Believe it or not, folks, the NFL season is much closer than you can possibly imagine. So close, in fact, that, if we're going to fit in every NFL team preview by the start of the season, we have to go this early. So there you have it.
Last year, we asked some of our favorite writers to opine why Their Favorite Team Was Better Than Yours. Ultimately, we found this constrictive, and it also might have killed James Frey. So this time, we've just asked them to just run free, talk about their team, their experience as a fan, their hopes, their dreams, their desires for oral sex. All our teams are now assigned; if you sent us an email and we didn't get back to you, we're sorry, and we accept your scorn. But today: Pittsburgh Steelers.
Your author is Don Spagnolo, a freelance writer and editor of Mondesi's House, a Pittsburgh sports comedy blog. He is also the owner of Steelcityauctions.com, a Pittsburgh-based sports memorabilia firm. His words (and pictures) are after the jump.
Last year, I had the honor of writing the Deadspin preview of the defending Super Bowl champions. In a city that endured heartbreak after heartbreak ever since our daddy's Steelers won their fourth title, it was kind of a big deal to finally get over the top. To commemorate this occasion, I penned a 3,300-word valentine to my favorite team, entitled, "50 Reasons Why I Love the Steelers", covering all things from Whizzer White to "Drink Like a Champion."
The fruits of my labor? One of the most disappointing championship defenses in the history of organized sports. A 2-6 start. A loss to the 2-14 Oakland Raiders. Two losses at the hands of division rival Baltimore by a combined score of 58-7. And ultimately, the loss of our beloved Coach Cowher. Not the result I had hoped for.
For my next Deadspin preview, I was asked to write about the 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates. With the memory of the Steelers' season fresh in my mind, I took a slightly less optimistic angle, which resulted in "79 Reasons Why It's Hard To Be a Pirate Fan." As of the writing of this article, the Pirates sit with the second-worst record in the majors, on the way to their 15th consecutive losing season. I guess my preview didn't inspire them, either.
Asked to write the 2007 Steelers preview, I wondered about the angle that I'd take. Obviously, the major topic in Pittsburgh is new coach Mike Tomlin. After 38 years of Noll and Cowher, it's time for a rare fresh start for the organization. But to know where you're going, you need to know where you've been. So here are the 50 Biggest Stories in the Steeler Universe (on the field and off) Since Last Year's Preview hit on September 4, 2006. Steeler fans, let's hope that the results are exponentially better than 2006.
50. We found out what our old heroes are up to. Neil O'Donnell's a turf salesman. Yeah, that sounds about right. And Greg Lloyd, known for t-shirts that read "I Wasn't Hired for My Disposition" and "Real Men Are Black" while he played in Pittsburgh, turned up as a martial arts instructor in Fayetteville, Georgia. Nothing wrong with that, right? Well, if you consider his track record of accusations that he put a gun in his kid's mouth for bad grades in 2001, or that he put a gun to his wife's head in 2004...it's kinda scary. Luckily for Greg, he retired before the Goodell Era.
49. Jeff Hartings retired. The Super Bowl champion center walked away from football after the 2006 campaign to plan a non-denominational church along with former Detroit Lion Luther Elliss. Few people realize this, but the Steelers' legacy of centers is nearly impressive as their legacy of coaches. Since the mid-70s, the Steelers have primarily used only three centers: Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Hartings. They have a combined 18 Pro Bowl appearances (Webster 9, Dawson 7, Hartings 2). So whoever gets the starting nod at center in 2007, be aware: You have quite a rep to live up to.
48. The Steelers signed Kevan Barlow. The Steelers are well-known as a conservative organization. So going out and signing a free agent running back who once referred to 49ers coach Mike Nolan as "Coach Hitler"...let's just say it was a bit surprising.
Barlow, shown preparing for his next career
47. The Steelers drafted a mascot. They still don't have cheerleaders, but the Steelers used a first-day draft pick on the first mascot in team history. His name is Steely McBeam, he bears a striking resemblance to a prominent member of their past, and his mere presence ensures hundreds of gay steelworker jokes aimed at Steeler fans around the world. A new member of the team gets ridiculed? Now I know how Browns fans felt after that first Brady Quinn picture hit the net.
