Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Big doubts about Ben: Support for Roethlisberger is wavering

By Gary Mihoces, USA TODAY
March 30, 2010

By Gene J. Puskar, AP

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is being investigated for an alleged sexual assault in Georgia.

PITTSBURGH — At Peppi's Old Tyme Sandwich Shops, the "Roethlisburger" remains on the menu — a mix of ground beef, sausage, scrambled eggs, grilled onions and American cheese, created in tribute to the Pittsburgh Steelers star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.

But these days, even the owner of Peppi's has joined fans here in wondering about Roethlisberger, whose on-field heroics — he led the team to Super Bowl titles in the 2005 and 2008 seasons — have been overshadowed recently by a Georgia woman's allegation that Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her. It is the second time in a year the 28-year-old quarterback has been the focus of such allegations.

"It's just frustrating to see a guy that's got a lot going for him and finds himself in another one of these situations," Jeff Trebac says. "But you just think why? How can this happen again?"

Roethlisberger is entering what would be the prime of a stellar NFL career. But he finds himself in another situation that has raised questions about his judgment off the field, led Steel City fans to wonder about their star's future, shaken one of the league's most stable franchises and prompted Commissioner Roger Goodell to make it clear that he was unhappy with Roethlisberger's conduct and would meet with him at the "appropriate" time.

The discontent stems from an allegation March 5 by a 20-year-old college student who said Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her in a nightclub in Milledgeville, Ga. No charges have been filed, and police have not revealed specifics of the alleged assault.

Roethlisberger has not commented, other than to say, through his attorneys, that he is "completely innocent."

The case is the third in a series of incidents that have called Roethlisberger's judgment into question. Last July, Andrea McNulty filed a civil suit against Roethlisberger, alleging he raped her in 2008. Roethlisberger denied the claim, no criminal charges have been filed and Roethlisberger has countersued. In June 2006, after winning his first Super Bowl title, Roethlisberger suffered a broken jaw and nose in a motorcycle accident. He was not wearing a helmet.

The Steelers have won six Super Bowls under the ownership of the founding Rooney family — lauded for building teams through stability, family-style loyalty to players and coaches and their active role in civic affairs.

At last week's NFL owners meeting in Orlando, Steelers president Art Rooney II said the team was on hold "until they complete the investigation."

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who says he is "highly concerned for our franchise and Ben personally," elaborated at the owners meeting. "It's well known we're very, very conscious about how we do business, that we're highly concerned about our image perception, how we conduct ourselves."

Roethlisberger isn't the only Steeler making headlines. Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes is being sued by Anshonoe Mills, who alleges Holmes threw a glass at her, resulting in facial cuts, at a nightclub this month. Holmes denied wrongdoing in an interview with ESPN on Monday.

Also Monday, Roethlisberger did not report for the start of the team's voluntary workout program, and team spokesman Dave Lockett said the quarterback would not work out with his teammates this week. A mandatory minicamp opens April 30.

At the team complex last week, tight end Heath Miller, among players doing voluntary workouts, declined to comment. "Mr. Rooney's made a statement. Coach Tomlin's made a statement. So as players we're standing behind their statements."

While the investigation plays out, some already see a pattern.

"He doesn't have any judgment," says Pittsburgh-based sports agent Ralph Cindrich, a former NFL linebacker. "He is definitely, in the eyes of the law, not guilty (at this stage of the case). Still, you have to question his judgment with a 20-year-old college student. … Where is your mind?

"I don't think there's any question that Ben has lost the city. The Rooney family is just on hold trying to see what the facts are. But there isn't a bank of goodwill that Ben has to go to."

Stan Savran, a Pittsburgh TV and radio broadcaster for 34 years, says Roethlisberger's local reputation has taken a hit.

"I think his image has suffered. … Almost 100% have kind of lined up against him," says Savran, who does a talk show on ESPN Radio 1250 and regional TV for FSN Pittsburgh. Savran links that reaction to the region's devotion to the Rooneys.

"I think they buy into the fact that the Steelers not only win, but do things the right way. … They feel what Ben has done is a slap in the face to the Rooneys."

NFL discipline possible

Roethlisberger could face repercussions outside the courtroom before the Georgia case is completed.

The league's personal-conduct policy says the commissioner can require counseling and fine or suspend players for "conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence" of the NFL "even where the conduct itself does not result in conviction of a crime." Goodell expressed concern that Roethlisberger "continues to put himself in this position."

Should Roethlisberger, who signed an eight-year, $102 million contract in 2008, not be available for the season's start, Pittsburgh has no proven option at the team's No. 1 position. Dennis Dixon, 25, is under contract and has one start. Charlie Batch, a backup in Pittsburgh the last eight seasons, signed a two-year deal with the team last week.

At what point might an NFL club decide it's time to sever ties with a player?

"There's no perfect scenario you go through that governs all situations," says Charley Casserly, former general manager of the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans and now an analyst for NFL Network and CBS Sports.

Casserly says "verified facts" are key. "Has he been legally found guilty?" Casserly also says he'd consider whether there have been repeat offenses, whether the player "wants to prove" he can change behavior and whether he has become a "detriment" to the team.

As for fans, opinions vary.

Don Harvey, 44, says he was a "little miffed" at Roethlisberger when he first heard reports from Georgia because it was his second "so-called offense, dealing with the same type of problem."

Sharon Smith, 30, was in Roethlisberger's corner: "I think these women are full of crap and I think they're just taking advantage."

Says Noam Hanish, 25: "If he's guilty, he's guilty, and he'll go through the process."

Are sponsorships at risk?

In 2004, the Steelers made Roethlisberger the 11th overall pick in the NFL draft out of Miami University of Ohio. In Pittsburgh, he was placed in an ideal situation for a young quarterback to develop. But Roethlisberger became a starter early in his rookie season when veteran Tommy Maddox was hurt, and he led the Steelers to a 15-1 regular-season mark and the AFC Championship Game.

That type of success brought sponsorships, and Roethlisberger counts Nike among them. Last week, spokesman KeJuan Wilkins said Nike "declined to comment (on the current case)."

Ty Ballou, president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based PLB Sports, which markets the Big Ben's Beef Jerky brand, says the relationship will continue for now. But he expresses concern.

"You have to put yourself in good positions. And Ben unfortunately hasn't," Ballou says. "I hope this will truly be the last time something like this happens."

The quarterback is involved in charity work, and his Ben Roethlisberger Foundation has provided grants to support canine units at police and fire departments across the country.

For now, Roethlisberger appears to be eschewing the spotlight. An avid golfer — he is a regular at celebrity tournaments — he withdrew from a scheduled appearance at a pro-am scheduled for today and Wednesday in California.

Cliff Hite, the football coach at Findlay High School in Ohio during Roethlisberger's years there and now a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, says he hasn't spoken with him since his first Super Bowl win.

"I think the town is behind Ben. It always has been," Hite says. "I know the Ben that left here was a good guy, and I want to hope and pray that he still is."

MORE CONTROVERSY: Steelers' Holmes denies allegation of assault

Contributing: Michael McCarthy, Jim Corbett

Steelers no better than Bengals

Tuesday, March 30, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A week ago, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin talked of the franchise's standards of conduct being "above and beyond those of our peers" in the NFL. It seemed like a bunch of baloney, the height of arrogance from a man who is running what appears to be an out-of-control team if you believe the newspaper headlines.

Somehow, it seems even worse this morning.

Above and beyond?

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes and quaterback Ben Roethlisberger.

These days, the Steelers are no different than the Cincinnati Bengals were a few years ago when they were a national joke because their players couldn't stay out of trouble.

Above and beyond?

Star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is facing sexual assault allegations in two states. Things are such a mess with the second case involving a 20-year-old college student in Georgia that the Steelers, at least for the moment, don't want Roethlisberger around their South Side practice facility to work out with his teammates because he would cause a distraction.

Above and beyond?

In February, the Steelers put their franchise tag on kicker Jeff Reed, assuring that he will make $2,814,000 next season. They did so after he had been involved in two incidents involving the police in the previous 13 months. In April 2009, the team gave linebacker James Harrison a six-year, $51,175,000 contract. They did so after he had been involved in a domestic violence case 13 months earlier in which the charges were dropped after he underwent anger-management counseling.

