, outside linebacker James Harrison and nose tackle Casey Hampton, are defensive players.

Harrison has been named a starter for the AFC. Hampton made the team as a reserve.

Harrison, who leads the Steelers with 20 quarterback pressures and is second on the team with 10 sacks, made the Pro Bowl team for the third consecutive season.

Hampton is a Pro Bowler for the fifth time in his career.

Hampton, who is in the final year of his contract, has a career-high 2 1/2 sacks and 40 tackles.

Players are selected to the Pro Bowl, which will be played Jan. 31 in Miami, based on fans, players and coaches' voting. Players are not allowed to vote for teammates.

Steelers defensive lineman Casey Hampton was selected for this year's NFL Pro Bowl.
Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review

A number of Steelers could be added to the AFC team if others opt out of the game.

Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is third in the AFC with 12 1/2 sacks. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes is third in the NFL with 1,243 receiving yards.

Like Holmes, Hines Ward has eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark (1,106), The four-time Pro Bowler leads the Steelers in receptions (87) and touchdown catches (six).

Heath Miller, meanwhile, has set a Steelers single-season record for catches by a tight end (71).

More Steelers headlines

Steelers coach won't lobby for help
Polamalu, Ward look to suit up for finale
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's Take
Rookie wide receivers making a bigger impact
Favre, Manning earn nods for Pro Bowl
Players from small schools find NFL homes
Ending with a flourish

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Way It Was: Clemente gave till the end

The Washington Times
28 December 2009

At RFK Stadium, the Washington Redskins bashed the hated Dallas Cowboys 26-3 to win the NFC championship. At Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, the Miami Dolphins whipped the Steelers 21-17 to take the AFC title and run their seasonal record to 16-0.

Yet neither of these football showdowns was the most significant sports-related story on Dec. 31, 1972, at least from a national standpoint. Not even close.

About 9:23 p.m., as Redskins fans were beginning celebrations throughout the area, a plane carrying relief supplies for thousands of hurricane victims from Puerto Rico to Nicaragua crashed into the Atlantic Ocean minutes after taking off from San Juan.

Among the victims was Roberto Clemente, 38, a great baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirates and just as great a humanitarian.

The right fielder's numbers were the stuff of legend and Cooperstown. Over 18 seasons, he hit .317 with exactly 3,000 hits, was selected for the National League All-Star team 12 times, won 12 Gold Gloves with the help of an incredible throwing arm, played on two World Series winners (1960, 1971) and collected four batting titles.

But above and beyond his skills between the white lines, Clemente was an extremely proud man who valued his life and those of others. Thus it was that he sprang into action - and toward death - that miserable December after a temblor killed thousands and left many more homeless and starving in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua.

Long involved in charitable endeavors, the ballplayer learned that aid packages on the first three relief flights had been diverted by the corrupt regime of dictator Anastasio Somoza. Bobby Clemente, as he was still called by some old-fashioned baseball writers, decided to accompany the fourth flight, hoping his presence would deter the grafters. But the plane he chartered had a history of mechanical problems and was overloaded by 5,000 pounds. These bad omens proved tragically omniscient.

Others aboard included plane owner Arthur Rivera, pilot Jerry Hill and two friends of Clemente's who volunteered to help. None survived, nor were their bodies ever recovered.

At 9:20, the plane was cleared for takeoff and lumbered into the air. One eyewitness was Juan Reyes, a security official at the San Juan airport.

"The plane didn't seem to have the necessary speed to take off," Reyes was quoted in "Clemente," a 2006 biography by David Mariniss. "By the sound of the engine, it looked like it was making much effort."

As the DC-7 struggled aloft, airport controller Gary Cleaveland noticed that the craft was no more than 200 feet above water as it banked to the left and over the ocean.

"Tower, this is 500 alpha echo coming back around," pilot Hill's voice sputtered weakly in Cleaveland's headset.

Failing to understand the transmission, Cleaveland replied, "Say again."
There was only silence. Then the plane's image disappeared from the tower's radar screen.

Divers Searching for Roberto Clemente Crash Site

Original caption: US Navy divers take a break during the 12th day of searching for the bodies of baseball great Roberto Clemente and three others killed in a plane crash in a mercy mission to Nicaragua, December 31. Divers located January 10 a wallet and other personal belongings of pilot Jerry Hill, a fifth victim of the crash.

DATE PHOTOGRAPHED: January 11, 1973

In San Juan and elsewhere, people who knew Clemente or knew of him soon went into shock at the news. Atop Pittsburgh's Mount Washington, lights blazed a sad message: "Adios, Amigo Roberto." Mayor Peter Flaherty declared a week of mourning. In Puerto Rico, thousands of people clogged streets around the home of widow Vera Clemente and the couple's three sons. Military police stood at attention near the doorway. Flags of the United States and Puerto Rico stood at half-staff.

The Hall of Fame subsequently waived its five-year waiting period for players whose careers had ended, and Clemente was inducted during the summer of 1974 - the first Latin American so honored. The Pirates retired his No. 21 uniform and erected a statue of him outside Three Rivers Stadium. Other honors accumulated for years to come.

"That night on which Roberto Clemente left us physically, his immortality began," Puerto Rican writer Elliott Castro said, but thousands of countrymen refused to believe it. At the time, many waited on the shore of Pinones Beach near San Juan in the hours after the crash, expecting Roberto to come walking out of the sea.

It never happened, of course. A man so admired and revered by so many was gone forever.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Steelers' defense shows it's postseason worthy

Disruptive performances by Woodley, rookie Hood prove cathartic

Monday, December 28, 2009
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

No one can say this continually perilous Steelers season isn't thick with handy visual references.

Who needs a game clock, for example, when you know the fourth quarter has begun because there is a visiting white shirt floating free in the end zone, the readily identifiable key that means if the Steelers are ahead or tied, they won't be for long.

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 27: LaMarr Woodley(notes) #56 of the Pittsburgh Steelers forces Joe Flacco(notes) #5 of the Baltimore Ravens to fumble during the game at Heinz Field on December 27, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game, 23-20. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)

So there was Derrick Mason, the familiar Baltimore bullet, ready to catch Joe Flacco's 21-yard scoring strike and snap the 20-20 tie in another come-from-ahead Steelers pratfall, when, on the first play of the fourth quarter, the ball hit him on the facemask and slipped between his mitts incomplete.

I guess having a nose for the football isn't always a good thing.

And then of course, the world turned upside down.

The Steelers, outscored, 121-88, in 14 fourth quarters to that point, including epic defensive collapses in which they allowed 22 points to Green Bay, 21 to Oakland, 21 to San Diego, 14 to the Cincinnati and 10 to Chicago, instead allowed only 26 yards on 12 plays that comprised Baltimore's three fourth-quarter possessions.

