´ Steel Curtain Rising: June 2013

Who gets the game ball for the win over the Colts?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Allegheny Judge says Steelers Failed to Prove Seat-Expansion Meets Requirements in Heinz Field Lease

Ask Steelers fans, and they'll tell you how expensive seats have become at Heinz Field in recent years. Now, thanks to a ruling by an Allegheny County Judge, the Steelers themselves may soon have that same opinion.

On Wednesday, Common Please Judge James Jones ruled against the Steelers and their bid for funding for a 3000 seat expansion to the south end zone of Heinz Field. Judge Jones said the Steelers failed to prove that such an expansion could be classified as a capital improvement under the team's Heinz Field lease.

The Steelers were seeking two-thirds of the cost from Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority, the stadium's owner.

Here is a excerpt from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, further explaining Jones' ruling:

Under that criteria,  the  team must show: that a similar addition or modification has been installed in at least half of all National Football League stadiums with at least 25 percent of the cost covered by federal, state, or local governments; that the change is "reasonably necessary" to maintain the team's relative economic position in the NFL with regard to stadium revenue and expenses; and that it is "reasonably necessary" to prevent Heinz Field facilities and amenities from becoming "materially outdated" compared with other stadiums built between 1999 and 2004.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Fan's Memories of the Steelers' Road to Super Bowl XL: The Greatest Nine Weeks Ever (Part I)

The first half of the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers regular season was going along much like the previous one, when Pittsburgh finished 15-1 with rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger before losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

Even though Roethlisberger was out a few weeks after having minor knee surgery, Charlie Batch filled in just fine in beating a pretty mediocre Green Bay team on the road and the miserable Browns at Heinz Field on Sunday Night Football. Pittsburgh was 7-2, and the playoffs seemed like a sure bet.

However, things began to take a turn for the worse in Week 11 when Batch was unable to go and Tommy Maddox had to take the helm at quarterback against the very ordinary Ravens. I don't know if any of you remember, but '05 wasn't the greatest year for Tommy Gun. Earlier in the season, he had to fill in for Roethlisberger against the Jaguars and proceeded to throw three interceptions, including the back-breaker in overtime as the Steelers lost and Maddox may or may not have had garbage thrown on his lawn.

Maddox didn't fare much better against the Ravens, and Pittsburgh lost, 16-13, in overtime with some help from a fluky interception off of Hines Ward's cleats near mid-field. The following week, the Steelers traveled to Indianapolis to play the then undefeated Colts on Monday Night Football. Roethlisberger was just coming back from his surgery, but neither he nor the Steelers defense had an answer for Indianapolis as Peyton Manning and the boys had their way with our Black and Gold.

The Steelers were 7-4 and one game behind Cincinnati in the AFC North, heading into their Week 13 match up at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh whipped up on the Bengals earlier in the season at Cincinnati, and I figured the team would do the same thing at Heinz field and tie the Bengals for the lead in the division which essentially would put the Steelers one game ahead because of the head-to-head tiebreaker they would hold. Didn't happen.

It was a pretty good game, but the Bengals eventually won by a touchdown and held a two-game lead with just four to go, all-but clinching the AFC North. At 7-5, not only did Pittsburgh's chances at the division look pretty weak, but because of a very poor record in the AFC, its chances at a wildcard looked bleak at best.
  • Things weren't looking good at all for Steeler Nation.
'05 Steelers Rally to the Playoffs Begins!

Then.........the fun began!

There was no doubt the Steelers had to win their last four games to even have a chance to make the playoffs, but they were in a dog-fight for the last two spots with the Jaguars, Titans, Chiefs and Chargers. The only tiebreaker advantage Pittsburgh held was over the Chargers because of a last-second victory earlier in the year.

The rest of the teams had the Steelers dead-to-rights, and the Chargers were still one-game up on Pittsburgh, tiebreaker or not. I'm always pretty optimistic about my Steelers, but even I had very big doubts about them getting into the postseason.

The Tuesday night after the Bengals loss, my aunt asked me if I wanted to join her at the Firehouse Lounge in Pittsburgh's Strip District for the weekly taping of the Joey Porter Show. I turned her down. I wasn't in the mood for any Steelers celebrating. As far as I was concerned, they were pretty much dead in the water in terms of any postseason hopes.

Onto the game against the Bears. The Steelers played their best game in weeks as they manhandled the supposed toughest team in the NFC. The game was most notable for a play in which the Bus, Jerome Bettis, ran over Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher during a short-yardage touchdown run in the snow at Heinz Field.

It was fun to see the Steelers win, but their playoff hopes were still pretty sad.