Above and beyond?


What's next?

Based on recent precedent, it will be a big new contract for wide receiver Santonio Holmes.

How sad is that?

It's nice to think it won't come to that.

Holmes, who is entering the final year of his current contract and could become a free agent after the '10 season, has some resume. He was the Most Valuable Player in the Steelers' win against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII after the '08 season. He is their best receiver now that Hines Ward is approaching the end of his Hall of Fame-caliber career.

But the Steelers are going to have to swallow awfully hard to do a new multimillion-dollar deal with Holmes. News broke Monday that he has been named in a civil lawsuit because of an alleged incident involving a woman March 7 at an Orlando, Fla., club. According to the suit filed by Anshonae Mills, Holmes threw a glass in her face, cutting her above the eye and temporarily blinding her because of the alcohol in the glass. She said she didn't file a criminal complaint because she was pressured by the Orlando police not to press charges. Holmes has denied any wrongdoing.

This is the fourth incident involving Holmes since the Steelers made him their No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft. Charges of disorderly conduct and domestic violence in separate cases not long after the draft were dropped. A misdemeanor marijuana charge in October 2008 was avoided when Holmes' attorney successfully argued that a police traffic stop violated his rights.

This is a guy you want to see the Steelers re-sign?

I'm guessing it's not going to happen. I have to think the Steelers are more than ready to make a statement to their players that they are tired of all this nonsense. It's easy to do with Holmes by not giving him that new contract. That's not being "above and beyond." That's just running out of patience with players who repeatedly embarrass and bring shame to the organization.

Roethlisberger, for instance.

Maybe especially Roethlisberger.

How furious the Rooneys and Tomlin must be with Roethlisberger, to the degree that there has to be at least some sentiment inside the organization to get rid of him. How furious NFL commissioner Roger Goodell must be because of the way Roethlisberger has tarnished the league's brand on not one, but two occasions. "We are concerned that Ben continues to put himself in this position," Goodell said last week.

At this point, it must be noted, Roethlisberger is guilty of nothing more than bad judgment, of hanging out with the wrong people in the wrong places at the wrong times. Don't blame the Steelers for being overly tolerant in his case. There's not another team in the NFL that would cut him just because of poor judgment. Franchise quarterbacks are too hard to find, especially one who has won two Super Bowls.

But what if Roethlisberger is charged in the Georgia case? Surely, Goodell would suspend him for violating the NFL's personal conduct code.

And what if Roethlisberger is found guilty of the charges? Then, the Steelers would have a big decision to make. Then, we would find out just how "above and beyond" they are as a franchise.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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.

Penguins' Staal emerges as Selke contender

Tuesday, March 30, 2010
By Dave Molinari, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Penguins forward Jordan Staal has scored 48 points this season

Nicklas Backstrom is the NHL's fourth-leading scorer, and centers one of the game's most fearsome lines. He could have been a Penguin.

Jonathan Toews ranks among hockey's finest two-way forwards, with intangibles that might be even more valuable than his talents. He could have been a Penguin.

Phil Kessel is one of hockey's great pure goal-scorers and, yes, he could have been a Penguin.

All were top-five choices in the 2006 NHL entry draft, and all have lived up to the promise that made them elite prospects.

"That was a fantastic draft class," said Penguins general manager Ray Shero, a guy who passed on all of those players.

And never has regretted doing it. Or, for that matter, had much reason to.

Because the Penguins, who owned the second choice in that draft, opted to spend it on Jordan Staal, who has proven to be an ideal complement to centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and who has emerged as a legitimate contender for the Selke Trophy, which goes to the NHL's top defensive forward, this season.

Staal is the Penguins' No. 3 scorer, with 21 goals and 27 assists in 76 games, but offense is not the most significant element of his game. When the Penguins' lineup is intact, Staal centers the third line, generally with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy on his wings, and logs a lot of ice time against opponents' top forwards.

Some of that comes during the team-high average -- that's among all players, not just forwards -- of three minutes, 15 seconds that he spends killing penalties.

Not coincidentally, the Penguins' short-handed unit is developing into one of the most efficient in the NHL. It ranks fifth in the league with a success rate of 84.5 percent, and recorded 33 consecutive kills before allowing a goal in the third period of the Penguins' 5-4 shootout victory Sunday against Toronto.

Staal's penalty-killing prowess is part of the reason he has earned a place alongside the likes of Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, Vancouver's Ryan Kesler and Toews, among others, on the list of serious Selke candidates.

"I'd certainly have him in the mix with anyone they'd consider," Shero said.

While it's hard to project Staal as a favorite -- players often don't win the Selke until a couple of seasons after they first deserve to, and continue to contend for it for a year or two after their work no longer merits it -- Staal certainly is worthy of consideration.

Teammate Craig Adams draws an NHL paycheck because of his defensive abilities -- he has gone 105 games without scoring a goal -- so he has a keen appreciation of what Staal does in his own zone.

"He knows where he's supposed to be, and he's there, consistently," Adams said. "Secondly, when he gets there, to his spot, he's so big [6 feet 4, 220 pounds] and strong that if he leans on a guy, there's a pretty good chance that he's getting the puck. And when he gets the puck, most of the time he makes the right play with it, and we're out of our end."

Staal never has been a prolific scorer -- the 29 goals he got as an NHL rookie exceeded the total he recorded in either of his two seasons with Peterborough in the Ontario Hockey League -- but recognized the importance of contributing at both ends of the ice long before joining the Penguins.

"I've always been on a really good team, and I was never the offensive guy to go and score goals," he said. "In Peterborough, I was on the second or third line for a while.

"I've always been in that role where I needed to play well defensively. To get on this team [as a 17-year-old], I needed to play that way and needed to be counted on defensively. It's just kind of taken off from there."

That commitment hasn't gone unnoticed. Staal has served as an alternate captain for the past three games, when defenseman Sergei Gonchar was unable to play because of illness.

"He's well-respected by his teammates," Shero said.

And very much appreciated by the guy who passed on some pretty impressive talents in order to add Staal to the Penguins' depth chart.

"Those top five guys [in the 2006 draft] are really, really good players," Shero said. "But Jordan has been just a great fit for us.

"I know those other teams are happy with their guys, as they should be. But we're very happy with Jordan."

NOTE -- Gonchar worked out on the ice with conditioning coach Mike Kadar for about a half-hour Monday. His teammates had the day off.

For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com.

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.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Report: Sid vs. Ovie at Heinz Field Winter Classic 2011

By Sean Leahy
Mar 28, 2010 10:00 am EDT

The success of the Winter Classic has made the annual event something every NHL team wants to be a part of. A cash cow for the league, and ratings bonanza for television partner NBC, its popularity has led to talk of a Canadian outdoor match up at some point next season. Given NBC's involvement as broadcaster of the Winter Classic in the U.S., there's little chance of seeing a Canadian team involved in that game, but an outdoor doubleheader is a possibility for January 1, 2011 or on a different date.

As for who will be involved in the 2011 Winter Classic, there are several teams who've expressed interest in hosting the game and some have submitted bids to the NHL. An official announcement won't be made until mid-July when the NHL's 2010-11 schedule is released, but Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports today that the game is looking like it will head to Pittsburgh and add a new twist to the Sidney Crosby(notes) / Alex Ovechkin(notes) rivalry:

"A few details still have to be addressed, but things are falling into place for the Penguins and Washington to play the NHL's 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field Jan. 1.

There is no word on when an official announcement will come. The NHL traditionally does not make one until mid-summer, around the time the coming season's schedule is released.

Neither the Penguins nor the league will confirm that the game will played here."

The NHL had plenty of preparation time in Fenway Park and Wrigley Field the past two years, but putting the game on in an NFL stadium could be a hectic task given the schedule runs through January. Molinari reports, however, that the Steelers' schedule can be tweaked to allow for the NHL's two-week build-out plan for the rink and the rest of the setup for the stadium.

Because of the possibility of interfering with the Steelers' regular season schedule, PNC Park, home of the Pirates, was originally thought to be the venue if the game was awarded to Pittsburgh, but the seating capacity of Heinz Field would allow the NHL to pack 65,050 fans inside and the two hated rivals battle.

Many fans will probably ask, "Why would the NHL choose the Penguins again over other teams who haven't been involved yet?"