Try and guess which one's the mascot
46. The Steelers draft punter Daniel Sepulveda. Leave it to the Steelers to draft a blue-collar punter that's not afraid to cover his own kicks. Look for him on a few segments of "Jacked Up" this season.
45. The Passion Party. The Steelers were 1-3 and going nowhere fast. And then came the October 15 dismembering of the Kansas City Chiefs by a score of 45-7. Little did we know that the Steelers would quickly lose this momentum and drop their next three games to fall to 2-6.
So where did this inspired victory come from? Well, as we would later find out, largely from the presence of a "Passion Party" convention being held at the same hotel as where the Chiefs stayed, and inevitably mingled with.
44. Michael Vick's one shining moment. It's been a rough couple of months for ol' Ookie. But the highlight of his 2006 season had to be his four-TD, 232-yard, 41-38 overtime victory over the Steelers on October 22. When you're making Ron Mexico look like Tom Brady, you know you're in the midst of a long season.
43. Steeler fans will buy a lot of crap, but they draw the line at used cigarettes. In late May, an enterprising Steeler fan scooped up Jack Lambert's discarded smoke after a New Jersey memorabilia show appearance and quickly posted it for sale on eBay. A curious blog nation followed the auction to see what lengths Steeler fans would go to in their pursuit of a piece of their hero. And after the $9.99 minimum bid failed to attract even one speculator, we had our answer.
The celebrity-used garbage market just isn't what it used to be
42. Dick Hoak retired. This flew under the radar of many, but it was a big loss when the Steelers running back coach retired following 45 years with the organization (10 as a player, 35 as a coach). Hoak has been around for every title and playoff win in the team's 74 seasons. He's tutored every Steeler running back you can think of, including Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker and Walter Abercrombie. Upon the news of his resignation, Joe Paterno called to say that 45 years with a team is nothing compared to 125.
41. Big Ben got a new girlfriend. Leave it to Ben to date a Hero. The first rumors of Ben's budding romance with Missy Peregrym of Heroes started popping up in late February, and now it looks like they are an official couple. Natalie Gulbis, you're dead to Steeler Nation.
Ben Roethlisberger, slave to fashion
40. The Steelers continue to play charity basketball games. The Steelers have had an offseason charity basketball team since the 1960s. They play local organizations and raise thousands of dollars by living out their hoop dreams. Dismissing any notion that a player could get injured, the Steelers continue to draw marquee names to play in these games, including one Ben Roethlisberger. Local talk radio shows undoubtedly await a major injury followed by the inevitable knee-jerk "Why do these guys play in basketball games" debate the next day. But until that fateful day happens, we'll still be able to see clips from games, including this one of our star QB bricking a dunk about seven seconds in.
39. You can now buy a Steeler jersey with "Gay" on the back. Thanks to the selection of fifth-round pick William Gay. I'm going out on a limb and guessing these won't be huge sellers in the Steel City.
38. Mr. Rogers gets a statue. If there's one person who's achieved sainthood status in Pittsburgh, it's the guy who invented the Primanti's sandwich. But if there's another person who's held in such reverence, it's Mr. Fred Rogers, he of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood fame. So in May, it was revealed that our favorite neighbor would get the statue treatment in his hometown of Pittsburgh. But where would this $3 million statue be placed, you ask? In the obvious location: close to the South entrance of Heinz Field.
37. The Steelers drafted another tight end. The choice was Matt Spaeth, a John Mackey Award-winning tight end from the University of Minnesota. He's 6'7", 265 pounds, and a natural for the Steeler basketball team. Let's all say it together, Pittsburgh: "This is the year we throw to the tight ends."
36. The announcement of the 2007 schedule. The Steelers' disappointing 8-8 season was rewarded with not one, not two, but five primetime games in 2007: Sunday nighters against Denver and Cincy, Monday nighters against Baltimore, Miami, and the Thursday night NFLN matchup against the Rams. We'll see old coaches (Kenny Whis and Russ Grimm) in week four, old linebackers (J-Peezy) in week twelve, and old foes (New England) in week fourteen. But we'll all be looking forward to week one, when Mike Tomlin is welcomed to the NFL by the always intimidating Cleveland Browns.
