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Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

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The state of the Steelers and the NFL. One arrow pointing up, while the other, maybe not so much.

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Art Rooney II

The most powerful person in the Steelers organization, one of the most influential people in the NFL, is someone we actually know very little about, as compared to others of lesser import.

Dan Rooney is still around and active, but clearly the same generational transition that occurred between Dan and his father Art Sr. is at play here. As of yet, we still don't know how Art II differs in terms of style, philosophy and perspective. At least once a year we are clearly reminded who is in charge, when Art II gives the State of the Steelers report. We will hit those highlights eventually. But, unfortunately, that was not the top story of the week, if you measure these things in terms of attention given by media, fans, and nearly everyone else. That story would be...

C'mon Man!

Many Steelers fans have a hatred for the New England Patriots that feels congenital. Frankly, I have been thinking that this isn't necessarily a good thing. You know what they say about forgiveness. You do it not because the other deserves it but so you can let go. Perhaps, the argument would go, Steelers fans need to let go with the Pats. Otherwise we end up looking like those pathetic Raiders fans who two generations later are still bitter about the Immaculate Reception and whether Pittsburgh iced down the field in the 1975 AFC Championship Game. And then Deflategate happens. Aww, to hell with the Patriots.

I guess if you are of the opinion that all publicity is good then this thing is a boon for the league. It has been the lead story not just in the sports media, but one the top news stories, period. From the New York Times to the Washington Post to The Atlantic, Grantland, Sports Illustrated, whatever, you couldn't escape this. I am in agreement with those who say that seen as an individual incident in the grand scheme of things this doesn't amount to much. But sometimes context is everything, and it is the context that is troubling.

First there is the matrix which is the National Football League at this juncture. The big stories this post season have not been the games, but what could be described as integrity issues. Actually, the NFL might actually feel better about attention being devoted to deflated footballs that might not have had any bearing on the outcome of a playoff game than the officiating calls that did.

Add to that unresolved and airbrushed issues related to head injuries and domestic violence, questionable personnel decisions ranging from coaches who get jettisoned after leading their teams to Super Bowls or after only a year or so to prove themselves, to creating hype around players (Johnny Football) who turn out to be unprofessional, immature embarrassments to the league. The commissioner is increasingly perceived as being ill-suited to adequately address any of this, appearing to be under the thrall of the more perverse and values-challenged members of the ownership group. Acting with integrity, much less enforcing it, does not seem to be his strong suit. Worse, his actions appear to perpetuate these problems.

Then there is Belichick, Brady and the Pats. The probability that their actions weren't necessary to facilitate a favorable outcome, a perspective that is promulgated to deflect and to calm, actually is what is so disturbing. Most people have been tempted to cheat at some point or other in their lives, when a desired or necessary outcome may not be able to be achieved through legitimate means. But some people cheat as a perverse manifestation of greed. Cheating in these cases is a sociopathic tendency. It is who they are.

When viewed in this context winning is nihilistic, completely divorced from any virtue, such as the celebration of integrity of purpose or effort. Any nobility of purpose that might serve to justify the tremendous risks of the undertaking are leeched out the game. And it raises uncomfortable questions as to how far one will go, to simply win at all costs. So even though the evidence may be lacking to support such thinking, your are left to wonder whether these people are so warped that they might have orchestrated LeGarrette Blount's presence and departure from the Steelers, or whether they were fully aware of who Aaron Hernandez was, what he was capable of, and just didn't care.

No worries, some would say. According to this perspective, the NFL is simply "too big to fail." Tell that to Rome or the British Empire. Tell it to boxing. The fall is never quick or dramatic. The fact is that almost all of us who are fans are too addicted to this game to quit it cold turkey. So the one area of real power fans possess, the power to withdraw their attention and support, is unlikely to exercised to any degree that matters in the short term.

What is more subtle to catch, but likely more important in the long run, are those serious fans who are beginning to take steps to gradually withdraw. They don't watch as many games as previously. Maybe they restrict their viewing only to their favorite team. It would be easy to assume that this is just a reaction to over saturation, but I know too many fans who didn't watch some of the playoff games as well this year.