The answer is a pretty simple one.

The decision to have the Washington Capitals involved isn't a surprise given that they were in the mix for the game this year at Fenway Park, but ended up being left out due to NBC's concerns over television ratings. Despite those fears, it was only a matter of time before Ovechkin was involved in a Winter Classic as shown by rumors last month that the Capitals were to possibly host at Nationals Park next January. If NBC and the NHL have the opportunity to showcase Crosby and Ovechkin, the two biggest stars in hockey, in the League's premier annual event outside of the Stanley Cup playoffs, then it's going to happen. NBC's ratings for Philadelphia-Boston this year were down a bit, but were still the second best for a regular season game since 1996. The minor drop exposed two things. First, a strong match up is a necessity. The Flyers and Bruins weren't exactly lighting up the Eastern Conference standings at the time and still aren't almost three months later. Second, there was no star power for NBC to market; so instead, Fenway Park became the focal point. Casual sports fans need to be drawn in for more than just the spectacle of the event; they need a reason to stick around.

We saw this past Wednesday in a third regular season meeting this season between Pittsburgh and Washington that the hype machine is still in full effect for Crosby and Ovechkin. Now, imagine the NHL having five months to market Crosby versus Ovechkin in the Winter Classic, maybe the game gets an added jolt if the two should meet again in the playoffs this season.
It's too much of a no-brainer for NBC and the NHL to pass up. Yeah, there'll be some grumbling from fans and other NHL teams about the Penguins getting the spotlight again in the Winter Classic and for continuing to shove only Crosby and Ovechkin down fans' throats, while failing to market other stars around the League. But given the ratings when the two meet, along with the extra mainstream media attention a Pittsburgh-Washington Winter Classic would receive, the decision was inevitable and in the end, would be the right choice.

Related: Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals, Hockey Fans, Gary Bettman, Commissioner for Life, Rumors, scuttlebutt, innuendo, Crosby vs. Ovechkin vs. Malkin

Doc's orders: Just listen

Sunday, March 28, 2010
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

From a cell phone in his car somewhere in Michigan, Doc Emrick was apologizing for the behavior of his dogs in the back seat, and indeed, they sounded like capable adversaries who had just dropped the gloves.

Had they been the kind of dogs who wear little sweaters, one must have pulled the little sweater over the other's head and begun to take liberties.

"It's not that," Emrick said, "they've apparently spotted another dog they don't like, so this should end very soon."

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Mike Emrick: 3,000 NHL broadcasts and counting.

Whether it's his fluid play-by-play of Olympic hockey, whether it's the Stanley Cup playoffs, whether it's hockey's popular Winter Classic, or whether it's Doc Emrick doing bark-by-bark from the front seat, the listener feels welcome, informed, and an indispensable part of the event.

I called Doc just to deliver my congratulations on his 3,000th hockey broadcast, a milepost that flicked past Monday night when the Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings met in Detroit, where Emrick's family and friends celebrated in a suite at Joe Louis Arena.

By Friday the Hall of Fame broadcaster was in a far more reflective mood.

"I count myself as just fortunate because it would have ended somewhere around 1,200 [games]; I had prostate cancer 19 years ago," he said. "It was caught early, which is always key, but I'm so lucky. My general practitioner knew some family history and was always suspicious. He'd sent me to a place to get an ultrasound and it would always come back clean, so he said, 'Go somewhere different.' I was working in Philadelphia and I went to Hershey Medical Center for an ultrasound. It was clean, but they said, 'Since you've come all this way, let's just do a biopsy. And they found it."

Emrick had to take four months away from his gig broadcasting Flyers hockey, the longest he had been away from the game since he first wandered into the Civic Arena as a volunteer hockey correspondent for the Beaver County Times, circa 1970.

"It's a good thing it was an evening paper, because I was terrible," he said. "We didn't have the technological advantages we had today, so me and some other guys would sit in the press box and try and figure out how the goals were scored, who might have assisted, who might have deflected it. I'd write it over and over trying to get it right."

That wasn't what Doc wanted, of course. He hadn't picked up a Masters and Ph.D. in radio and television so that the folks in Beaver Falls could be sure who had the second assist on that Andy Bathgate goal.

"I sent letters and tapes to every minor league hockey team that moved," he said. "What I got back was some very fancy stationary saying no."

But somehow between the time he finally broke through to bring you that first one -- Fort Wayne against Port Huron, a coupla International League clubs that didn't like each other -- and this week's Penguins-Red Wings meeting, Emrick's erudite tones have found a place among the greatest play-by-play deliveries in sport.

Mike Lange is more colorful, Paul Steigerwald likely more analytical, and various other legendary hockey voices league-wide have all brought uniquely stylized approaches to the same job, but Emrick lends the sport an accessibility no one can duplicate. His voice has a kind of relaxed urgency, if you will, and his manner can be enjoyed by the grittiest hockey veteran and the novice viewer simultaneously.

His manner virtually injects the audience with a specialized confidence in the sport -- that it deserves our attention, that it will entertain, that it matters, and especially that it matters that you like it as much as he.

This is some definition of graciousness, and in a weird way, that's Doc's curse. He's so approachable and knowledgeable that you can't let him off the phone unless you ask this, and this, and this, and what about this?

So how about the league's new approach to protecting players' heads?

"It always reflects back to the time in this sport when the players policed themselves," Emrick said. "Prior to the rule requiring helmets, if a guy got cut around the head you knew it was intentional, and we knew when the helmet rule came in players would be a lot more reckless. Now it's like going out on the Parkway East in the middle of the Friday rush hour. You just hope you're not out there with someone who has had too much to drink or hasn't had enough sleep or has road rage or what have you. You just trust that you're all trying to get somewhere and no one is going to do anything foolish. There's a chicken and egg element to the league taking over the policing. It's upset the balance."

What about the advent of hockey in 3-D.

"There was a Rangers-Islanders game in 3-D, but I didn't get to see it," he said. "The people I know who did said it was really unusual, really unique, but there was so much picture, so much depth, that it gave them a headache."

Maybe they'll pass out helmets.

But most importantly, what of Doc's beloved Pirates? There is, after all, only one man who can insert the Pirates into an Olympic hockey broadcast.
"Somehow or other some twisted stuff got into my blood stream when I was 11, and I can't get it out," he said. "I really like the players, and it's not their fault that they're not comparable to most teams in the league. I started cheering for them 51 years ago and I got to see some of those guys at fantasy camp a couple of years ago -- Vern Law, Bill Virdon, Bob Skinner, Bill Mazeroski, my nickname was Maz when I played in high school because I played second and always wore my Pirates hat. Those guys were on teams that always won.

"I still watch the telecasts and admire the guys doing the broadcasting because there are times when that's gotta be a very hard job."

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283.

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.

Here's hoping Fast Willie stays in town

Monday, March 29, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

Willie Parker scores on his memorable 75-yard run in the third quarter of Super Bowl XL in February 2006.

Willie Parker didn't call for advice, but I'm going to offer him some anyway this morning:

Hey, Fast Willie. The Steelers still need a really good backup running back to Rashard Mendenhall. You still don't have a job for next season, last time I checked. Put aside your hard feelings toward Mike Tomlin and the Steelers' organization and see if a deal can't be done that benefits everyone. You gotta remember one thing: We're talking business here. It should never be personal. It's business.

I hope Parker comes back.

The Steelers will be a better team for it.

Parker turns 30 on Nov. 11, but he still has plenty left. He proved that to me in the final game last season. He toted the football 12 times for 91 yards against the Miami Dolphins and looked good doing it.

If Parker can just get his mind right ...

We're talking business here. It should never be personal.

The Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette spoke to a person close to Parker and reported in his PG+ blog that Parker is so bitter toward the Steelers about his treatment last season that he would rather sit out 2010 than play here again. The source's message might be a bit extreme, but there's no question Parker -- a valuable guy who played a major role on two Super Bowl-winning teams -- couldn't have been happy about being pushed aside for Mendenhall. Parker had to know it was inevitable from the day the Steelers drafted Mendenhall No. 1 in the '08 draft and invested a fortune in him, but that didn't make it any easier to take. The Steelers hardly used Parker after he had a foot injury in the third game. He had a total of just 34 carries in the 10 games before the Miami game.

