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Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

Even though Pittsburgh isn't in this week's Super Bowl the Steelers made news on a couple of fronts. And there may be more to come.

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The 2012 season reaches its climax and conclusion this week with Super Bowl XLVII. The game doesn't involve the Steelers but the team has been relevant in the news department as, gradually, the future of the team begins to take shape, and recognition is granted for the accomplishments of the past.

Bicknell Jr. and Smith join the coaching staff

Mike Tomlin moved to solidify his 2013 coaching staff with the hiring of Jack Bicknell Jr. to lead the offensive line and Danny Smith to control special teams. A couple of things I found interesting about the reaction of our family here at BTSC. A casual perusal of the comments would indicate that many are optimistic about the relatively inexperienced Bicknell Jr. His resume thus far would justify those sentiments to an extent. The reaction also indicated to me a certain level of revisionism concerning the tenure of the departed Sean Kugler. I didn't have any problems with Kugler's work. I thought he was an improvement on his predecessor who had some interesting things to say about the challenges of blocking for a quarterback with Ben Roethlisberger's style. Clearly there has been some continuing frustration concerning the struggles of this unit. Especially, I suspect, because expectations were so high after last year's bumper crop of talent secured via the draft and ongoing injury issues.

The reaction to the Smith hire was more skeptical (dismissive?). Smith has had to labor in the vineyard of a basket case franchise (the Redskins) for nearly a decade. Deciphering the quality of one's worth in such a circumstance when the talent level and the leadership of such a bottom feeding organization would be somewhat sketchy at best. Not knowing anything about certain key elements of this, or any job search, where it has to be considered what were the qualities Tomlin was seeking in the leaders at these positions, who was available, what was involved in the initial screening, what candidates turned the Steelers down, who was involved in the evaluation process, what were the time pressures, I found it difficult to conclude whether these were good hires or not. However, that didn't deter others from rendering judgment, positive and negative, on the two selections, with one comment referring to the Smith hire as "dumb".

I found Dale Lolley's piece on the subject helpful in providing some insight and context on the subject. Of particular interest to me was the mention of Bicknell's preference for smaller, more mobile linemen (think Pouncey, DeCastro and Beachum) and the Steelers' moving in that direction. As for Smith, he has connecting ties to both Tomlin (William and Mary) and Colbert (Central Catholic), and Tomlin tried unsuccessfully to hire him before settling on Al Everest. Each also bring personality characteristics that Tomlin covets. This doesn't mean that we won't look back on this in a year or so and conclude that they were dumb decisions, but...

Charlie Batch

A number of years ago when I migrated east to Philadelphia to attend college I was alarmed to find myself in a city where young people being murdered, often by guns was an all too common occurrence. The Pittsburgh I had left was not like that. But things change over time. Charlie Batch lost his sister in an incidence of gun violence that took place in Homestead. That tragedy provided the inspiration for the establishment of the Best of the Batch Foundation twelve years ago. As mentioned in this space last week Charlie was nominated for the Byron "Whizzer" White Award conferred by the NFL Players Association for community service work. He was selected for the award on Thursday, which includes a $100,000 donation.

Teresa Varley of did a fine story, but my preference was SteelCityRoller's piece, not just because it's a quality story (its in BTSC, what do you expect?) but be sure to check out the comments section for some of the testimonials made by members of the community. The thinking in Steeler Nation seems to fall into one of two camps in reference to Batch. One group, the folks that I feel don't get it, seemed to be constantly, myopically obsessed with Charlie's birthday. 'He's too old. He's got to go.' Now, granted, Charlie is getting up there in football years, and few if any would be surprised if this was the year he decided to hang it up. But let's be clear, in my mind at least it would not be because he had to hang it up. Folks have been saying that Charlie has been too old for at least six years now. For you I have one word. Baltimore.

Representing the other camp is the Dean of Pittsburgh Guys who can be relied upon to provide wise and concise perspective on the importance of being Pittsburgh, Homer J. His comments, helpfully highlighted in green in SCR's piece, explains the value of Batch as a man and a Steeler better than I could. Batch's value to the franchise, particularly what the franchise represents above and beyond just football, to the community and to the league is beyond the simple minded football calculus that fans often confine themselves to. One of the things that Homer could have mentioned but didn't is when Charlie had Ben's back, not on the field but in the wake of Ben's motorcycle accident in 2006 when Batch was an early and constant presence in the hospital. Such people have more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Better that Charlie hang around one season too long than to suffer the indignity of being pushed out the door one second too soon.


