No Graceful Exit For Hines Ward

 Posted by at 12:40 pm  Hines Ward, Pittsburgh Penguins, Steel Dynasty  Comments Off on No Graceful Exit For Hines Ward
Mar 092012

Two notable things happened on Wednesday. The big sports news of the day was the Indianapolis Colts releasing Peyton Manning. Locally, the Pittsburgh Penguins unveiled a statue of the greatest hockey player to ever lace up the skates, Mario Lemieux. Watching both events unfold, I couldn’t help but think of the recent purge by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Breaking up is always hard to do. The Packers divorce from Bret Favre was full of drama and if some of Favre’s snide comments towards his successor are any indication, there are still hard feelings. Not to mention Favre ended his career playing the Vikings, who are to Packers fans what the Browns are to us. On the flip side, Manning’s press conference is already being hailed as the standard for athletic break-ups. While we should expect nothing less from football’s version of Mr. Perfect, I have to admit to getting a bit choked up listening to his heartfelt words.

And I ordinarily can’t stand the guy.

Manning’s situation is no different than that of Hines Ward. Both were synonymous with teams who achieved great success. Both are classy individuals who did a lot of good for the community. And while they may have seen their best days, both intend to continue playing football in 2012.

Where was Hines’ press conference? Why was the release of the greatest wide receiver in Steelers history made by a PR statement?  And where was Hines? His only response to being released was a short paragraph issued through his agent. Why didn’t he request a chance to personally express his feelings about moving on after fourteen glorious years in the Black and Gold?

When Chris Hoke retired a couple months back, the Steelers had a press conference where Hoke spoke touchingly about his time in Pittsburgh. With all due respect to Hokey, he’s hardly been a major part of the team’s success. Aaron Smith was amongst Hoke’s teammates who showed up to wish him well. Why didn’t Smith rate a similar send-off when he was recently released?

Now maybe the players were offered a chance to speak but declined. Smith has always been a blue collar player who shuns the spotlight. But Hines, well, Hines has never met a microphone he didn’t like. If he declined a proper farewell, it’s because that famous chip on shoulder has grown a bit larger to include the Steelers thinking he’s washed up.

There’s certainly some evidence that this divorce is more of the Favre variety as Hines recently posted a whiny little message on his Facebook page asking fans to express their anger over his release. Okay, it was supposedly posted by a member of “Hines’ team” and it was quickly taken down when people on FB and Twitter began mocking it unmercifully but I find it hard to believe anybody posts things in Hines’ name without at least checking with him first.

Then again, it’s equally plausible the Steelers never reached out to him or Smith. Steeler Nation considers their franchise the classiest in the NFL if not all of sports and that opinion is largely warranted. However, one area where they’ve consistently fallen short is how they deal with their ex-players. The Steelers have always put the Steelers first while the actual players who made them the greatest franchise in NFL history have been secondary. That’s why Mario Lemeiux gets a statue outside Consol Energy Center and the Pirates have more statues than World Championships yet the Steelers only choose to honor their founder, Art Rooney.

I have no problem with honoring our beloved Chief but the Steelers have the greatest dynasty in football history, they can’t come up with some way to acknowledge those players?  And they can’t put aside any tension or hard-feelings for twenty minutes to allow Hines one last farewell? I expect better from the Pittsburgh Steelers. We all should.

Mar 022012

Only one week ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced they had renegotiated Ben Roethlisberger‘s contract in order to lower their cap hit by $8 million. That money, in addition to what was saved in several other reworked deals, put the Steelers in line with 2012’s projected salary cap. Many members of Steeler Nation thought the team would sit back, take a breather and spend some time figuring how they wanted to configure their roster for the upcoming campaign. Well, as the old fish story goes, just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…

Instead of relaxing, the Steelers have embarked on an unprecedented roster overhaul which has seen them ruthlessly cut ties with several veteran mainstays over the past 48 hours. All day yesterday, Pittsburgh talk radio was dominated by news of Hines Ward’s release. Some people were angry and a few were even happy but most were genuinely sad to see a legendary career end. Before the day was out, word had spread that two more players were set to join Hines as ex-Steelers. Although neither name was much of a surprise.