Of course, that stung even if Parker never complained about it publicly.

Parker is a proud man. He never was fully appreciated by a lot of media and fans here, but he should be remembered as one of the great Steelers. He ran for 1,200 yards in '05 and set a Super Bowl record with a 75-yard touchdown run against the Seattle Seahawks. He had nearly 1,500 yards in '06 and was leading the NFL with 1,316 yards in '07 when his right leg was broken in the next-to-last game. He came back to lead the '08 Super Bowl Steelers in rushing despite missing five games with knee and shoulder injuries.

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Willie Parker celebrates after scoring against the Cincinnati Bengals in January 2006. There hasn't been such a sight for sore eyes lately.

Despite all of that, the Steelers weren't wrong to turn to Mendenhall last season. After taking a public scolding from Tomlin, who benched him on offense during the game at Cincinnati in September because he "wasn't on the details this week," he played like a No. 1 pick and finished the season with 1,108 yards. "I think he's capable of a lot more to be quite honest with you," Tomlin told Bouchette last week. "Looking for him to do great things for us."

That makes at least two of us.

But that doesn't mean there's not a spot for Parker as long as he can wrap his arms around being a backup. He knows Bruce Arians' offense. He could step in again if something happens to Mendenhall. He would be a better choice than any of the other backs on the roster -- Mewelde Moore, Frank Summers and Isaac Redman. He might be a better choice than the team could find elsewhere, either in the draft next month or in free agency later in the spring.

At this point, it doesn't look as if Parker will get a shot at a starting job with another team. There hasn't been nearly the interest in him around the league that I thought there would be. There has to be concerns about his age and his injuries the past three seasons.

That's why Parker owes it to himself to at least re-think his stance on the Steelers. I'm guessing they would like to have him back at the right price. They brought back wide receiver Antwaan Randle El and linebacker Larry Foote to provide depth at key positions on a veteran team they think is capable of taking another run at a Super Bowl. There's no reason they shouldn't want to fill a similar need with Parker. That's especially true if they are as serious about re-committing to the running game as Tomlin says they are. They're going to need two good, solid, proven running backs.

Clearly, Parker can be one of the two.

That's assuming, of course, Parker can make his peace with Tomlin and the organization and accept his role as Mendenhall's backup.

Bitter Willie?

I'm thinking Fast Willie sounds a whole lot better.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Washington Capitals find themselves flying high, in rare air

By Thomas Boswell
The Washington Post
Thursday, March 25, 2010; D01

The Pittsburgh Penguins came to Washington with a deeper appreciation of the Capitals, and the danger they posed to the defending Stanley Cup champions, than perhaps anyone in hockey.

"These guys have been top of the league all year by a wide stretch," said veteran Bill Guerin. "They've had a great year, so we're definitely looking at them to see how we measure up."

Washington Capitals right wing Mike Knuble(notes) (22) scores a goal against Pittsburgh Penguins center Jordan Staal(notes) (11) and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) (29) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, March 24, 2010, in Washington.(AP)

The Pens, mind you, are the reigning NHL kings. The Pens, also, are the franchise that has cursed the Caps, had their number in the playoffs, for a generation. If any team shouldn't have to worry about how they "measure up" to the Capitals, it's the Pens, even though Washington won their first two meetings this year.

Yet the Pens do fret. And more so now after the Caps won their third straight meeting over Pittsburgh, 4-3, on a shootout goal by Mike Knuble. Once again, this season seems different for the Caps and that sense seems to grow every month. The first time the Caps met the Pens, they stomped them, 6-3, on the road. Then, on Super Bowl Sunday, they trailed 4-1, but won in overtime on Knuble's goal after Alex Ovechkin had a hat trick.

Now this: The Caps trailed 2-1 in the third period, but tied the score on a spectacular takeaway and end-to-end short-handed rush and goal by Alexander Semin. Less than two minutes later, the Caps took the lead with one of their trademark multigoal blitzes as Eric Fehr's deflection put them ahead.

Yet, when the Pens sent the game into overtime with just 3 minutes 4 seconds left in regulation, then took a 2-0 lead in the shootout -- an almost certain defeat. The Caps showed no hint of demoralization and finished the night with consecutive saves by José Theodore and three straight goals by Ovechkin, Semin and the flashless vet Knuble.

Make no mistake, this meeting meant more to the Pens, though they had to play without injured Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin, than it did for the Caps. It was the Pens who needed to create a bit of doubt. Instead, they left with a tad more of their own.

This night was yet another in a sequence of wakeup calls for the whole NHL. The Caps are on the verge of remarkable things -- deeds that are within their current capacity, not parts of some future dream. With excellence comes expectation and pressure. It can't be escaped.

Now, in just a few weeks, it will arrive, because the Caps themselves have arrived, not as contenders but as a power. The Power? The next several weeks, or months, will decide that.

"It's a lot of pressure to have the best record in the league," said Coach Bruce Boudreau, whose team will almost certainly have that distinction, riding as it is on a current pace of 121 points.

Only seven of 23 Presidents' Trophy winners have won the Cup. The regular season means a lot -- if you go on and win.

Rarely does a young team rise to the top of its sport so fast that it leaves almost everyone, except those on the squad itself, gasping in the wake of their accomplishments. But, at this moment, the Capitals keep their followers dashing to catch up with their constantly accelerating prowess.

Just two years ago, they struggled to make the playoffs. Last year, they emerged as contenders but collapsed in Game 7 at home against the eventual champion Penguins. Now, riding a three-month torrid stretch, they suddenly moved to the brink of NHL dominance. The Caps' hardest work by far is still ahead. But the regular season groundwork has been laid spectacularly.

How good are the Caps right now? Since World War II, only two pro sports teams in Washington -- whether in the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL -- have had the top regular season record in their sport and led their league in scoring differential, too. Both were Redskins teams under Joe Gibbs that went to the Super Bowl after the '83 and '91 seasons -- one won, one lost.

Before that? All the way back to 1901, when the Senators joined the American League, only two other Washington teams had the best records and the best scoring margins in their sports -- true dominance -- the '40 Redskins of Sammy Baugh and the '33 Senators. No, this doesn't happen often.

"Well, we need to break into that group," said Boudreau.

The Caps are on the verge of joining that company. Not only have they outscored their foes by 81 goals but could become only the second NHL team in 14 years to amass more than 118 points. "We're having a phenomenal season," said Caps General Manager George McPhee, actually finding wood to knock on. "And our Hershey farm team is having a better year than we are."

Few teams in NHL history have had more depth in potent scorers. Only one team has ever had 11 20-goal scorers. But the Caps may end up this season with 11 15-goal scorers. That's a significant gap, but it still shows their level of firepower.

Against the potent Pens on Wednesday, the Caps had 10 players on pace for 40 points to six for Pittsburgh. And the Caps had seven players with 20 goals already to four for the Pens.

When faced with an incipient juggernaut, but one that has not yet taken flight in the postseason, arch rivals can have one of two reactions: acknowledge the obvious or deny credit as long as possible and hope it never has to be given. So, meet the extremes on the Pens -- Guerin, quoted earlier, and star Sidney Crosby.

Asked his appraisal of the Caps on Wednesday, Crosby said, "They're one of a bunch, probably. I don't think there is any clean-cut number one. They've got a ton of depth and play a fast game."

If Crosby isn't terribly impressed yet, others will be after this Caps win. "The Pens were a determined gritty bunch tonight," said Boudreau, whose team had only one power play to the Pens' five. "I was proud of the way we came back -- in the third period and in the shootout. . . . There were lots of reasons to get down."

However, there was one final reason to feel very "up." In his whole career, the muck-in-front-of-the-goal Knuble had never scored a goal in a shootout, much less a winner. He'd almost never been tapped to try. "I was the 13th guy out of 15 once," he laughed.

Yet Boudreau touched him on the shoulder just a minute before his final shot. "I doubt I'll ever have another chance to do that," Knuble said of his game-winner. "I told Bruce after the game, 'I don't like you when you do that.' "

"I just had a gut feeling," said the coach. "And that's a big gut."

That's the way it's been running for the Caps all season. These years don't come often, for a town or team. When the wave is finally yours, ride it.