Waiting for splash plays from his defense since somewhere on the other side of Thanksgiving, Mike Tomlin watched cannonball after cannonball yesterday. Dick LeBeau's defense got as many turnovers (3) as it had in the previous six games, and LaMarr Woodley got as many sacks on two plays as the defense had in the previous two games.

Of seven Ravens pass plays in the fourth quarter, three resulted in sacks, three fell incomplete, and one gained just 8 yards.

"It's huge," said beleaguered linebacker James Farrior, who got the Steelers' first interception since Nov. 9 and cued up a 23-20 victory in the 2009 home finale. "It just gives everybody a lot of confidence going to Miami and hopefully some other teams can get the job done when they need to, and we'll get into this dance."

Playoffs? The Steelers are still lined up on some dark sidewalk, waiting for some officious bruiser to unhook a velvet rope. Or something. But they can at least produce evidence of a defense, thought to be a requirement for postseason partying.

You wouldn't have chosen a day when the defense got slashed by the first 100-yard rushing performance by an opponent in 37 games (Ray Rice gained 141 yards on 30 carries) as the occasion of its return to confidence and even competence, but stunningly disruptive performances by Woodley and rookie Ziggy Hood were nothing less than cathartic.

"Seems like in all of our losses we've given up a lot of points in the fourth quarter, so going down to Miami after something like this means a lot," said Woodley, who had 10 tackles, two sacks, two hurries, a forced fumble, a pass defended, and, I think, an inside the park home run at one point. "The defense finally got a turnover [three actually]. James Farrior played an excellent game. James Harrison played an excellent game even though he was hurt. Ziggy did a good job. Ike Taylor got a sack, and I cost him another one jumping offside."

For all that, it was Woodley's little burst of hand-to-hand with backup Baltimore tackle Oniel Cousins that was as critical moment in the Steelers' eighth win as any. Cousins was playing right tackle for Michael Oher (still a major motion picture), who was flipped to left tackle when Jared Gaither couldn't start. Cousins had just ridden Woodley away from Flacco on a fourth-quarter incompletion when he inexplicably knocked Woodley to the lawn after the whistle.

"I thought the play was still going on," Cousins said. "I was just trying to finish."


"He already had grabbed my facemask while I was rushing," Woodley said. "The play was over, I turned around, and he blasted me in the face. I thought well, 'I'm just going to take one for the team right here.' "

Goodbye go-ahead field goal (at the minimum), hello third-and-30 at the 41. Hood pressured Flacco into an incompletion on that play, and the Ravens never got closer than the 35 thereafter.

"I know that sometimes when you lose you look for deeper reasons why, but, every week, I come up here and tell you, it's a play here or a play here," said Tomlin. "You've got to make significant plays at significant times. When we lost, it's because we haven't. When we've won, it's because we have. We had that same football team at fourth-and-5 in Baltimore with a chance to end that game in regulation [they lost in overtime], and Ray Rice beat us inside and had a 50- or 40-yard play. We had a similar situation out there today and we made the necessary play."

They actually made it three times over.

Hood's sack on third-and-9 set an offense under the direction of a highly erratic Ben Roethlisberger up for a shot at the winning field goal.

Woodley's sack on third-and-7 from the Steelers' 35 made it fourth-and-10.

And it was Woodley who slammed into Flacco again on the next play, causing a fumble that pinballed off another Raven's helmet and into the alert grasp of Hood.

"I just felt like all the preparation paid off today," said Hood, who saw extended duty after Brett Keisel left with a stinger. "Extra study this time. I'd played against them before and I thought I knew what would be effective. It's like coach Tomlin says, 'the standard is the standard.' "

It was time the defense finally played to it.

Gene Collier can be reached at

Ed Bouchette's blog on the Steelers and Gerry Dulac's Steelers chats are featured exclusively on PG+, a members-only web site from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Our introduction to PG+ gives you all the details.

First published on December 28, 2009 at 12:00 am

Rookie Grisham unlikely hero

Monday, December 28, 2009
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If you looked at the Steelers' 45-man roster before their hair-pull yesterday with the Baltimore Ravens and predicted the players who would have a major impact, how many would you have named before you came to wide receiver Tyler Grisham? 42? 43? Maybe even 44?

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 27: Tyler Grisham(notes) #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts after a fourth quarter first down catch while playing the Baltimore Ravens on December 27, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 23-20. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

But there Grisham was late in the game, filling in for one-legged Hines Ward and trying to do what the Steelers ask of their future Hall of Famer every week. Wouldn't you know he delivered, making a 14-yard catch on a third-and-3 play -- his first NFL reception -- to set up the deciding field goal in a season-sustaining 23-20 win?

About then, you had to be thinking this just had to be the Steelers' day.

Actually, that was pretty clear much earlier. I mean, really. How often do the hated Ravens come to Heinz Field and lose two touchdowns because of penalties and a third because their star wide receiver dropped a pass, throw an interception, lose two fumbles, allow a 49-yard kickoff return, have a 21-yard punt and take two dumb personal fouls.



Yet it all happened on this surprisingly gorgeous winter afternoon with the Steelers getting one final big break when an interception and return into Pittsburgh territory by Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski in the final two minutes was wiped out by an illegal contact penalty against famed Baltimore spitter/cornerback Frank Walker. As a result, the Steelers live to play at least one more meaningful game -- Sunday at Miami -- with a playoff spot still a possibility, remote as it might be.

"Style points, we're way past that," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We're just trying to stay alive."

It's hard to say what was more unlikely -- the Grisham catch or the Ravens' sloppiness. There's also a third candidate in the you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it category -- the fact that the Steelers' troubled defense forced three turnovers and pitched a fourth-quarter shutout.

"It was win or go home," linebacker James Farrior said. "We weren't ready to go home."

Yes, the defense got lucky when Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason beat cornerback Deshea Townsend like a drum with a double-move only to drop what should have been a 21-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the final quarter. "That was my mulligan right there. Just a long fly ball out," Townsend said, grinning.

But the defense also played well late. Rookie defensive end Ziggy Hood ended one Ravens' drive with a sack that so excited nose tackle Casey Hampton that the Big Snack knocked down Hood with a belly bump on his way to the bench. Hood also helped to end the Ravens' final possession by snatching a fumble out of the air after linebacker LaMarr Woodley forced it by sacking quarterback Joe Flacco.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley(notes) (56) hits the arm of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco(notes) (5) who releases a pass in the first quarter of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2009. The pass was intercepted by Steelers linebacker James Farrior(notes). (AP)

That was the third turnover for a defense that didn't force any in the previous three games. Farrior got the first when he caught a floating ball in the first quarter, an interception that was set up when Woodley creamed Flacco as he threw. That was the Steelers' first interception since the Denver game a lifetime ago.

OK, six games ago.

"I was so nervous because it was so easy," Farrior said. "If I had dropped that one, I would have gone to the sideline, left the stadium and gone home."

