Saturday, December 12, 2009

First to worst?

The Pittsburgh Steelers might be the worst team in the NFL at this moment.

You might think that’s an exaggeration, but look at the teams they’ve lost to lately. The Kansas City Chiefs. The Oakland Raiders. The Cleveland Browns. These are among the bottom feeders of the league. While they don’t have the worst record (because they did well earlier), I don’t think they could beat any team right now.

Many reasons are being offered for their miserable performance. There are some that need to be reviewed.

The play calling is not what it was during last year’s Super Bowl season. There have been some calls that have been mystifying. The Raiders game started to unravel when the decision was made to go for a 53-yard field goal. Jeff Reed missed it and Oakland turned it into an easy score.

Injuries have not helped. Many people have talked about Troy Polamalu being out for much of the season. Less attention has been paid to the injury to Aaron Smith, one of the major playmakers on defense. The concussion sustained by Ben Roethlisberger has not helped, either, although Dennis Dixon did not do badly as the backup against the Ravens.

It has even been suggested that President Obama is to blame for sending Dan Rooney to Ireland. Sounds like another excuse for right-wingers to bash Obama, but what do I know?

The offense has been reluctant to use the run for some reason. Even though Rashard Mendenhall was the star in the Broncos game—the Steelers’ last win—the offense has been going to the air too soon and too often. This is, or can be, a power offense. Why are they afraid to run more?

The weakest part of the team lately has been the secondary. While Polamalu may well not come back this season, the remainder of the secondary has not done well. Look at the Oakland game. The Steelers were beaten by big plays—long passes with no defender within 10 yards of the receiver. The receivers were unknown outside of Oakland. There was Louis Murphy, and I can’t remember the name of the other guy. We’re not talking about Randy Moss here. The draft should concentrate on cornerback and safety.

The offensive line has been inconsistent. In the Steelers’ wins, they have played impeccably and opened holes for the running attack. At their worst (Thursday’s Browns game), they have folded like an accordion and given defenders a straight shot to Roethlisberger’s head.

Special teams have been awful, with several return touchdowns allowed and at least one big return guaranteed in each game. Jeff Reed’s non-attempts at tackling have made ESPN’s “C’mon, Man!” more than once.

But what it comes down to is a lack of desire. Something is missing. This team just doesn’t want to win. You could see it in the Browns game. This was a team going through the motions, one with no drive, one that might as well not show up.

There are three more games left, and they will not be easy. The Packers, Ravens and Dolphins are all fighting for playoff spots. The Steelers? It’s really hard to ask professional athletes to play for pride, but what’s left?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Penguins 4, Avalanche 1.

Tonight, from the mind of Bob Errey.

"You gotta have that fire in your pit!"

"The Avs, over by the bench, you can throw a blanket over them! (I still don't know what that means.)

"The Pens just want to keep their sticks down and keep their hands off of bodies!"

"Billy Guerin, you could see it in his voice!"

Monday, November 30, 2009

You can't make this stuff up

Hopefully, I'll be able to do this more often since Errey Blog is on indefinite hiatus. (and missed!)

Errey-Otica from tonight's Pens game:

"When you see a guy the size and thickness of a Donald Brashear coming at you, you just learn to avoid it!"

"Get it out of my crease! How many times has Sean Avery been on top of Marc-Andre Fleury?"

About Sergei Gonchar: "It looked like he was holding the stick there. I don't know what he was holding!"

Steigy: "Avery is like a Zamboni!"
Errey : "I feel sorry for him! Poor guy."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Obesiance has been made.

Last time Bob posted, it was to remind folks what happens when they besmirch the Terrible Towel.

At the time, Bob suggested "It would be a great gesture for the Titans to make a donation to Allegheny Valley School, perhaps accompanied by a visit to Myron Cope’s grave at Chartiers Cemetery in Carnegie."

Well, guess what happened?

Story here.

"LenDale and Keith wish you all the best. P.S., Please release the curse," a note included with the autographed towel said.

The Titans have won every game since. The autographed Towel sold on Ebay for $1475, benefitting Allegheny Valley School.

Do not mess with the Terrible Towel! Myron Cope's power reaches from beyond the grave to ensure your doom should you besmirch the noble symbol of his love for the Steelers and the school that helped his son and countless other children live a fulfilling life.

And I do notice that the Bengals lost today, to the lowly Raiders, after some fans of theirs unwisely posted video on YouTube of the immolation of the Terrible Towel. We shall see what the Cincy Bungles must do to release THAT curse!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Remember, The Titans?

To the Tennessee Titans publicity department:

I certainly do not envy your current task. To some degree, I can relate to it. I once worked in sports information for my college football team which went 0-10 my junior year. I know how frustrating a winless season can be.

All the pundits are having their say as to why the Titans are 0-6 and coming off a humiliating 59-0 loss to Tom Brady. Too many injuries, bad defense, Jeff Fisher is through, I’m sure you’ve heard them all.

Everybody up here in da ‘Burgh knows the real reason.

It’s because the Titans stomped on the Terrible Towel.

I’m serious. When several Titans trampled the Terrible Towel after their 31-14 win over the Steelers last year, they had no idea how much bad karma they unleashed. The Titans haven’t won a game since. Do you think that’s just a coincidence?

But your team and their fans are in luck. There is a chance to redeem yourselves, and probably save Jeff Fisher’s job, too.

The Terrible Towel is more than just a stadium accessory. Sales of the Towel benefit the Allegheny Valley School for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Terrible Towel was created by the late Myron Cope, the longtime Steelers radio announcer whose son, David, is a resident at the school.

It would be a great gesture for the Titans to make a donation to Allegheny Valley School, perhaps accompanied by a visit to Myron Cope’s grave at Chartiers Cemetery in Carnegie.

Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. The Titans can still go 10-6….

Bob Fritz
Penn Hills, PA

Monday, September 21, 2009

Here we go, Steelers, sreleetS, og ew ereH

After two games, not only are the Steelers 1-1, but their stats are remarkably symmetrical.
The Black and Gold has scored 27 points--and given up 27 points. Their home record is 1-0--their road record, 0-1. Their conference record is 1-0--their non-conference record, 0-1.
Things will have to improve, though. Not many 8-8 teams make the playoffs.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A homer's NFL preview

Predicting an NFL season is not one of the easiest tasks in sports. With a salary structure that almost guarantees parity, there are always a few surprises. If you had the Arizona Cardinals going to the Super Bowl at this time last year, please e-mail me your predictions for this year, because I’ve got a hole in the bathroom wall that I’d really like to fix.

Nevertheless, I will make a few predictions;

*A receiver will make headlines by being a jerk.
*At least one NFL player will be arrested at some point in the season.
*Tom Brady’s name will be mentioned by the media more often than all Jacksonville Jaguars put together.
*My wife and I will go crazy once a week between now and, we hope, February.

* - Wild Card
AFC East
Miami 11-5
Pioneers of the Wildcat offense and a team headed in the right direction.
New England 8-8
Misses the playoffs again with no controversy this time.
NY Jets 7-9
Mark Sanchez could be one of the greats, but it will take a while.
Buffalo 4-12
Lots of drama from T.O. and not much else.

AFC North
Pittsburgh 14-2
New players fill in the remaining gaps—have they gotten even better?
Baltimore 8-8
Flacco figures to improve, but age catching up on defense?
Cincinnati 7-9
The most interesting floor show in the league. Enjoy.
Cleveland 5-11
QB controversy continues, Stallworth suspended, not much progress.

AFC West
San Diego 13-3
Truly dominant in a weak division. LT will have another awesome year.
Kansas City 8-8
Someone has to be second here.
Oakland 6-10
Fistfights between coaches are not a good omen.
Denver 4-12
These are the Broncos that Hank Scorpio gave to Homer Simpson.

AFC South
Houston 11-5
This is the year that they put it together.
*Tennessee 8-8
Winning one for the Gipper takes them to a wild card.
*Indianapolis 8-8
Age starting to catch up with this group, too.
Jacksonville 5-11
Home game blackouts? Bet they’ll be in L.A. by 2013.

NFC East
Philadelphia 10-6
The battle royal: Eagles fans vs. PETA in the parking lot before the game.
NY Giants 9-7
WR is the big question. Who doesn’t love to hear Chris Berman say, “GEEE-men!”?
Dallas 9-7
The billion dollar stadium! The scoreboard! The egos! Only in Dallas.
Washington 5-11
Has any other sports franchise spent so much to get so little?

NFC North
Minnesota 11-5
Favre gets the headlines, but the real star is Adrian Peterson.
*Green Bay 10-6
Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers comes into his own and Pack fans forget Brent.
Chicago 8-8
Not sure getting Cutler was a great bargain.
Detroit 5-11
Matthew Stafford is Bill Clinton’s love child.

NFC West
Arizona 11-5
No fluke. Solid at nearly every position.
*San Francisco 10-6
Singletary has this team ready to surprise. Anything to keep him from dropping trou.
Seattle 7-9
Which Seahawks will we see this year? One of the league’s question marks.
St. Louis 4-10
This is the year they start going up.

NFC South
Atlanta 10-6
Now that Matt Ryan knows not to give away his counts, look out.
New Orleans 9-7
Highest-octane offense around. Who says Arena Football is dead?
Carolina 7-9
Trouble in the front office, looked bad in preseason. This division’s Seahawks.
Tampa Bay 5-11
Rebuilding in first year with coach Raheem Morris. This division’s Rams.

AFC Wild Card:
Miami over Indianapolis
Houston over Tennessee

NFC Wild Card:
Atlanta over San Francisco
Green Bay over Philadelphia

AFC Second Round:
Pittsburgh over Houston
San Diego over Miami

NFC Second Round:
Green Bay over Minnesota
Atlanta over Arizona

AFC Championship
Pittsburgh over San Diego
Atlanta over Green Bay

Super Bowl XLIV:
Pittsburgh 27, Atlanta 13

Well, what did you expect me to say? GO STEELERS!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Not almost heaven

I had not seen the West Virginia Derby since 2003, when Soto held off Dynever in a thrilling stretch duel in pouring-down rain.

That was also the last time I’d seen horses go around a racetrack with my own eyes.

That’s right. I once made my living by watching nine or more races each day, but grown-up responsibilities have limited my racing enjoyment to simulcasting at OTBs—and even then, only twice a year (the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup).

But when I found out that Mine That Bird was running in the West Virginia Derby, I had to go. I pulled all the racetrack memories out of the recesses of my brain and couldn’t recall ever seeing a Kentucky Derby winner who wasn’t on TV.

So Jamie and I made the trip to Chester, W.Va., to Mountaineer Park to see the West Virginia Derby. Mountaineer is allegedly a 30-minute drive from Pittsburgh, but construction and (I think) a major accident made the trip almost two hours. By the time we got there, the fourth race had just been run. Bear in mind that there was a time when I would have gone into a Rain Man-style fit of rage if I missed the first race of a given program. Nowadays, it’s more like, “Wow, that New Cumberland sure is a pretty town.”

We’d been to Mountaineer before (one of our first dates was there), but we were not prepared for what we saw. There were cars parked along the far turn, along the backstretch, and into the casino area. People were walking frantically from the casino lot to get to the track. A guard told me the parking lot was full, but he let me drop Jamie off at the front gate and turn around. I wound up parking by the three-eighths pole.