Big Ben's troubles tarnish Steelers' image

Thursday, March 25, 2010
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Even though Georgia authorities have confirmed they're no longer seeking Ben Roethlisberger's DNA, the quarterback's situation remains fluid.

So to speak.

Take the matter of conflicting reports involving Ed Garland, Roethlisberger's legal ace and a litigator with a capacious reputation for getting tough guys out of tough spots. One report has Garland disputing the notion that he has unleashed a team of investigators into the wilds of Georgia to gather further information about the night of March 4/5.
Another quotes one of the presumptive sleuths, one Charles Mittelstadt, who says he's employing "folks that would blend into the student population."

Because it was in a hot little nest of campus bars that Roethlisberger somehow made himself even more notorious, private eyes with skewed ballcaps and tatts are suddenly in demand.

Who'd a thunk?

For full disclosure, a part of me feels bad for Ben. Unfortunately, it's the part of me that enjoys Maury Povich.

I mean, poor No. 7. Without giving up some DNA, he's never getting on Maury. He's never going to get a chance to do the You Are Not The Father Dance. He's probably never going to meet Sholonda, who I believe still holds the Maury Povich record for most DNA tests ordered, one offspring, 17. Unless, of course, Sholonda shows up at a celebrity golf tournament or an obscure campus bar. Stranger things have happened.

Wednesday was a day for reckless speculation on the meaning of Ben's personal deoxyribonucleic acid no longer being sought by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Garland was quick enough to say he thought it meant the authorities had nothing with which to match it, but others in the legal community were just as quick with the interpretation that the case against Roethlisberger was so strong that prosecutors can sack him without an all-out forensic blitz.

But in Steelers Nation, if you must, it felt very much as if a fourth-and-26 had just been converted. Did I hear the chains move? Roethlisberger still might not even be at the 30-yard line, but if there's a chance he won't be charged, there's probably a chance he won't be suspended, giving him a chance to lead R Stillers to a rousing duplication of last year's stirring 9-7.

Even with Ben's best outcome, however, there remains a serious conflict for the Steelers-afflicted.

On one hand, you have the reconstructed face of the organization continually putting himself in harm's way, turning up in TMZ video (never a good thing), necessitating professional explanations of what constitutes sexual assault as opposed to what constitutes rape, all of which are reason enough for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to alert Roethlisberger he has decided on "the appropriate time" for a chat. It'll be a formal scolding, one that isn't likely to begin with something like, "So Ben, I understand you have a very active lifestyle."

On the other hand, you have Dan Rooney, coming up on his 78th birthday, still going to Mass every morning in Dublin as the United States ambassador to Ireland, which many would consider a lesser post than Chairman Emeritus, Pittsburgh Steelers.

The gap between those images isn't one you're supposed to be able to drown a tradition in, which is what concerns not only so many of the organization's frothing supporters, but also its officials as well.

What other rhetorical genesis explains Mike Tomlin's "concerns"?

"I think it's well known that we're very, very conscious of how we do business," Tomlin said in Orlando, Fla., this week, "that we're very highly concerned about our image, perception, how we conduct ourselves. Our standards of conduct I think are above and beyond those of our peers. We embrace that."

The Steelers' reputation for relatively good behavior is very likely a function of good luck rather than persnickety personnel evaluation, and its glossy less-likely-to-be-arrested-than-thou attitude is as much the optic overlay of its loyalists as any triumph of corporate psychological profiling.

But let's get back to fluidity, shall we?

Here's what else is fluid. The Philadelphia Eagles are suddenly entertaining offers for all three of their quarterbacks, Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, and former dogfighting commissioner and convicted felon Michael Vick.

Would the Eagles take Roethlisberger in a trade? Maybe not; they've already got a No. 7 with an active lifestyle.

Would the Steelers consider cutting No. 7 if he's formally charged? It depends.

Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, also attending this week's NFL meetings in Orlando, noted with evident disgust the arrests of three wayward fish in the past seven weeks. Asked if any of those players would be cut, Sparano said this:

"I think you've got to look at the player's history. If the history was chronic and there was a lot of problems there in the past or any of those types of things, I think that's something you could consider."

I don't think the Steelers are considering that at this point, as Art Rooney II has indicated there's no hurry. But I think that might work against Roethlisberger. The organization's best minds now have time to stew over the damage his presence can bring to the brand they've so expertly crafted lo' these many years.

The Steelers should ask Ben for his DNA. Maybe they could freeze it, clone themselves a Jurassic Park Ben and hope the clone doesn't have such an active lifestyle.

Or not, but that would be a heck of a Maury Povich episode.

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com. More articles by this author

Gene Collier's "Two-Minute Warning" videos 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 March 25, 2010 at 12:00 am

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NHL writers chime in on Crosby-Ovechkin MVP race

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

WASHINGTON -- The NHL may be all about Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, and the league's two brightest stars are likely to place as finalists for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. Tied for the league lead as of Tuesday with 45 goals apiece, the respective captains of the Penguins and Capitals have won three MVPs and two scoring titles between them since breaking into the league five years ago.

Pens center and captian Sidney Crosby and Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin are the two top candidates for the league MVP.

Getty Images file

Crosby's Penguins are set to face Ovechkin's Capitals at Washington tonight, and the Tribune-Review teamed with CSNWasshington.com to poll NHL national and local beat writers about this MVP race. No Pittsburgh- or Washington-based writers voted. These are the results:

OVERALL (24 votes)

Ovechkin: 13 votes (54.2 percent)

Crosby: 7 votes (29.2 percent)

Other: 4 votes (16.7 percent)



Ovechkin: 5 vote (38.5 percent)

Crosby: 5 votes (38.5 percent)

Other: 3 vote (23.1 percent)



Ovechkin: 8 votes (72.8 percent)

Crosby: 2 votes (18.2 percent)

Other: 1 vote (9.1 percent)

Notable: Other players receiving votes were Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller and Vancouver center Henrik Sedin.


• SCOTT CRUICKSHANK, CALGARY HERALD: "Dangerous hits aside, he's the most dynamic player in the league. The Caps would be sunk without him."

• SCOTT BURNSIDE, ESPN.COM: "The numbers are just too impressive to ignore. Think notion of being too reckless is overstated. I can't wait for the playoff rematch (with Crosby)."

• DAMIAN COX, TORONTO STAR: "He is the best player on the best team. It's not a vote on last year's playoffs or this year's Olympics. It's this regular season. Both Ovechkin and Crosby have been superb, Ovechkin slightly better with a team still establishing itself. He also took on a new role of captain seamlessly."

• CHRIS BOTTA, AOL FANHOUSE: "This is like trying to explain if Magic or Bird were more valuable to their teams. You can't go wrong with either player, but you sure as heck CAN go very wrong articulating why the other guy isn't your choice. My vote for 2009-10 is with Alex Ovechkin for a very simple reason: the Capitals have had a much better regular season than the Penguins."

• JOHN GLENNON, THE TENNESSEAN: "I'm going with Ovechkin because he has led his team to the top of the Eastern Conference, has a better points-per-game ratio than Crosby and has a much better plus-minus rating. That said; Ovechkin's suspensions did cross my mind. After all, an MVP has to show the ability to lead his team - and to be available to play as often as possible."

• SAM CARCHIDI, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: "He wins games with his scoring AND his physicality. No one is better at taking over a game."

• CHRIS MCCOSKY, DETROIT NEWS: "If the skill level is even, if the statistics are relatively even -- which they are -- then I will take the bigger and stronger guy every time, especially when he plays for the team with the league's best record."

• FRANK SERAVALLI, PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS: "Sure, this has been Crosby's best goal-scoring season, but I don't think opposing teams gun for Crosby the way Alex Ovechkin is the focus in Washington. Ovechkin's stats are still better. His team has run away with the Eastern Conference. And the tenacity with which he plays the game -- even if his style's safety can be questioned -- makes him the most electrifying player in the game. Some games, Crosby can be absent like the milk carton man ('Have you seen me?'); but Ovechkin is too hard to miss."