35. We found out that Bill Cowher likes to drink his beer on the rocks . Yes, the man who not only coached, but grew up in the land of Iron City Beer, waters down his brew with a few ice cubes. It's probably better that this bit of information came out after he resigned, because he would've lost infinite credibility points with the Yinzers had this been public knowledge earlier.
34. The Steelers release Duce Staley, thus ending one of the most bizarre careers in Steeler history. Staley came in with a bang in 2004, going for 90+ yards in six of his first eight games, and prompting Steeler fans to immediately run out and blow some hard-earned cash on a "22" jersey. Unfortunately, Staley frequently found his way to the injured list, playing just 15 of the 32 games in 2004 and 2005. Somehow, Bill Cowher found a way to get Staley into uniform for Super Bowl XL, which made Steeler fans everywhere question the motive for Cowher's loyalty. When his release seemed inevitable in 2006, especially following a preseason in which he ran for 92 yards on 42 carries, Staley made yet another cut. He was the Steeler that wouldn't go away. But in December, the Duce was finally dumped, ironically because of the presence of closet-defecating Najeh Davenport. Thus ends the Steelers career of Duce Staley. Oh well. We'll always have one enduring memory of Duce, week after week:
33. Ike Taylor tried to sell his '86 Monte Carlo. As you will later see with more prominent examples, several members of the Steeler family had auction fever in the past year. Unfortunately, Ike's was ultimately unsuccessful, as his pimped 1986 Monte Carlo failed to sell on eBay. The car was customized at a cost of a reported $60,000. I am shocked and amazed that not one Steeler fan would consider this a sound investment.
This is the kind of thing you pour money into after signing a $22 million contract
32. Heath Miller's 87-yard TD catch vs. Miami. You might live for 100 years and never hear of another Steeler tight end scoring an 87-yard touchdown, as Miller did on opening night against the Fighting Sabans. Heck, you might live for 100 years and never hear of another Steeler tight end catching a pass. But hopefully by the end of the season that joke will be as useless as Daunte Culpepper was in week one last year.
31. The dismissal of Chris Gardocki. I got a lot of mileage out of the now-released Steeler punter's running storyline. Every single time Gardocki would drop back for a punt, an announcer glossing over his game notes would tell us that Gardocki's never had a punt blocked. Forget the fact that he was awful, he never had a punt blocked. Let's just say I was fully behind the Daniel Sepulveda draft choice.
30. Lynn Swann plays beer pong. In October the nation was treated to the breaking news that former Steeler and potential Pennsylvania Governor Lynn Swann picked up a beer pong ball and took a shot while trolling for votes in a parking lot. Was it the difference in his loss to incumbent Ed Rendell by approximately 800,000 votes? I hope not, for his sake.
29. Even in a down year, we're still better than Cleveland...as witnessed by two of the Steelers' eight wins coming against the Browns. Actually, I can relate to Browns fans, as witnessed by uttering just two words of a perennial disappointment I'm familiar with: Pittsburgh Pirates.
28. ...but we were Pwned by the Ravens. And it was UGLY. 27-0 and 31-7. Yikes. I'd say the 27-0 game was worse, with the tiebreaker being their nine sacks of Big Ben and 22 yards rushing for Willie Parker. But that 31-7 loss on Christmas Eve ruined the next day for many a Steeler fan.