Inside, we found places to sit on a bench in the grandstand, which was a throwback to the days when the track was called Waterford Park, the home of the $1,500 claimers. The area where we sat was next to a section that was (albeit lamely) roped off due to construction. That area had the first few rows of benches missing, with several ladders lying on the floor. Mountaineer Park is apparently going into the home repair business as a sideline. People cut through the area all afternoon, and one man almost fell.

I headed for the concession stands, only to find a line stretching all the way across the grandstand (50 feet, maybe?). I found the vending machines, only to find they were out of Coke and Sprite, so I headed back to the Home Depot Annex with two Vaults and a bag of pretzels.

The heat started to be too much for Jamie, so she went inside to play the nickel slots (only to be chased out by cigarette smoke later). I waited in line for 10 to 15 minutes before each race to make my bets, but I hit a couple of exactas and began to feel as if I were a kid hanging out in the Beulah Park grandstand again.

Then it was time for the West Virginia Derby. Jamie and I went down to the rail—I should say near the rail, as we couldn’t get down to it. Jamie took some pictures of Mine That Bird with her cell phone (I had been told, apparently wrongly, that cameras were not allowed) and the crowd cheered as he walked by. With horse racing being eclipsed by other sports and forms of gambling, it’s reassuring to hear people applauding a champion.

Mine that Bird at the WVA Derby

He did not win. My guess is that Mike Smith got scared when Big Drama stole off a big early lead and made his move too soon. Mine That Bird is a deep closer and just can’t be rushed. Soul Warrior became another one of many longshot winners of this race.

I didn’t have Soul Warrior, but I still had some tickets and vouchers to cash in. The lines back at the grandstand windows were too long, so I looked for any other window—past hundreds of slot machines, up and down three flights of stairs (the elevator was broken), and finally wound up in the clubhouse dining room, where I found a window with no line.

Maybe Mountaineer wasn’t expecting Mine That Bird to enter the race and didn’t have time to prepare for a crowd of over 20,000. Maybe they just don’t care about the racing end of the facility anymore.

In any case, the track needs to get its act together the next time a Kentucky Derby winner pays a visit. With the West Virginia Derby purse now at $750,000, it will happen again.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A One Man Band

The entire Cleveland Cavaliers team owes LeBron James an apology. Including, and maybe especially, Mike Brown.

That young man did everything he could to put the city of Cleveland on his back and drag it, singlehandedly, to the NBA finals. Shame on the rest of the team, and shame on Mike Brown for his ineffective and lazy coaching. LeBron deserves better.

I'll start the movement right here. Fire Mike Brown.

Lord Stanley's Cup

It's a million little things.

It's the work in the corners. The backchecking. The sparks of inspiration at the right time. The deals for just the right players. The pain of last year. The hope of this year. The love of the fans. The hate of the opponents. The tradition of hockey and of sportsmanship from time immemorial.

It all starts, and finishes, tonight.


Monday, May 18, 2009

The real winner?

The history books will say that Mine That Bird won the 2009 Kentucky Derby and Rachel Alexandra won the 2009 Preakness, but that might not prove to be the real story.

The real winner could be horse racing itself.

This is the first time in a few years that I’ve seen the sports world this excited about horse racing. Mine That Bird’s 50-1 victory put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated and jockey Calvin Borel on The Tonight Show. Rachel Alexandra’s game win was the top story on SportsCenter and has a nation anticipating a rematch in the Belmont.

For all the recent talk about horse racing’s decline—and its many problems that have not gone away—the rumors of its death may be greatly exaggerated.

There was another time when horse racing was on a downward arc. General anti-gambling sentiment hit America around the turn of the 20th century. Many tracks closed. Churchill Downs went bankrupt, and the Kentucky Derby was a relatively minor stakes.

Key to the Derby’s resurrection—and the sport’s in general—were wins by a longshot and a filly.

First there was Donerail’s victory at 91-1 in the 1913 Derby—still the longest shot to win the race. Then there was Regret, who was undefeated when she became the first filly to win the Derby in 1915. These were the first in a series of notable wins in the 1910s and 1920s that brought the Derby back into the national spotlight and helped to make horse racing one of America’s most popular spectator sports.

Other sports have gone through down cycles, too. SI ran an article declaring the NBA dead—the year before Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were drafted. The NHL was off network TV for years, but now it’s on NBC and several cable channels. And, while I don’t really consider it a sport—but it proves my point—professional wrestling was late-night TV filler before the Wrestlemania phenomenon of the 1980s.

Could we be seeing the beginnings of a Thoroughbred renaissance? Can horse racing be the top story on SportsCenter more than twice a year? Will we soon see Calvin Borel stickers next to NASCAR decals on people’s cars?

Stranger things have happened….

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

One for the ages

The best NHL playoff series I have ever seen ended in ignominy for the Capitals, who, frankly, deserved better. They didn't deserve to win, not the way they played, but they deserved a close game. But as ever in the sands of time, the Penguins have the Capitals' number, again and again and again. And I will not complain.

In an epic win, one big statistic stands out. The Pengins did not take one single penalty. Not one. I wonder what the stat miners will make of that?

On to the Eastern Conference Finals, versus either the Hurricanes or the Bruins. Bring 'em on.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pre-game jitters

What a great kid Geno Malkin is. Can you imagine a young hot-shot player in any other sport (and even most other hockey players) saying so sincerely how much he loves his dad? And his parents are likewise awesome.

Tonight's game six against the Capitals could be decisive. The Penguins took a while to find their stride this series, but they appear to have settled in well with Saturday's win at Washington. They were able to mostly contain Ovechkin and Varlamov, the exceptional rookie goaltender, is showing a great deal of vulnerability. Most impressive of all, though, is the way Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi are matching up against Ovechkin's line.

