´ Steel Curtain Rising: February 2008

Who gets the game ball for the Steelers win over the Texans?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Voice of Steelers Nation Silenced: Myron Cope 1929-2008

Steelers Nation lost a definitive voice with the passing of Myron Cope. No Steeler summed up Cope’s legacy better than Art Rooney II when he explained that “Myron Cope brought the Steelers closer to the fans.” Cope was, as Sports Illustrated, opined in 1992, the soul of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In an age when sports broadcastings is increasingly defined by either former athletes who are there by virtue of their names or professionals who excel in their drive to be vanilla, Cope brought a new meaning the term “color commentator.” Cope was a character and, to his credit, he made no apologies for that.

Growing up in Maryland, my exposure to Cope did not come until the 1987 season’s final contest. Sitting on an 8-6 record, Pittsburgh needed only to beat the “Cleve Brownies” at home to clinch a playoff berth in that strike shortened season.

Heading into Pittsburgh the day after Christmas, we had just reached WTAE’s range as Browns were in the process of putting us away. Suddenly a corner, Woodson or Woodruff, returned an interception a touchdown. “We got ourselves a football game, we got ourselves a football game!” boomed the speakers.

The Steelers went on to loose that game 21 years ago, but I remember Cope’s accounts of the second half as vividly as if they’d happened yesterday. When Brian Hinkle went down “ooh, that hurts, that hurts!” Later, Jack Fleming spotted one of the team captains jumping up and down after a disputed call Cope interjected “is it for joy or for anger? Fleming, is he jumping joy or for anger?!”

Up to that point 95% of my experience with football on the radio had come from listening WMAL’s Redskins broadcast team of Sonny, Sam, Frank, and Huff. While those guys bled red and yellow just as profusely as Myron bled Black and Gold, an important difference was apparent. Myron’s wit was legendary, but he called the game as he saw it, and he never took himself too seriously.

In fact, in his book Double Yoi, Myron made a point of saying that, as opposed to his writing, he did not take broadcasting seriously at all. Case in point, writing about creating the Terrible Towel in Steelers Digest, he said he’d been asked to come up with a gimmick, and “I am a gimmicly kind of guy.” (Interestingly enough, this account conflicts with recently published accounts.)

Yet Myron never let his antics interfere with his insights into the game. I remember an outbound turnpike trip during the third game of the 1989 season. Cope, true to form, came out with gems like, “and there’s Mike Mularkey arguing with the Minny Vike defender saying ‘now don’t you give me any of that mularkey....”

But at a crucial point in the game a Steeler receiver had been ruled out of bounds. Before the next play could be called Myron exclaimed, “Both feet were in bounds, both feet were in bounds. Did you see it Fleming? Did you see it? Tell me, am I right or are my eye balls LYING TO ME? He got both feet in bounds. FLEMING did you see what I saw!” The officials reviewed the play, and sure enough, the Steelers receiver had gotten both feet in bounds.

Myron Cope’s contribution to the game was unique. He invented the Terrible Towel. In 1989, Cope coaxed coaches into drafting Carlton Haselrig, a college wrestler who never even played football. Haselrig made the 1992 Pro Bowl as a guard. In 1992, he realized that Barry Foster was sitting on the bench only a few yards shy of a 100. He pounded on the glass of the press box to make the assistant coaches next to him aware of this. Foster got his 100.

Whether it was with his Christmas songs, nick names like “Drac Lambert,” or “the Bus,” the enthusiasm Myron shared with fans was contagious. He brought a vivid tone and texture to football games that took on a life of its own, at least in Steelers Nation.

Its not so much that no broadcaster will never leave a bigger footprint on that game, its that none will ever leave better one.

Rest in peace Myron, Steelers Nation misses you! Double Yoi!

[Lectores de Español, para leer un articulo sobre Myron Cope hagan clic acá.]

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Watch Not What They Say but What They Do, Part II?

Ealier this week, Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert declared that the Steelers were committed to drafting the best available athlete in the 2008 draft.

According to the Post Gazette, Colbert said: "We do [have the luxury of taking the best player available], and like I said, we're not going to take a quarterback, we're not likely to take a tight end, but we could take a player at just about any other position. We wanted to go into this draft and not be need-specific."

It’s hard to know how to interpret this, given that Ben spent much of the last two years either running for his life or on his back.

Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriola has commented that during the latter years of the Cowher era the Steelers drafted for need, to their peril, particularly on the second day. Indeed, the drafting for need folly is painfully evident in the 1999 selection of Troy Edwards with the 13th pick.

Nonetheless, the Steelers urgently need to shore up their offensive line – something that would be true even if a miracle happened and we managed to keep Alan Fanaca.

So how to read Colbert? Well, Colbert’s coyness about the Steelers draft plans is legendary. Is he trying hand at misdirection through the media, or could the Steelers really select another outside linebacker with the 23rd pick?

