Let’s begin with a nod to superstition. Yours truly has been a subscriber to Steelers Digest since 1990, back in the pre-internet days when the publication served as a vital source of information about the Black and Gold.
For many of those 19 years (God, that makes me feel old), tradition has been to read editor Bob Labriola’s column on the Saturday evening before the game.
I didn’t get around to reading Labrolia until Sunday on the occasions of the Bears game, the second Bengals game, and the Kansas City game. The results speak for themselves. Last night was about to turn in, when I remembered I still hadn’t read Labrolia – I made sure it got read before shutting my eyes.
An Apologist He is Not
Even though 97.5% of the “news” to be had in the Digest has been available on the internet for a long, long time, I have continued to subscribe, mostly to be able to continue reading Labriola’s insights.
On this particular occasion, Labroila spared no mercy for the players representing the organization that signs his pay check.
Here’s a sampling of his observations on the 2009 Steelers:
The definitive characteristics of the 2008 Steelers… was the ability to finish. Finish plays, finish possession, finish games. Whenever the team absolutely had to get something done, it did….
That characteristic is gone. [sic] In the wind. This team does not finish. Examples of the inability to finish drives were all over the place in that loss to the Bengals at Heinz Field when the offense was 0-4 in the red zone and 0-3 in goal-to-go situations. Examples of the inability to finish games dotted the early part of their 2009 season, when fourth quarter leads were squandered by the defense in Chicago and then again in the following week in Cincinnati….
The Steelers have been missing something all year, and Labriola has put his finger directly on it. All of that would be harsh enough, but he lays it on even thicker a few paragraphs down:
This season is now into its second half, which means a team’s identity largely has been formed, and what the Steelers are showing in that area right now is not pretty.
Championship team do not continue to make the same mistake over and over and over again, as the Steelers are doing in allowing kickoffs to be returned for touchdowns. Championship teams do not lose the turnover battle, as the Steelers have done in seven of their 10 games this season. Championship teams don’t trip over their own feet when they have an inferior opponent on the opposite sideline, as the Steelers did here last Sunday.
Jeez Bob, don’t hold back, let readers know what you really think.
What makes this particularly ironic is that over the year, in sports bars and among gatherings of Steelers fans when ever I’d mention a point that Labriola had made, almost without fail someone would question his objectivity based on the fact that the Rooney’s are part owners of the Steelers Digest.
Well, if that is and example of a party line publication or a sanitized version of how Steelers management views things, I’d hate to see the raw version.
Media Wrap Up
One of the more attention grabbing things about the bluntness of Labriolia’s assessment is that he is so much more harsh than his colleague in the independent press. The Steelers looked bad and deserved every bit of their last two losses.
Yet the tone of most coverage has been “don’t over react, the season isn’t lost, the Steelers have a lot of cream puffs ahead of them, they’ll still slide it into the off season….”
It is quite a leap to say that the press coverage might be indicative of what the reporters are hearing in the locker room, but this lax attitude of “don’t worry, we’ll be able to pull it out” seems to be part of what is ailing the team.
The One that Comes Back to Bite You in the A_s
Gerry Dulac’s article in today’s Post Gazette departs from that track. He goes back and looks at the Steelers two times previous in this decade when the Steelers dropped a game to an obviously inferior opponent, and catalogues how it cost them.
Yours truly had thought to do something similar, but with a far more ominous tone, as last week’s loss to Kansas City felt a lot more like the losses the team suffered to Cleveland in 1999 and Detroit on Thanksgiving day in 1998….