The Ravens forced the Steelers to settle for a field goal after Farrior's 18-yard return to the Baltimore 8. But for most of the rest of the day, they had a hard time getting out of their own way. Running back Ray Rice, who gashed the Steelers' defense for 141 yards, lost a fumble at the Steelers' 26. An illegal block against Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs wiped out what would have been a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Domonique Foxworth. A holding call against wide receiver Kelley Washington nullified a 32-yard touchdown run by back Willis McGahee. Nose tackle Haloti Ngata and offensive tackle Oniel Cousins took terrible penalties for late hits, two of the Ravens' 11 penalties for 113 yards.

"Man, we need a break or two, don't we?" Tomlin asked. "We've had our share of the opposite."

Still, the Steelers had to win it. Surely, the Ravens never expected to be beaten by Tyler Grisham.

The holidays are supposed to be a time for miracles. Clearly, Grisham's 14-yard catch on third-and-3 from the Steelers' 43 with eight-plus minutes left qualified. This is a kid who made the practice squad as an undrafted free agent in large part because of his willingness to play on through the exhibition season with a separated shoulder. This was the third consecutive game in which Tomlin gave him a hat. With Ward out with a bad hamstring, Grisham made the most of it by beating cornerback Chris Carr with an inside move.

"I think they trust me," Grisham said. "I've done well in practice since camp. I've gotten open and caught the ball."

It didn't matter much that Grisham dropped a third-down ball over the middle a few plays later. He probably wasn't going to get the first down anyway. Jeff Reed came on to kick the winning 38-yard field goal. Among those dancing in the Heinz Field aisles were Grisham's parents, Jim and Connie, and his younger brothers, Garrett and Drake, who made the drive up last week from Birmingham, Ala., for the holidays.

Talk about a Christmas the Grishams never will forget.

Ron Cook can be reached at

Ed Bouchette's blog on the Steelers and Gerry Dulac's Steelers chats are featured exclusively on PG+, a members-only web site from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Our introduction to PG+ gives you all the details.

First published on December 28, 2009 at 12:00 am

Steelers' Harrison guts it out

Monday, December 28, 2009

10. Incredible effort from linebacker James Harrison, who needed a locker-room attendant to help him remove his shoulder pads after the game. Harrison sustained bruised biceps and a strained tendon in his upper left arm at practice Thursday. When he awakened Sunday, he wasn't sure he could play. "I couldn't really use my arm effectively," Harrison said. He wasn't his usual dominant self, but he still had five tackles and a forced fumble. "He played pretty good for a one-armed guy," coach Mike Tomlin said.

9. Say what you want about Jeff Reed's short kickoffs -- not to mention his short fuse -- but the guy has mastered the difficult conditions at Heinz Field and won't be easily replaced should he leave via free agency. Reed was 3 for 3 yesterday, including the game-winner from 38 yards, and he's 22 for 24 since his nightmare showing in Chicago. His only misses were from beyond 50 yards.

8. Do you think Derrick Mason has seen enough of Lawrence Timmons? Timmons plastered Mason on a key fourth-quarter play in last year's game in Baltimore and nearly topped himself yesterday with a smashing hit that separated Mason from the ball and his senses. "I don't mean any disrespect to the guy," Timmons said. "I'm a big fan of his. I've liked him ever since he played for Tennessee." He has a funny way of showing it.

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 27: Santonio Holmes(notes) #10 of the Pittsburgh Steelers gets in for a second quarter touchdown between Tom Zbikowski(notes) #28 and Dawan Landry(notes) #26 of the Baltimore Ravens on December 27, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

7. The Steelers play "backyard ball," as Ben Roethlisberger calls it, better than anyone. It happened again on the 24-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes that capped a 94-yard drive at the end of the first half. Holmes wasn't the primary receiver. He wasn't even an option, the way the play was designed. "He shouldn't have looked for the ball, and I shouldn't have thrown it," Roethlisberger said. "We were completely wrong in every way, except that we scored a touchdown."

6. As it turns out, maybe Stefan Logan hasn't gotten enough credit as a kickoff return man. He came into the game in the top half of the league with a 26.1-yard average and busted one for 49 yards to set up a field goal. The perception of Logan certainly would change if he found the end zone. "I'm so close," Logan said. "Ryan Clark said I'm probably one of the most exciting almost-touchdown runners he's ever seen. It's going to come."

5. Too bad Anthony Smith isn't around to guarantee a Texans' win over New England next weekend. That might light a fire under the Patriots.

4. Undrafted rookie receiver Tyler Grisham fielded about 20 texts from friends and relatives after the game, in which he made his first NFL catch. What stood out to me was what happened after Grisham's first NFL drop, which occurred right after the catch and just before the field goal that made the score 23-20. "Ben said, 'You know you're better than that, but I'm going to come back to you,' " Grisham said. "Coach Tomlin said the same thing -- he said, 'Jeff's going to make this right here, and if we get the ball back, we're coming back to you.' "

3. How could the Ravens not look to utilize 6-foot-5 tight end Todd Heap more often? Heap's only two catches were touchdowns in mismatches against Deshea Townsend and William Gay. Heap only was targeted one other time.

2. You remember Darren Stone. He's the one who blasted Anthony Madison late in the fourth quarter of the AFC title game -- out of bounds -- forcing the Ravens to start on their 12 instead of their 40 and setting up Troy Polamalu's dramatic interception. The Ravens didn't learn. Yesterday, it was Haloti Ngata popping Ryan Mundy out of bounds after a Steelers' punt late in the third quarter. "They put big 92 (Ngata) on the punt return to bully the center," Mundy said. "I don't know what happened, but my ribs are hurting now. It was definitely a cheap shot."

1. When the Steelers went up by three with 5:21 left, you know what everybody in the press box was asking: Time for an onside kick? Of course, Reed kicked deep -- and Jalen Parmele returned it 48 yards to the Steelers' 49.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Decade in Pittsburgh sports

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Members of Tribune-Review sports staff voted on most of following categories in the best and the worst the decade in sports ...


Sidney Crosby, Penguins — Other candidates included Ben Roethlisberger, Evgeni Malkin and Larry Fitzgerald. Crosby's individual dominance as a scoring champion, league MVP and playoff goal leader, plus his distinction as youngest captain to win the Stanley Cup, tipped the scales in his favor.


Super Bowl XLIII — Steelers 27, Cardinals 23


Steelers linebacker James Harrison returns an interception 100 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII, on the last play of the first half — Big Ben's tackle came up, as did Santonio's catch (and Ben's throw) in Super Bowl XLIII and a couple of Marc-Andre Fleury saves (Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Lidstrom could tell you about those).


Bill Cowher, Steelers — This choice ought to generate some debate. The majority felt that getting his team to three conference championship games and winning a Super Bowl as a wild-card team should earn Cowher the nod.