• STEVE GORTEN, SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL: "He's got a few less points, and his plus-minus isn't nearly as impressive even though he has played eight more games. I put a lot of weight into how that player's team would do without him. The Capitals have had no problems winning without Ovechkin this season. They have plenty of firepower. The Penguins need Crosby more than the Caps need Ovechkin. Plus, I think it says a lot for a center to be able to put up as many goals as Crosby has as opposed to a winger because the center has so many more responsibilities on the ice. Lastly, Crosby hasn't put his team in a bad spot by getting himself suspended twice this season.

• KEN CAMPBELL, THE HOCKEY NEWS: I would submit that Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have been equally brilliant this year, so I think this season it should go to the true MVP of the league, the player who has been adjudged to be most valuable to his team. And I would submit that player has been Sidney Crosby in 2009-10. Largely because Crosby has decided to add a lethal scoring touch to his arsenal, his presence on the Pittsburgh Penguins has had more of an impact than Ovechkin's on the Washington Capitals. I would also submit that when it comes to producing offense, Ovechkin is blessed with a far superior supporting cast. As of this writing, Crosby has scored the all-important first goal of the game 12 times, Ovechkin 11. Including shootout goals, Crosby has scored 24 goals that have put his team ahead in games, while Ovechkin has just 15. But where I think Crosby gets the nod most is in the much maligned shootout. Aside from the fact that Crosby has one OT goal compared to zero for Ovechkin, Crosby has six shootout goals in eight tries this season, while Ovechkin has just one in seven. Three of Crosby's goals were also game-deciding goals. Also, Crosby has missed only one game to injury this season, thus being more available to his team than Ovechkin, who has missed 11 contests with a combination of injuries and suspensions."

• PIERRE LEBRUN, ESPN.COM: "The Caps are (7-2-1) without Ovechkin, showing they're a deep powerhouse with many more weapons than just their superstar. The Pens missed Gonchar for a while this year, Fleury has had his struggles and Malkin has been inconsistent all season long. Not sure where the Pens would be without Crosby's career high in goals. To me it's toss-up between OV and Sid, but right now, my first-place ballot goes to Sid.

• DAVID PAGNOTTA, THE FOURTH PERIOD: "I'm a huge Ovechkin backer. I have been since he jumped in the league. If I had to pick a player to build my team around, it's Alex. But, this season, I say it's a toss-up between Sidney Crosby and Henrik Sedin for MVP. Look at how well the Capitals have performed with Ovechkin out of the lineup. Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alexander Semin have been controlling the offense sans Ovi, keeping the Caps atop the East. Take Sid or Henrik (Sedin of Vancouver) off their respective clubs, and they're significantly worse off. I may even give the nod to Sedin -- without his outstanding play this year, the Canucks don't have a hope in hell of making the playoffs."

More Penguins headlines
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Georgia rescinds request for DNA from Roethlisberger

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
By Ed Bouchette and Moriah Balingit, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

ORLANDO, Fla. -- An attorney for Ben Roethlisberger said authorities in Georgia have withdrawn their request for a sample of his DNA because they told him they no longer needed it.

Earlier this month, police announced at a news conference that they would seek a DNA sample as part of their investigation into a 20-year-old woman's claims that the Steelers quarterback sexually assaulted her in the early morning hours of March 5 at a night club in Milledgeville, Ga.

But Mr. Roethlisberger's attorney, Edward T.M. Garland, said Tuesday an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations called him last week to tell him that they would no longer need the sample. Mr. Garland said he was told investigators had nothing to compare it to.

"After analyzing all the information ... they advised me they had no need for us to go forward and furnish his DNA," he said.

Mr. Garland said that Mr. Roethlisberger had returned to Georgia -- though he would not say when -- to make himself available if a sample needed to be collected.

"Ben had been requested to supply his DNA, had offered to supply it, and had agreed to supply it," Mr. Garland said, adding that he had never objected to providing a sample.

Officials of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations could not be reached for comment.

Forensic expert Dr. Cyril Wecht said the fact that police have declined to take a DNA sample from Mr. Roethlisberger means that it's likely there is no forensic evidence to back up the woman's claims.

"When you don't have any biological evidence, you have to decide whether you want to proceed with what the purported victim has stated," he said.

The woman who made the accusation, a student at Georgia College & State University, was examined at Oconee Regional Medical Center just hours after she told Milledgeville police that Mr. Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her.

Dr. Wecht said it's likely she was examined for signs of sexual assault there. If police have no comparable sample, it's likely that the exam of her and her clothing yielded no foreign biological specimens. such as semen, hair or saliva, he said.

But in their investigation, police have only indicated that they are investigating a "sexual assault," and have declined to elaborate on the accusations made against Mr. Roethlisberger. Dr. Wecht pointed out that some kinds of sexual assault -- such as a "superficial altercation" -- and some types of sexual contact -- such as oral sex -- could leave no biological calling cards.

And while he maintains his client's innocence, Mr. Garland has declined to comment on whether or not he thinks the police dropping the request means Mr. Roethlisberger is closer to be exonerated.

"The district attorney operates on his own time-table," Mr. Garland said. "I am not making comment or any prediction as to what's going to happen in this matter."

Mr. Garland has hired his own team of investigators to look into what transpired in the night the accusations were made and he anticipates his investigation will be complete within a few weeks.

He refused to say whether or not police had or would interviewed Mr. Roethlisberger, though they had said they would request an interview.

Earlier in the day, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that Mr. Roethlisberger called him in the early hours of March 5 that a woman had just accused him of sexual assault in Georgia.

That, and a few other revelations, were disclosed Tuesday by Mr. Tomlin as he discussed Mr. Roethlisberger and his situation for nearly 30 minutes with reporters at the NFL meetings in Orlando.

Mr. Tomlin, who Monday declined to discuss Mr. Roethlisberger, opened up like no other Steelers official about the quarterback's predicament in which he has been accused but not yet charged in the case that drew critical comments from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who wants to meet with Mr. Roethlisberger.

"He's well within his rights, of course, in terms of meeting with him," Mr. Tomlin said of the commissioner. "I share his concerns."

Mr. Tomlin said Mr. Roethlisberger has remained in Pittsburgh, that he has been in daily contact with his quarterback since the March 5 incident and has met with him as well.

The coach first heard about the incident, which occurred sometime in the first two hours after midnight in Milledgeville, Ga., when Mr. Roethlisberger called him.

"The sun wasn't up, but it technically wasn't the middle of the night," Mr. Tomlin said. "I've had pretty fluid daily contact with him really like I always do. Of course, these are different set of circumstances."

Mr. Tomlin mentioned that Steelers president Art Rooney II has spoken on the issue and that he did not need to say or do anything about his quarterback position at the moment. But he said that could change based on what comes out of the criminal investigation in Georgia.

"Really, it doesn't serve me, it doesn't serve the organization, it doesn't serve Ben for me to continue to add comments at this point. We've been pretty clear from Art Rooney II on down about where we are at this point. As the investigation continues to develop, as things change, we'll react appropriately ... I really have nothing to add for the simple reason that nothing has changed in terms of the investigation. We're in a wait-and-see mode like everyone else. We'll continue to do that. By no means is it comfortable, but such is life."

Mr. Tomlin told the NFL Network in a brief comment Saturday after his arrival for the NFL meetings that he was "highly concerned for our franchise and for Ben." He explained Tuesday why he was concerned for the franchise.

"I think it's well known that we're very, very conscious about how we do business, that we're very highly concerned about our image, perception, how we conduct ourselves; our standards of conduct I think are above and beyond that of our peers. We embrace that. That's why I made the comments I made."

He said Mr. Roethlisberger is handling the situation "about what you'd expect."

Dennis Dixon finished last season as the No. 2 quarterback and the Steelers plan to re-sign veteran backup Charlie Batch soon. But if something were to happen to Mr. Roethlisberger, "We don't necessarily have a backup plan at this time," Mr. Tomlin said.

"It's early in this process and we'll let the process run its course and kind of make decisions from there."

He went on to describe Roethlisberger as "a ridiculous competitor, a good guy, a guy who wants to win. A guy who doesn't mind toting the burden that comes with being the quarterback of our football team. Really what you see is what you get from my perspective."

Mr. Tomlin said it's too early to think about adding another quarterback.

"You know, I think we're in a position right now that we can kind of wait and see. Of course if we have to we will, but I don't think it's gotten to that point yet where we need to kind of make those hard and fast decisions."