What is important is who is tuning out. If it were just the casual fan that would be one thing. There are those who struggle with how their participation through viewership makes them complicit with issues such as head trauma and other factors that result in deterioration of the quality of life for the participants. Others have become so disenchanted by certain rule changes and the uneven application of the rules that they are withdrawing.

It's hard to imagine that these current allegations help. And it is important to understand that massive numbers are not necessary to make an impact, just a critical mass that causes a shift. And discomfort is being expressed from the least likely sources. Hall of Fame tight end and former Bear's head coach Mike Ditka acknowledged in an interview that he would not permit his son to play the game due to the physical trauma that has devastated members of his 1985 Championship Chicago Bears team.

Things may go well for this year's Super Bowl. Many, like myself who did not care one way or another about the outcome based upon last Sunday's results now have strong rooting interests (Get well Richard Sherman!). So it shouldn't be too difficult for league apologists to point to another strong ratings bonanza and declare the state of the league as sound. However, long term, the arrow may well be pointing down.

Jason Worilds

Some had questioned whether the Steelers saw enough promise in the fifth-year outside linebacker to invest in a long term deal. Art Rooney II announced the team's intentions to do just that. Besides satisfaction with his performance, another significant factor was the lack of roster depth at the outside linebacker position. The status of Worilds, James Harrison and Arthur Moats are all up in the in the air, leaving only Jarvis Jones under contract at this point. The free agent market is also thin this winter at the linebacker position.

Ben Roethlisberger

At the moment there appears little doubt that Ben will be re-signed. The only issue would be that of timing. Rooney's remarks seemed calibrated to blunt any obsessing about the progress of the negotiations, though it would be most beneficial if things were wrapped up before the beginning of the free agent period in March. Ben has also been nominated as the FedEx Air Player of the Year. And Bell as Ground Player. Vote early and often.

Cameron Heyward

After two solid seasons as arguably the best defensive lineman on the team Heyward is also in position to be re-signed to a long term deal.

Brad Wing

The Steelers' punter signed a one-year deal at the end of the week. He will likely have competition beginning in the off-season.

Brown and Bell

In an unprecedented development, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell were named Offensive Co-Players of the year by NFL 101. This marked the first time that there were co-winners of this award (JJ Watt was named AFC Defensive Player, while Aaron Rodgers and Richard Sherman were the winners on the NFC side). The fact that the co-winners hailed from the same team was particularly noteworthy.

Pro Bowl

As a captain for Team Carter, Brown made certain that all the Steelers participants in this year's contest (Lawrence Timmons and Maurkice Pouncey) would be playing on the same team. Bell withdrew to give his knee some additional rest. Brown also delivered on a promise to Pouncey by uniting him with his twin brother Mike on the offensive line. In a significant development, Team Carter head coach John Harbaugh has discovered that the Steelers and Bengals players on his squad are human beings.

More awards

Two iconic Steelers legends have awards named in their honor. The Art Rooney Award is named for Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr. and recognizes on field sportsmanship. Safety Troy Polamalu is one of the finalists for the inaugural award. A scouting fellowship will carry the name of the late Bill Nunn and John Wooten of the Fritz Pollard Alliance.

The Rooney Rule

A piece in the New York Times examines the progress of the application of the Rooney Rule with the current round of coaching hires in mind.

Jerome Bettis

Decision time is approaching for the Hall Of Fame finalist. Bettis also made the news this week as he weighed in on Tom Brady's news conference in the Deflategate mess, and the struggles of his mother Gladys with breast cancer.

Kearney

The Steelers were having their own brush with controversy when Espn reported on potential conflicts of interest involving an employee of the Allegheny County Sheriff's department, Jack Kearney, who is also the part-time head of security for the Steelers. Our Hombre de Acero pushes back with this report.

Dri Archer

His observations concerning the speed of the professional game.

More Deflategate

Interesting takes on the controversy and related issues from Steelers Digest's Bob Labriola and Sports Illustrated's Don Banks.

Coach Dad

retrospective on Dick LeBeau's impact upon the Steelers and the NFL

Lemon and Lewis

Local takes on new Steelers Shawn Lemon and Isaiah Lewis.

Super Bowl XIV

A look back at the last championship of the Steelers of the seventies.

The Senior Bowl

What is known about the premier college football all star game.

The ups and downs of fandom

Anthony Defeo's take on the trials and tribulations of being a football fan.