The team is keeping mum about Sergei Gonchar's injury for now but I'm really hoping it's not that serious, and thinking it probably ended his season. I'm sure I'm being a total homer here, but to me, that was a fineable, suspension-worthy dirty hit. There is no other reason he had to stick out his leg that way except intent to do harm.

I plan to try to get back to blogging here more often again but for now life is kind of in the way. In the meantime, GO PENS!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mine That Bird?

Mine That Bird.

Mine That Bird.

Days later, it’s still hard to believe. Mine That Bird, last seen finishing off the board in the Sunland Park Derby, will have his name on Kentucky Derby mint julep glasses for as long as they make them.

I don’t know of a single serious handicapper who had him. I had to cash in a voucher at the OTB after the Derby, and the line was comprised of a handful of drunks who liked the name.

One wag noted that there are probably some rich ornithologists out there. Maybe some Charlie Parker fans, too. I imagine Peter Griffin had him:

So now, Andy Beyer, Randy Moss (not that one) and all the other public handicappers are trying to figure it out. Remembering my dad’s admonition that “they all look good after the race,” I submit the following:

1. Mine That Bird enjoys running through a moat. There was no evidence of this in his past performances, as he had not raced on an off track before last Saturday. While he had some off-track ability in his bloodline, so did several others in the field. There are just some eventualities that you can’t predict in this game.

2. This is a weak 3-year-old crop (forget about Rachel Alexandra for the moment), made worse by several key injuries. By the time the Derby came around, the top four finishers in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile were all out of action, as were the two best hopefuls to arise from the Derby preps, I Want Revenge and Quality Road. But even so, several of this year’s Derby entrants would have wound up in the Withers or the Federico Tesio at this time last season because they wouldn’t have had enough graded stakes earnings. Mine That Bird didn’t have to beat as much as he would have in some other years.

3. To paraphrase the salesmen in The Music Man, Calvin Borel knows the territory. Borel must have been really good to some old man who plays Skee Ball (inside joke for you Dogma fans) at some point. In two of the last three Derbys, “Bo-Rail” has made his patented (OK, he hasn’t really patented it, but maybe he should) move from far back along the Churchill rail, and the holes opened up for him at the right time.

4. It could be that Mine That Bird is better than his prep race form suggests. He was named Canada’s 2-year-old of the year, which is not chopped liver. The Preakness will tell whether the gelding is a one-hit wonder. Remember that Canonero II—who came to the 1971 Derby off a loss in a $3,500 handicap in Venezuela—shocked the world with his victory, then followed it up by setting a track record while winning the Preakness.

There is one thing we know for sure.

The legend of the Kentucky Derby has gotten bigger.

If you missed it, or just want to relive it, sit back and enjoy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The obligatory 2009 Kentucky Derby blog entry

Many Kentucky Derbys have had 20 starters, but I haven’t seen a recent one where the pool of talent was shallower.

Several horses that would not have had the graded earnings to break into the field in past years have, due to attrition, been able to give their owners free access to the best Derby parties, and little else.

Consider that six horses each have only a maiden win, and only three have won a Grade 1 stakes. One of the race’s “buzz” horses, Dunkirk, is eligible for a non-winners-of-three allowance.

Then there are horses that have raced on synthetic tracks in all or most of their starts. Synthetic surfaces are as different from dirt as dirt is from turf. The Derby is not the place to make your dirt debut. Note that none of the top four finishers in the 2008 Derby had raced on a synthetic track. I don’t think that was just a coincidence. (Nor was it Just A Coincidence—he ran last week.)

All this has made my handicapping a bit easier this year—almost too easy.

My first group of horses to eliminate is those who are clearly overmatched: Mine That Bird, Join In The Dance, Atomic Rain, Nowhere to Hide, and Flying Private.

Then there are those who have not started on dirt, or have shown poor form on dirt: Mr. Hot Stuff, Advice, Hold Me Back, Chocolate Candy, and Pioneerof The Nile.

Which leaves us with 10 horses.

Regal Ransom and Desert Party—Here we go again. Sheikh Mohammed is determined to have things his way by prepping his horses in Dubai instead of the U.S. This has not worked in the past, and I don’t see this year being an exception. These horses’ 2-year-old starts in the U.S. were not outstanding enough to overcome the unorthodox training strategy (although you might want to throw Desert Party in your exotics if the track is muddy). It’s also telling that Frankie Dettori didn’t come over to ride one of them.

Summer Bird—I was looking at this one as a live longshot after the move he made at the end of the Arkansas Derby until I looked at his past performances. March 1 of the 3-year-old year is the latest racing debut for a Derby starter I can recall. His connections are asking for too much, too soon.

Dunkirk—I’ve never seen so much support at the Derby for a horse who has never won a stakes. Trainer Todd Pletcher blamed a slow pace for Dunkirk’s loss in the Florida Derby. In what universe is six furlongs in 1:10.3 slow? Watch the replay of that race and you’ll see that he just couldn’t stay with Quality Road down the lane.

General Quarters—He’s been one of the feel-good stories because his owner-trainer is a 75-year-old retired teacher. He looked good in the Sam F. Davis (and the Blue Grass, of course, but that was on a rubber track), where he handed Musket Man his only loss. I watched both the Davis and the Tampa Bay Derby (where Musket Man won) and didn’t see a real excuse for either loss. Then again, all races at Tampa Bay Downs look like a stampede through a sandbar. I prefer Musket Man because his overall record is more consistent.

And now, in honor of Dr. Demento, it’s Funny Five time!

5. WEST SIDE BERNIE—Every year, there’s a plodder who comes in third or fourth and messes up everybody’s gimmicks. This one is a late-closer with dirt experience, and he’s been getting a share of the purse against the big boys. He could be this year’s Denis of Cork.

4. MUSKET MAN—Don’t overlook a horse who has never been off the board, especially one with that all-important dirt experience.

