Sunday, November 30, 2008

Monday Semi-Roundup

It's been a good weekend for Pittsburgh sports fans. The Steelers kicked major Pawts ass in their home stadium. Maybe it will shut the pundits up for five minutes. I was ready to throw a shoe through the TV during ESPN's pre-game hoo-raw on Sunday morning because they were pretty much saying the Steelers were going to lose and weren't all that good. Let's have a look at that, shall we?

Patriots were one for 19 on third down conversions.
Patriots had three fumbles and two interceptions.
23 unanswered points for the Steelers.
The Steelers scored on four of five New England turnovers.
The defense was stifling and Dick LeBeau (love that guy!) made the needed adjustments, again, going into the second half. 267 yards allowed.

The fluidity and adaptability of the Steelers defense is, in my opinion, their most dangerous quality. I feel pretty good about the rest of the season now, what with the offensive line finally gelling. The titans are the biggest hurdle, but they're beatable. There isn't much in the NFC that can challenge today's team other than the Giants, and they're also eminently beatable, particularly with Plaxico Burress out of the lineup. Oh, Plax. Never change, ok? I love you just the way you are.

Moving on.

Pitt wins the backyard brawl against West Virginia. A moral victory and probably enough to keep Dave Waanstedt on board for another year. I think he's been a consistent underachiever and scouts poorly but what do I know. It never ceases to amaze me, though, that so many coaches think life is going to be easier as college coaches. College is harder-these kids aren't sure if football is going to be their life. College has a revolving door-you can't keep a player around much after five years unless you put him on staff. And as Charlie Weis can tell you, in college football, you don't get the other team's defensive signals taped for you. Oh, sorry, did I type that out loud? My bad.

Pitt Women's hoops is 4-1. I'll be glad when they start showing some games on TV. That probably won't happen until tournament time, unfortunately, because everything from poker to MMA to bass fishing has precedence over one of the most exciting team sports out there. Repeat after me, sports fans. Everyone suffers under the patriarchy.

The Pens are doing well, winning two out of three this past long weekend. Sid is on a roll, capped by his belly-flop hat trick on Saturday. (quote by my work daughter Liz, "he slid on his belly like a real penguin!! awwww he's soooo adorable.")

Finally, this edition of Errey-Otica might be one of the last. We took delivery of a new home theater (thanks,!) this weekend and now we can listen to Mike Lange's radio coverage while we watch on TV.

Friday, from Steigerwald...
"He's going to be whackin' and hackin' all night long!"
Several times, Steigy referred to Sabres' forward Daniel Paille as "Paiella". Yeah, the fish casserole that cross-checks you back!
The best one Friday was Errey's.
"He shed him like a bronking bull!"
I don't even know what that means.

Saturday, Steigy invited us to "behold the wonders of Sidney Crosby" during an intermission. It was mid-home theater installation so I didn't see it, but I think some of it must involve what he called "sid-o-rama". Hilarious.

Errey has been talking about people playing unconscious a lot lately. Now, I could be wrong, but I think being unconscious while playing hockey might be a bad thing. Errey obviously thinks it's a good thing. Who am I to contradict?

Errey-Otica is contagious! During the radio broadcast of the Steelers game, Craig Wolfley made repeated references to a player being sidelined with "a hitch in his git-a-long." Bob suggested he be flagged for talking like a grizzled 1890s prospector. Much amusement was had as we discussed the best way to signal that. I'll leave it to your imaginations, though.

Until next time-GO PENS, GO STEELERS, and GO SHOPPING if you need to.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving from the Fritz Blitz

I thought I'd start the day off with some things that make me thankful.

The Penguins' ability to play a crappy game for two of three periods and still win. I'm thankful for the Pens in general, but especially for this.

Sid and Geno. And the years of hockey ahead of them. Here. In Pittsburgh.

The Steelers. Despite playing with a battered and bruised offense, a secondary that has more ups and downs than a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, whatever punter they can grab from the stands, and an o-line that sometimes puts me in mind of the Seton LaSalle Girls JV Auxiliary flag football team, they're in position to get a first round bye in the playoffs and are coming on even stronger late in the year.