Mr. Roethlisberger has a contract with the Steelers through 2015 that still has more than $66 million due in salary to him over the next six seasons, including a salary of $8,050,000 in 2010.

Mr. Tomlin said the veterans such as Mr. Roethlisberger are not due to begin offseason workouts until Monday. Those workouts are voluntary. The first two organized team activities, which include practices, will take place April 19 and 20.

For more on the Steelers, read Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com. Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533.

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.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Penguins' Crosby wired for success

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Everyone has different personalities, and for me it's when I set out to do something I probably focus purely on that task. I'm not the best guy at multitasking or doing something, leaving and coming back to it. I've always been like that. It's the littlest things. That's just my personality."


Already a winner of the Hart Trophy as league MVP and Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion, Sidney Crosby awoke last June 13 with the Stanley Cup in his grasp. A summer of celebration should have followed. Instead he spent the months leading up to his 22nd birthday fidgeting with sticks and peppering one of his close friends, a goalie, with pucks during on-ice workouts.

The Penguins' Sidney Crosby shoots against the Bruins at Mellon Arena.

Chaz Palla Tribune-Review file

"It was just a mindset," he said. "With each year, teams were playing me more to pass and that wasn't allowing me to be as dangerous as I should be. I was in the areas you need to be in to create chances, but I wasn't creating as much from shooting.

"I felt like if I could shoot the puck a little bit more and keep guys honest, other things would happen."

Crosby is five goals shy of his first 50-goal season. His previous best was 39 during his rookie season. Crosby, a center, was 45.5 percent on face-offs during his first season. He was at 56.2 percent before the Penguins played Carolina on Saturday at Mellon Arena.

"I've heard that term associated with him - 'hockey genius,'" coach Dan Bylsma said. "I believe he is a 'success genius.' He is a master in the art of learning, and you would see him be like that if he was playing chess or working in business.

"Sid would be one of the people in any field who keeps getting better, not just hockey."

People that know Crosby best shared stories about Sid the Student with the Tribune-Review:

The youth coach

Paul Mason, 45, coached Crosby in baseball and hockey during his formative years in Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia.

"He was younger than every kid in our baseball league, two years younger than most of the kids. At that level of baseball you put your best players up the middle: catcher, pitcher and shortstop. He was a middle-player after the first practice.

"As a pitcher in games he would walk slowly back to the mound, and later I discovered he was measuring in his mind how long it took the hitters to run to first base. When he moved to shortstop later in the game he started throwing everybody out at first. He just snapped it there. It wasn't until later that I realized he was adjusting his throws to first based off the way hitters ran to the bag when he was a pitcher. Sid was 9."

The childhood friend

Mike Chiasson, 24, played youth hockey with Crosby until they were 14. He is a goalie for Acadia University (Halifax, Nova Scotia), and he works out with Crosby during summers.

"Last summer was different. He was pretty fussy with trying to find a new stick. Reebok made him over a dozen before he found one he liked. They all looked identical to me, but he told me the curve was different. I'm, like, 'Sure.'

"Sid was on the ice for one practice with the stick he's using now and that was it - he knew he had it. I could tell right away. It was the release. The puck is always hard to pick up off his blade because he doesn't advertise where he's going, but he always loved to go 5-hole on me, and he had that straight curve so he could hit the 5-hole pretty consistently. All of a sudden he was going high over my shoulder and over my glove. I looked at him and he winked. He knows when he's got the right twig. I knew those NHL goalies were in trouble."

The father

Troy Crosby, 43, is Sidney Crosby's dad. He was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens as a goalie in 1984.

"Rimouski is a town that's almost 100 percent French-speaking. It's a small town on the St. Lawrence River where everybody knows everybody. It's a lot like Montreal, only smaller. When he went there to play junior (hockey) he wanted to learn how to speak their language out of respect for those people. The family he lived with included a school teacher who was bilingual, and every night he talked back and forth with Sidney. One day while talking to me Sidney said, 'I'm going to tell him to stop speaking English.' In his mind that was the only way he could learn French.

"One of my proudest moments was in 2005 at the league awards banquet in Montreal. By then Sidney was speaking French fluently, and he gave his speech in French. The whole banquet was done in English, and Sidney was really annoyed because there wasn't more French to it. He had made himself learn the language - just repetition and determination. I see a lot of the same things to his success in hockey."

The mentor

Mario Lemieux, 44, has housed Crosby for five years. He is a hockey Hall-of-Famer and the Penguins' all-time leader in goals, assists and points.

"He's able to see the game before anybody else. That's what makes him great. He's able to read the play much better than other players. He's able to know where everybody on the ice is all at once. That's the sign of a great player. Plus, he's got that attitude. He is the hardest worker. Oh yeah, he's an extremely hard worker, for sure. He's only interested in being the best."

More Penguins headlines
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Malkin and Cooke skip practice
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Penguins seek consistency
Malkin tweaks injured foot
Baby Pens' goalie go-round
Momentum-shifting battle made Tabot pivotal

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year: Penguins' Malkin nearly as American as apple pie

Sunday, March 21, 2010
By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin cheers after his parents Vladimir and Natalia drink champagne from the Stanley Cup during the team's Stanley Cup victory parade on the Boulevard of the Allies in downtown Pittsburgh this past summer.

So many things confronted Evgeni Malkin when he joined the Penguins for the 2006-07 season -- new city, new teammates, new language, new culture. He seems to have acclimated well, considering he has won an NHL scoring title, a Stanley Cup and playoff MVP honors.

As he has settled in and explored the local sports scene, one thing still confounds him. That would be the concept of the student-athlete.

"We don't have sports in college or schools," Malkin said of his native Russia. "Here, you play university sports, you have school and play sports for the school. I think it's better.

"In Russia, when I was young, I had [to spend] time at practice and time at school. It's a little bit harder. I [shortchanged] school because I love hockey and I wanted to play hockey and I went to the arena, not school. Here it's a little bit easier [to do both]. I like it."

Malkin will be surrounded by student-athlete as well as fellow professionals Thursday night when he is honored as Sportsman of the Year at the 2010 Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction presented by BNY Mellon at the Petersen Events Center.

Although the 23-year-old center has been busy helping the Penguins as they have built themselves into an annual Stanley Cup contender, Malkin has become Americanized as a fan.

He still is not following college and high school sports despite his "yes" vote for them -- "It's too much for me," he said -- but he likes some of the pro games.

He already watched the NBA on television and has given baseball and football a look since he has been here.

Malkin has been to PNC Park for Pirates games a couple of times but has not been overly drawn in.

"It's a little bit longer, a little slow," he said of baseball. "But, if you go with good company, friends, you can talk, [enjoy] a nice day."

At least he did not blame the Pirates' string of losing seasons.

It is different with football. Malkin had seen bits and pieces of American football but did not develop an appreciation for it until he got here.

"I saw it on TV a couple of times, but I didn't understand it -- just a whistle every five seconds and stop the game every time," he said.

"I like Steelers games. I know the rules now -- not all the rules, but a little bit of the rules. It's a good game, a tough game with big guys. I support the Steelers. How can I not?"

Malkin has met a few of the Steelers, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and safety Troy Polomalu, and got revved up when they won the Super Bowl for the sixth time last year.

In the months after the Steelers beat Arizona for that trophy, Malkin finished first in the NHL scoring race with 113 points, including 35 goals, then had another 14 goals, 36 points during a playoff run that concluded with the Penguins' third Stanley Cup championship and a Conn Smythe Trophy for him. He also was a finalist for the league MVP award, the Hart Trophy.

This season hasn't been quite as productive for Malkin, at least by his standards. He has 24 goals, 70 points in 63 games after getting a goal Saturday in a 3-2, overtime loss against Carolina. He had missed two games in a row before that game because of a bruised right foot.

Malkin, who is signed through the 2013-14 season, loves the future for the Penguins, who have been to the Stanley Cup final two years running and are nearly a lock to start another playoff run in a few weeks.

He thinks the setting is perfect for back-to-back titles.

"We played twice in the final and we have a great team -- young kids, and I think the same leadership," he said. "I know these guys. I know they're hungry, and I'm hungry, too. If we don't win now, maybe next year we'll be a different team. Who knows? But right now we're still the same team. I want to win because we did a great job last year and with the same team, we want to do it again."