Aaron Smith has finally run out of time. The Steelers held a roster spot open for him in 2010, hoping he’d pull a Woodson and return from major injury in time to play in the Super Bowl but it wasn’t to be. They did bring him back last season despite injury concerns and having two first round draft picks eager to take the field. About a month ago, Smith attended the retirement press conference for fellow defensive lineman Chris Hoke and was asked about his plans for this season. He clearly indicated a desire to suit up for one last go-round despite playing only a handful of games in each of the previous three seasons. It’s hard to find fault with the Steelers’ handling of the situation as they obviously hoped he’d retire gracefully rather than force their hand. When Smith suffered his latest season-ending injury shortly into the 2011 campaign, it seemed his career was over. Since we now know that Smith will only leave the game kicking and screaming, the Steelers really had no choice but to cut him.
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Mar 012012

Hines Ward has been released by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite the outpouring of sadness across Steeler Nation, it isn’t quite the bombshell it would have been even a season ago. In fact, everybody from Hines on down have acknowledged if he were to return next year, it would be under a reworked contract and in a reduced role. Nevertheless, just because we knew this was coming doesn’t make it any easier.

Unlike the last great Steeler to retire, the end for Hines comes not with a bang but with a whimper. Our final memory of Jerome Bettis is him announcing his retirement while holding the Lombardi Trophy aloft. Our final memory of Hines will be those annoying shots of him sitting glumly on the bench while the Steelers’ offense tried time and time again to get something going against the stubborn Denver Broncos. While the Bus didn’t exactly set the world on fire his last year, he still contributed 9 touchdowns and 26 heart attacks when he fumbled the ball in Indianapolis. Hines had a totally forgettable season, barely seeing the field for long stretches of time. Even what should have been his signature moment, his 1,000th career reception, was somewhat anticlimactic when it was force-fed to him on a little shovel pass which lost five yards.

But let’s not dwell on the sad ending. It’s far better to Hines for what he was, the greatest wide receiver in Steelers history. Not bad for a third round draft choice out of Georgia. He came to Pittsburgh with little fanfare and spent most the majority of his first three years playing special teams and serving as a third receiver behind Plaxico Burress and epic first-round bust Troy Edwards (what the hell were they thinking when they drafted him?). When he finally became a full-time starter in 2001, he ripped off the first of four consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and Pro Bowl appearances. From that point on, Hines Ward and the Steelers became synonymous.
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Hines Ward Still A Steeler (For Now)

 Posted by at 1:03 pm  Art Rooney II, Hines Ward, Roster Moves  Comments Off on Hines Ward Still A Steeler (For Now)
Feb 132012

Awesome video, as usual, provided  by Benstonium. Nice choice of music, bro.

Hines Ward is still a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. For the time being, anyway. Reports over the weekend surfaced that Hines had been cut in the Black and Gold’s ongoing efforts to get under the salary cap by the official start of the 2012 season in early March. Both the Steelers and Hines himself have issued statements insisting nothing has yet been decided.

Here’s the bottom line: Hines has two more years left on his deal, calling for about $4 million per year. That’s way too much money for a player who is in the twilight of his career. The Steelers need to cut salary and starting with an overpaid number four receiver would seem a natural place. To his credit, Hines realizes his current situation and has repeatedly said  he is willing to throw out his contract and re-sign for the league minimum in order to remain with the Steelers.

With the emergence of Antonio Brown and Manny Sanders as complements to Mike Wallace, Hines has seen his playing time cut back drastically. Sanders battled injury the majority of the season so the Steelers turned to free agent pick-up Jerricho Cotchery rather than Hines when the team went to three wide sets. Cotchery is a free agent, however, and will likely go to a team where he sees more playing time. So the Steelers do need some depth at the position since you can never count on your top three receivers playing the entire season without missing any snaps. The question from the Steelers end is, is Hines acceptable depth?

Scuttlebutt around town is Mike Tomlin, who is pretty merciless when it comes to veterans,  feels Hines is done and wants the team to wash their hands of him. Art Rooney II, however, acknowledges Hines’ status as a Steeler legend and wants to see the team keep him in a token veteran back-up role ala Jerome Bettis. As we’ve already seen this off-season, it appears the Deuce is taking a much more active role in his team’s affairs so it’ll be interesting to see how this situations shakes out. Ordinarily I’m against meddlesome ownership but if Tomlin is truly such a cold-hearted bastard that he can’t appreciate what Hines brings to the table, I’m glad somebody is going over his head.