2008-09 Penguins — Close call. The 2005 Steelers won three straight road games to get to the Super Bowl, but last year's Penguins were the only team to twice come back from two-games-to-none deficits to win the Stanley Cup. And one of those comebacks was against the mighty Red Wings.


Kevin Colbert, Steelers director of football operations — Aside from Plaxico Burress at No. 8 in 2000, the Steelers did not choose in the top 10, yet they drafted two potential Hall of Famers (Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu), a Super Bowl MVP (Santonio Holmes) and several other star-quality players. Throw in Colbert's quiet free-agent signings (James Farrior, Jeff Hartings, Ryan Clark, etc.), and it's a solid case.


Steelers-Ravens — True, Penguins-Flyers and Penguins-Red Wings were plenty heated. So was Pitt-West Virginia and Steelers-Patriots. But the Steelers and Ravens consistently waged titanic battles, complete with knockouts (Hines Ward on Ed Reed; Bart Scott on Ben Roethlisberger) and bounties and maybe the most violent football game ever played (2008 AFC Championship).


Pitt 13, West Virginia 9




Max Talbot scores twice in Game 7 of Stanley Cup Final — Yes, we remembered Santonio Holmes' multiple plays on the Super Bowl-winning drive. We also remembered DeJuan Blair recording 22 points, 23 rebounds and a takedown of Hasheem Thabeet in a victory over No. 1 UConn. Talbot, however, scored his team's only goals against a battled-tested championship team, making the Penguins the first team to win a championship Game 7 on the road since the '79 Pirates.


Troy Polamalu. Who else?


Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon rips first base out of the ground while arguing a call.


Ben Roethlisberger (quarterback) tackles Nick Harper (cornerback) in 2005 AFC Divisional Playoff Game.


Greensburg native Rocco Mediate goes to a playoff with Tiger Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Woods doesn't put him away until the 91st hole.


Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik delivers four bone-crunching hits in 15 seconds in Game 3 of 2008 Cup Final vs. Red Wings


Jerome Bettis, who had pondered retirement after the previous season, wins Super Bowl XL in his native Detroit.


The Polamalu Song, by Mr. Devious.


Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers — This was a toughie, because Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jason Bay all were outstanding, Crosby historically so. Roethlisberger prevailed because he went 13-0 and broke Dan Marino's NFL rookie records for completion percentage (.664) and passer rating (98.1).


Penguins postpone Detroit's big bash — The Stanley Cup was out of its crate, the champagne was on ice and the Joe Louis Arena crowd was going wild as the seconds ticked away in Game 5 of the '08 Stanley Cup Final. That's when the Penguins, trailing 3-2, pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Coach Michel Therrien sent Max Talbot out as his sixth attacker — "I was like, 'I'm sorry. Me?' " Talbot later said — and Talbot scored with 34.3 seconds left. The Penguins went on to win in three overtimes.


Mario Lemieux comes out of retirement after 3.5 years.


2009, return of the City of Champions — Steelers win the Super Bowl, Penguins win the Cup, Pitt nearly makes Final Four ... and Pirates set all-time record of 17 consecutive losing seasons!


2001 Pirates — Nothing like 100 losses to christen a new ballpark


Villanova's Scottie Reynolds makes a last-second shot to prevent Pitt from going to the 2009 Final Four — This generated a ton of debate, mostly from Penguins writer Rob Rossi, who argued that the Steelers losing at home to the Patriots in the 2004 AFC title game, after going 15-1 in the regular season, was more crushing. Seeing the Red Wings raise the Stanley Cup at Mellon Arena wasn't exactly a feel-good moment for Pittsburgh sports fans, either, nor was the Steelers' 2001 AFC title-game loss to the underdog Patriots. But Reynolds' drive and shot had a certain shocking finality to it.


2003, the year the City of Champions became the City of Chumps — The Steelers go 6-10, the Pirates post their 11th consecutive losing season and the Penguins — in the 2003-04 season — finish with an NHL-worst 58 points. And how's this for some salt in the wound? The Penguins can't even win the draft lottery, losing out to the Washington Capitals.


Dec. 5-6, 2009 — On Saturday, Pitt blows a three-touchdown lead and a berth in the Sugar Bowl by losing to Cincinnati, 45-44. On Sunday, the Steelers' playoff hopes sustain a major blow when the sad-sack Oakland Raiders come from behind three times in the fourth quarter to win, 27-24.


Detroit Red Wings forward Kris Draper complains to Sports Illustrated that Sidney Crosby did not shake hands with enough Detroit players, including captain Nicklas Lidstrom, after Game 7 of '09 Stanley Cup Final.


· Rochester's Lauryn Williams drops the baton in the 4x100 meter relay at the 2004 Olympics in Beijing, four years after she and Marion Jones had a bad exchange in the relay final at the Athens Olympics

· Pitt holder Andrew Janocko fumbles an extra-point snap in a 45-44 loss to Cincinnati.

· Steelers cornerback Dwayne Washington runs into Titans kicker Joe Nedney, who'd just missed a 31-yard field goal in overtime. Given a second chance from five yards closer, Nedney makes the winning kick to eliminate Steelers from 2002 playoffs.

· Steelers Limas Sweed drops a touchdown pass against Baltimore in last year's AFC Championship Game, then fakes an injury in the end zone.

· Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress spikes the ball in celebration against Jacksonville (Oct. 1, 2000) before he is tackled. Jacksonville's Danny Clark returns it 44 yards.


· Penguins GM Craig Patrick trades five-time scoring champ Jaromir Jagr to the Washington Capitals for Ross Lupaschuk, Michal Sivek, Kris Beech and cash.

· Pirates GM Dave Littlefield trades homegrown slugger Aramis Ramirez and center fielder Kenny Lofton to the Chicago Cubs for Matt Bruback, Jose Hernandez and a player to be named later (Bobby Hill).


· Legendary Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope dies at age 79 (Feb. 27, 2008).

· Army women's basketball coach Maggie Dixon, younger sister of Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon, dies of a heart arrhythmia (April 6, 2006).

· Five Duquesne men's basketball players are shot outside of an on-campus school dance (Sept. 17, 2006).

· Pirates icon Willie Stargell dies of complications from a stroke at age 61, on the day the Pirates open PNC Park (April 9, 2001).

· Pall cast over city after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is seriously injured in a motorcycle accident (June 12, 2006).

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Lemieux's great comeback hits anniversary

By Josh Yohe, Daily News Staff Writer
Sunday, December 27, 2009

Penguins fans know where they were nine years ago on this day.

All of the Penguins remember where they were, too.

Mario Lemieux stunned the hockey world by coming out of retirement Dec. 27, 2000, in a game at Mellon Arena against the Toronto Maple Leafs. As fate would have it, the Maple Leafs are in town tonight on the nine-year anniversary of the comeback for a game against the Penguins, many of whom were teenagers when Lemieux made his return.