That would mean another joyous citywide celebration.

The one in 2009 after the Penguins knocked off Detroit in Game 7 on the road June 12 lasted a weekend and was almost overwhelming for Malkin, particularly the parade through Downtown, so he would like a shot at experiencing it again.

"Maybe then I would be a little more relaxed and watch everything, how people like hockey, how happy they are," he said. "I want to repeat that.

"I've never seen that before, how crazy it was. Fans love hockey here. Mellon Arena [holds] 17,000, but it was 300,000 [for the parade]. That's a little different. It was exciting. I was a little bit nervous because I've never seen so many people in one day.

"It was a great day for me. I'll remember that day for all my life."

For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721

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.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Penguins showing off their new arena

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A view of the Penguins first home Mellon Arena and the new Consol Energy Center from Grandview Park on Mt. Washington.

Jasmine Goldband Tribune-Review

It has already been announced that the Lady Gaga concert will be one of the first events in the ever-evolving Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins are more confident than ever that their new palace is going have Penguins fans going ga-ga for quite some time.

Looking more like a proud father than the Penguins CEO, Ken Sawyer showed off the most recent developments Tuesday at Consol Energy Center, which included the placement of about 2,700 of the arena's 18,087 seats.

The seats are primarily charcoal mixed with an occasional row of gold.

"It looks great," Sawyer said. "Every time you come here, you notice something different. It's getting better and better. We're all very excited."

Consol Energy Center's timeline is starting to become clear. Some facts were confirmed by Penguins officials yesterday.

» The scoreboard will be erected in April and tested in May. In fact, components of the scoreboard are currently being placed together on the arena floor.

» The Penguins will move into their new offices in July.

» Consol Energy Center will officially open in August.

» The Lady Gaga Concert, scheduled for Sept. 5, will not be the first event at the new arena. An August concert will likely open the arena, though no announcement has been made

A few sections of seats have been installed in the arena's upper bowl, and Sawyer was eager to show off the improvements from Mellon Arena. The seats at Consol Energy Center are bigger and more comfortable than anything Penguins fans have experienced before.

"We wanted everything in this building to be cutting edge, and it really is," Sawyer said.

Unobstructed views will be a new thing for Penguins fans. Many of Mellon Arena's seats are under a balcony that prohibits fans from seeing the scoreboard, and others showcase a less than savory view of the ice.

Such things will be a thing of the past starting next season.

"There is no obstruction anywhere," Sawyer said. "It is so much more comfortable of an environment."

The Consol Energy Center is much bigger than Mellon Arena, especially the massive concourses that have been modeled after Minnesota's Xcel Center.
However, the Penguins didn't want their new building to feel overwhelming or overdone.

Sawyer describes the new place as "cozy."

Fans in the upper bowl will notice how close they feel to the ice. Although the seats are high, they are located almost directly above the ice, something that has become fashionable in new arenas.

"They'll feel like they're right on top of the players when they're watching games from here," said Sawyer, who was sitting in the upper bowl in Section 227. "Hockey purists really love that. There are truly no bad seats in this place."

The seats were made for comfort and won't discriminate against larger individuals.

The upper bowl seats at Consol Energy Center are 20 inches wide, compared to the 19-inch seats at Mellon Arena. On the lower level of the new building, the seats will be 20-22 inches wide.

Sawyer was even more excited about the "rise" and "tread" of the seats, which indicates the actual size of the seating area. The tread of the seats is 33 inches in the higher level and 35 inches in the lower bowl, making for a comfortable experience that will be without interference. Because the seats are so steep, even a tall person sitting in a row in front of a fan will not obstruct anyone's view.

"There's not another experience around the league that's like this," Sawyer said.

The Penguins have taken some of the finest features from the most highly regarded arenas around the league, especially those in Minnesota and Columbus. Sawyer said the arena is right on schedule.

"I couldn't be more pleased with the way things have gone," he said. "Everyone involved in this project has really been great. It's going to be a special place, and it's nice to see it coming together like it is."

More Penguins headlines
Malkin is status still 'day-to-day' with Pens
Scouting the New Jersey Devils
USC grad gets first goal in Islanders' win
Ovechkin: 'Disappointed' with discipline
Pens on defining stretch
Penguins assistant Yeo embraces lifestyle changes
DirecTV, Versus finally end dispute

Penguins' Fleury returning to top form at right time

Wednesday, March 17, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

There was much screaming around here when Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury fished four pucks out of his net March 4 before being pulled against the New York Rangers in his first game after the Olympic break. More than a few people called for backup Brent Johnson. They always seem to call for No. 2 after Fleury has a bad game.

But now? With Fleury playing good hockey again? The way he always plays at this time of year with the playoffs approaching?


Wonderful silence.

Maybe Pittsburgh -- all of Pittsburgh -- finally realizes what a special goaltender it has.

Or maybe not.

Really, this city can be brutal when it comes to its goaltender.

"I wouldn't know about that," Fleury said the other day, grinning as always. "When I first got here, I read all the papers. I wanted to know what people thought of me. Not now. I know what I do wrong. I know when I make a mistake. I don't need someone else to tell me. I don't read the papers or look at the television at all."

Generally, that's a good thing.

Remember that fabulous quote from Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt?

"Philadelphia is the only city where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day."


But that's not so much the case when it comes to Fleury. It's not the media that get on his back. They realize his extraordinary value to a team that won the Stanley Cup last season and went to the final the season before. It's a significant portion of the fan base that gives him a hard time.

I can't figure it out.

I mean, I understand how it's just as easy to blame the goaltender for a couple of goals as it is to chastise the quarterback after a couple of interceptions. Many people don't see a Sidney Crosby turnover or a Sergei Gonchar defensive lapse. But everyone sees Fleury angrily retrieving the puck from the back of his net.

I also realize that Fleury's statistics aren't among the NHL leaders.

Going into the games Tuesday night, he ranked 17th among goaltenders with at least 40 starts in save percentage (.907) and 15th in goals-against average (2.65) despite going 3-1 in his past four starts and allowing just eight goals on 106 shots. Even he says of his numbers, "Oh, my god, I wish I could be up there higher."

But Fleury is smart enough to realize that his game is about more than mere statistics. He's still just 25, but he has grown a lot during his six seasons with the Penguins.

"A lot of playing goalie is in your head," Fleury said. "When I don't play well, I feel like I let my teammates down. It ticks me off, you know? But, when I can make the key saves to keep my team in the game, I'm happy."

That happened enough the past two springs that the Penguins were able to win seven of eight playoff series, prompting general manager Ray Shero to gush about Fleury, "You show me a young goaltender that's done what he's done at his age." It's hard to forget Fleury's great saves on the way to the Cup last season. The toe save on Philadelphia's Jeff Carter in the third period of Game 2. The save on a breakaway by Washington's Alex Ovechkin early in Game 7. The save in traffic to rob Carolina's Eric Staal late in Game 1. The sprawling save on Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom in the final seconds of Game 7.

Two things really stand out about Fleury during that Cup run:

• One, his unbreakable confidence after the Red Wings won the first two games of the final. "Nothing is over yet!" he said boldly and, as it turned out, quite profoundly.

• And two, his ability to bounce back quickly from a bad game. He was benched in the second period of the 5-0 loss to the Red Wings in Game 5 only to win Games 6 and 7 by 2-1 scores, stopping 48 of 50 shots.

That's why Fleury's awful performance against the Rangers 13 days ago -- he was beaten for the four goals on just 12 shots -- hardly seemed troubling despite the rather loud elevator music from his critics. As the third-string goaltender on Canada's gold medal-winning Olympic team, he didn't play and hardly practiced for 2 1/2 weeks. There was no question that one bad game wasn't going to get him down. He came back to do his part to beat Dallas, 6-3, two days later, then to beat Boston, 2-1, the day after that. He has been playing lights out since.

"Maybe for a night, I beat myself up after a bad one," Fleury said. "But the next day, I always try to come to the rink in a good mood. I work hard in practice, have fun with the guys and get ready for the next game."

Sounds like a plan to me.

Certainly, it has worked well for Fleury.

The elevator music no longer bothers him.

I'm thinking it should just stop.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. More articles by this author
First published on March 17, 2010 at 1:12 am