As I’ve written about previously, I think bringing back Hines would be the right move. I don’t have any illusions about his ability to play. It’s pretty obvious Hines has lost about three gears and simply can’t move well enough to create space and get open consistently. The reason I want him back, though, is for the intangibles. When you watch our young receivers play, they already hustle downfield and throw blocks better than 2/3 of the receivers in the league. That’s Hines’ influence. What’s more, from Terrell Owens to Desean Jackson, we’ve seen prima donna wide receivers wreck offenses time and time again. I’m not comparing Wallace or Sanders to either of those punks but I did get the feeling at times last season that certain players on offense, particularly Wallace, didn’t exactly give maximum effort. Hines Ward provides the kind of veteran leadership and an appreciation for what it means to wear the Black and Gold that some of these young guys need.

One of my earliest Steelers memories is of Franco Harris being traded to the Seattle Seahawks. Of course, you’d never know Franco left town in bitter fashion from the way he shows up at each and every Steeler-related photo op. Thankfully, Steeler Nation was spared a similar indignity when the Bus was running on fumes towards the end of his career. Despite playing a token role, Bettis was the heart and soul of a team that eventually went on to bring home Lombardi Trophy number five. Let’s hope the Steelers learn from the past and do the right thing by bringing back Hines Ward.

Jan 182012

While four teams still remain in the NFL playoffs, the rest of the league is turning their attention toward next season. In yesterday’s Post-Gazette, team president Art Rooney mentioned that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be facing “tough decisions” this off-season. Translation:  We brought back the old slow veterans for one more go ’round the track but since they failed, it’s off to the glue factory for some of them.

Peter King, of all people, pointed out the Steelers future salary cap woes before the season began and it bears examining now that we’re faced with the consequences. Next year’s cap is projected to be in the neighborhood of $125 million, which the current roster currently exceeds by somewhere between $20-25 million. That’s money already committed, to say nothing about money needed to sign draft picks, re-sign Mike Wallace, Issac Redman and other pending free agents, and perhaps *gasp* even spending a buck or two on the FA market to bring a decent lineman in here so our franchise QB doesn’t get broken in two halfway through the season.

Steeler Nation has been somewhat spoiled by management that’s stayed one step ahead of the game when dealing with the salary cap. The team has been clever about restructuring deals and/or adding bonus money or years in order to lower the cap hit. Problem is, adding years to guys already pushing their mid-30s is completely idiotic. And if Indianapolis is seriously considering cutting Peyton Manning, the man who made their sad little franchise relevant, in order to avoid paying him a roster bonus (and the accompanying cap hit), there’s nobody on the Steelers who should be untouchable.
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Jan 132012

They say losing reveals a lot more about your character than winning. If that old jockism is true, then the Pittsburgh Steelers have a big problem. As I sit back and reflect on an ignominious end to a wasted season, I can’t help but worry about the future of the team. Sports radio around town has already been bombarded by calls from irate members of Steeler Nation advising the organization to begin the reloading process by ridding themselves of the old broken down players who failed them this year.

I think that’d be a big mistake. Not because I think Hines Ward or James Farrior are going to find the Fountain of Youth during the off-season. I think it’s a mistake because I’m not sure if the next generation of Steelers are ready for primetime. In fact, if the game in Denver and its immediate aftermath tells us anything, it’s that we may need Farrior and Hines more than ever.

For those who haven’t heard, Maurkice Pouncey used his twitter feed to pimp some ear pollution by some goofy rapper friend of his following Sunday’s heartbreaker in Denver. When some of his followers wrote him that it was in poor taste to be promoting junk less than 12 hours after your team lost a playoff game, he responded with the always mature, “I’m rich play for the steelers and have a awesome life! u wish u had my life!!” After deleting the tweet and writing a half-hearted apology, he spent the rest of the day blocking fans who criticized him for being an asshole. Nice to see him block somebody for a change.

Now, I’m not advocating cutting Pouncer as he’s undeniably a very talented player. But when he played poorly at the start of the season, whispers around town were that he’s quickly gaining a reputation among the players for being a high maintenance cry-baby. He and Ben suffered their high ankle sprains at roughly the same time, yet Ben came back a week later while Pouncey spent the rest of the season picking splinters out of his ass. Doug Legursky played the Wild Card game despite badly separating his shoulder which shows you the kind of warrior he is. What has Pouncey shown besides a willingness to sit out pretty much every important game the Steelers have played the past two years?