27. Ben Roethlisberger's Excellent Offseason Adventures. Big Ben lead the league in interceptions in 2006. To remedy this, Ben's offseason is an attempt at leading the league in celebrity appearances and frequent flier miles. A sampling of his travels:
Bahamas- Michael Jordan Golf Tournament
LA- Guest host "Best Damn Sports Show, Period"
Seven Springs Resort- "Winterfest Weekend with Povertyneck Hillbillies"
Las Vegas- Jerome Bettis' birthday party @ Caesar's Palace
Florida- ESPN the Weekend
Pittsburgh- Sprint "Power to Play" Mini-camp
Miami- Dan Marino Golf Tournament
LA- Guest, "Last Call with Carson Daly"
Phoenix- Muhammad Ali Celebrity Fight Night
Rancho Mirage, CA- Kraft Nabisco Celebrity Golf Championship
LA- ESPY Awards
Lake Tahoe - American Century Celebrity Golf Championship
New York - The Jim Kelly Celebrity Golf Classic
Virginia - William & Mary Football Camp
Pittsburgh - Highmark Celebrity Classic for Children
Tampa - Derek Jeter Celebrity Golf Tournament
26. Richard Seigler is arrested. Who's Richard Seigler? I don't know either. But apparently he was a linebacker on the Steelers' roster. In May he finally gained some name recognition, as he was charged with running a prostitution ring in Las Vegas. Given the fact that he was Richard Seigler and not an actual player that could help the team, he was immediately released by the Steelers.
25. Our first round draft pick has less than a week to establish himself. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons of Florida State was the Steelers' first-round pick in the 2007 draft. After signing and showing up to camp on time (with Drew Rosenhaus as his agent!), Timmons immediately found himself in the doghouse of countless Steeler fans due to his somewhat fragile physique. Within days of the start of camp, Timmons was sidelined by a groin injury and complaining about two-a-days. Talk show callers are already comparing him to colossal Steeler bust and 1991 1st round draft pick Huey Richardson. Again, this is only after a few days of training camp. Patience is not a virtue in Western Pennsylvania.
24. Steeler fans disrupt Jim Furyk at the US Open. During the final round of this year's open, held at Oakmont CC (right outside of Pittsburgh), Jim Furyk was gaining momentum. Furyk grew up in nearby Uniontown, and the biased crowd was getting behind the local boy. And he was loving it...a bit too much. Furyk was so fired up by the "Here we go Jimmy, here we go!" chant (a familiar refrain of Steeler fans) that he pulled his drive to the left on the 17th hole, effectively killing his chances of victory.
23. Jeff Reed. An internet legend. Period.
Remarkable - he still manages to connect with a portly Steeler fan while trying to hit on a woman
22. The most boring Monday Night Football game of all time. Perhaps you remember it: September 18, 2006. Jaguars 9, Steelers 0. It was the 2006 debut of Ben Roethlisberger, just two weeks removed from an appendectomy. And it was nearly unwatchable. Beyond Roethlisberger's two sacks and two interceptions, the Steelers' 26 yards rushing on 14 carries was the lowest in Bill Cowher's 15 years. No, not even a guest appearance by Dwyane Wade in the booth could save this one.
21. The Larry Zierlein incident. In May, profootballtalk.com broke a story claiming that Steelers offensive line coach Larry Zierlein inadvertently forwarded a pornographic e-mail to high-level team employees throughout the NFL, including unamused commissioner Roger Goodell. After several days of speculation, the Steelers finally acknowledged the incident but did not fire Zierlein. Naturally, the question I received over and over from my readers upon the news breaking was, "Do you know what was on the video, and could you forward it to me if you have it?"
Needless to say, most Steeler fans weren't too outraged. And no, I don't have it.
20. Ben Roethlisberger sells his truck on eBay. While many Steeler fans wish Roethlisberger would've sold his motorcycle before June 12, 2006, Roethlisberger decided to part with his 2004 Yukon Denali "Rookie Truck" on eBay in May. The hammer fell at just over $35,000 - a bargain considering the window sticker was $53,610.
Look, it's a quarterback who doesn't engage in dogfights
19. Kordell Stewart punks an Average Joe. Does anyone ever remember Kordell Stewart playing so confidently and cocky as a Steeler? If he did, he might still be in the NFL and not be punking guys on Pros vs. Joes.
18. Charlie Batch's coming out party. No, it wasn't a John Amaechi-style coming out party. But it was powerful. In place of Ben Roethlisberger on a national stage in week one, Batch went 15-for-25, with 209 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-17 win. In the process, Batch solidified his place as the most popular man in Pittsburgh: the backup quarterback.
