Friday, August 17, 2012
What Ike Taylor and Antonio Brown's Fisticuffs Teach Us
Fights between team mates are staples of NFL summers. Usually they’re open-an-shut affairs which do little more than provide some eye candy for the evening news highlight reels.
But when do training camp fights cross the line?
Steelers Nation asked itself that question recently as repeated scuffles between Antonio Brown and Ike Taylor got so bad that Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert had to help separate them.
The short answer to the question is that Steelers fans probably have little to worry about, but the incidents do reveal something about the team.
Fights and Fisticuffs From Days Gone By….
Rookies frequently find themselves as the instigators of training camp slugfests. It makes sense.
Young, cocky (or desperate) prospect in from college seeks to make name for himself at the expense of a someone else.
In the early 1990’s either Brensten Buckner or Joel Steed (can’t remember which) had just that idea. Might have worked, except they chose to pick a fight with 5 time NCAA wrestling champion Carlton Haselrig.
Suffice to say, Haselrig got the bitter of that exchange.
Veterans do mix it up however. A few years back in the Steelers Digest Craig Wolfley wrote about an intense duel he got into with Edmund Nelson in the 1980’s.
But as Wolfley explained, after practice he found himself trudging up the hill to the locker room and found himself talking with another player about how Noll had put him through the wringer that day. It wasn’t until he got to the top of the hill that he realized that he’d been walking along side Nelson.
The moral of Wolfley’s story was clear – fights break out, but everything gets left behind on the gridiron….
Richard Huntley vs. Earl Holmes
….Except when it doesn’t.
The last newsworthy fight for the Steelers came during minicamp in the spring of 2000. Fisticuffs erupted between Richard Huntley and Earl Holmes on the practice field.
After practice Huntley was assuring writers that by-gones were already by-gones when Earl Holmes broke into the locker room and a melee erupted. Chairs were swung and Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala even got a black eye after being inadvertently hit.
That incident was far out of the ordinary, and considering just how badly things had come unglued at the end of the 1999 season, there was cause for concern.
Even Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest commented something on the order of “Whether this represents a rekindling of the competitive fire or a further erosion of discipline remain to be seen.”
If that fight was indicative of anything at the end of the day it was the former rather than the later.
And that’s most likely the meaning we can take from the three round installment of Taylor vs. Brown.
What Taylor vs. Brown Teaches Us
Mark Kaboly of the Tribune-Review argues that both the frequency and ferocity of the fights has risen to an abnormally high level his summer in Latrobe. The gash that Ike Taylor suffered under his right eye is a strong indicates that Kabloy is on to something.
But if he has taken notice, so have others, others who can do something about it. As Kabloy reported, Ryan Clark and Ben Roethlisberger intervened, making a point of speaking with both men.
And by all accounts, it worked. Brown and Taylor shared breakfast together on the South Side and Taylor even invited Brown to his radio show.
While Brown and Taylor kissing and making up is well and good, what’s more important is they were prompted to do so from elsewhere in the locker room.
When you put 53 men together in the pressure cooker that is the NFL regular season, personality conflicts will arise. Unlike training camp, most of them will occur out of the public eye.
What the Taylor-Brown incident reveals however, is that even absent players like Hines Ward, James Farrior, and Aaron Smith, the Steelers have the locker room leadership necessary head such problems off at the pass, before they can contaminate the club house.
For a training camp that's thus far been defined by hold outs and injuries, this certainly counts as a piece of good news.