The Pirates. Yes, you heard me. The Pirates. Even when they don't win (and when do they win?) they're entertaining. Even when they're not playing, (maybe especially when they're not playing) they're entertaining. This week, the Buccos signed two prospects found in a global talent search in India. India? Seriously? Why not, I say. These guys have a background in cricket. From the minimum I know about cricket (it seems to have similar rules to 43-man squamish) there is an awful lot of pitching involved, some hitting things with sticks, and games can last up to five days. Five days! Even the worst rout at PNC with every pitcher in the bullpen getting a turn doesn't go five days. It may SEEM like it, but it doesn't. So why not?

Pitt Basketball. I have a bias for the Women's program, and this year's team is looking to continue where they left off last year. I've found the Men's program to be consistently over hyped and prone to choking. Unreasonable expectations, poor conditioning, coaching weaknesses, who knows, but the Pitt men never seem to live up to their hoop dreams. We'll see how this season shakes out but I'm hopeful the women's program will go even further this year.

Joe Paterno. He plans to come back next year. Not sure how the PSU brass will take that but good on him.

Chad Ocho Cinco.

I love this guy precisely because he does NOT take himself seriously. You'll never find him crying after the game lamenting his perceived lack of respect, his touches, or the media treatment of his quarterback. (Okay, once, he did cry after a game, but I'm convinced he was doing it as a joke.) Chad is hilarious, like a parody of TO and all those other over-rated, under-talented, loud-mouthed Cowboys receivers for the past 20 years. Hey TO? Michael Irvin called. He wants his schtick back. But I love me some Chad Ocho Cinco. Pure comedy gold.

YouTube, for all the great sports clips, for Yinz Love Da Guins, and for the fact that YouTube is blocked at work because if it weren't, I probably would not have a job any more.

The Empty Netters blog on the Post Gazette website, and to Seth for linking the Fritz Blitz on his sidebar. Now, maybe we'll get more than three readers a week! Seriously, though, the EN blog is a gold mine of video clips, links, hockey information, humor, and scary pictures of Brooks Orpik. You should definitely check it out if you haven't already.

And finally, I'm most thankful for my co-blogger here, Bob, my hubby, who shares my passion for and love of sports and who keeps me sane and moving in the right direction on a day to day basis. Thanks, honey!


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Quite a compliment

A story about the Cleveland Browns would not be an early candidate for this blog--save for one great quote at the end.
It's not every day you hear a compliment from your fiercest rival, but here it is:
“The Steelers from the 1930s to the 70s, maybe there wasn’t much of an identity. But coach and group of players show up, memorable plays are made and a myth is born, a legend is born and an identity is born. The Rooneys were able to parlay that into another administration under Bill Cowher and kept it together for (37 years) with two coaches. I’m very envious of that.”

Thank you, Mr. Lerner. And good luck with that identity thing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Famous or infamous?

I was surprised to find out that Sunday’s game between the Steelers and the Chargers was the first 11-10 game in NFL history. I’m amazed that there wasn’t at least one other 11-10 game back in the low-scoring days of leather helmets and Bronko Nagurski.

The score gave the game a lot of attention, even outside the sports world. National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” ran a segment on the game, and NPR is as well-known for its sports reporting as modern-day MTV is known for music.

I hope the game isn’t known for less positive reasons before the season’s over.

The part about the game that stuck out for me wasn’t the score, but how it got there.

The story of the game was the officiating. We have heard all about Troy Polamalu’s fumble recovery on the final play that should have resulted in a touchdown, but Pittsburgh was also penalized 13 times for 115 yards, while San Diego was docked twice for five yards. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this blog is not the most objective place on the Internet, but few games are this lopsided in the flag department.

It’s not just the number of penalties against the Steelers, but the overall result that’s suspicious. The penalties, and the blown call on the final play, had the effect of assuring that the Steelers would not cover the 4 ½-point spread.

Most blatant was the pass interference call on Ike Taylor that set up the Chargers’ first-quarter touchdown. Whether Taylor interfered with the receiver should not have been an issue because Philip Rivers’ pass was thrown to a hot dog vendor in the 10th row.

Then there was the holding penalty on Sean McHugh that nullified Willie Parker’s touchdown. McHugh did put the “habeas grabbus” on (thank you, Tunch Ilkin), but I see much worse holding go uncalled in most NFL games. And that touchdown, with the extra point, would have made the score 15-10, covering the spread. Hmm….