3. FRIESAN FIRE—The karma choice. After all the undeserved abuse his connections have taken after Eight Belles’ death last year, it would be so great for them—and the sport—to see them win it all. I would feel a little better, though, if the horse’s last race weren’t seven weeks ago. Could move up one—or two—notches if the track is sloppy.

2. PAPA CLEM—I thought of him as a one-dimensional speedball, but the Arkansas Derby reverses that judgment. He showed that he doesn’t need the lead, and his kind of tactical speed is very dangerous in the Derby.

Call me a chalk-eating weasel, but on paper and on video, there is a clear number one this year….

1. I WANT REVENGE—He was just one of several contenders on the West Coast plasti-tracks, but a move to the New York dirt gave him another gear. Reminds me of what happened when Cigar was moved from turf to dirt. If you have any doubts, just watch this:

Anything that could have gone wrong did for I Want Revenge in the Wood—a horrible start, traffic problems in the stretch, and a pace that was down to a crawl—but he still won. Barring a true disaster, I don’t see what else the Derby could throw at him.

That’s it. Your mileage may vary.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

La Coupe Stanley

La Coupe Stanley. I just love to say that. I don’t know why. There’s just something about mixing French and English that seems weird.

It may not be the most popular sports championship, but it is certainly one of the biggest. Literally. I can’t think of any team sports trophy that has the names of every team winner engraved on it. It’s the sports trophy answer to 6-foot-7, 263-pound Hal Gill.

It’s also the only sports championship where the sport is a totally different game than the regular season.

Sure, it’s still hockey, in that 12 players with sticks will bat a puck back and forth across a sheet of ice. But the intensity makes it a completely different game. When announcers say, during a lively stretch of a regular season game, that the teams are playing “tournament hockey,” it’s a big compliment.

The NHL has the longest season of all the major American sports, in a sport that is rivaled only by football in toughness. It’s impossible to maintain intensity from October to June, so there are bound to be lulls in the action. Try to stay awake at 1 a.m. as the Penguins play the L.A. Kings in December, and you’ll wonder how you became a hockey fan.

But all that is forgotten this week as 16 teams spend all their reserves in pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

A good example is Wednesday’s 4-1 Game 1 win by the Penguins over the Philadelphia Flyers. The Penguins have been improving steadily over the past few weeks with the addition of Coach Dan Bylsma, the return to action of powerful shooter Sergei Gonchar, and skillful trades that brought Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz and Craig Adams to the ‘Burgh. But Wednesday night, they reached yet another level, including a 33-27 edge in shots and a 38-21 advantage on faceoffs.

Regardless of who your team is, they will play like you’ve never seen them before in the next few days. Everybody wants to win La Coupe Stanley.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Picking up the Pen (s)

I'm going to tempt the fates here and deliver a mini-analysis of what's gone right with the Penguins since Dan Bylsma took over as head coach. The turn-around has been nothing short of stunning. Since Bylsma took over on February 16th, the team has lost just two out of 18 games in regulation time, and lost only three games in OT or shootouts, taking one point. They have won 13 games, three of those in OT or shootouts. The Pens came into Bylsma's term with 58 points. Headed into the final seven games of the season, a team that had a slim to none chance of making the playoffs now sits firmly if a tad uncomfortably in sixth place, with 88 points and a bit of wiggle room either way that could, potentially, get them into a home-ice situation in the first round depending on how other teams do.

I'll let you think on that for a minute. 30 points since Bylsma took over, in 18 games. Freaking unbelievable.

Now, not for one second do I believe the coaching change is responsible for all of that. The dead, stinking albatross-like weight of Ryan Whitney was finally eliminated from the shoulders of the team. Defensive leader Sergei Gonchar came roaring back with a vengance, earning 15 points in 18 games. And late trading was good to the Penguins, with the additions of Chris Kunitz, Bill Guerin, and Craig Adams.

Still, could Michel Therrien have done the same with the same circumstances? I doubt it. In hockey, sometimes a team is just done with a coach, and as much as I like Therrien and as great as his results were last year, it was apparent that the players were through with him. It's a little sad, but it's not the first time this has happened to a hockey coach, and it won't be the last. Therrien understands that, as does Bylsma, I'm sure. It's tough to keep everyone on your side and working to their full potential when things start to go bad, and Therrien was unable to stop the skid. Good luck to him, wherever he ends up.

In the meantime, Dan Bylsma has a fired-up team, and excited fan base, and a stellar record in his brief tenure. Here's hoping he can continue the success deep into the playoffs, and here's hoping that, if he doesn't, the team will continue to perform for him next year if GM Shero keeps him on.

In other news, I found this sweet Mario Lemieux commercial from 1987 on youtube while I was looking for something else.

Love that two-toned grey Blazer. I'll bet Mario doesn't drive one of those any more.

Here's what I was looking for, the "Great Day for Hockey" commercial featuring Evgeni Malkin. It's not as good as I wanted it to be since it's just recorded from someone's television set, but it's an awesome commercial because it really showcases Malkin's skills as a player and how he sees the game.

Hopefully at some point I can find a better copy.

A random bit of Errey-Otica.

(Be sure to check out Erreyblog for the best coverage of Bob and Steigy's verbal pulchritude.)

"There's five guys on that puck! Just throw a blanket over them!" WHAT????

Until next time...

Thursday, March 26, 2009



Pitt makes the Elite 8.

The Penguins are on track to a solid playoff position after a VERY shaky couple of months.

And I haven't been blogging much here.


You decide.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A pre-emptive strike

After being upset by West Virginia in the Big East Tournament, you may need to be convinced that the Pitt men’s basketball team is headed for big things in the NCAA Tournament.

Don’t worry. Check with Pittsburgh City Council.

