Ben Roethlisberger Cleared to Practice, Remains in NFL Concussion Protocols

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may or may not have sustained a concussion on Sunday, when he received a helmet-to-helmet hit by the Seahawks Micheal Bennett in the Steelers 39-30 loss at CenturyLink Field to the Seattle Seahawks.

Tuesday morning, during his weekly radio show on 93.7 The Fan, Roethlisberger felt pretty confident he didn’t have a concussion and that he aced the battery of tests given to him by team doctors and trainers. Later on Tuesday, at Mike Tomlin’s weekly press-conference, the head coach stated that Roethlisberger didn’t pass the tests and that his starting quarterback did indeed suffer a concussion.

Whether it’s been broken toes, a high-fever or now a concussion, there has often been a bit of confusion and miscommunication between player and coach regarding No. 7’s rather long list of ailments during his 12-year career.

However, one thing we do know is that Ben Roethlisberger was officially cleared to practice by team trainers on Wednesday and that he was a full-participant. We also know, thanks to a story by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that Roethlisberger was a bit ‘frustrated’ with the handling of his diagnosis by all involved–including his head coach.  “I had no symptoms of a concussion,” said Roethlisberger in a quote courtesy of the Post-Gazette. “No dizziness, no nausea, none of that stuff that comes with it. When I told the doctors, Dr. Maroon and the training staff said I didn’t have a concussion. That’s why I was so confused when coach Tomlin said I had one. They need to get together and tell their players and what’s going on because I was just relaying what the doctors told me.”

Confusion aside, it’s great news for the Steelers and their fans that Roethlisberger practiced on Wednesday and appears to be cleared to play (pending any symptoms that should arise post-practice); the game coming up this Sunday night between Pittsburgh (6-5) and the Colts (6-5) will have huge playoff-implications, as will the remainder of the Steelers contests in what figures to be a hotly-contested wild card race all the way through Week 17.


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Saluting, Remembering Scott Paulsen’s Steeler Nation on July 4th

As we celebrate July 4th its appropriate for Steelers fans to reflect Scott Paulsen’s Steeler Nation, something highly relevant to our nation. To put Paulsen’s seminal work into context, we must first take a step back:

January 2006Bill Cowher’s Pittsburgh Steelers, left for playoff dead in early December, defied the NFL by squeaking into the playoffs by winning their final four games. Pittsburgh opened with a playoff road win vs. Cincinnati. They followed by upsetting the Indianapolis Colts.

  • Victory over the Colts arrived with a special twist.

The 2005 Colts juggernaut had been anointed  as “The Team of Destiny.” Then, before Christmas, the son of Colt’s coach Tony Dungy, tragically took his own life.

Dungy, who defines the concept of “Class Act,” found the entire NFL rallying around him, making the Colts the sentimental NFL favorite. And yet, leading up to their AFC Divisional playoff game vs. the Steelers, the Indianapolis Colts ticket office made a peculiar announcement:

  • They would refuse all calls originating from a 412 area code.

That’s right, Colts were set to play the biggest game in the franchise’s Indianapolis history, and yet they still struggled to keep Steelers fans out of their stadium. The sight of Steelers fans invading opposing NFL venues had been common since the mid 1990’s – Dan Rooney traces it a 1994 road game in Arizona – but the movement was clearly gaining momentum.

  • But it lacked one thing:  a name.

WDVE’s Scott Paulsen changed it all in just over 900 words with his seminal “Nation Building” essay released shortly before the Steelers AFC Championship Game vs. Denver.

Steelers Nation; Scott Paulsen's Steeler Nation, Nation building, steelers fans

Steelers Nation; Photo credit: Fabus, Getty Images/New York Daily News

Paulsen’s piece spread like wildfire in cyberspace, yet was not to be found in a Google search nor did it turn up on WDVE’s site. Fortunately, an Inbox cleaning effort turned up a copy Paulson’s “Nation Building,” and Steel Curtain Rising now offers it here, for everyone in Steelers Nation to enjoy.

Scott Paulsen Gives Us Steeler Nation

Nation Building By WDVE‘s Scott Paulsen – January 18, 2006

Think about this the next time someone begins to argue with you that a professional sports franchise is not important to a city’s identity:

In the 1980’s, as the steel mills and their supporting factories shut down from Homestead to Midland, Pittsburghers, faced for the first time in their lives with the specter of unemployment, were forced to pick up their families, leave their home towns and move to more profitable parts of the country. The steel workers were not ready for this. They had planned to stay in the ‘burgh their entire lives. It was home.

pittsburgh, sun rise, dave dicello, steeler nation

Breath taking Pittsburgh sunrise by Dave DiCello

Everyone I know can tell the same story about how Dad, Uncle Bob or their brother-in-law packed a U-Haul and headed down to Tampa to build houses or up to Boston for an office job or out to California to star in p_rn vide_s.

  • All right. Maybe that last one just happened in my family.

At this same time, during the early to mid-eighties, the Pittsburgh Steelers were at the peak of their popularity. Following the dynasty years, the power of the Steelers was strong. Every man, woman, boy and girl from parts of four states were Pittsburgh faithful, living and breathing day to day on the news of their favorite team. Then, as now, it seemed to be all anyone talked about.

  • Who do you think the Steelers will take in the draft this year?
  • Is Terry Bradshaw done?
  • Can you believe they won’t give Franco the money – what’s he doing going to Seattle?

The last memories most unemployed steel workers had of their towns had a black and gold tinge. The good times remembered all seemed to revolve, somehow, around a football game. Sneaking away from your sister’s wedding reception to go downstairs to the bar and watch the game against Earl Campbell and the Oilers – going to midnight mass, still half in the bag after Pittsburgh beat Oakland – you and your grandfather, both crying at the sight of The Chief, finally holding his Vince Lombardi Trophy. Good times baby …. good times.

  • And then, the mills closed.

Damn the mills.

One of the unseen benefits of the collapse of the value systems our families believed in – that the mill would look after you through thick and thin – was that now, decades later, there is not a town in America where a Pittsburgher cannot feel at home.