They remember that night like it was yesterday.

"It was awesome," said Sidney Crosby, who was a 13-year-old watching the game at his home in Nova Scotia.

"I was so young when he retired (in 1997) that it was incredible to get to watch him play again. I still remember him scoring a goal that night and getting an assist right away."

Indeed, Lemieux set up a Jaromir Jagr goal 33 seconds into the game, his flair for the dramatic still unparalleled despite a 3 1/2-year absence. He scored the first goal of his comeback in the second period, and he set up Jan Hrdina for yet another assist.

While players such as Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal weren't even old enough for high school at the time of Lemieux's return, some of their teammates were already in the NHL.

Matt Cooke, Bill Guerin, Sergei Gonchar, Craig Adams, Brent Johnson, Ruslan Fedotenko, Jay McKee, Mark Eaton and Martin Skoula were all in the league during the 2000-01 season.

Cooke was playing for the Vancouver Canucks at the time and participated in a game three hours after the Penguins' 5-0 victory was underway.

"We were watching it on TV when we were getting ready for our game," Cooke said. "I remember him scoring the goal that night. Coming back when he did was obviously a big deal for the league at that time. Everyone was watching that night."

Lemieux did not disappoint in his return, producing a remarkable 35 goals and 41 assists in 43 regular-season games. He produced a gaudy 16 points in the first six games of the comeback.

In his fifth game out of retirement, Lemieux scored two goals in Boston against the Bruins and their newly-acquired forward, Guerin.

"I wouldn't even say that Mario dominated when he came back," Guerin said. "Dominate isn't the right word. He toyed with the whole league, basically. It was pretty amazing to see it up close."

Guerin recalled watching the footage of Lemieux before the game that night, saying goodbye to his family before departing for the arena.

The NHL was somewhat deprived of superstars at the time and needed a boost. Lemieux's return gave the NHL a jolt of much-needed excitement.

"The whole hockey world was watching that night," Guerin said. "It was a very big thing."

Playing against Lemieux, of course, wasn't so fun.

McKee played in Buffalo that season and would later see his Sabres fall to Lemieux's Penguins in Game 7 of a second-round series when Darius Kasparaitis scored the game-winning goal in overtime. Two nights earlier, Lemieux's goal in the final minutes had evened Game 6.

"Playing against him was never very good for my plus-minus," McKee said. "But honestly, I loved that he came back. I really felt like it was an honor to play against a player like him. I remember the night he came back. That was a big night for our sport."

It was also a big night for Lemieux's native province, Quebec.

A 16-year-old junior hockey player at the time, future Stanley Cup hero Max Talbot remembers that night. He played a game of his own that evening in Quebec but made sure to catch the highlights later that night.

"It was a big deal in Quebec," Talbot said. "I'm sure it was a big deal in Pittsburgh. It was big everywhere. It was amazing."

More Penguins headlines

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Scouting the Toronto Maple Leafs
Jeffrey's switch helps out Baby Pens
NHL GMs using heads for good
Walkom refs first of Isles-Rangers alone

Saturday, December 26, 2009

An in-depth look at Penguins’ decade

By Joe Starkey, Rob Rossi and Josh Yohe, TRIBUNE REVIEW
Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sports writers Joe Starkey, Rob Rossi and Josh Yohe break down the best and worst moments of the decade for the Penguins:


1. Dec. 7, 2000: Word leaks that team owner and Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux will end his 3 1/2 -year retirement and rejoin the Penguins.

2. June 12, 2009: Penguins defeat the Detroit Red Wings, 2-1, in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, becoming the first pro sports team since the 1979 Pirates to win a championship Game 7 on the road.

3. July 27, 2005: Penguins win the draft lottery — on a 6.25-percent chance — and the right to select Canadian phenom Sidney Crosby.

4. July 11, 2001: GM Craig Patrick trades five-time NHL scoring champion and team captain Jaromir Jagr, in the prime of his career, to the Washington Capitals for three prospects and cash.

5. March 13, 2007: Before a game against Buffalo, Mario Lemieux addresses a sellout crowd, which erupts in cheers as he drops the final curtain on decade-long arena saga, saying, "Tonight, I am proud to announce that your Pittsburgh Penguins will remain right here in Pittsburgh, where they belong."


Forward — Sidney Crosby (2005-present): Youngest captain ever to win the Stanley Cup

Forward — Evgeni Malkin (2006-present): Reigning Art Ross and Conn Smythe winner.

Forward — Mario Lemieux (2000-05): Two top seasons netted 167 points in 110 games.

Defense — Sergei Gonchar (2005-present): That $25 million contract worth its weight in silver.

Defense — Brooks Orpik (2003-present): Heart-and-soul hitter had one of great shifts in team history (ask Daniel Cleary).

Goalie — Marc-Andre Fleury (2003-present): Former No. 1 overall pick became a savior after all (ask Nick Lidstrom and Alex Ovechkin).


Marc-Andre Fleury stones Nicklas Lidstrom: Fleury lunged to his right to reject the future Hall-of-Famer in the final seconds of Game 7 of the Cup Final. "I was scared they'd shoot again," Fleury said, "but then I saw (Jordan Staal) throwing his gloves up, and I thought, 'OK, I can do it too.'"


Sidney Crosby — How do you choose between Crosby and Malkin? Maybe Malkin noted the key: "Sid is our leader."


Penguins beat Red Wings, 2-1, in Game 6 of 2009 Stanley Cup Final — No, it didn't go three overtimes, like Game 5 the year before, but it was an epic battle that began with the crowd chanting "Fleury! Fleury!" — goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had been pulled from a lopsided loss in Game 5 — and ended with defenseman Rob Scuderi's incredible goal-line stand.


Penguins-Capitals, '09 — Crosby, Ovechkin finally meet for higher stakes, combine for 27 points in Pens' 7-game win.


1. Johan Hedberg

2. Gary Roberts (at right w/ Maxime Talbot)

3. Jeff Jimmerson

4. The "Genos"

5. Colby Armstrong


1. William "Boots" Del Biaggio III

2. Sam Fingold

3. Jim Balsillie


1. Losing '04 draft lottery and Alex Ovechkin (didn't turn out so bad)

2. Losing casino license in December of '06 (didn't turn out so bad)

3 Losing Game 6 of '08 Final (turned out real bad, when the Wings raised the Cup on Mellon Arena ice).


1. Hossa leaves — for Detroit, no less

2. Jagr asks to be traded — twice, no less

3. Mario swaps a season for Olympics — and beats U.S. for gold medal, no less


1. Trading up to draft Marc-Andre Fleury

2. Hiring Ray Shero as GM

3. Signing Sergei Gonchar

4. Drafting Jordan Staal

5. Hiring Dan Bylsma as coach


1. Max Talbot ties Game 5 of '08 Cup Final with 34.3 seconds left in regulation.

2. Darius Kasparaitis beats future Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek in overtime to win Game 7 of '01 East semifinal.

