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A peculiar start to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2010 offseason


Just a little more than a week ago I was preparing for two months of almost complete and total boredom. March and April is definitely not the most exciting time of the year if you’re a Steelers fan. Normally we would pick up a Moore or Fox and wonder how (or if) he would fit in. I also admit to not being much of a fan of the draft. I can understand how people get so amped up over mock drafts and the like, but the process, frankly, leaves me cold. I usually get my entertainment at this time of year, living where I do, observing the Redskins drive to the Super Bowl In March. But things have been relatively quiet at Redskins Park while it has been nothing but excitement on the Southside. Not a role reversal, mind you, but significant changes in approach plus some unanticipated (and unwanted) drama surrounding our franchise quarterback. BTW folks in DC seem as disoriented as I am. By now they are usually debating how quickly Haynesworth or some other savior will lead them to the Promised Land. These days they content themselves with fantasizing that Ben is driving the Steelers franchise off the tracks.

So where is all this going? Nobody knows for certain of course, but speculation is our line of business in these parts. Let’s start with the bad news first.

Ben. All the information is not in yet, and I’ve been back and forth in my own head as to what to think about this. But as of now my gut tells me that this less of a bowl of crap that it appears to be at the moment. The franchise has survived worst. Really, you ask.

In 1973, a year before their first Super Bowl one member of the vaunted Steel Curtain defense got himself into a, uh, situation. Many of you reading may be too young to remember but the Steel Curtain was a legitimately rough bunch of guys. Mean Joe Greene terrified opponents and teammates alike when he was riled. John Elway faced Jack Lambert in his first NFL game and opined that perhaps it was a mistake for him to play professional football, and that he was willing to give back the money he was paid in order to not face Lambert again. Dwight White’s nickname of Mad Dog was well deserved. Mel Blount wanted to sue head coach Chuck Noll after Noll, speaking under oath in a court case acknowledged that Blount was part of what Noll had labeled a "criminal element" in the NFL. But the player universally acknowledged by players and fans as being the most intimidating of the bunch was defensive tackle Ernie "Fats" Holmes. He was a huge and terrifying looking man who gave the clear impression that one or more screws may be loose.

On this day in ’73 Fats, driving in Ohio, had a serious case of what we now call road rage. Feeling that he was being harassed by truckers, Holmes pulled out a pistol and began firing away. Holed up in the woods, he shot at passing trucks, at Ohio State Troopers, and a State Police helicopter. He wounded a policeman in the leg. Amazingly, Holmes was apprehended alive and presumably thrown under the jail. Noll and then Steelers president Dan Rooney attempted to intercede on Holmes behalf. Amazingly, neither of them were thrown in jail for showing their faces in Ohio. They did persuade the jailers that Holmes was in need of psychiatric intervention and he was released on five years probation. (If you’re reading PA Army Officer, it was at this time that I thought that there might be some parallels between the Rooneys and the Corleones)

My guess is that Ben will be scraped but not scuttled by this incident. Unless they are completely convinced that he is a bad egg the Rooneys will stand by a member of their extended family (especially one with 100 million of  their money in his pocket). Punishment from Goodell and the NFL will be minimal. Partly because they are hypocrites who are not going subject Ben to the same crap that they put on Vick or Pacman (you figure out why for yourselves) and partly because they don’t want to get into a pissing match with the Rooneys. The one thing that distinguishes Art II from his dad and granddad is that he’s a lawyer. And Dad (Dan) is out there ‘palling around’ with heads of state. Who would you put your money on? On the other hand Ben will have to learn that the price of fame and fortune is higher than he might want to pay. I think there is enough reasonable doubt in this case that his reputation will be tarnished, but little else of consequence will occur.

The AFC North. If you haven’t noticed the division is ramping up for war. Credit the Bengals for rising up and punching both the Steelers and the Ravens in the mouth last year. The days of getting two easy wins from a division opponent are probably over for the foreseeable future. All four franchises are making quality moves in order to get better and either achieve or maintain dominance.

Despite their slip this past season the Steelers remain the neighborhood bully and will continue to be so until someone else can a) consistently beat the B & G down, and b) make their own successful championship run; something that has only been accomplished once in the modern era. The Pittsburgh approach so far seems to build depth and leadership through free agency. The first step to building depth is keep the quality pieces that you already have. In the first time in memory (my memory at least) they have lost no one to free agency that they might be better off keeping. You could argue that they made no effort to retain Willie Parker, but FWP is still out there and attracting very little interest. The case could be made that poor market for FA running backs may have been well known in the inside circles of the league. This may be one of two reasons that you may see Parker in a Steelers uniform in the fall.

The other, more intriguing reason is this move to bring the old band back together. Not only are the Steelers not letting quality players leave, they’re open to bringing back guys who have flown the coop earlier. Very little of this has happened before. The most valuable aspect of it is leadership. Randle El and Foote (if they could get him) were known as strong personalities in the locker room. ARE, a quarterback at heart may be a stronger verbal leader than either Hines or Ben. Similarly, Foote may be more verbal than Farrior. Its not that these guys would replace or overrule anyone. They would amplify and reinforce any positions taken by the team captains. Unfortunately, as of this writing it appears that our chances of getting Foote appear remote. Wisenhunt is playing the same game at Pittsburgh West (Arizona). Foote will be visiting at the same time as Joey Porter. A possible reunion involving J Peezy, Foote and Clark Haggans is possible. Foote has informed the DC press that his preference would be the Cardinals. The only hope may be that the Bidwells may very well still be cheap, allowing the Steelers prevail in a modest bidding war. In addition to the leadership aspects, it might entice a Parker to feel that he may be missing out on a big party, and also be a face saver, coming back because conditions have changed favorably instead of looking like he has failed.

The other FA’s can all have some experience and connection with a current members of the coaching staff, share quality special teams background (definitely an area of need) and help create the environment of internal competition so necessary to hardening a team mentally.

More flexibility is there for our draft picks and UDFA’s. I personally favor defensive linemen  and a running back if we could get Foote and Parker leaves, but I couldn’t really complain with a best player available strategy either.

We may be getting our first glimpse at what third generation leadership will look like with the Steelers (Art II, Colbert and Tomlin); more aggressive, more loyal, more willing to bare their fangs. What do you think?