Pour House, Steelers Bars, Washington DC Steelers Bars, Steelers Nation

Pour House, a now defunct DC Area Steelers Bar. Photo Credit:

Nearly every city in the United States has a designated “Black and Gold” establishment. From Bangor, Maine to Honolulu, Hawaii, and every town in between can be found an oasis of Iron City, chipped ham, perogies, kilbosa, and yinzers. It’s great to know that no matter what happened in the lives of our Steel City refugees, they never forgot the things that held us together as a city – families, food, and Steelers football.

  • It’s what we call the Steeler Nation.

You see it every football season. And when the Steelers have a great year, as they have had this season, the power of the Steeler Nation rises to show itself stronger than ever. This week, as the Pittsburgh team of Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Jerome Bettis and Joey Porter head to Denver, the fans of L.C. Greenwood, Jack Lambert, Rocky Bleier and Mel Blount, the generation who followed Greg Lloyd, Yancey Thigpen, Rod Woodson and Levon Kirkland will be watching from Dallas to Chicago, from an Air Force base in Minot, North Dakota, to a tent stuck in the sand near Fallujah, Iraq.

I have received more email from displaced Pittsburgh Steelers fans this week than Christmas cards this holiday season.

  • They’re everywhere.
  • We’re everywhere.
  • We are the Steeler Nation.

And now, it’s passing from one generation to the next. The children of displaced Pittsburghers, who have never lived in the Steel City, are growing up Steelers fans. When they come back to their parents’ hometowns to visit the grandparents, they hope, above all, to be blessed enough to get to see the Steelers in person.

  • Heinz Field is their football Mecca.

And if a ticket isn’t available, that’s okay, too. There’s nothing better than sitting in Grandpa’s living room, just like Dad did, eating Grandma’s cooking and watching the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Just like Dad did.

So, to you, Steeler Nation, I send best wishes and a fond wave of the Terrible Towel. To Tom, who emailed from Massachusetts to say how great it was to watch the Patriots lose and the Steelers win in one glorious weekend. To Michelle, from Milwaukee, who wrote to let me know it was she who hexed Mike Vanderjagt last Sunday by chanting “boogity, boogity, boogity” and giving him the “maloik”. To Jack, who will somehow pull himself away from the beach bar he tends in Hilo, Hawaii, to once again root for the black and gold in the middle of the night (his time), I say, thanks for giving power to the great Steeler Nation.

All around the NFL, the word is out that the Pittsburgh Steeler fans “travel well”, meaning they will fly or drive from Pittsburgh to anywhere the Steelers play, just to see their team. The one aspect about that situation the rest of the NFL fails to grasp is that, sometimes, the Steeler Nation does not have to travel. Sometimes, we’re already there.

  • Yes, the short sighted steel mills screwed our families over.

But they did, in a completely unintended way, create something new and perhaps more powerful than an industry.

They helped created a nation. A Steeler Nation.

From Steeler Nation to Steelers Nation

Nearly ten years later, reading Scott Paulsen’s epistle still raises the hair on the back of my neck.

His term “Steeler Nation” took on a life of its own, morphing into “Steelers Nation” and has been the subject of books and documentaries since then. The movement continues, with the sight of Steelers fans dominating opposing stadiums becoming more and more common.

And as the nation celebrates July 4th, as Steelers fans let’s give thanks to Scott Paulsen and WDVE for giving our nation its name.

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James Harrison Provides Steelers Nation with a Valuable Service

It’s been a good week for James Harrison. By his own admission, Harrison has come along slowly since coming out of “retirement” in the wake of Jarvis Jones injury. But each week he appeared to get closer to the quarterback.

  • Still, Steelers Nation wondered, is this all Debo has left?

In the Steelers win vs. the Colts, Silverback struck gold, registering his first sack of Andrew Luck. Things improved by mid-week, as the Elias Sports Bureau took away Troy Polmalu’s sack and credited it to Harrison, giving him two on the day and giving him 15 two-sack games as a Pittsburgh Steeler – more than any other Steelers save for LaMarr Woodley or Jason Gildon.

  • James it appears, still has something left in the tank.

While that’s good to see, it is not nearly as important as the service that Harrison performed for Steelers Nation. Scott Brown of ESPN asked Harrison about the middling ranking that the Steelers defense currently has.

James Harrison, Mike Tomlin

Harrison was quick to admit that the Steelers have issues on defense which needed to be fixed, but he minced no words when it came to the issue of “the game passing by”Dick LeBeau, commanding:

It’s nothing about Dick LeBeau is getting too old. You’ve got a bunch of idiots that don’t know what they’re talking about when they say that so I do take it a little personal. [Emphasis added]

Thank you James, thank you very much.


Let’s concede that there are kernels of truth behind the arguments put forth by the “Fire Tomlin,” “Fire Haley,” “Fire LeBeau,” “Fire Colbert,” and “Fire the Rooneys” crowed that has dominated Steelers Nation during the 5-3 start to the 2014 season.

  • Until the Colts game, the Steelers offense has preformed under par
  • Ben Roethlisberger has perhaps had too much autonomy in the Steelers offense
  • The Steelers have again “played down to the competition” an unsavory Tomlin trait
  • Some of the Steelers draft decisions/methodology does deserve greater scrutiny
  • Perhaps LeBeau is trying to do too much with the talent he has

But one of the most preposterous suggestions is that somehow the NFL has cracked the ZoneBlitz and/or that Dick LeBeau suddenly forgot how to breakdown an offense. As Scott Brown observed the Steelers defense’s drop comes after “playing it at an absurdly high level for the better part of a decade.”

Dick LeBeau could decide to hang it up after this year. The man is 77 after all, although he doesn’t look it. But if he does, he’ll be doing so while stepping down as one of the game’s greatest defensive geniuses ever.

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Steeler Report Card for Victory Over Colts @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher whose student just greatly outstripped his expectations, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers report card for the victory over Andrew Luck’s Indianapolis Colts.