3. Mario Lemieux converts a gift-from-the-hockey-gods pop-up to tie Game 6 of East semifinal vs. Sabres in final seconds.


1. Craig Patrick, Hall of Fame GM, fired.

2. Ryan Malone, Pittsburgh native, skating for anyone but the Penguins.

3. Jaromir Jagr in a Capitals jersey.

4. John LeClair in a Penguins jersey.

5. Penguins among biggest spenders in NHL.


1. Ziggy Palffy

2. Eddie Olczyk

3. Alexandre Daigle

4. Brooks Orpik, left wing

5. Sidney Crosby, playoff beard


1. Konstantin Koltsov

2. Richard Lintner

3. Nils Ekman

4. Milan Kraft

5. Michel Therrien (at right w/ Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby)


1. Marian Hossa saying, "I felt like I would have a little better of a chance to win the Cup in Detroit" upon leaving Pittsburgh.

2. Billy Tibbetts cross-checking Mario Lemieux — yeah, the team owner — in the back during a training-camp scrimmage in 2001.

3. Craig Patrick hiring a coach (Ivan Hlinka) who couldn't speak English.

4. Fans booing Sergei Gonchar upon his arrival in Pittsburgh.

5. NBC not allowing the Penguins to show games on outdoor video screen during '09 playoffs.


1. Mario Lemieux

2. Skating penguin

3. Stanley Cup


1. Broken teeth and all (thanks, Derian Hatcher), rookie Sidney Crosby beats the Flyers in overtime and rekindles a dormant rivalry.

2. Max Talbot picks a fight with ex-Penguin Daniel Carcillo in Game 6 of '09 series, then "Shhhhh's" the crowd.

3. Penguins humiliate visiting Flyers, 6-0, to win East final in '08

4. Gary Roberts, 41, buries Flyers "tough guy" Ben Eager with a barrage of left hands.

5. Crosby scores six points in 8-4 victory on Dec. 14, 2006, vaulting to a spot he would not relinquish — No. 1 in NHL scoring race.


Herb Brooks, Ivan Hlinka both killed in auto accidents, leaving behind incredible legacies — Brooks in the U.S., Hlinka in the Czech Republic.


Dec. 16, 2005: Mario Lemieux records his last NHL point in his final game, a 4-3 overtime loss to visiting Buffalo, which also marks Michel Therrien's first game behind the Penguins' bench.

Nov. 10, 2005: Sidney Crosby roofs a backhander to beat the Montreal Canadiens and give the Penguins their first-ever shootout win; Mario Lemieux scores his final NHL goal.

Oct. 18, 2006: Evgeni Malkin scores in his first NHL game, beating future all-time wins leader Martin Brodeur.

Feb. 10, 2003: Penguins ship Alexei Kovalev to the New York Rangers, further dismantling a one-time Cup contender.

May 4, 2008: Ex-Penguins star Jaromir Jagr plays his final NHL game, as Rangers lose in Pittsburgh in Game 5 of Eastern Conference semis (Marian Hossa's overtime goal wins it).

April 17, 2006: Standing-room-only crowd of 17,048 roars in season-finale for bad team, as Sidney Crosby scores three points to become youngest player in NHL history to record 100 in a season.


1 — Sellouts at Mellon Arena in 2003-04, the season before Sidney Crosby arrived.

136 — Penguins' current consecutive-sellout streak

6 — Men with Penguins ties inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame (Craig Patrick, Larry Murphy, Ron Francis, Herb Brooks, Paul Coffey, Joe Mullen)
46 — Saves for Marc-Andre Fleury in his NHL debut, a 3-0 loss to the L.A. Kings on Oct. 10, 2003.

55 — Fleury saves against Detroit in Game 5 of '08 Cup Final; Pens win in third overtime on Petr Sykora goal.

3 — Game 7 wins on the road for the Penguins this decade

18 — Games without victory in '04, a streak that finally ended in Phoenix.


"Evgeni Malkin sits back in the lobby of his luxury beachfront hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He couldn't be farther from the life he left behind earlier last week, escaping from his Russian team and life in the tiny, Siberian industrial town of Magnitogorsk. He also couldn't be farther from his family, friends and culture. "Definitely, I never expected anything like that to ever happen to me," Malkin said, "but life is full of surprises, good and bad, and this is one of those times." — Penguins writer Karen Price, on Malkin fleeing his Russian team to join the Penguins.


"This is a chance of a lifetime to realize your childhood dream to win a Stanley Cup. Play without fear and you will be successful! See you at center ice." — Text message Mario Lemieux left on players' phones on morning of Game 7 of '09 Cup Final in Detroit.

"I'm really starting to believe their goal is to be the worst defensive squad in the league. And they're doing such a great job at being the worst." — Coach Michel Therrien, after a 3-1 loss to Edmonton in his 11th game as coach.

"Add to the Pittsburgh lineup, No. 66, Mario Lemieux." — Penguins P.A. man John Barbero, announcing to the crowd the return of un-retired star Mario Lemieux on Dec. 27, 2000.

"We got great value in this deal. Time will show us that. But I can't convince people of that right now. All three of these guys are going to be big contributors here for a long time." — Then-GM Craig Patrick, on the players he acquired for Jaromir Jagr — Ross Lupaschuk, Kris Beech and Michal Sivek, none of whom is in the NHL.


If ever a hockey player could be called for traveling, it would be 6-foot-8 enforcer/comedian Steve McKenna. Since leaving the Penguins in 2004, McKenna has played and coached in Australia, England, China, South Korea and his latest stop, Russia, where he is a player-coach with the "Soviet Sports Club of the Air Force Samara" team in the Russian Supreme League.

During the NHL lockout in 2004, McKenna got an invitation from a friend — now his wife — to visit in Australia. He stayed and wound up playing for a local team called the Adelaide Avalanche. Next thing he knew, he was coaching the Australian national team (yes, there is such a thing.)

"There's a shortage of rinks there," McKenna said. "But they're really passionate about the sport."

McKenna hopes to return to the states and coach college hockey. The NHL game he'll never forget occurred Feb. 8, 2003, in Boston, when he skated on a line with Alex Kovalev and Mario Lemieux.

"I tell people about that one," McKenna said, laughing. "The Bruins pushed Kovalev around the previous game. We wanted to make sure it wasn't going to happen again, and I end up getting two goals!"

It was the only two-goal game of McKenna's 373-game NHL career.

More Penguins headlines

Penguins prospect Caputi hopes patience pays off
Starkey: Surreal decade for Penguins
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Pittsburgh-area products project as first-rounders
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Penguins coach Bylsma presents some new lines

Surreal decade for Penguins

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I wanted to start this column with a Mike Lange-ism — "You had to be here to believe it." — but I ran into a problem:

I was here, and I still don't believe it.