Am I paranoid? I think not. Although the NFL would like you to think otherwise, people—including players—have been betting on pro football games as long as there’s been pro football. Paul Hornung and Alex Karras were suspended in 1963 for betting on NFL games. Former Colts QB Art Schlichter may have the most destructive gambling problem of any athlete in modern times.

But most players aren’t going to risk a multi-million dollar career to win thousands on a bet. So, if someone wants to fix a game, what do they do? As the recent NBA scandal has shown, they go to the officials.

Far be it from me to say that Sunday’s game was fixed. I have no access to information that would prove such a thing. But for the good of the sport, the NFL should take a good, serious look at that game’s officiating.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

JoePa: a life

“Hi, I’m Joe Paterno. I’m a football coach. Not very good.”

Such was my introduction to the legend that is Joe Paterno. I interviewed him in the early ‘90s when he and two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin appeared at a benefit for Buckeye Boys Ranch (now The Buckeye Ranch), a home for troubled youth in Grove City, Ohio. For not being a very good coach, he sure has built quite a name for himself. Only 23 bowl wins from 34 bowl appearances, and being named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year in 1986 (the first college football coach to win that title), among many other honors.

I had met many prominent people from the sports world during my career as a sports reporter, but it was special to interview Paterno. Why did he come into the middle of Buckeye territory to speak at this awards banquet? Ultimately, to make a difference in people's lives.

"You never know what sticks in somebody's head," he said. "A lot of these kids will say 'Who's this guy with the funny suit and the big nose and the funny glasses?'"

This was 1991--a time where major challenges lay ahead for Penn State, as it had recently been included in the Big Ten.

"I've always felt that one thing I wouldn't get the chance to do is coach in the Rose Bowl--and that still might happen," he said. It happened in 1994 (Penn State won 38-20) and it will happen again this year.

But he didn't want to talk about himself--he wanted to talk about young people.

"I can't imagine where it would be more fun to be young than it is today," he said. "There's no Iron Curtains and no Berlin Walls...We cannot afford to lose another generation of young people. If we blow this thing now, we're never going to have the opportunity again."

For many college football fans, Joe Paterno is the only head coach Penn State has ever had. That’s literally true for me, since he became head coach in 1966—the year I was born.

Imagine working the same job for 42 years. Most people couldn’t imagine this, even if they liked the job. But while many other coaches have come and gone, JoePa has been synonymous with Penn State. His presence is as old-school as the Nittany Lions’ white uniforms, and his dedication to his players and to education has few rivals in college football.

It is hard to picture Penn State football without Paterno, but that will happen soon. We have seen him continue to coach the team from the press box, through several injuries, but how long will it last?

This season would have been a perfect ending to his career. Penn State seemed destined for a perfect season and a national championship, but it all ended with a one-point loss to Iowa last week. (Yet another case for the playoff that JoePa has long favored.) He will probably retire with two college football championships, which is two more than most coaches have.

There’s still an outside chance at the BCS title, but a lot would have to happen. A Rose Bowl win seems more likely. Still, JoePa will be retired soon, and he will take with him a piece of anybody who follows college football.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cardiac Kids?

Holy Cow, Pens.

I love you guys, you know that. And I love the exciting games. But for the love of all that is holy (and for the love of my fantasy team), could you please stop giving up massive numbers of goals? Thanks.

The Penguins are doing well these days. They continued a win streak into five games, being generous enough to allow the Flyers to have a point as they went into a shootout tied at 4-4 after leading 3-0 in the second period. Why isn't hockey the world's most popular sport? You do not get this kind of excitement from anything else.

The sleeping giant appeared to have awoken on Tuesday in Detroit, as Jordan Staal scored a hat trick and an assist to win the game in OT. He was shut out tonight, though. Sweet Dreams, Jordan. Kris Letang remains pointless this season and remains right up there with Staal as prime trade bait. Coach Therrien gave him a chance tonight to get one in the shootout and his attempt was weak and very unlike him. Fortunately for both these guys, it's still early in the season and there's time for them to pull something out of their hats.