Steelers, report card, colts, grades, heinz field

Terry Bradshaw. Joe Montana. Tom Brady. And now, Ben Roethlisberger. Ben made history in a number of ways vs. the Colts. He joined the exclusive 100 wins in 150 starts club. He became the first NFL quatarterback to throw for 500 yards twice. He threw 6 touchdowns. He completed 81% of his passes (with at least 3 drops). He threw no pics, and was never sacked. Really, you can’t get better than that. Grade: A+

Running Backs
Le’Veon Bell had another 100 plus yards from scrimmage game. Sure his rushing average along what LeGarrette Blount’s might have been “low” but the fact is the Steelers ran the ball when they needed to. And both backs, in addition to Will Johnson, caught it when thrown to them. Grade: A-

Tight Ends
Heath Miller had 7 catches for 112 yards, and was old Mr. Reliable. His 45 yard reception set up the Steelers 3rdtouchdown. And of course Miller iced the game on 4th and inches. Miller did have a drop, which could have been costly, but other than that he was pretty damm good. Grade:  A-

Wide Receivers
Here’s a telling stat. Ben Roethlisberger had cracked the century mark in passing by the end of the first quarter and he had yet to target Antonio Brown. Martavis Bryant, in just his second NFL game, is already making opposing NFL defensive coordinators take note as he now has 7 catches and 3 touchdowns. Markus Wheaton redeemed himself with 5 catches on 5 targets and 1 touchdown. Lance Moore caught balls for 2 catches for 33 yards including a critical third down conversion. Darrius Heyward Bey had a nice catch, but coughed up the ball. Of Ben’s 522 yards 455 went to the receivers. Grade:  A

Offensive Line
49 pass attempts zero sacks. The Colts tried everything they could to pressure Ben Roethlisberger, from sending 3 men to rushing 7. Nothing worked. The Steelers offensive line turned in a pass blocking performance that was as solid as anyone has ever seen. Perhaps run blocking could have been better, but 49 drop backs and zero sacks? Let’s not nit picky. Grade: A

Defensive Line
The first task of a Dick LeBeau defensive line is to shut down the run. The Colts rushed 10 times, and three of those were from Andrew Luck. No one on the defensive line put up gaudy stats, but Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward

both got their hands on passes, and Heyward appeared to have two sacks negated by penalties. Grade:  B+

James Harrison had his first sack for the Steelers since the closing day of the 2012 season. Lawrence Timmons stumbled early, but was key in getting pressure on luck. Jason Worilds had a monster game, and completely dominated the right side of Indy’s line, even if the stat chart doesn’t give him full credit. Ryan Shazier looked good in his first game back from injury.  Grade:  B+

From a pure statistical perspective, it seems almost impossible to say that the secondary was anything but bad on a day when the opposing quarterback threw for 400 yards. But while numbers do not lie, they sometimes fail to tell the full story, and this is one of those. Yes, the Colts moved the ball well and scored a lot of points. But William Gay’s interception put 6 points on the board for the defense. Troy Polamalu helped pressure Luck, and Antwon Blake’s leaping end zone interception ended any chance of a comeback. Grade:  B-

Special Teams
The Steelers continue to get little out of their return game, although Brown did have one nice run back. The coverage units gave up one long punt return and some decent kickoff returns. While neither of these were a factor in the game, this is something to keep an eye on. Beyond that, a solid afternoon for the special teams. Grade: B

Perhaps this game should serve as a lesson to fans. Calls from Steelers Nation for the Rooneys to fire Todd Haley, Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin have been frequent and loud.

Clearly and thankfully such negativity isn’t reaching the locker room.

Todd Haley deployed his best game play to date as Steelers offensive coordinator and his players executed it to perfection. The Steelers dominated time of possession, protected their quarterback, went vertical when they needed to, ran enough to keep the defense honest, and put up 51 points on the scoreboard.

Dick LeBeau was far more aggressive in rushing the passer than he’s been all year, and while Luck did do damage with his arm, there were numerous occasions where he was hurried and/or his pass disrupted and those occasions resulted in big differences in the final outcome.

Credit Mike Tomlin for keeping his team focused enough to pull this off, and for keeping his foot on the gas pedal till the very end. Grade: A

Unsung Hero Award
SO many players could qualify for this. The Unsung Hero Award is reserved for the player who does “the little things” which often get missed by the press and public at large, but ultimately prove to be difference makers. The Steelers beat the Colts largely because they were the more physical team, and one player who helped establish that, and establish that early was none other than Vince Williams, who actually lead the linebackers in tackles. And for that Williams is the Unsung Hero of the victory over the Colts.

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Roethlisberger, Steelers Offense Explode vs. Colts, Win 51-34

The story on the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2014’s first six weeks focused on what this team was not. The Steelers weren’t disciplined. They didn’t rush the passer. Their offense had star performers, but couldn’t get it together. They couldn’t deliver in the Red Zone. They failed to close games. Their secondary struggled etc….

The Steelers Monday Night win over the Houston Texans shook up that narrative a bit, but behind the glow of their 21 points in 73 second scoring surge, lay all of the same nagging inconsistencies.

  • Besides, even if their record stood at 4-3, who had they really beaten, anyway?

The Indianapolis Colts, led by superstar Andrew Luck, figured force the Steelers back into that “win-lose-win-lose” pattern that’s plagued them all year.

Instead, Mike Tomlin turned the tables during the Steelers 51 to 34 victory, and in doing so the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers might just have flashed a glimpse of what they can be….

Steelers Offense Makes Statement

The Pittsburgh Steelers began 2013 by going 2-6 and closed the year going 6-2 and during the back stretch of the season, the Steelers offense was supposed to have emerged as a legitimate power.

Pittsburgh’s offense was only supposed to get more potent in 2014. Tomlin brought Mike Munchak in to stabilize the offensive line. LeGarrette Blount arrived to provide depth behind Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers bolstered their receiving corps. Ben and Todd were finally getting along.

  • By any measure, with the exception of the Carolina game and the first half vs. Cleveland, the Steelers offense regressed 2014.

Receivers couldn’t get in sync with Ben Roethlisberger. The Red Zone became the Dead Zone. The offensive line was OK, but nothing special. Roethlisberger’s autonomy was called into question. The Steelers offense put up consecutive, twin 10 point performances against terrible defenses.

  • Lots of finger pointing, at least outside the Steelers locker room ensued. 

Todd Haley needed to be fired. So did Mike Tomlin. People questioned Tomlin and Colbert’s drafting abilities. But few could agree on the problem, everyone seemed to implicitly understand that the lion’s share of the solution fell on one person’s shoulders:  Ben Roethlisberger.

Ben Roethlisberger, 522 yards, 6 touchdowns, Colts

Roethlisberger entered the Colts game as a good quarterback who simply wasn’t up to par with the Brady’s, Mannings, Brees, Rivers and Lucks of the league.