Russian hockey players Evgeni Malkin (left) and Alexander Ovechkin (right) at the NHL Entry Draft 2004.

You want to talk about defying ordinary? This decade of Penguins hockey might have been the most eventful decade any professional sports team has ever experienced — and it's not officially over 'til spring.

In a span of 9 1/2 seasons, this franchise has won a championship on a miraculous last-second play; lost a championship on a last-second miss; witnessed its greatest player — who happened to double as team owner — emerge from retirement after 3 1/2 years; traded the best player in the NHL; finished at the bottom of the league; drafted two players No. 1 overall, including the most highly publicized prospect in NHL history; fired a general manager already in the Hall of Fame; issued multiple threats of relocation; secured a new playing facility and girded itself to say goodbye to a fabled old playing facility.

Did I mention the international star who abandoned his Russian team in an airport and hid out in Finland before joining the Penguins?

Of course I didn't, because that's about the ninth-biggest story since October of 2000, when the Penguins waddled off to Tokyo to drop the puck on a new decade with a two-game series against the Nashville Predators.
Looking back on all that has transpired since, I cannot believe one franchise could be so lucky and unlucky in such a short span of time. As recently as 2004, the joke was that the Penguins were so bad they couldn't even win the draft lottery despite finishing last overall.

Poor saps.

Oh, but Evgeni Malkin dropped into their laps with the second pick that year, and a winning lottery ticket with Sidney Crosby's name on it came along the next.

Lucky devils.

So go ahead, try to make sense of this decade. I'm telling you, you'll wind up like former Pens defenseman Ian Moran on his first night back from Tokyo in 2000.

I remember asking Moran how the time-change adjustment went.

"I had a bowl of Golden Grahams, a bagel and two puddings and turned on Monday Night Football and woke up with drool all down the front of my T-shirt," he said. "I was wide awake from 1 til 4, fell back asleep at 8:30 and woke up again with one of my dogs in the bed and no idea where I was or what I was doing."

Go ahead, try.

And remember: The decade isn't over yet.

This column is part of the Trib's series on the Decade in Pittsburgh Sports.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An in-depth look at the Steelers' decade

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sports writer Joe Starkey breaks down the best and worst moments of the decade for the Steelers:


1. Feb. 1, 2009: Santonio Holmes makes spectacular catch in back of end zone to provide winning margin and give Steelers record sixth title, a 27-23 victory over Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII.

2. Feb. 5, 2006: After a 25-year drought, Steelers win "One for the Thumb," defeating the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10, in Detroit in Super Bowl XL.

3. June 12, 2006: City comes to standstill as Ben Roethlisberger seriously injured in motorcycle accident near 10th Street Bridge.

4. Feb. 27, 2008: Beloved Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope, creator of the Terrible Towel, dies at age 79.

5. Jan. 22, 2007: Mike Tomlin named 16th coach in Steelers history, replacing Bill Cowher and becoming only the third Steelers coach since 1969.

Alan Faneca made more Pro Bowls, Ben Roethlisberger played a higher-profile position and Troy Polamalu was more spectacular, but Ward was consistently productive, hugely clutch and as tough as any player in the league. Ask Ed Reed or Keith Rivers. Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review file



QB — Ben Roethlisberger ('04-present): Youngest QB to win two Super Bowls.

RB — Jerome Bettis ('00-05): Battering ram, team leader.

RB — Willie Parker ('04-present): Only Steeler with three straight 1,200-yard seasons.

WR — Hines Ward ('00-present): All-time team leader in most receiving categories.

WR — Santonio Holmes ('06-present): Clutch plays give him edge over Plaxico.

TE — Heath Miller ('05-present): Made Steelers use a tight end (sometimes).

T — Marvel Smith ('00-08): Team's first Pro-Bowl tackle since Tunch Ilkin.

T — Max Starks ('04-08): Started on right and left for two Super Bowl winners.

G — Alan Faneca ('00-07): Greatest guard in Steelers history.

G — Kendall Simmons ('02-08): Injuries stalled promising career.

C — Jeff Hartings ('01-06): Free-agent signing furthered tradition at position.


DE — Aaron Smith ('00-08): One of underrated players of his generation.

NT — Casey Hampton ('01-08): Smack in middle of suffocating run 'D'

DE — Kimo von Oelhoffen ('00-05): Solid six-year starter had 20.5 sacks.

LB — Joey Porter ('00-06): The mouth that roared went to three Pro Bowls.

LB — James Farrior ('02-08): One of NFL's top free-agent signings of decade.

LB — James Harrison ('02, '04-08): Two-time team MVP, Super Bowl hero.

LB — Jason Gildon ('00-03): Pro Bowl selection from 2001-03.

CB — Ike Taylor ('03-08) : Best of a weak position; if only he could catch.

CB — Deshea Townsend ('00-08): Solid, versatile player for much of decade.

SS — Troy Polamalu ('03-08): Only health could keep him out of Hall of Fame.

FS — Chris Hope ('02-05): Led team in picks (three) in super year of '05.


K — Jeff Reed ('02-08): Conquered tough conditions at Heinz Field.

P — Chris Gardocki ('04-06): Key factor in amazing run to Super Bowl XL.

PR/KR — Antwaan Randle-El ('02-05): Five returns for touchdowns.


Steelers linebacker James Harrison returns an interception 100 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII, on the last play of the first half. Not much debate here, although Big Ben’s tackle came up, as did Santonio’s catch (and Ben’s throw) in Super Bowl XLIII.


Hines Ward, WR — Alan Faneca made more Pro Bowls, Ben Roethlisberger played a higher-profile position and Troy Polamalu was more spectacular, but Ward was consistently productive, hugely clutch and as tough as any player in the league. Ask Ed Reed or Keith Rivers.


Super Bowl XLIII — Steelers 27, Cardinals 23: Featured two of the best plays in Super Bowl history and a dramatic game-winning drive that began on the Steelers' 12.