All in all, I'm most impressed with the team play of the Penguins. The defense could be tighter, sure. They depend on Marc-Andre Fleury to do most of their work on them, as evidenced in how differently they play with Dany Sabourin in net. I'm sure that will be addressed in the locker room and in practice ongoing. These guys need to be reminded that even the best goaltender needs help now and then.

The biggest improvement from last year continues to be faceoff wins. Mike Zigomanis, I can't say enough about this guy. He's a great addition to the team, both for winning tons of faceoffs, and for having an awesome name. Zigomanis! That is a beautiful, beautiful hockey name.

Offense in general continues to improve, with passes tightening up, puck control coming along, and finally, finally, some shooting. I don't find myself impotently screaming "SHOOT! SHOOT YOU LOUSY BUMS! SHOOOOT!" at the television nearly as much this season.

A five-game win streak is pretty good, even if some of them were scary wins that were nearly losses. And I can't say enough about that outstanding win in Detroit on Tuesday.


Let me just get this out of the way. Inspired by Steigy talking about how everyone was out there on the ice, whacking. I couldn't find the clip I wanted, so this one will have to do.

Errey-Otica has been spotty the last couple of weeks, due to the west coast road trip, a game on Versus, and my pre-holiday knitting taking more of my attention during games than I like. Bob has been kind enough to take some notes for me, though. These were from last week.

"Sidney Crosby, when he plays with the right guys, he's gonna explode!"

"You can't discount the fact that Souray's got a big rifle back there."

"That's the advantage you have when you have that big gun in the backside."

Tonight brought us Errey between the benches again. While one of the Flyers was prepping his stick for the shootout, Errey made some priceless comments. I'll leave them to your imagination. They're probably not suitable for mixed company.

Until next time-GO PENS!

(No, I'm not sick of this commercial yet. Shut up.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The thin black and gold line

In spite of Sunday’s 24-20 loss to the Colts, the Steelers are still on most people’s short list of NFL playoff contenders. The loss caused them to drop only one spot in ESPN’s weekly power rankings—from #3 to #4.

Much of this respect is due to the Steelers’ defense, which leads the league in total defense (240.3 yards allowed per game) and passing defense (171.1 yards), and is second to the Baltimore Birdies (thanks, Myron) in rushing defense (69.2 yards).

The weakest link, as it has been over the past few seasons, is the offensive line, which could be the biggest thing standing between the Steelers and another Super Bowl.

Consider that Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 28 times so far this season, behind only J.T. O’Sullivan (32) and Matt Cassel (29). Not good company for someone with a Super Bowl ring to be keeping. The sacks are beginning to take their physical toll on Ben, and some pundits are wondering if he isn’t destined for a short career.

The Steelers can’t say they weren’t warned.

Even when the Steelers have been at their best, the biggest mistakes—the sacks, the rushed passes that turn into interceptions, the failed conversions on fourth-and-goal—can be traced directly to the weak offensive line. Things have gotten worse since Alan Faneca left for the big money and bigger expenses of New York City.

The biggest puzzle on draft day was why the Steelers did not address their offensive line needs. I shook my head as they took Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed in the first two rounds, despite the 2008 draft being the most lineman-rich draft in recent memory. The only lineman chosen was Tony Hills in the fourth round. He will take some time to develop, as he ended his college career at Texas with a broken fibula. Hook this ‘Horn for later.

The only new free agent acquisition on the line is center Justin Hartwig, who at least makes fewer high snaps than Sean Mahan.

I’m reminded of the old Isotoner Gloves ad that showed Dan Marino giving his offensive line gloves for Christmas (in Miami?). The slogan: “Take care of the hands that take care of you.”

The Steelers’ first priority for the off-season is finding some hands to take better care of Ben.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

One for the other hand?

My wife has done such a good job blogging about the Penguins that it may appear that we have forgotten about that other team in town. We have not. That’s why there’s a stack of Terrible Towels sitting by the living room chair, and somewhere in this house there’s a novelty football that says “Here we go, Steelers, here we go!” and plays a rather annoying, generic fight song.

While much has been made of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ loss to the New York Giants, the Steelers still have a legitimate shot to win it all this year. If they don’t, they should get a special award for leading the AFC North at this juncture without the benefit of an offensive line.