  • By the end of the game, Roethlisberger confirmed once again he is very much an elite quarterback.

This is one case where numbers provide a telling truth:

  • 522 yards passing
  • 6 touchdowns
  • the first NFL quarterback to throw for 2 500 yard games (the other was vs. Green Bay in 2009)
  • ZERO interceptions in 49 pass attempts
  • 100 career victories in 150 starts

For one game at least, Ben Roethlisberger ended the struggling and stumbling and brought the Pittsburgh Steelers offense together.

The offense in fact, functioned like a well oiled machine. Markus Wheaton redeemed himself by catching the day’s first touchdown pass. Rookie Martavis Bryant caught 2 touchdowns in his second NFL game. Antonio Brown caught everything thrown at him, including 2 TD’s. Heath Miller returned to his role as “Mr. Reliable.”

  • Despite all of the fireworks in the air, Bell managed 92 yards on the ground and another 56 receiving. 

Previously, the Steelers offense had simply hinted at something better. Vs. the Colts, the Steelers offense displayed that it was capable of executing with lethal effectiveness.

Defense Doesn’t Dominate, but Does Disrupt

Most of the attention and praise after a victory like this will focus on the offense, as it should. But the defense deserves a good word too.

  • YES, the defense gave up 34 points
  • YES, the defense allowed a 400 yard passing game

So clearly, the Steelers defense didn’t deliver a dominating performance worth of the Steel Curtain of old. But if the Steelers defense didn’t dominate, it did disrupt.

The stat ledger says that the Steelers only James Harrison and Troy Polamalu sacked Andrew Luck. But they were far from the only Steelers to get to Luck.

Cam Heyward had at least two sacks negated by penalities. Lawrence Timmons had another. Jason Worilds laid numerous hits on Luck. Ryan Shazier got into the act as did Brett Keisel. Yes, Luck threw for 400 yards, but he most often did so under duress.

The Steelers defense also made its share of splash plays. William Gay toasted Andrew Luck for a quick six; Antwon Blake made a leaping end zone interception, and the Steelers forced a safety.

We were not taking our foot off the gas. -Mike Tomlin

At several points in 2014, the Steelers late-game play calling has come into question. But when asked why he threw the ball on 4th and inches late in the game – a throw which resulted in Heath Miller’s touchdown” Tomlin explained that he had no intention of taking the foot off the gas pedal.

  • The strategy was wise vs. the Colts, and it is a philosophy which the entire team must embrace moving forward.

Three years ago the New England Patriots came to town in week 8, and Pittsburgh pulled off an upset, only to drop one at home on the succeeding Sunday Night to the Ravens.

It’s 2014 now, the Steelers have just beaten an AFC Contender, and the Baltimore Ravens are coming to town – on Sunday night no less.

  • Against the Colts, for the first time all season, the Pittsburgh proved that their potential lies somewhere beyond 8-8.

But to get there, they must not take their foot off the gas pedal.

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Steel Curtain Rising Offers Apologies to Direct TV South America

It’s time for Steel Curtain Rising to step forward and take one on the chin. Time to say “mea cupla.” About 40 minutes ago we published a post lambasting Direct TV South America for screwing Steelers fans. Viewing their programming guide, it seemed that the channel was not showing the Steelers-Colts game, and instead opted to show the Texans-Patriots Colts twice.

And while they Texans-Colts game does appear twice on their NFL Sunday Ticket programming guide, that has nothing to do with the Steelers game.

  • Because of course, the Steelers and Colts are playing at 4:30 Eastern. 

Yep. Quick glance at the Steelers Media Guide confirmed that after some suggestions from friend on Twitter about checking seeing what FOX Sports was showing independent of NFL Sunday ticket.

  • I fired first, and then asked questions. That was very bad on my part.

So I’ve deleted my previous, deleted all of the rants on Twitter, and now I’ll tender my apology to Direct TV South America and whoever manages the NFL Sunday Ticket. The truth is that while there have been service issues in the past, its been several years since s a programming error or issues has prevented me from seeing the Steelers game.

So you guys have done your part, and I was very wrong to call you out w/o checking the facts first. You have my apologies.

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The Steelers Road to Super Bowl XL: A Fan Remembers Pittsburgh’s Greatest Nine Weeks Ever (Part III).

Steelers vs. the Indianapolis in the AFC Divisional Playoffs 

The Steelers were the huge underdog going in and most people thought it would be a repeat of the game late in the regular season when the Colts outclassed Pittsburgh, 26-7, on Monday Night Football.

Cowher Decides its Time for Big Ben

One of head coach Bill Cowher‘s perceived faults in previous postseasons was being too conservative on offense and letting the other team dictate the action.

For the first time in over twenty years, the Steelers had a bona fide franchise quarterback in one Ben Roethlisberger, and Cowher cut him loose on the Colts right out of the gate. The first possession of the game saw the Steelers drive right down the field on the strength of Roethlisberger’s arm. He got things started with a play-action pass to tight end Heath Miller for 36 yards that set Indianapolis back on its heals. The drive culminated in a quick slant pass to Antwaan Randle El for a six yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Two drives later, the Steelers took control of the game when Roethlisberger hooked up with Miller for a seven yard touchdown pass, making it 14-0 Pittsburgh in the first quarter. The key play on this drive was a third down pass to Hines Ward in which he picked up 45 yards and netted an additional 15, thanks to a face mask penalty on a Colts defender.

Defense has Manning on his Heals in Rematch

On defense, the Steelers had Peyton Manning and the Colts’ offensive line totally confused. In the regular season game, Pittsburgh’s defense barely touched Manning as he passed for 245 yards and two scores, but in this game, he didn’t have much time to do anything, especially in the first half. Towards the end of the second quarter, the Colts embarked on their best drive of the game up until that point. They started at their own two yard line after a great punt by Chris Gardocki.

Thanks mostly to running back Edgarin James, Indianapolis moved the ball deep into Steelers’ territory. Eventually, it was third and goal and it looked like James scored on a tough running play. Unfortunately for the Colts, a linemen moved too early and Indy eventually had to settle for a field goal to make it 14-3 at halftime.

The Defense, The Bus Impose Their Will in the Third Quarter

The second half started out pretty much like the first half, at least for the Colts on offense. They couldn’t do much of anything, and Pittsburgh was winning the battle of field position.