1. James Harrison body slams unruly Browns fan.

2. Kimo von Oelhoffen crashes into Carson Palmer's knee.

3. Gary Baxter injures Tommy Maddox, paving way for rookie Roethlisberger.

4. Hines Ward busts Keith Rivers' jaw.

5. Bart Scott nearly decapitates Big Ben.


1. The 2009 Steelers

2. Ricardo Colclough catching a punt

3. Mitch Berger attempting a punt.

4. Ike Taylor trying to catch the ball (except in Super Bowl XL)

5. Tommy Maddox, circa 2003


1. Dewayne Washington runs into Joe Nedney to lose playoff game.

2. Ty Carter whiffs on David Garrard to lose playoff game.

3. Limas Sweed drops sure TD in AFC title game (and fakes an injury), drops another another the next season at Cinci.

4. Pain-killing shot misses Jerome Bettis' nerve, causing leg to go numb before playoff game vs. Ravens.

5. Plax spikes live ball against Jacksonville.


1. The '09 Steelers lose to Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland (happened in a span of 18 days).

2. Terry Bradshaw make up with Steelers fans (happened at halftime of a Monday Night game in '02).

3. A punt stick in the mud like a javelin (happened on "Muddy Night Football" game vs. Dolphins).

4. A team try 38 passes in a blizzard (happened in the Meadowlands, courtesy of O-coordinator Mike Mularkey).

5. One team outgain another, 422-47, and lose (happened to the Steelers, against the expansion Texans, in 2002).


1. Polamalu scoops one off the grass vs. Chargers.

2. Big Ben corrals Nick Harper by a shoestring

3. Polamalu delivers leaping one-hander vs. Titans

4. Larry Johnson comes up with a fistful of Polamalu's pony tail.


1. Bruce Arians sends Big Ben around left end on designed run late in playoff game vs. Jags, forcing punt that leads to loss.

2. Bill Cowher insists on putting shaky Ricardo Colclough under punts, including one Colclough muffs in critical loss to Bengals.

3. Mike Tomlin goes for two-point conversion from 12-yard line, down by five with more than 10 minutes left in what would become a two-point playoff loss to Jags.

4. Bruce Arians orders 43 pass plays — including shotgun on third-and-1 on the first series — and only 22 running plays on a viciously cold and windy night in Cleveland, against a banged-up defense that couldn't stop the run when all its guys were healthy.


1. Joe Nedney (nice acting job)

2. Bill Belichick (nice video work)

3. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Keith Bulluck, LenDale White and anyone else who dared defile the Terrible Towel

4. Troy Brown

5. Josh Cribbs


1. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, 11th overall, 2004; For first time in nearly a quarter-century Steelers take QB with first pick.

2. Troy Polamalu, S, 16th overall in 2003.

3. LaMarr Woodley, LB, 2nd round, 2007.


1. Alonzo Jackson, LB, 2nd round, 59th, overall, 2003; No sacks in NFL career.

2. Ricardo Colclough, CB, 2nd round, 2004

3. Willie Reid, WR, 3rd round, 2006

Monitoring: Limas Sweed (2nd round, 2008)


1. Bill Cowher replaces Kordell Stewart with Tommy Maddox, sparking '02 comeback against Cleveland, then names Maddox the starter.

2. Hines Ward, in interview with Bob Costas, questions why concussed Ben Roethlisberger will not play vs. Ravens.

3. Cowher benches Jerome Bettis in favor of Amos Zereoue.


1. Fast Willie goes 75 yards in the Super Bowl

2. Troy Polamalu takes interception 40 yards to clinch AFC title game vs. Ravens.

3. The Bus steamrolls Brian Urlacher for a TD

4. Wild interception return ends with Polamalu trucking former college housemate Carson Palmer at goal line.

5. Hines Ward loses a shoe but outruns DeAngelo Hall to end zone.


1. Patriots ruin Steelers' 15-1 season in '04 AFC title game

2. Patriots ruin Steelers' 13-3 season in '01 AFC title game

3. Titans escape with 34-31 win in '02 playoff game.

4. Jaguars score late to win '07 Wild Card game, 31-29.

5. Browns humiliate defending Super Bowl champs in '09, 13-6.


1. Dan Rooney names son Art new team president (summer, 2003)

2. Mike Tomlin replaces Bill Cowher (winter 2007)

3. Tommy Maddox replaces Kordell Stewart (fall, 2002)

4. Four Rooney brothers transfer majority ownership to an investment group led by eldest brother Dan (summer, 2009).

5. Heinz Field replaces Three Rivers Stadium (fall, 2001)


Dwight White, "Arrowhead" Ernie Holmes, Myron Cope, Steve Courson, Theo Bell, Justin Strzelczyk, Mike Webster, David Little, Terry Long, Steve Furness, Jim Clack, Ray Oldham, Joe Gilliam, Ron Shanklin, Dave Brown


1. Antwaan Randle El hits Hines Ward with 43-yard TD pass on fake reverse in Super Bowl XL.

2. Jerome Bettis throws 10-yard TD pass to Jerame Tuman vs. Jets, clinching '04 division title.

3. Punter Josh Miller and safety Chris Hope hook up on 81-yard TD pass in '03 season-finale vs. Ravens.


· Joey Porter shot in buttocks as innocent bystander outside Denver bar

· Richard Huntley and Earl Holmes ignite chair-swinging minicamp brawl at Three Rivers Stadium in 2000.

· O-line coach Larry Zierlein accidentally forwards off-color e-mail to league offices

· Police say they find three marijuana-filled cigars in Santonio Holmes' sport utility vehicle.

· James Harrison and Cedrick Wilson arrested 11 days apart in domestic-violence incidents.

· Jeff Reed attacks Sheetz towel dispenser (and months later, gets in alleged spat with police).


Dec. 16, 2000 — Steelers beat Redskins, 24-3, in final game at Three Rivers Stadium.

Dec. 21, 2006 — Steelers eliminate Bengals from playoffs, 23-17, in Bill Cowher's final game as coach

Oct. 7, 2001 — Steelers beat Bengals, 16-7, in first game at Heinz Field, one that was postponed after 9/11.


"The Steelers' latest millionaire traveled all night from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh, stuffed near the back of the airplane like any other passenger. 'Between the two biggest people on the plane,' he said. No first-class ticket for first-round draft choice Troy Polamalu? 'It really doesn't matter,' he said. What matters to Polamalu — even more, he said, than the five-year, $8.275 million contract he signed Monday — is that the sick feeling in his stomach disappeared. Polamalu said he felt ashamed that he was home while his Steelers teammates reported to training camp Friday." — Steelers writer Jerry DiPaola, training camp '03


"Exciting? No, it's not exciting. Do you want to go work with some little young kid who's just out of college?" — Alan Faneca (at right), on rookie Ben Roethlisberger's first start replacing Tommy Maddox.

"We're going to unleash hell here in December." — Mike Tomlin, 2009, just before consecutive losses to Oakland and Cleveland.

"They ain't nothing but paper champions. That's all they are, and that's all they're ever going to be." — Lee Flowers, ripping the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2001.

"You heard me. I called him 'Plexiglass' because he's so fragile." — Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe, ripping Plaxico Burress.

"Ben does not have broken toes. We are unaware of any problems with his toes, OK?" — Bill Cowher, responding to Roethlisberger's assertion that he played with broken toes in AFC title-game loss to Patriots.

"We're going to win. Yeah, I can guarantee a win." — Anthony Smith, four days before he is torched by Tom Brady and Randy Moss in lopsided loss to Patriots.