Almost all the pieces of a championship team are in place. We have Ben Roethlisberger, perhaps the best quarterback in the game. He manages to keep his head and connect with receivers despite being on track to being sacked 75 times this season. I wonder how long he can take that kind of punishment.

Mewelde Moore has been the most pleasant surprise this year, as he has kept the running game going even though the backfield has been devastated by injuries. Signed mainly for special teams duty, Moore has managed to make some big runs in each game since Willie Parker was injured.

Then there is the defense. The Steelers defense has been a sack-fest of a good kind, as LaMarr Woodley has come to the forefront to join James Harrison and James Farrior as one of the NFL’s best defenses at stopping the run. Add to that the great Troy Polamalu, who can get to any spot on the field in an instant, and certainly has the league’s coolest hairdo.

The season isn’t easier from here, although it doesn’t look as hard as many pundits thought back in September. Tomorrow night’s opponents are the Washington Redskins, whom many people are picking as the NFC champion (although they did lose to the St. Louis Rams). Add to that the Colts, Chargers, Patriots and Cowboys, and you have a homestretch that doesn’t look like it’ll break the Steelers, but isn’t chopped liver, either. Who would have thought at the season’s beginning that the most formidable opponent on the schedule would be the Tennessee Titans?

Right now, the spotlight is on the Titans and the Giants, but a Steelers Super Bowl is not out of the question. Remember that, at this point in the 2005 season, the Steelers were also 5-2.

The more things change.

Well, it's been a pretty glum week in Pittsburgh sports here. The Pens stunk up the road trip, redeeming themselves last night against the lowly St Louis Blues. I guess you could say they played pretty FLAT against the Sharks and the Coyotes, but TUNED UP THEIR GAME when they arrived in St. Louis, and left them singing the ... oh, never mind. Too easy.

The Steelers tried pretty hard to beat the Giants last Sunday but ended up losing narrowly after the emotional tide turned when James Harrison snapped a ball over punter Berger's head.
Speaking of that, what with Berger and Reed, who else thinks they need to get someone named Green to be the long snapper? They could be that law firm of Berger, Reed and Green, the one that runs those silly ads with the randomly exploding trucks and crash-test crashes in the background.
I have grave concerns about the Steelers hopes moving forward. There are too many injuries, and the offensive line is starting to look like the Detroit Lions Swinging Door Offensive Line that Charlie Batch still has nightmares about.

Moving on.

Penn State appears to be staying in the #3 slot because if there's a team from Texas in the running for the BCS, they have to be ranked higher because of TV ratings or some obscure Mason-Dixon Reparations Law or something. I think Penn State has a good chance at the national title this year, which would be great for Joe Paterno. I've always loved Joe Pa, I don't know why. I think because he reminds me of my family. Plus, he's old. I like to see good things happen to old people. More so as I get older.

Pitt is doing surprisingly not-bad. They managed to squeak out a win against Charlie Weis's Notre Dame team yesterday, in OT. I have nothing against Charlie Weis personally but I have an axe to grind with anyone who has been with Bill Belichick within the past ten years or so. In fact, I kinda laughed at Charlie's first season with Notre Dame, wondering if it was difficult for him without having the other team's signals. Anyway, Dave Wannstedt managed to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory yesterday and good for him. I can't help but feel it won't last.

In other Pitt news, Agnus Berenato got herself a well-deserved new contract from Pitt. Perhaps women's basketball will experience a renaissance here in the Burgh, and we'll get a WNBA team when we get the new arena, and daisies will bloom in February, and there will be ponies for everyone, and then I'll wake up. Oh, darn.

(Speaking of axes to grind, eh?)

The clocks have been turned back an hour and there's not much to do outside right now, the Giants beat up on the Cowboys and Treehouse of Horror is about to start, so to close, here's the top ten Mike Lange goal calls as posted on YouTube by the terrific hockey clip-aggregator DayWalk3r.

In other local YouTube goodness, be sure to check out Deck of Jack's "Yinz Love the Guins" and "Yinz Love the Stillers".

Definitely worth subscribing to. The one where they take Mike Tomlin out for ice cream is pure comedy gold.

Until next time, whenever that is...