In-fact, the defense sacked Manning just inches shy of his own goal line, nearly resulting in a safety. The ensuing punt gave the Steelers great field position at the Colts’ 30 yard line. Passing was great early on, but on the previous drive, it looked like Roethlisberger injured his throwing elbow while being hit.

  • If ever there was a time to kick the tires and bring Jerome Bettis, the Bus, out of the garage, this was that time.

Bettis was the workhorse on this very short drive, a drive that would eventually result in a one yard scoring leap by the big man and a 21-3 lead for Pittsburgh. I was hysterical. I remember picking up my two year old cousin and throwing her around. I was so happy! And even though the Colts had the best offense in the NFL that year, for some reason, I didn’t think there was any way they’d come back on Pittsburgh’s suffocating defense.

Manning Steps Up to Impose his Will on Tony Dungy and the Steelers Defense

The following drive, however, the Colts got back in the game when Manning appeared to wave off the punt team on fourth and short, deep in his own territory and hit Brandon Stokley with a 13 yard pass on the last play of the third quarter to move the chains and give his team new life. Two plays later, Manning hit tight end Dallas Clark and Clark out-ran most of the Steelers secondary for a 50 yard touchdown to make it 21-10.

  • Just like that the Colts were back in the game after being dominated for three quarters.

The next drive, in my opinion, was the most important one of the game for Pittsburgh. They didn’t score, but they took about eight minutes off the clock after converting twice on fourth and short. There was much controversy on the first conversion after the Colts jumped off-sides and touched one of the Steelers offensive linemen because they thought that Alan Faneca flinched.

Whether he did or not was immaterial because the officials didn’t blow the whistle so off-sides should have been called. But nothing was called and after a lot of arguing from the Steelers’ sideline, the refs just did a “do-over” and I almost had a heart-attack when it looked like Roethlisberger was stopped short. But thanks to a great second-effort and a little push from Jerome, he just barely made it.

Troy Polamalu Saves the Day for Pittsburgh……..Not so Fast

As I said, Pittsburgh didn’t score on that drive but they gave the ball back to the Colts with barely over six-minutes left in the game. At that point, one more defensive stand would all-but wrap up the game for the Steelers. And they appeared to make that stand when Troy Polamalu dove to intercept a Manning pass.

He got up to try to advance the ball and fumbled it, but fell on it and Pittsburgh had the ball at mid-field with less than six-minutes left. I went into celebration mode at that point. I figured the Steelers would just run the clock down and be on their way to Denver for their second straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game. The Colts challenged the play, but it just seemed like blind desperation from head coach Tony Dungy. It was obvious from every camera angle that Polamalu intercepted the ball and it never touched the ground. I walked around my uncle’s living room with my arms raised in victory.

  • Mr. referee came out to give his verdict, it was just a formality, though, right?

Wrong! He said that since Polamalu lost the ball before getting both knees off the ground while trying to advance it, it was an incomplete pass. So, in other words,  had Polamalu stayed there on the turf after intercepting the pass, it would have stood, but since he got up and tried to advance the ball, it was an incomplete pass? He was punished for doing more? Made no sense then, makes no sense now. I had never witnessed such a call before that day and not since. I don’t know what the referee’s thought process was or what rule he used as a reference for his decision, but he was clearly wrong and everyone knew it.

I remember turning to my uncle and saying, “I can’t believe they’re taking the game away from us!” My uncle said that he never saw me so angry and beside myself watching a sporting event, and he was right. I could not believe that happened. If you don’t already know, you can probably guess what unfolded once the Colts resumed their drive.

They eventually scored a touchdown on a James’ three yard plunge, and Manning hit Reggie Wayne for a two point conversion to make it 21-18 with a little over four minutes to go. Just minutes prior, it looked like the game was over and now suddenly, the Colts had all the momentum.

The Steelers needed to run the clock out at that point. Roethlisberger, sore elbow or not, threw for a first down, but underthrew Ward on third down later in the drive, and the Steelers had to punt. So, there it was, the Colts had the ball with 2:42 left and I was so nervous, that I wussed out and left for a drive in my car. Can you believe that? Me, Mr. Steelers fan, chickened out and took a tour of Pittsburgh during the most crucial part of the Steelers season.

Missing Perhaps the Most Heart Stopping (literally) 2:42 seconds in Steelers History

I drove to Mt. Washington, for some reason, and decided to turn the radio on about 15 minutes later. At that point, the first thing I heard was Tunch Ilkin, the Steelers color commentator, saying his heart went out to Tony Dungy whose son committed suicide earlier in the year.

I didn’t hear the Colts crowd going nuts. “What happened?” I wondered to myself. The Steelers were kneeling on the ball and Steelers play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove was singing, “turn out the lights, the party’s over.” I knew at that point Pittsburgh had victory in hand, so I stuck my hand out of my car and did the “No 1” sign as I drove to my mom’s house, not knowing the pulsating events that led up to the Steelers’ upset victory.

  • When I arrived at Mom’s, she informed me that she prayed for a miracle during the last seconds of the game.

According to her, the miracle came true because Pittsburgh won. However, she wasn’t quite sure what transpired that led up to the victory.

Do you remember what transpired in-between the time I left my uncle’s with 2:42 remaining? I believe every Steelers fan knows what happened, but I missed it all. The Colts got the ball back and needed a field goal to tie it or a touchdown to win it.

  • Pittsburgh didn’t allow an inch on defense, sacking Manning twice, the second time Joey Porter dropped Manning on fourth and long, in the shadows of Indianapolis’ own end zone.

After the sack, Manning screamed, “Yeah, that’s the game, baby! It’s on to Denver!” The Steelers had the ball 1st and goal with 1:28 left. Unfortunately, they couldn’t just kneel on the ball because Indianapolis had all three time outs left. The offense had to punch it in to put the game on ice. On first and goal, Roethlisberger handed it off to Bettis, who unbelievably fumbled!

Nick Harper, the Colts defensive back, picked the ball up and was off to the races. Roethlisberger made a play for the ages as he zigged when Harper zigged and zagged when he zagged. Roethlisberger lunged for Harper’s leg and brought him down near mid-field. Everyone was in disbelief, especially Bettis who was inconsolable on the sidelines.