Council has given its preliminary approval to legislation that would ban upholstered couches from outdoor use. What does this have to do with the NCAAs?

For one thing, putting indoor couches on your porch doesn’t make aesthetic sense. It sounds like the perfect setup for a Jeff Foxworthy joke. But I think Council has another issue on its mind.

Council wants to deter Pitt fans from burning couches should they win the Big Dance.

Furniture burning has become a dubious tradition after sporting events. Stories of couch-burning after the Ohio State-Michigan or Pitt-West Virginia football game have become legendary.

The latest episode occurred after Super Bowl XLIII, when all the local news channels had their cameras fixed on a single, burning couch in the middle of Forbes Avenue.

I don’t understand the phenomenon. Maybe you have to be a college student (and very drunk), but I’d really like to see one of those kids make payments on a couch from IKEA and then set it on fire.

(And, yes, it scares me that I sound like my dad now.)

All the same, I don’t think City Council would be in a hurry to pass this legislation if Pitt were a nine-seed.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Drive-by post

I'll tell you what, if nobody in the NBA is smart enough to draft Levance Fields, they don't deserve him. That kid is the best point guard I've seen since Jen Rizzotti.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What the great ones do

It really shows my age that I remember when heavyweight championship boxing matches were broadcast on network TV. Not pay-per-view, not even cable, but good old ABC.

One fight I’ll never forget was the 1976 bout between Muhammad Ali and Jimmy Young. My opinion of Ali has mellowed over the years, but back then, I found his “I Am The Greatest” schtick more annoying than charming. So I always rooted against him, to no avail.

Then came the Ali-Young fight. Young clearly outfought the champ throughout, and even Howard Cosell sensed an upset in the making. Imagine my shock when Ali won by unanimous decision.

My brother, Joe, wasn’t shocked. He said, “If you’re going to beat the champ, you have to knock him out.”

Many boxing pundits think that Young was robbed, but that’s beside the point here. In many of his fights, Ali did just what he had to do to win—and that’s why he could call himself “The Greatest.”

The same can be said about the Super Bowl XLIII Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Most of their wins weren’t pretty. Some were the source of controversy, and most left them open to criticism. But they did what they had to do to win.

Consider the two regular-season matchups between the Steelers and the hated Baltimore Ravens. The first game went into overtime and ended with three points off of Jeff Reed’s toe, 23-20. The rivalry was as intense as the score was close. Running back Rashard Mendenhall was injured by a hit from Ray Lewis, and much trash talk was heard in the media for weeks when Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs claimed that a bounty had been put out on Mendenhall and wide receiver Hines Ward.

The rematch did little to resolve those issues. It climaxed with a controversial play in which Santonio Holmes was credited with a touchdown after review for a 13-9 win. Whether the ball crossed the goal line is something that is still being argued all the way from here to Baltimore.

There was also the game against the San Diego Chargers, the first 11-10 game in NFL history. It, too, ended in controversy as a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown by Troy Polamalu was negated by a questionable call.

Add to that the 20-13 come-from-behind win over the drama-ridden Dallas Cowboys on the late interception for a TD by Deshea Townsend—and, finally, the 27-23 Super Bowl victory in which Holmes kept both feet inbounds for one of the most memorable moments in Super Bowl history.

Through this season, detractors have passed these close wins off as dumb luck. Come on. I can see a blown call being worth one or two wins a season, but nobody wins the Super Bowl on luck alone. Faced with one of the toughest schedules in recent NFL seasons, the Steelers did just what they needed to do to beat most of their opponents.

The result? A sixth Super Bowl victory, and one that was more than earned—by doing just enough to win.

That’s what the great ones do.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Happy Football-mas!

All the analysis that can be done has been done. Everyone, hopefully, is prepared. Now all that's left is to play the game.

My prediction-Steelers 35, Cardinals 14. I don't actually care about the score, though. It all depends on how well we can cover Larry Fitzgerald and scare Kurt Warner.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The greatest sports franchise?

We’ve made it this far.

::catches his breath and pinches himself again::

It’s still a bit hard to believe that the Steelers are in Super Bowl XLIII, with as many rough patches as we’ve hit this year. (And if it’s hard for me to believe, I can’t imagine what Cardinals fans must be thinking!) Then again, a Super Bowl seemed inconceivable to me in October of the 2005 season.

The Super Bowl is being analyzed to death, as usual. Will Hines Ward play? Will Ben Roethlisberger post a passer rating that media pundits won’t make fun of for years to come? How many Bruce Springsteen songs will we hear this week?

I’m not going to analyze the nuances of every position and matchup, mainly because I have a life and am not getting paid to write this blog. Instead, I’m going to talk about the team behind the team.

An ESPN columnist recently put forth the proposition that the Steelers are the greatest sports franchise—which, of course, set the message board on fire. And a case can be made for many different pro sports teams.

In baseball, there are the Yankees. In the 1950s, they would be the only candidate for the honor, but they have lost some of their luster, mainly because baseball has lost its luster. The steroids scandal looms large over the sport, and the lack of a salary cap has given the Yankees the reputation as “the best team money can buy.”

Within the NFL, some will say that the Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team.” In the NBA, arguments can be made for the Celtics and Lakers. Quite a few hockey fans voted for the Montreal Canadiens. If I looked deep enough on the board, there was probably some Brit making a case for Manchester United.

Only the truly blind fans of any of those teams can hold out against the Steelers as the greatest franchise.

I moved here in November 2002 (I will always remember it as the day the Steelers and Falcons tied), and it didn’t take long to get caught in Steelermania. When a co-worker was selling tickets to a game the next year, I jumped at the chance.

It was, technically, a meaningless game against the Chargers. It was December and both teams had been eliminated from the playoffs. The temperature was in the 20s—not ideal conditions to sit seven rows from the top of Heinz Field.