17. Big Ben hangs out with Donald Trump. In January, I shared a little-known scoop with the nation: our quarterback spends significant time with the President of the Rosie O'Donnell Haters Club. Ben said that they golf, gamble, and talk at least once a week. They must also share an entrepreneurial spirit, because Roethlisberger revealed this information in an interview to pitch his Big Ben BBQ sauce (which is actually quite tasty, by the way).
Use this BBQ sauce and you get a nice, healthy glow
16. Joey Porter's pit bulls. Before we knew about Michael Vick, our NFL pit bull knowledge was limited to Joey Porter. In September 2006, two of Porter's pit bulls escaped and killed a mini pony on a neighboring farm. To my knowledge, though, Porter's property did not include a series of several buildings in the backyard painted black to match the color of night.
15. Bill Cowher sells all of his useless crap. All Kaye Cowher wanted was an auction company to come in and sell off the items that didn't make the cut for the Cowhers' North Carolina relocation. "Don't make it a circus", she said. And then the internet got word of the news. Faster than you can say "The Jaw," pictures of Cowher's junk were all over the internet. Over 1,500 collectors of Cowherabilia congregated in-person and online to bid on Bill's second-hand goods, including a bed, a pool table, and a statue of Bacchus. The most amazing sale price was $550 for a Steelers ice bucket, undoubtedly outdated once Bill accepts his new job.
Buy the very TV where Bill agonized over countless AFC Championship losses
14. Jerome Bettis opens a restaurant. In June, Jerome Bettis Grille 36 opened its doors in downtown Pittsburgh. The 500-seat eatery features the Signature Jerome 36 ounce Steak, a fried cheddar and meatloaf hoagie, and a bar offering 36 different martinis, 36 different beers and 36 different vodkas, in honor of the number Bettis wore while playing for the Steelers.
Wait, go back. A meatloaf hoagie? It sounds like that creation could possibly be more beloved by the city than anything Jerome accomplished on the field.
13. The Oakland Loss. On October 29, Steeler fans were forced to sit through a scary performance in a 20-13 loss to the lowly Oakland Raiders. This was one of only two games that the Raiders would win in 2006, and they didn't even score an offensive touchdown en route to their 20 points. A questionable decision by Bill Cowher to start Ben Roethlisberger, recovering from a concussion just a week before, was second-guessed ad nauseam. After analyzing Ben's line of 4 INTs (2 returned for TDs) and 5 sacks, I'd say Bill guessed wrong in this instance.
12. Dr. Richard Rydze. Say you have a guy who's a team doctor for an NFL franchise. This man then buys $150,000 worth of HGH and testosterone on his personal credit card in 2006. One would think that would be a bigger story, no? Well, don't expect to see a 10-part expose from Bob Ley just yet, because for some reason this story has been off the map in our country's witch hunt of all performance-enhancing drugs. He said he doesn't give them to players. That's good enough, right?
11. Troy Polamalu got paid. The colorful but quiet safety landed a five-year, $33 million contract, with a signing bonus of over $15 million. Hopefully he'll use some of that money on a long-overdue trip to SuperCuts.
10. Alan Faneca didn't get paid. Have you heard that Alan Faneca's unhappy with his contract? Stick around, he'll be telling you again in another five minutes. Yes, the constant bellyaching of offensive lineman Alan Faneca has become quite the Steeler storyline. Why does Faneca want a new contract? Maybe because other NFL owners are spending money on lineman as if they're filming a remake of Brewster's Millions. His next employer knows well in advance that if nothing else, they're getting a team player who handles himself professionally.
Faneca will forgo a mouthpiece in favor of the pacifier in 2007
9. The Steeler impersonator is ordered to 90 days in jail. How can you prove that people are crazy about the Steelers? The fact that a guy can impersonate 3rd-string QB Brian St. Pierre and backup tight end Jerame Tuman to pick up women and con them out of money should be a good indicator.