(The Bettis fumble was shocking to everyone, both players and fans alike, and it was later revealed that Pittsburgh resident Terry O’Neil suffered a heart attack just seconds after the Bettis fumble and needed immediate medical attention–O’Neill would thankfully make a full recovery).

Naturally, the Colts drove the ball down the field on the Steelers’ stunned defense and eventually had a second and two at Pittsburgh’s 29 yard line. Manning went for the victory when he went deep for Wayne in the end zone. Wayne came within inches of catching the ball only to have it knocked out by Steelers rookie defensive back Bryant McFadden. People are always going to remember “the tackle,” but I think McFadden’s play is one of the most underrated in Steelers’ history, and it was the best play of his career. Two plays later, Mike Vanderjagt, who hadn’t missed a field goal at home the entire season, set up for a 46 yard attempt with seconds remaining.

  • I guess my mom must have prayed for intercession to the right Saint because, not only did Vanderjagt miss the kick, it wasn’t even close.

I missed all of that, but maybe it was a good thing. My uncle was eating some dinner on one of those drop tables and when Jerome fumbled, he said he flung it across the room. In crucial moments of a big game, I usually stand right by the TV, so I might have been in the line of fire and had my face rearranged by that drop table and some mashed potatoes.

What an exciting victory. This concludes part three of my tale.

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Sorting Through the Steelers Opening Day Loss to the Broncos

Peyton Manning has dominated the NFL passing game for over a decade. During that time no defense has been as consistently dominant as the Pittsburgh Steelers. Manning sat out all of 2011 with an injury while the Steelers ranked up the NFL’s number 1 pass defense.

What better combination for the marquee match ups that the NFL reserves for Sunday Nights? Unfortunately for Steelers Nation, only one dominator showed up.

Tale of Two Halves

There is perhaps no one player to forces opponents to game plan from him more than Peyton Manning. He isn’t simply a playmaker, he’s an offense maker, and if you doubt that see how badly the Colts imploded in his absence.

The Steelers have faced off against Manning before.

Absent a strong pass defense in 2002, the Steelers quite simply took advantage of Manning’s mistakes, with Brett Alexander and Mike Logan picking him off three times, as the Steelers won 28-10.

During the 2005 regular season a Manning capitalized on Steelers miscues and turnovers to tune of a 26 to 7 drubbing.

In the playoffs however, the Steelers returned to Indy with a little different game plan. That plan  entailed unleashing their secret weapon, Ben Roethlisberger to jump to a quick lead and then sit on the ball. (The plan of course worked to perfection, until Jerome Bettis came within a shoe string tackle of his career ending in disaster.)

  • This time around Todd Haley and Mike Tomlin’s plan focused on one thing:  Ball Control.

Let the record reflect that the Steelers plan worked to perfection, during the first half.

The Steelers defense forced the Broncos offense to punt twice and forced and then recovered a fumble.

On the two drives where the Steelers forced Denver to punt, Larry Foote and Jason Worilds registered sacks

  • That’s no coincidence.

And unfortunately, Worild’s sack near the end of the first quarter was pretty much the last time a Steelers defender even breathed on Number 18.

The next time Manning touched the ball, he went 6-7 as he marched his team down the field 80 yards for a go ahead touchdown.

  • The Steelers answered with a touchdown of their own.

By the time Manning got the ball back, all had time for was to take a knee and head for the locker room. That would be his past passive act of the evening….

The Half Time Momentum Shift that Never Was…

All of that should have been a good thing.

As everyone knows, scoring a touchdown right before the half is all important as it gives you a momentum shift heading into the locker room. The momentum shift is amplified when you get the ball to start the next half.

Network commentators always remind viewers of this fact. What’s more they’re on to something when they say that such momentum shifts are decisive. Except for when they’re not.

Count Sunday Night in Denver as an occurrence of one of those “occasions when no decisive momentum  shift occurs” (try running that through your redundancy filter.)

  • One almost has to wonder if Steelers coaches saw Manning’s first touchdown drive and feared they’d awakened a sleeping giant.

Because Todd Haley and his offensive players seemed determined to ensure that Manning did not touch the ball again.

  • And they made a good run of it as the Steelers offense possessed the ball for all but 21 seconds of the second half’s first 16 minutes.

The plan might have worked, had the Steelers defense been able to stop Manning from throwing Demetrius Thomas, the accomplice to January’s Tebowing of the Steelers, a 71 yard touchdown pass in that brief span of 21 seconds.

That 21 second was pretty much characteristic of Peyton Manning on the entire second half. Ditto the a Steelers defense whose:

  • Defensive lineman couldn’t get penetration or control their gaps
  • Linebackers didn’t get pressure on the quarterback
  • Defensive backs who could neither cover nor threaten to create a turnover

Outside of that, Dick LeBeau’s defense looked every bit ready to take their place alongside some of his other legendary units.

Not Quite Like the Good Old Days

Its understandable that a good chunk of Steelers Nation is a mite bit taken aback by an opening day loss. Until the Debacle in Baltimore last year, there had not been one in Roethlisberger era.

Things were not always such, however.

Opening day losses were a staples of the Cowher years

These weren’t simple losses, but thrashings.

The attentive reader will note (and if you’re read this far, you must be attentive) that each of those was a winning season, all but one were playoff years, and three of those years ended in the AFC Championship.

  • Opening day wins in 1998, 1998 and 2003 turned out to be harbingers of doom, or at least mediocrity.

The moral of this history lesson is that it doesn’t pay to get too worked up over an opening day loss. With that said there’s something bothersome about the Denver loss.

Haley’s offense, while a work in progress, flashed signs of greatness, greatness that the Steelers might be able to realize if they can go a whole game without losing an offensive lineman.

Unlike the losses mentioned above, the Steelers defense didn’t get dominated physically so much as it got out foxed. Peyton Manning simultaneously checkmated Dick LeBeau off the field while playing a constant game of chicken with Troy Polamalu on the field and winning each time.

Now, one would think mental errors are more easily corrected that a lack of physicality. After all, its easier to teach guys to correct their mistakes than to grow them bigger and stronger.

But 48 hours plus after the game, it doesn’t feel that way, my gut is telling me the opposite.

Let’s hope that Mike Tomlin will prove me wrong.

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From Black to Gold: A Pittsburgh Steelers Transformation

From Black to Gold

The title feigns simplicity. At a glance one quickly concludes that Tim Gleason’s 260 page volume simply covers everything Steelers, from Black to Gold.

