— This week’s TribLIVE Radio ‘Jagoff of the Week’ award went to Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton (as voted on by our listeners). Dalton got my vote, too. After the Bengals lost to Houston on Monday night, Texans’ DE J.J. Watt said they succeeded in turning Dalton, a.k.a. ‘The Red Rifle’, into a Red Ryder BB-Gun. For some reason Dalton took great offense, and naturally worried about how the children of America would react.
Dalton said, “I’m disappointed in [Watt] because of the integrity of the game. There are a lot of kids and lot of people who look up to him and for him to make comments like that he’s just showing it’s acceptable to say that kind of stuff.”
Perhaps, Andy, it’s more of an indication of your lack of mental toughness.
Yes, to Dalton’s credit he was mentally tough enough to beat the Steelers at Heinz Field a few weeks ago, coming through with a late, game-winning touchdown pass. But in primetime and in the playoff spotlight, his and his team’s track record of choke-artists is intact.
Until proven otherwise, most of the world is worried you’ll shoot your eye out, Andy. That goes for the kids, too.
— Speaking of getting rattled, this past Sunday in Pittsburgh the Super Bowl 40 championship Steelers team was honored, the squad that bested the Seattle Seahawks and their Drop-apottamus tight end Jerramy Stevens. Stevens, of course, appeared to be mentally shaken up from Super Bowl week banter in early 2006 by Pittsburgh’s Joey Porter, who had taken great exception to Stevens declaring how sad it would be when Jerome Bettis left his hometown of Detroit without a trophy.
I spoke to a member of that Pittsburgh title-winning team this weekend, running back Verron Haynes, who reassured me that the Porter – Stevens storyline was a significant one to the game’s results.
“Joey was kind of like a Mike Tyson,” Haynes said. “Mike had a lot of guys defeated before they even stepped in the ring. Thinking back on that game, Jerramy Stevens dropped three key passes that would have changed the game. A lot of kudos needs to go to Joey for just defeating him with the mind first, and then physically it destroyed them.”
— Haynes also pointed out how close of a team that 2005 Steelers group was, and cited what he felt was the most significant development on their road to the title, a team meeting after going from a 7-5 record to an eight-game winning streak and capturing ‘one for the thumb’ as a six-seed in the playoffs.
“We had underachieved,” Haynes said of the team’s internal feeling when they were 7-5. “We were coming off a 15-1 season. The key element of that season was the team meeting, players only, when we made the decision to stop pointing the fingers and look in the mirror. That itself speaks to the character on that team. We didn’t panic, but it was, ‘what can you have done better to make this team a success?’”
Haynes continued: “We had just lost against the Colts. In the morning when we came to work, Coach [Cowher] had stepped out and the leaders, Jerome, Hines [Ward], ‘Peezy’ [Porter] led the meeting and said, ‘we’re going to evaluate this film and write down on each play what you could do better’. That right there was the turning point and the deciding factor, ultimately. That right there to me was the defining moment of that season.”
— The 2005 Steelers team was so close, they still keep in touch. Although some members of the team are conflicted about those ways of doing it. Nose tackle Casey Hampton is still a proud owner of a flip-phone (“I don’t switch the game up,” Big Hamp told me). To his chagrin, he’s included on smart-phone fueled group chats.
“There’s a group – and I get mad because it comes straight to your phone – it’s about eight guys that have a group chat,” Hampton said. “I told them kick me out of that because they [are] doing it too much. You get like thirty texts a day. I don’t want to talk to y’all like that. (laughs) But, I think that’s kind of different about us, guys are really friends and keep in touch more than other [teams].”
Hampton continued, “I miss more-so the camaraderie with the guys, hanging out in the locker room, playing cards. Stuff like that. The game, I miss it but I know I can’t get out there and do that no more. My body won’t allow me, so I’m cool on that.”
— Fast Willie Parker was also back in town for the SB40 reunion, and although he is probably most remembered for his Super Bowl record-setting (longest) 75-yard touchdown run (“I was saying in my head, ‘please don’t trip!’” Parker reminisced), I sadly also remember Parker for his wheel falling off in 2007 during a game in St. Louis. Although Parker returned to the team and played two more seasons, he never seemed quite the same again.
I asked Parker if he felt his prior injury situation made him concerned for current Steelers’ injured back Le’Veon Bell, and whether he had any advice for Bell as he recovers from his second leg injury in the past two years.
“Le’Veon, he’s a top tier guy,” Parker said. “I’m pretty sure he’s with the doctors and the trainers here, they’re going to lead him [in] the right direction as they did me. He’s a hard worker and you can tell by what he does on the field. Any advice I can give him, just keep his head clear. Don’t let anybody get in his head, because there’s going to be a lot of down time and you’re going to have time to think. You are your worst enemy, you just sit in your house and keep thinking, keep thinking, it can tear you apart. Your mind is going to play tricks on you, because you keep looking down at your leg and you can hardly walk. Every player goes through it that gets injured. I’m sure he wants to get back on that field right now as we speak.”
— Tuesday I had a chance to check out the Pitt Panthers men’s hoops team for the first time, as they are back on the court to start the 2015-16 campaign. As their Tuesday opponent was Division II St. Joseph’s College (the mighty Pumas), I mostly wanted to eyeball Pitt’s new talent and rotation; and Pitt’s rotation appears to be a deep one.
Head coach Jamie Dixon played 12 different players in the first half, with transfers Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (a 6’9 grad transfer from Richmond) and Sterling Smith (a 6’4 combo guard and grad transfer from Coppin State) cracking the starting lineup along with ‘the big three’ returnees James Robinson, Jamel Artis, and Michael Young.
Juniors Sheldon Jeter and Chris Jones were the first subs, replacing the two transfer-starters about four minutes in.
The second wave of subs were redshirt-freshman Cameron Johnson, sophomore Ryan Luther, and junior-transfer Jonathan Milligan (replacing Robinson at point guard) shortly thereafter.
Another big-man transfer, Rafael Maia (a 6’9 grad transfer from Brown) was the 11th man in, with freshman guard Damon Wilson getting a few minutes in the first half to make a dirty dozen.
I talked to Young, who feels to me like the clear anchor of this team, about the difficulties the newness and rotation might present.
“I feel like we’re pretty much comfortable now,” Young said. “We’ve been playing together for a long time, competing and really getting after it. Guys know what the guy next to you can do. So the rotation, you never know what it’s going to be. We’ve got so many guys that can play. Never know who’s going to be in foul trouble or not playing well, so having the option to have a lot of guys that can contribute is going to be good for us. I don’t think there will ever be a set in stone rotation, but having everybody able to contribute is what I want.”
Frankly I think Pitt will have some significant problems in the post around Young this year. Maia looks to be mostly a rebounder and space-eater, and Nelson-Ododa appears to have Dixon’s trust as an athletic defender and shot blocker. Both, however, got into foul trouble Tuesday and while Nelson-Odada will be undersized against some of the powerful bigs in the ACC, Maia might struggle with quickness. In the end I think Luther will need to handle big minutes, and probably at the five-spot.
But there are reasons for optimism from the one through four positions. For me, Johnson is the x-factor. At 6’7” and coming off last year’s shoulder surgery, the OLSH high school graduate looks silky smooth at times and can definitely shoot for a big man. Defensively, his length will present problems for offenses. Coupled with Jeter and Jones, I like Pitt’s guard depth. And given Pitt’s cupcake schedule before ACC play, the team should have ample time to gel.