And before anybody gets on me for being hard on Pouncey or dealing in rumor, I will remind everybody that I wrote about Ben Roethlisberger being disliked by his teammates YEARS before the national media finally caught wind of the story. I was vindicated then and I stand by this. Pouncey is a selfish dick who wants all the acclaim of playing for the Black and Gold without any of the success or sacrifices. And the worrisome part is I don’t think he’s alone.

During the off-season, Manny Sanders, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace dubbed themselves “Young Money.” It was a fun nickname for a group of receivers who promised to take the Steelers offense to new heights. You also know it was a self-promotional tool to raise their notoriety around the league. AB won Team MVP because he is by all accounts one of the hardest workers out there. Meanwhile, Manny had a great playoff game but was injured most of the year and didn’t do jack during the regular season. Then we have Wallace, who’ll be a restricted free agent, who completely disappeared down the stretch run. If you want to call yourself Young Money and want to be this hot young NFL superstar, first you need to make the plays when they count.

Anybody doubt Hines Ward would’ve caught that 50 yard bomb when his team needed it? Instead of clever nicknames or telling reporters you’re going catch 2,000 yards worth of passes in 2011, how about making one big catch in a big game? Once again, we have a guy who likes to run his mouth and act all cocky without actually backing it up ON THE FIELD. That’s not how it works.

A big story last week involved Jets players describing Santonio Holmes as “a cancer” and a quitter in the aftermath of their season-ending collapse. That is why I shed no tears when the Steelers stole a fifth round draft pick for him. Lost in the memory of his game-winning catch in Super Bowl XLIII is the fact for almost the entiretly of his tenure here, ‘Tone was a total dick. While everybody remembers the toe-tapper that won us our sixth Lombardi Trophy and brought ‘Tone the game MVP, I remember two other plays that tell you all you need to know about Santonio Holmes.

The first one occurred on Santonio’s 40 yard catch and run that set the Steelers up for a shot at the end zone. At the end of the play, Ben and the O-line were running down the field to kill the clock because they only had one time out remaining. While they were hustling to the line, Holmes was busy doing a Me Me Me dance to celebrate his catch. Ben was forced to burn that final time out. Considering the game-winning catch came with about 35 seconds left on the clock, had Ben been sacked on one of those subsequent plays, Holmes’ stupidity would have cost us the game. After the catch, he did that goofy LeBron-esque saltshaker move with the football which those enablers at the Four Letter replayed ad nauseum ever since. What they don’t tell you is using the ball as a prop is an unsportsmanlike conduct foul which should have cost the Steelers 15 yards on the subsequent kickoff. Once again, our MVP put his camera time and his personal glory ahead of the team.

Hines Ward has said he’d be willing to stay with the Steelers for a Bettis-like reduced contract. The feeling is the Steelers might not take him up on it because even for veteran minimum, they have no use for him. I disagree. Players like Hines and Farrior may not be the players they used to be but they’re locker room leaders. When they speak, players tend to listen. And it seems apparent to me the Steeler locker room needs all the leaders they can get right now.


Aftermath Of A Devastating Steelers Loss

 Posted by at 10:36 am  Blog News, Casey Hampton, Hines Ward, Injury Report, NFL Playoffs, Offensive Line  Comments Off on Aftermath Of A Devastating Steelers Loss
Jan 112012

The mood in Pittsburgh is not good. How seriously do we take our Steelers football? The day after each of our two Super Bowl losses, a figurative dark cloud hangs over the city. I currently live in the ‘burbs but I was still going to CMU when Neil O’Donnell threw we lost Super Bowl XXX. Taking a bus through town from my off-campus apartment, I had never seen more somber expressions in my life. It was positively funereal.

Now that we’ve had a few days to digest what has to be the most devastating non-Super Bowl loss in Black and Gold history, it’s time to focus on the off-season. Before closing the book on the 2011 campaign, though, here are a few quick tidbits that surfaced over the past couple days.

— Pittsburgh’s esteemed Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, made good on his bet with the mayor of Denver by Tebowing for the local news media. Everybody knows the Boy Wonder is a diehard fan so I’m not surprised he made a city-to-city bet on a Wild Card game. I am a bit surprised by the stakes. What if the Steelers had won? Would Denver’s mayor have to break his foot, then do body shots with a skanky coed?
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Week 17 Recap: Best Laid Plans

 Posted by at 7:51 am  Hines Ward, NFL Playoffs, Rashard Mendenhall, Recaps, Redzone Redman, Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu  Comments Off on Week 17 Recap: Best Laid Plans
Jan 022012

Well, that didn’t go according to plan.