But From Black to Gold tells a more profound story, lending its title deeper significance.

Perhaps it’s appropriate then that I read the book on a trip to Uruguay that included a day in Piriapolis, the city founded by Francisco Piria the New World’s most famous Alchemist.

Why you ask?

  • Because medieval Alchemists sought to turn lead into gold.

While Gleason never mentions Alchemy, he might as well have, because one of the most remarkable transformations in sports history – the metamorphosis of the Pittsburgh Steelers from a 40 year perennial loser into North America’s most prestigious professional sports franchise is From Black to Gold’s tale.

He Knows Enough to Write a Book…

How often do we hear, “So-and-So knows enough to write a book…”? Perhaps no one ever told Gleason that, but he separated himself from the pack by having the guts to go out and self-publish his own book on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I first found Gleason’s work, under the pseudonym of Mary Rose, on Behind the Steel Curtain, one of the net’s best, if not simply the best fan-based Steelers sites (full disclosure, I am an occasional contributor to BTSC.)

Mary Rose first caught my attention with a retelling of the Rocky Blier story that was at once fresh and engaging. Since then he’s told and retold many stories of Steelers Nation in prose that always captivates.

If you seek an example look no futher than his article on the Immaculate Reception. All of us know the story, but the hair on everyone’s neck will stand straight up by the time you’re done with Gleason’s rendition.

The quality of Gleason’s writing in From Black to Gold is perhaps a smidge bit below the standard he sets for himself at Behind the Steel Curtain, but he did not alter his style explaining, “I only know how to write one way, so whatever and wherever I write, it’s pretty much the same style,” although he does concede that “There is a difference in the way you write based upon the subject matter.”

All of which simply means that prose of From Black to Gold is good or very good, and it is certainly well above the watered-down mushy middle schoolesque writing that plagues too many sports books.

Pittsburgh’s Story. The Steelers Story. Our Story.

The Pittsburgh Steelers count themselves as one of the NFL’s most storied franchises, anchored by a wide-spread and fiercely loyal fan base. Steelers Nation faces no shortage of reading material. A simple search for “Steelers Books” on brings back 468 results.

  • Storytellers have spun and re-spun the yarns that comprise the Steelers 79 years countless times.

Gleason follows in step, telling stories of World War II’s Stegals, Johnny Unitas getting cut, Jack Lambert’s confrontation with Chuck Noll over a short-lived health-food kick one summer at St. Vincents, and the all-important inclusion of Bill Nunn Sr. into the Steelers scouting department.

  • What then, sets From Black to Gold apart?

From Black to Gold stands apart from other Steelers literature because Tim Gleason narrates it with his own voice.

The first rule they teach in Journalism 101 is “Never Make Yourself Part of the Story.” Tim Gleason breaks this rule with relish throughout From Black to Gold.

Into each of the Steelers well-trod stories, Gleason weaves tales from his life, and that of his family. Don’t be fooled. Not all of these anecdotes end happily. In fact, one of the Steelers greatest moments, perhaps the franchise’s pivotal play, happened just two weeks after his family suffered a terrible tragedy.

But if you’re reading this, you’ll understand how that lends Gleason’s narrative both depth and authenticity. The Steelers hold great importance for all of us, and key moments in Steelers history not only remind us of our Beloved Black and Gold’s glories or failures but also serve as touchstones for remembering personal aspects of our lives that happened to coincide with events on the gridiron.

For example, Gleason shares how watching the late John Henry Johnson upset the mighty 1964 Cleveland Browns served as a key bonding moment between him and his father.

A generation later, he tells of how his daughter Mary Rose grew into a natural affinity for the Steelers, and he relives how watching the Steelers shocking upset of the Colts in the 2005 playoffs served as an important bonding moment between him and his daughter.

Such stories bring back my own memories, such as my 79 year old Argentine father-in-law staying up late in solidarity to watch Super Bowl XL, his first American football game. As nice as that was, it paled to the richness of enjoying the glory of Super Bowl XLIII in Buenos Aires with my Argentine wife. Likewise, the back injury my wife suffered while in Brazil during Super Bowl XLV left me with no need to be reminded that “it was just a football game.”

Fresh Insights Gleamed from Old Stories

From Black to Gold goes beyond simply repackaging the Steelers experience from Gleason’s view point. Very few will fail to learn something new while reading it.

Do you know why players like Len Dawson and Earle (Greasy) Neal get listed (in lower case letters) as part of the Steelers Hall of Fame contingent while Bobby Layne of Detroit Lions glory joins Joe GreeneJohn Stallworth et. al. in all upper case letters?

For decades I’d seen this in Steelers Media guides, and figured that some over zealous Steelers PR guy pulled a fast one by in claiming Layne was one of their own. Alas I was wrong, and I learned why reading Gleason’s book.

People under 40, such me, likely grew up needing to be convinced that the Steelers were atrocious during their first 4 decades. Could things have been different? Gleason convincingly making the case for a baker’s dozen of could have, would have, should have been history changers in a poignant chapter titled “If Only They Had Stayed.”

Everyone knows the story of Myron Cope’s Terrible Towel, and how proceeds of it sales benefit a home for the developmentally disabled in Western Pennsylvania. All of us have our superstitions about both how to use this talisman for greatest effect, as well as excusing it in the face of inconvenient truths.

But do you know why opposing players might really want to think twice about abusing the Terrible Towel? Gleason spins a yarn of players who’ve abused the golden towel at their own peril – the record is so consistent that it’s hard to write these off as mere coincidence.

Believe it or not, men whose names were not Noll, Cowher or Tomlin did once coach the Steelers. Gleason goes to the trouble of rating the seven of them who lasted more than a season – the only such rating I know of in existence.

Gleason devotes a chapter to stories on how he acquired a memorabilia/autograph collection that would be the envy of any Steelers fan. He’s got two Steelers helmets, one Black, one Gold, adorned by autographs of everyone from a member of the Steelers first squad in 1933 to players who started in Super Bowl XLV.

A Personal Primer on the Pittsburgh Steelers

From Black to Gold exemplifies the fact that you can tell a complete and compelling story in just a few words. Gleason begins his tale by recounting his meeting with Ray Kemp, the first African American NFL player and a member of the inaugural 1933 Pittsburgh Pirates squad, and then Gleason takes the reader through to the end of the first decade of the 21st century.