You wouldn’t have known that by looking at the fans. The parking lot was filled with tailgaters and the place was as packed as if a playoff spot were on the line.

But fan fervor isn’t the only thing that makes Steelers fans great. Win or lose, we do it with class. While there are exceptions, as a rule, you would never see Steelers fans pelting the turf with beer bottles or cheering over an injured player. And, as far as I know, Heinz Field does not have, or need, its own jail.

This was borne out in the AFC Championship Game when Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee was taken off the field on a stretcher after a scary neck injury. The sound in a stadium is far louder than it sounds on TV, and it was with pride that I could clearly hear Steelers fans shout, “Good luck, Willis!” as the gurney wheeled past.

Whatever happens on Saturday, I’m sure that the vast Steeler Nation will continue to represent the greatest sports franchise with class.

Steelers 31, Cardinals 17.

Monday, January 12, 2009

When everybody shows up

After a season of teasing us with glimpses of greatness, the real Pittsburgh Steelers stood up Sunday.

With a few minor glitches, the Steelers played as if their jobs depended on it (which may have been true for some of them) and turned in the best game of the season.

The NFL playoffs have been a real nightmare so far if you bet the favorites. The Steelers were the only fave among last week’s winners, as well as the only home team. And the only one not named for a bird, whatever that means.

What the playoffs have lacked in predictability, they should make up for in excitement, as the final four (yeah, I know, that’s basketball talk) are all teams with checkered regular seasons that are peaking at the right time.

I never thought I would use the phrases “Arizona Cardinals” and “NFC Championship” in the same sentence—but I just did. The Cardinals have, at least in my lifetime, been one of the most hapless sports franchises. I was nine when they last won their division in 1975. Prior to this year, they had won one playoff game since their 1947 NFL Championship. This year’s NFC West title was dismissed by many (including me) as the result of playing in football’s worst division, and a pitiful game in New England in December didn’t help, but the Cardinals have proven the skeptics wrong with upsets over the Falcons and Panthers in the playoffs.

They face the Philadelphia Eagles, who sneaked into the wild card picture with some help, then earned their spot in Week 17 with a blowout of the Cowboys. Their season has been a rollercoaster. Besides the Cowboys rout, another high point was a win over…uh…some other team in Pennsylvania, while the nadir may have been, not a loss, but a tie—the first in the NFL since 2002—with the wretched Bengals. Donovan McNabb has endured injuries, being benched in favor of Kevin Kolb, and even being dissed by Rush Limbaugh, but still seeks that elusive Super Bowl ring.

On the AFC side, the Steelers have their third game of the season against the





(One for the Bugs Bunny fans out there)

The Ravens have generated bad karma from the start, as the team was formed when Art Modell pulled the Browns out of Cleveland in 1996 after he failed to get a new stadium. Since then, they have laid claim to the title formerly held by the Oakland Raiders as the NFL’s bad boys, with a formidable defense led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. With the Browns and Bengals fighting for the AFC North cellar, the Ravens have emerged as the Steelers’ arch-rival in recent years. Not that we don’t pwn them anyhow. Although they do get kudos for knocking off the towel-stomping Titans for us.

Then there are the one, the only, your Pittsburgh Steelers! It appears that the final piece of the puzzle came together in the Chargers game. The offensive line, maligned everywhere from this blog to a Wal-Mart parking lot, finally played to its potential, protected Ben Roethlisberger and opened lines for Willie Parker. I never imagined that the O-line would be one of the strongest parts of any game this season. Just one of many surprises in these playoffs.

For Sunday, as in any Steelers-Ravens game, expect the mother of all defensive struggles—and with the AFC championship on the line to boot. Sub-freezing temperatures, hits you can hear from the back row of section 512, the titanic struggle of good vs. evil. I can hear the NFL Films music now.

Does it get any better?

Steelers 17, Ravens 6.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pleasant surprises, playoffs and otherwise

While I'm trying to distract myself from the Pittsburgh Penguins' latest woes, I thought I'd go ahead and do the column I promised a couple of weeks ago, the year-beginning "best of" the NFL.

The San Francisco 49ers didn't make the playoffs, but they did make a great decision in hiring Mike Singletary as interim head coach. The 49ers were having a dismal season before they fired Mike Nolan, and Singletary's chances at keeping the head coaching job were far from guaranteed, but he sparked them to finish 7-9, and second in the NFC west. Look for the 49ers to be a force in upcoming seasons.

The Atlanta Falcons seemed to be headed for a multi-season skid after the whole Michael Vick debacle but they managed to come out strong with a playoff trip capping an 11-5 overall record. Quarterback Matt Ryan seems to have a good future, if they can keep him healthy with a good running back to take pressure off the throw. Mike Smith has secured his job there, for now, with AP Coach of the Year honors and exceeding expectations in a big way for Atlanta's football fans.

The Miami Dolphins went 1-15 last year. This year they made the playoffs with a division win before running out of gas against the Baltimore Ravens. Watch for GM Bill Parcells to continue to be head coach Tony Sparano's man behind the curtain. I expect Miami will continue to be a contender, especially if they can build a decent receiving corps that is worthy of 2 time Comeback Player of the Year, Chad Pennington.

Of course, what kind of Pittsburgh Native would I be if I didn't mention the Pittsburgh Steelers among teams that exceeded expectations? After an 07-08 season that could only be described as "meh", head coach Mike Tomlin came back this year to run roughshod over the conference at 6-0 and over the division at 10-2. With perennial foes New England and Indianapolis eliminated from contention, the Steelers biggest worry will be the Tennesee Titans if they manage to beat a strong Baltimore Ravens team this afternoon. Of course, the Steelers will have to prevail against an LT-less San Diego Chargers team and hope they get better officiating than last time they played the Bolts.