On paper, this had the potential to be one of the craziest final weekends in NFL history. No fewer than a half dozen teams had a realistic shot at a playoff berth. All they had to do was win and hope things fell their way. Naturally, almost every single one of those teams lost.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were one of the few that took care of business. Playing their starters the entire game, they battled the Cleveland Browns to a hard fought 13-9 victory. Unfortunately, the gambit didn’t pay off when the Cincinnati Bengals didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, losing to the Baltimore Ravens 24-16. THE RATBIRDS ONLY HAVE ONE GOOD OFFENSIVE PLAYER AND YOU LET HIM RUN FOR 200 YARDS?!?! Thanks to the Jets, Broncos and Raiders also losing, the Bungles were still rewarded for their incompetence by backdooring into the final Wild Card spot.

If the Steelers fail to make noise in this year’s playoffs, this game is going to be the lightning rod for Steeler Nation’s displeasure. By playing his starters the entire game, Mike Tomlin deprived several injured stars, particularly Ben Roethlisberger, of much needed rest. In addition, the team suffered several fresh injuries, most notably to running back Rashard Mendenhall. The preliminary diagnoses is a torn ACL, which would not only end his season but is usually a career-altering injury for a running back. Regardless, Mendy isn’t going to be playing next week.
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Know Thy Enemy: St. Louis Rams

 Posted by at 10:15 am  Big Ben, Charlie Batch, Game Preview, Hines Ward, Mike Wallace  Comments Off on Know Thy Enemy: St. Louis Rams
Dec 232011

If those guys came to my front door Christmas caroling, I’m not sure if I’d offer them egg nog or hand over my watch. What the hell? Anyway, the Pittsburgh Steelers released their annual video of players singing Christmas Carols and, as usual, they are absolutely must-see. There are four separate clips, each introduced by Mike Tomlin looking the most uncool he’s ever looked in his life. Each position grouping is charged with singing a different holiday classic and I guess the linebackers pictured above decided “Frosty The Snowman” needed more street cred. From left to right, the Gangsta Choir is composed of Chris Carter, James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, Stevenson Sylvester, Morty Ivy and Larry Foote.

The best part is linebackers coach (and defensive coordinator in waiting) Keith Butler standing in the back looking like a festive Paul Ellering. If you get that reference, plus thirty cool points for you.

Before I get to Knowing this week’s opponent, the St. Louis Rams, a bit of blog housekeeping to clear up. For those out of the loop, the Ginger Dictator Grinch‘s heart must’ve grown three sizes one day because he has decreed this weekend’s games will be played on Saturday so the players can have Christmas off. As I’m off to sunny Tampa to spend the holidays with my folks as soon as I press “Post,” I won’t have the game recap up until Monday. I’m sure most of you have better things to do on Sunday than check in here, anyway. If you’re really desperate to hear my groan-worthy one-liners, you can always follow me on Twitter as I usually tweet during games. I will try to keep the blog up to date with pertinent news next week but my posting schedule may be a bit spotty so please bear with me.
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James Harrison’s Badassery May Change Entire NFL

 Posted by at 8:26 am  Circle of Hate, Hines Ward, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu  Comments Off on James Harrison’s Badassery May Change Entire NFL
Dec 142011

Courtesy KissingSuzyKolber

Pop Quiz: A player gets laid out by a vicious and borderline illegal hit. Less than five minutes later, the player returns to action after a cursory exam, despite the league’s mandate that all players must pass a neurological test before going back on the field. The next day, the player learns he suffered a concussion on the play and risked serious mental and physical disability by returning.

Who is more deserving of criticism: The guy who laid the player out or the player’s team for letting him go back on the field, in violation of league rules, because they felt winning a game was more important than the long-term health of their man?

If you answered the latter, then I’m with you. James Harrison‘s shot heard ’round the world has shaken up the NFL in more ways than one. Most directly, we now have the precedent set for repeat offenders being suspended when fines don’t seem to work. However, it’s the indirect result which may alter the game even more greatly in the months and years to come. And it isn’t even Silverback’s fault.
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