8. Former assistants Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm were hired by the Cardinals. Matt Leinart, Edgerrin James, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and now a few legitimate NFL coaches. THIS is the year the Cardinals get over the top. Seriously!
7. The arrival of Brady Quinn. We're just a few months into the Brady Quinn Era, and it's making the Kellen Winslow Era look boring by comparison. If you thought Browns fans were excited about their selection of Quinn, Steeler fans were 1,000 times more ecstatic. We're greatly looking forward to watching him get knocked around by our defense twice a year. And the photos...oh, the photos...
From the bottom of my heart, on behalf of Steeler fans everywhere, I thank you for your drafting, Phil Savage.
6. Knocking Cincinnati out of the playoffs. The high-and-mighty Bengals, with the fans that tell us year after year how superior they are to the lowly Steelers, needed to beat said Steelers in the final game of the 2006 season. If not, the playoffs would be non-existent for the Bengals, but hey, they're used to that. In what turned out to be Bill Cowher's final game as Steeler coach, Ben Roethlisberger threw a 67-yard touchdown to Santonio Holmes in overtime, ending both teams' seasons on New Year's Eve.
My only question going into the Bengals' 2007 campaign is what their excuse will be for why they don't get it done. In 2005, it was all blamed on Kimo von Oelhoffen, for knocking Carson Palmer out of their first-round playoff game. How quickly we forget that A. Cincinnati had the lead at the half, well after Palmer went down, B. Cincinnati was playing with the home-field advantage, and C. In the 2001 AFC Championship game, a nobody named Tom Brady was knocked out of the game, which New England somehow, someway, managed to win...on the road. In 2006, their excuse was the "killer" schedule that the NFL gave them. What's it going to be in '07? Chris Henry's suspension?
What irritates Steeler fans the most is the arrogance of Bengal fans. They've had one winning season since 1990, then they get a few decent players and all of a sudden they claim to be the team to beat in the entire NFL. Remember, this Bengal core hasn't even won a playoff game. This would be like the Pirates winning the NL Central in 2005, losing in the first round, missing the playoffs in 2006, then declaring they're the team to beat in 2007. And we all know how ludicrous that sounds. And not just because the Pirates will never make the playoffs in our lifetimes.
5. Joey Porter is released, signs with Dolphins, and gets arrested. The parting of Joey Porter and the Pittsburgh Steelers was bittersweet. Porter was a key cog in the defense, but he'd clearly lost a step. He was the vocal leader of the team and a Super Bowl champion, but his play no longer backed up his mouth. Steeler fans had grown weary of his antics, his pre-game, rolled-up jersey, his constant trash talking. It was time to part ways.
When the cord was finally cut, it didn't take long for the Miami Dolphins to come in and splurge $32 million and a $12 million signing bonus on the man also known as J. Peezy. In his eyes, the Steelers did him a favor, because there's no way he would have scored that kind of loot in a black-and-gold uniform.
But Porter's offseason had just begun. In March, he was cited for punching Bengals tackle Levi Jones at a blackjack table in Vegas, proving how much the Bengals get under people's skin, even when they're no longer Steelers. Porter was fined nearly $150,000 for the incident.
As late as May, Peezy's likeness was spotted on an anti-snitching billboard in Pittsburgh, ironic because of the fact that he was now a Miami Dolphin who had run afoul of the law. So does his stance on snitching mean a potential conflict with Carmelo Anthony sometime down the road?
Nothing says "be a star" like snitching on a criminal
4. Willie Parker. The Steelers' feature back compiled 1,716 yards of offense (7th in the NFL) and 16 touchdowns (3rd in the NFL) in 2006. He's only 26 years old, he's a sculpted 209 pounds, and because he didn't play much at North Carolina, he doesn't have the wear and tear that most backs his age show. He has game-breaking ability, as his two 200+ yard games last season will attest to. All but a few of the teams in the NFL could only hope to have a running back as productive as Parker.
Of course, we live in Pittsburgh, and sometimes we like to make things difficult. Like persisting the idea that our starting running back has to be a 250-pound bowling ball because "that's the Steeler way", as if a Jerome Bettis Tree existed. Of course, if that tree did exist, the Steelers would then be entitled to having that player on their roster.