Everyone, enjoy watching the games this weekend and GO STEELERS!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Defense Always Wins Games

How far do you think the Pittsburgh Steelers will go in the playoffs?

Take a look at how far they’ve come.

Just like in their Super Bowl-winning season of 2005, the Steelers have had a habit of exceeding expectations.

Before the season, all the pundits were predicting grim things for them. The schedule was too tough, Ben Roethlisberger has lost a step, and the offensive line stinks. A common prediction around the office was 6-10.

As often happens, the Steelers proved the naysayers wrong.

It’s a bit hard to see how they achieved the first-round bye. Following the Steelers this season has required a great deal of patience. They have won some of their games in unbelievable fashion, pulling games out at the last minutes and leaving fans more relieved than celebratory.

The offensive line has been nonexistent at times, Ben’s season has had more sacks than Giant Eagle, and the punters could have been picked at random from the Pittsburgh phone book. Even fans could be forgiven for not being able to picture these guys wearing Super Bowl rings.

So could they go all the way?

You bet.

When I was a reporter, I covered a high school football team called the Greyhounds. They were nicknamed the “Dawgs,” which the coach said was an acronym for “Defense Always Wins Games.”

So it is with the Steelers. The defense, led by linebacker James Harrison, has been compared to the great “Steel Curtain” of the 1970s. It’s noteworthy that Harrison was the only defensive player to receive MVP votes this year. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Add to this Troy Polamalu, Lamarr Woodley, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, and the rest, and, barring injuries, there isn’t a weak spot on this unit.

Is the defense enough? Maybe. I am reminded of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, a team that won the Super Bowl primarily on the strength of an incredible defense. Remember that the starting QB on that squad was Trent Dilfer. Starr…Namath…Staubach…Bradshaw…Montana…and Dilfer. As they sang on "Sesame Street," one of these things is not like the others.

As we look forward to Saturday’s divisional playoff game, remember what Coach Brian Cross knew back at Grove City High School—Defense Always Wins Games.

Steelers 23, Chargers 10.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Omens and Portents

I'm normally the last person to get worried, long season and all, but the Penguins are starting to worry me.

Complete inability to score on the power play
Complete inability to score, at all
Terrible defense.
No spark. Flat play all around. The only player with any interest in the game is Whitney.

If I were Michel Therrien, I'd be worried about my job at this point. Something has to change, and soon.

Also, the fans in New York are assholes. Instead of cheering your own team for decent play and great goalkeeping, yell disparagement at the opposition, making yourselves sound stupid.

More soon.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Our honor defend, we will fight to the end

The quote is attributed to Jesus: “A prophet is not without honor save in his own country.”

I doubt if he was thinking of the Ohio State Buckeyes, but that idea could have easily applied to them as far as my family is concerned, for the team has been held in much higher esteem by my brothers and me since we all left Ohio.

If you live in Columbus, it is hard to escape the long shadow cast by the Buckeyes, even if you could care less about football. Every fall, the place goes football crazy. I don’t know if it’s because there were no major-league professional sports in Columbus until 2000, but every Saturday in the fall, the town’s eyes are on the Buckeyes.

Such was the case in my house when I was growing up, although we were fans in the loosest sense of the word. We followed the Buckeyes not because of any great loyalty to The Ohio State University (only two of five kids were OSU graduates), but because the team happened to be in the neighborhood. Nevertheless, it was hard not to be caught up in the spirit of a town that was coated in scarlet and gray. I remember listening to a show called the Byers Buckeye Bandwagon on Saturday mornings, which was basically one long ad for a local car dealer interspersed with numbers from the OSU Marching Band. Nothing like hearing that brass echoing “The Buckeye Battle Cry” as it could only on AM radio. The first time I really understood how much the Buckeyes meant to the town was when I saw the 1974 OSU-Michigan game on TV, when Michigan missed a field goal for the win and the crowd stormed the field.

While we cheered when they won, the losses were actually good for a few laughs. No figure was—and is—more associated with the Buckeyes than Coach Wayne Woodrow “Woody” Hayes. He was one of the greatest college football coaches in history, with five national titles and 13 Big Ten championships to his credit. But he was often the subject of ridicule in our house for his conservative play-calling and the violent temper that led to his downfall. I remember the 1977 Ohio State-Michigan game where he charged an ABC cameraman following an interception. The camera zoomed in on Woody, he ran towards it, and the next thing you saw was several seconds of sky.

Then there was The Punch that ended his career at the 1978 Gator Bowl. My brother Mike owned the first VCR I ever saw, and he caught The Punch on tape during a newscast. One night, burned out on tapes of horse races, we played The Punch repeatedly and laughed ourselves silly.

Not that we were the Buckeyes’ only critics. Then, as now, few college football teams come under more scrutiny from their fans. Columbus radio call-in shows following a loss to Michigan are unique in their criticism of coaches, players and anything else you’ve got. It doesn’t matter if the Bucks won every other game that season—you lose to Michigan and your job is in jeopardy. The Buckeye faithful never warmed up to former coach John Cooper, mainly because he declared that the Michigan game was “just another game.”

Now that each of us has moved to a different state, we are much bigger Buckeye fans. Whether that’s ironic or appropriate, I’ll let you decide.

It was incredible to listen to my brothers talk about the Buckeyes when we met in Florida for our nephew’s wedding last year. We sat in a restaurant watching OSU play Wisconsin as they analyzed the team’s strengths and weaknesses at every position and talked seriously about how they could win it all. Hard to believe these guys used to call them the “Choke-eyes.”

Why the difference? Because the Buckeyes are not just the local team anymore. They represent something bigger—our family, our roots, and the things that made us who we are today. As John Mellencamp once put it so eloquently, “I cannot forget from where it is that I come from.”