Later that evening, I was shocked to hear that San Diego lost at home to the Dolphins. "Wow, a piece of the puzzle," I thought as I watched the Chiefs go up against Dallas later that afternoon. I haven't been a Cowboys fan in years, but you better believe I was that day. Trailing, the Cowboys had the ball first and goal late in the game. Dallas' offense didn't get anywhere on the first three downs, and after a fourth down pass fell incomplete in the end zone, I thought, "Oh well, at least the Chargers lost and the Steelers gained a little bit of ground in the playoff picture."
  • Wait a second!
There was a flag for defensive holding against Kansas City, and the Cowboys had new life. Dallas eventually scored and went on to win. Not only did the Steelers win and break their three game losing streak, but the Chargers and Chiefs both lost and suddenly, within a span of six hours, Pittsburgh's playoff hopes went from last rights to new life.

A couple of days later, I did join my aunt at the Lounge for another taping of the Porter's show, which was hosted by Peezee himself, with former Steeler Chris Hope and Jon Burton of Channel 4 Action Sports acting as co-hosts. The show was taped on Tuesdays and aired on Friday or Saturday nights on WBGN.

It was like a poor man's Jerome Bettis Show with sub-par production values, but being at a taping was always a ton of fun. The place wasn't too crowded my first night there. I was able to sit right behind the cameras beside my aunt and her friend. Joey always had at least one special guest Steeler each show and Antwaan Randle El was the guest that night. Afterwards, the fans all gathered around the guys for autographs and pictures.

In-fact, my aunt's main purpose for attending these shows was so she could get as many autographs as she could on a Steelers shirt that she would eventually give my uncle. I've never been an autograph seeker, but it's like a knee-jerk reaction when you're around a celebrity of any kind.

For some reason, you feel compelled to ask them to sign something. Randle El disappointed most of the crowd by skirting out of there pretty fast after the show ended, but Porter and Hope stuck around to sign stuff and have their pictures taken. When Hope finally came my way, I said, "Hey man, could you sign my hat?" as I shoved it in his face. And he said, "where?" My hat was this Steelers tossel cap, with very little room for writing, except on the logo, so that's what he signed.
  • It was a pretty cool night.
The Steelers were in even better shape the following week after they dominated the Vikings and Kansas City lost again, this time to the Giants. The Chargers won, becoming the first team to defeat the Colts, but as I said, the Steelers owned the tiebreaker over San Diego.

I went to another taping of the Joey Porter Show that following Tuesday, and the crowd was still pretty small despite the Steelers' playoff chances looking a lot better. The thing I remember most about that night was Porter, the crazy but lovable linebacker, recounting an argument he had with someone from the Vikings and describing it with the help of the f-word before catching himself and apologizing to the audience. Joey's guest that night was fellow Steelers linebacker Larry Foote.

Things Begin to Fall into Place for the '05 Steelers

Heading into Week 16, Pittsburgh was now one-game up on the Chiefs, who were playing San Diego at home. The Steelers were in Cleveland on Christmas Eve to play the Browns. While Kansas City knocked off the Chargers, 20-7, Pittsburgh pounded the Browns, 41-0. I didn't get to see the game because I was working, but I did have it taped for me, and I've probably watched that beat-down a dozen times.

Speaking of beat-downs, the Cleveland game is probably most noteworthy for being the contest in-which a Browns' fan ran on the field and was snatched and flung to the ground by future Defensive Player of the Year, James Harrison.
  • With one week left in the season, the Steelers were 10-5, and a game-up on both Kansas City and San Diego.
The Jaguars were basically in with the fifth seed, and the Chargers were eliminated, thanks to the loss in Kansas City, and now it was down to the Chiefs and Steelers for the last seed in the AFC. On a side note, I didn't go to the Joey Porter show that week. I don't remember why, but it was the only one I missed after the Steelers started their historic run.

Despite Pittsburgh having a one-game lead over the Chiefs, if the two teams finished the regular season tied at 10-6, Kansas City would get into the playoffs, based on a better conference mark. That Saturday night, the Chargers played Denver in a meaningless game for the Broncos who already had the AFC Western Division clinched as well as the second seed in the playoffs.

If San Diego would have somehow won that game, Pittsburgh would have clinched that last playoff spot before Sunday's games were even played based on some weird three-way tiebreaker, involving the Chiefs. It didn't happen, though. The Chargers lost, and after celebrating New Year's Eve, I sat down with my uncle to sweat out Pittsburgh's season-finale against the Lions at Heinz Field. The Chiefs played the Bengals in a meaningless game for Cincy, and Kansas City won, 37-3.

'05 Steelers Seal the Deal - Road to Super Bowl XL Opens!

The 5-10 Lions didn't go quietly, as Pittsburgh only led, 21-14, at halftime. During the break, my uncle was watching Tommy Boy, and I, being a nervous wreck about the game, was off to the side doing karate moves and wound up catching my foot on the back of his chair and fell on my butt. The thing I remember most is looking up and seeing my uncle and little cousin laughing hysterically. You talk about bringing Chris Farley back from the dead.

Anyway, that game turned out to be the last regular season and home game for the Bus, and he finished it off in style by scoring three touchdowns in a 35-21 Steelers victory.
  • Pittsburgh was in the playoffs with the sixth seed in the AFC, and I was relieved.
This concludes part one of my story. Join me next time for part two.