An example: ever since the Falcons drafted the 254-pound TJ Duckett in 2002, ESPN's John Clayton has appeared on Pittsburgh talk radio shows telling us how the Steelers were interested in acquiring Duckett. Duckett's career peaked in 2003 in Atlanta, with a whopping 779 yards on the ground. After Clinton Portis went down last year for Washington, Duckett barely moved off of the bench. He's since moved on to Detroit. But don't worry, I'm sure John Clayton will tell us at some point this season that the Steelers are still interested.
Steeler fans, I speak to you collectively: if you're not on board with Willie Parker yet, for some reason, it's not too late. We don't need the "phat back". I'll take 1,716 yards and 16 touchdowns any season.
3. A horrendous defense of the Lombardi Trophy. I know we had some adverse conditions last season, but the so-called "defense" of the Lombardi Trophy was embarrassing. The 2-6 start, the loss at Oakland, the losses against Baltimore, the turnovers, the interceptions, the lack of discipline, the failure to field a simple punt again and again...it was enough to drive a fan mad. The late rally to finish 8-8 was noble, but playing with the same urgency earlier in the season would have probably landed the Steelers in the postseason.
2. Ben Roethlisberger's appendicitis and subsequent 2006 season. Actually, this happened just a few days after last year's preview went live. Following his broken nose, upper and lower jaw, eye socket bones, and concussion suffered during his June 12 motorcycle accident, we then got word that Ben's appendix had to come out, and right before the home opener in September. It was at that point that many thought Roethlisberger's deal with the devil had expired. His 2006 season was an absolute disaster in every sense of the word, from the league-high 23 interceptions to his 75.4 passer rating.
Yes, many have written off Ben Roethlisberger. Peter King ranked him 17th among NFL quarterbacks in 2007, behind Jon Kitna, Vince Young, and Tony Romo. Of course, Peter then goes on to tell us that his rankings value winning, and he conveniently forgets that Roethlisberger ranks behind only Manning, Brady and Favre in playoff wins among active QBs. It must be all that Starbucks coffee going to his head.
And admit it, as lame as the segment is, explain how a 25-year-old quarterback with a Super Bowl ring and a Hollywood girlfriend doesn't even make the cut of Who's Now?
Ben, I haven't given up on you. I haven't forgotten 15-1. I haven't forgotten the Super Bowl. And I remember the accident, the appendectomy, and the concussion. I know you'll be back to your old self in 2007.
1/1A. Bill Cowher Resigns/Mike Tomlin Hired. When a team changes coaches for the third time since 1969, that immediately takes the prize as the #1 story. Bill Cowher's urges to leave football and spend more time with his family finally got the best of him, as he stepped aside following the 2006 season. Now Bill can relax in peace with Kaye and the kids...and film Fast Cars and Superstars: Gillette Young Guns Celebrity Race...and work for CBS Sports...
But seriously, Cowher has the right to do whatever he wants. He gave us a championship and more years of competitive seasons than the Pirates will give us in the next 500 years. We hate to see him go. But this is the NFL, and we have to move on.
And move on we have, with a man named Mike Tomlin. He's the no-nonsense new sheriff in town, and he's already making his presence felt. He's called out veterans, he's planned 15 two-a-days, and he's eaten Pasta a la Ben at Roethlisberger's favorite restaurant. My favorite part? He's a writer, too. His "The News" segments, famous from previous coaching stints around the NFL, will now be typed up and circulated at camp.
Says Hines Ward: "If you loaf on a play, you end up in The News. If you fumble a ball, you're going to end up in The News. If you throw a pick, you end up in The News. He calls it like he sees it."
Accountability is something that this team sorely lacked in 2006. Needless to say, it's back with a vengeance in 2007. Players are competing for jobs again. The defensive and offensive unitas are mixing it up at camp, and the coaches are letting them go at it. The fire that was temporarily gone appears to have returned. If my thoughts are correct, the Steelers won't have to hire another coach for a long time. And my Deadspin preview curse will hopefully come to an end.