It will happen too late for me to include it here, but many of you reading this will have already heard the announcement of the 2013 Hall of Fame Class. Personally, I would find it surprising if Jerome Bettis didn't join Batch as an award winner this weekend.


Two NFL players with Pittsburgh ties are featured in a documentary entitled "NFL Characters Unite" on the USA Network that chronicles instances of discrimination including racism and bullying. Troy Polamalu and Pitt alum and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald are among the four players who stories are told in this program. An interesting aspect of Ed Bouchette's Post-Gazette piece is a discussion of how Pittsburgh West continues to evolve in the desert as head coach Bruce Arians brings in a new wave of former Steelers to build his staff.

CTE (cont)

With the nation's attention focusing in on football at the beginning of Super Bowl week the issue of player safety came to the fore in a big way early on. President Obama weighed in on the subject in a New Republic article, expressing concern as to whether, if he had sons, he would support them playing football. Two Baltimore Ravens safeties, Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed were in agreement with the president with Pollard going so far as to suggest that the game may no longer exist in a couple of decades. Mike Wise of the Washington Post and Jen Floyd Engel of Fox both focused upon the growing dilemma facing fans, players, league officials, parents, everybody really concerning our relationship with the game. As the implications of stories of Junior Seau and other players, as well as the studies on CTE become both indisputable and increasingly unavoidable the question of our continued participation in an exercise where many involved will almost certainly suffer dementia and a likely early death has raised a number of uncomfortable questions. For example, does the easy rationalization that the players know what they are signing up for (Do they?) justify our continued collaboration and collusion in the process by way of our support and agitation that the game continue to dial up the violence? Comparisons to Rome are being made more frequently.

Ray Lewis and deer antlers

I would guess whether you believe this matter is a big deal would depend upon how you're feeling about Ray Lewis right about now. About a month ago my position was that Lewis was a great player who deserved his moment in the sun even though the fact that he is a Baltimore Raven made me genetically incapable of granting him but so much in the way of appreciation. But now I've had just about enough of Ray Lewis. Whether he used and gained an advantage from deer antlers, the eye of a newt or the desiccated liver of rattlesnake really doesn't matter much to me. What are they going to do? Take away some of the Ravens' scholarships? I am allergic to the pathologically self important. Ray, just shut the Hell up and play football. And then win or lose and go away. I think if God picks sides in football then the Steelers would be picking up two or three Lombardis every year. With due respect to you (and Tebow) the Rooneys and Troy Polamalu have the proper attitude down for this type of relationship. I simply had no idea you were so full of ...

Rebecca Rollett

I include my BTSC colleague here because besides the fact that she's always deserving of more attention, her rant about the singing abilities (or lack thereof) of the Steelers to be rather fascinating. As Rebecca would be the first to acknowledge singing ability ranks pretty low on the player selection criteria. I suspect that if they could win Super Bowls every year nobody would care much if any of the Steelers were able to talk, much less sing. But if you're going to foist music videos on your fan base the standard is the standard.

Hines Ward

He made the news twice this week. First he is announced as the recipient of the Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award. It was also announced that Ward will appear as a zombie in the AMC series 'The Walking Dead'. And if you want to add a bonus, he commented on the progress being made by the Money Crew of Steelers receivers.

Rashard Mendenhall

He may be gone but the free agent running back left the door open a crack for a return to the Steelers. With this team you never know who's going and who's staying.

Dave Zirin

I'm an admirer of sportswriters that don't box themselves in from addressing the broader societal implications of the sports and figures that they cover. As pointed out in this and other reviews, some of the best and insightful writing I have encountered has often come from sportswriters.

The Rooney Rule (cont)

Tony Dungy and others are commenting on whether the process through which minorities get full consideration for job openings in the NFL is in need of tweaking or re-imagining.

Reload or Rebuild

PaVaSteeler poses this provocative question to the membership. Are the Steelers difficulties this past season indicative of minor concerns or are they more fundamental? Brett Keisel weighs in that its reload.


In a huge surprise NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is receiving a less than overwhelmingly friendly reception in New Orleans. It could be worse. The Super Bowl could have been held in Pittsburgh