In the Cowher era, the Steelers seemed to have an unofficial policy of using one premium pick (1st-3rd) on offensive lineman. While guys like Jermain Stephens, Chris Conrad, Paul Wiggins, and Kris Farris did not pan out, others did. The decision to invest top picks in Fanaca, Stephenson, Starks, and (for a time) Brendan Stai, paid handsome dividends.

Pittsburgh has not used a premium pick on a lineman since 2005. All of the talk about selecting aside “the best available player” aside, the Steelers would do well to revisit the practice.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Watch Tower: Score One Round for the Trib. Review

You’d think that having two competing papers would be great for Steelers fans, but too often the two dailies simply mimic each other.

If you were to score coverage week-by-week, however, you’d have to score this past week for the Tribune Review.

The big news is that the Steelers have been preparing for free agency, resigning back ups, cutting veterans, and placing the transition tag on Max Starks. All of this was dutifully reported by both papers.

But kudos to Tribune-Review for going deeper into story. John Harris reported that the Steelers are attempting to sign Chris Kemoeatu to a long-term deal, and will most likely tender an offer keeps another team from signing him as a restricted free agent.

At 6’3”, 344 pounds Kemoeatu has been a tantalizing prospect since the Steelers picked him late in the 2005 draft. He hasn’t played much, but perhaps that shouldn’t be so surprising given that he’s played behind Kendall Stephenson and Alan Fanaca.

The Steelers off season imperative is to strengthen its offensive line. Therefore a move to lock down Kemoeatu is newsworthy. Credit the Trib-Review for bringing that to us, and one has to question why this information is no where to be found on the Post-Gazette.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Steelers Make Moves Ahead of Free Agency

The Steelers have begun bracing for free agency by making two moves. First, they resigned Travis Kirschke, then the slapped the transition tag on Max Starks.

Signing Kirschke is a safe move. He's is clearly a step down from Aaron Smith and Bret Kiesel, but he’s a body, and he knows the system. They also gave him next to nothing in bonus money, so he can be cut easily.

Moving to keep Max Starks in the fold is a much bigger, much more important move. When the offensive line play got shaky one of the first things that occurred to me is “why in the hell did they bench Starks?” as Willie Colon did not seem to be an upgrade. And Starks really, really played well when Marvel Smith went down.

Assuming we keep him, he helps shore up the offensive line. I’ve heard various combinations, such as moving Colon to guard, putting Starks back in at tackle, and perhaps even moving Stephenson to center. Keeping Stakers does not make up for losing Fanaca, but it’s a start.

Will we keep him? I don’t know. According to the Post Gazette, the transition tag gives the Steelers the right of first refusal. Now a team could structure the deal so as to screw the Steelers, and that may happen. The Steelers also have to offer him an average of the to ten tackles in the league. That's got to come to a pretty big number.

Is Starks really worth that? Possibly not. But he was good enough to start on our Super Bowl team. He bounced back from a difficult demotion, and we desperately need offensive lineman, so this is the right move.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Steelers Right to Stick with Grass at Heinz Field

The Pittsburgh Steelers should be applauded for their decision to buck the conventional wisdom by sticking with a grass surface at Heinz Field. This is the right thing to do for a number of reasons, provided that the Steelers make every effort to stagger games to eliminate weekends when both the Panthers and Steelers play at home.

Grass is easier on the body than turf. Certainly, there are injuries that occur on grass that do not occur turf (e.g. someone’s cleat digs into the grass while the knee gets pushed the opposite direction.) And apparently there is no statistical correlation between incidents of ACL tears and type of playing surface. But turf simply causes more wear and tear on the body. Although it’s impossible to quantify, this adds. This is pure speculation, but could guys Lynn Swann and Dermontti Dawson have extended their playing days had Three Rivers Stadium been grass?

The offense is changing the critics say, so the turf must change with it.
  • Wrong.
The Steelers are a smash-mouth football team, and there is no purer smash-mouth environment than playing on grass. It says here that Adrians’ offense evolves independently of our playing surface. Nonetheless sticking with grass helps keep the team true to its roots, even if only symbolically.

Finally, by sticking with turf, the Steelers affirm an important football fundamental in the face of some mildly disturbing trends. After 9/11, there was talk that New York or Washington would host a Super Bowl. Alas, as the patriotic glow faded, so did the NFL's stomach for putting the Super Bowl outdoors in a cold weather city, lest a kickoff temperature fall below 60 degrees… New York’s announcement that it was going to build a new stadium was accompanied by grumblings that it should have had one of those retractable roofs that are now in vogue…

Football is a men’s game. It is meant to be played outdoors, on grass, in the elements. Performing under the elements is part of the game, plain and simple. The Steelers help ensure that that remains true by keeping their grass surface.

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