If Gleason’s book is complete, it is not all-inclusive. It contains very little on the Steelers of the ‘80’s, a period about which I was hoping to learn more.

Likewise material from the 1990’s is surprisingly thin, especially when one considers this was a decade where Pittsburgh returned to contender status. This represents a deliberate decision by Gleason as he explains “but I didn’t want to give equal time just to give equal time. There really was no correlation between the team being good and the amount of ink I used.”

Those who cut their teeth as Steelers fans during the Cowher-power inspired renaissance of the 1990’s will likely quibble that Gleason did not rank the Alfred Papunu AFC Championship loss more prominently on his list of playoff heart breaks.

While Gleason empathizes to some degree, he reminds us that the ’95 49ers team won the Super Bowl that year explaining: “For some reason, knowing that San Francisco would be the next opponent, that loss didn’t hurt as much as some others.”

While From Black to Gold is many ways a first-person story told by Gleason, he meticously researched the book admitting “My memory gets distorted with time. It was amazing how many things were a bit different than what I remembered.”

Beyond his own research, Gleason shares that he sent a manuscript to be vetted by the man he calls Mr. Steeler aka Dick Hoak, and was impressed that the only error Hoak found in 80,000 words was the fact it was in Palm Springs, and not in San Diego, that Frank Sinatra enjoyed his induction into Franco’s Italian Army.

A number of good Steelers history books have hit the market over the past few years. Dan Rooney’s self-titled autobiography and Art Rooney Jr. Ruanaidh provide an excellent inside view. The Ones Who Hit the Hardest by Chad Millman and Shawn Coyne tells many of same Steelers stories from the ground up.

From Black to Gold covers much of the same ground, but does in a way that allows it to serve as an almost personalized primer on Pittsburgh Steelers history, making it must read for every serious Steelers fan.

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Watch Tower: The Story Behind Max Starks Signing, Running Game, Woodley

It has been anything but a slow news week for Steelers Nation in light of the Thrashing in Texas giving the Watch Tower plenty to focus its bright lights upon.

A Stark Reminder

The biggest news of course was the return of left tackle Max Starks. Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette get kudos for breaking the news, or at the very least he got his story that the Steelers were “close” to resigning Max Starks up before any of the other major competitor sites did. Good for your Gerry.

The story then took a couple of complicated twists.

During his PG Plus chat Dulac did his best to put the Stark into context, first explaining:

No, nor do they think he is the answer. But they need some players in their offensive line who know what they’re doing, and Chris Scott was too young and Jamon Meredith is too new.

The questions, of course kept coming, to which Dulac clarified:

Well, I expect to see him uniform on Sunday, but only as an extra lineman. And the reason he will likely dress is because LT Jonathan Scott is not fully recovered from his ankle injury, even though he will likely start. Otherwise, Starks faces the very real possibility of being one of the two O-linemen who typically sits out each game. [Emphasis Added]

All of that made sense. After all, the Steelers just a week ago had committed themselves to playing with the men they had.

A short time later, however, Ed Bouchette dropped a bomb on PG Plus, revealing that Max Starks had taken snaps with the first team. Of course now the word is that Starks will likely start.

The football element of this – that someone could come off of the street after 11 months of inactivity to start an NFL game speaks for itself. But it also calls into question who was feeding Dulac this information about Starks role and why he seemed so sure of it.

Running with the Colts

The Steelers inability to run the ball (not to mention stop the run) has been at issue all season. A little tid-bit came to light after the Colts game, when Ed Bouchette revealed:

One source on the team said the run calls against the Colts looked nothing like the ones they practiced the week leading up to the game.

The curious part of this is the “one source on the team.” Enquiring minds of course want to know “who.” Of course we won’t find out now. But this is the job of the beat writer – to find out what is happening behind the scenes.

Its way too early to make too much of this kind of a “leak.” It could be that the offensive staff simply shift its game plan based on the looks the Colts defense gave it.

However, we know that, in contrast to his first few season, Mike Tomlin has been less shy about overruling his offensive staff. In fact, Bruce Arians almost decided to leave because of it.

Again, this might mean nothing. But if the Steelers fortunes do not improve it will be interesting to see if anonymous sources releasing similar pieces of news.

Laying the Wood on Woodley

This was not a good week for LaMarr Woodley. He looked stone footed against the Texans and easily had his worse game in a season where he’s done nothing to justify his status as the highest paid player in defensive history.

The first to take aim was Behind the Steel Curtain’s Michael Bean (full disclosure, the Watch Tower’s alter ego also writes for BTSC), who devoted an entire post to critiquing Woodley’s performance against the Texans.

Bean got company, although that was a little slow in coming. As mentioned here before, Steel Mill Blog’s column “After Further Review” on the Tribune-Review is one of the best we features out there.

What was curious was that none of the Tribune Review’s writers updated the blog with any new content for several days after the game.

However, when “After Further Review” did get published, it spared no quarter in going after Woodley, pointing out that in spite of the fact that Woodley failed to draw double blockers during the Texans game, number 56 was regularly out of position and otherwise getting overpowered or shown up.

Old and Slow?

There’s been a lot going on, but it does seem that some of the media have been a little slow to the punch. News of James Harrison’s injury didn’t become public until Mike Tomlin announced it.

Undoubtedly, that makes Tomlin happy, but the Steelers losing James Harrison for a month is a pretty big story.

Ditto the news that Casey Hampton will not play. That may have been mentioned, but was certainly not discussed as a serious possibility early in the week.

Should the Turk Have Cometh….?

Finally, 2-2 is not at all too early to begin the “what went wrong” columns. Bob Smizik entertained the criticism that the Steelers perhaps got too sentimental in their personnel decision making, likening it to the situation in the late ‘70’s or early ‘80s.

He then mentiones a few players whom he things the Steelers should have parted ways with (James Farrior and Aaron Smith.)

Both suggestions are plausible, but it is a little too over simplistic to suggest that both men should have been cut in training camp, unless he has two other players that the Steelers either let go or passed on whom he thinks should have taken their places.

Smizik has never been a Watch Tower favorite (dating back to the late ‘80s, when the Watch Tower read him on weekend trips to Grandma’s house), but this column does provide readers with good food for thought.

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