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Watch Tower: Putting the Haley-Roethlisberger Relationship Under the Microscope... And more

The 2013 NFL draft is in the books, most of the Steelers draft picks are under contract, free agent signings have largely been complete, and even OTAs are at an end. But there’s still plenty for the Watch Tower to shine its lights on.

Big Ben Likes the Changes to Todd Haley’s Offense….

The most important news to come out of OTA didn’t deal with the rookies, offensive line shuffling, or even Mike Adams stabbing.

No it was Allen Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review article’s on Ben Roethlisberger’s regarding the changes that Todd Haley has installed to the offense.

As Robinson details, no one was happy with the offense last year, not even Haley himself.  Roethlisberger was coy about the specifics, but he explained that everyone from the position coaches, to the players to Haley himself chimed in on how they could improve.

Robinson went so far as to observe “it was obvious he seemed more comfortable with the offense than he did at any time last season.”

That’s an interesting, not to mention encouraging, observation. Assuming it is accurate. Past history suggests it might not be….

Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley’s Unspoken Conflict in 2012

…No bigger subplot to the 2012 season existed than the relationship between new offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger. Ben had been out right chummy with Bruce Arians and was not happy to see him go and Haley had a reputation for getting in the faces and under the skin of his players.
  • How would the two gel?
The professional press entered the season looking and smelling for the slightest whiff of conflict. Each stray comment got magnified, but each time either Haley and/or Roethlisberger raced to the microphone to assure that nothing was wrong.

Yet, October Ian Rapaport of NFL.com claimed the two men were butting heads, suggesting that Haley would be gone by year’s end. But Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure I also write for BTSC) quickly cast doubt Rapaport’s sources, reminding everyone that his “exclusive” on the extent of David DeCastro’s preseason injury had been wrong.
  • Nothing serious surfaced as Ben was in route to an All Pro season before getting injured. 
Then came the Steelers disappointing loss to Dallas, where Roethliberger openly criticized the play calling in the second half, specifically referencing the inability to get the ball more to Heath Miller, complaining “I just don't think we called the right plays to get him the ball.”

Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review immediately proclaimed a “100-percent legitimate, non-manufactured quarterback vs. coordinator controversy,” further arguing that “No team can function without its quarterback and offensive coordinator on the same page, and these guys aren't in the same library right now.”

But before the 2012 season began, the Steelers fire fighting strategy was to give the press liberal access to Todd Haley, which contrasted starkly from Mike Tomlin's previous practice of preventing the press from speaking with his coordinators.

After the Dallas game the Steelers PR unit moved into high gear, as Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that “The reality is, the Steelers called nine plays designed for Miller in the second half, but the Cowboys' coverage forced Roethlisberger away from throwing to Miller.”

Dulac did not credit that statistic to anyone, but clearly he got it from somewhere inside the Steelers organization, and such a specific information was almost certainly leaked on purpose.

All was well the faithful of Steelers Nation were assured….

We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us…

The Steelers neat little PR strategy for denying any Haley-Roethlisberger rift was undone early in the 2013 off season by their own hand.

Editor Bob Labriola’s lead article in the February Steelers Digest had a picture of Ben and Haley and headline that proclaimed “This Has to Get Fixed First.” Labriola is of course employed by the Steelers, something evident in the Super Bowl ring that can sometimes been seen on his hand in Steelers.com videos (I love Labs, but why does he get a ring?)

Fans often criticize him for being a Rooney stooge, and sometimes that’ true. But historically Labriola hasn’t hesitated to call it like it is, something that goes back as far as his merciless criticism of Joe Walton’s offense during Chuck Noll’s ill fated trek up Walton’s mountain.
  • Labriola did not mince words here either. 
First he admonished Ben and Haley to accept that they’re stuck with each other. He then charges that the situation that saw Haley replacing Arians “was not a positive in 2012” explaining that “Roethlisberger and Haley weren’t communicating last season.”

Labrolia was quick to indicate that Roethlisberger and Haley of course spoke and were civil but implored both men to “communicate in a manner that’s both honest enough and productive enough for the Steelers offense to become a force in 2013.”
  • Has that process occurred? 
Alan Robinson’s article would have us think so. Hopefully Robinson’s report turns out to be more than spin from the Steelers PR team.

Legursky Gets No Love II

Pittsburgh Steelers back up/part time starting Center/Guard Doug Legrusky signed last week with the Buffalo Bills.
  • Not that you’d have learned that if you relied on the Post-Gazette or Tribune Review for your information.
As of Saturday June 9th, news of Legursky’s departure was not reported by either paper despite being reported by Behind the Steel Curtain on June 6th and the Bills website.
  • Legursky leaves a lesson for future free agents
If you’re an unrestricted free agent that wants to leave Pittsburgh without any fanfare, do it during June. Last year Mewelde Moore, one of the unsung heroes form the 2008 Super Bowl season, signed with the Colts and as the Watch Tower noted, Pittsburgh’s dailies all but ignored his defection.
  • Honestly, there is no excuse for this lack of coverage. 
Certainly OTA’s provide reporters with ample access to rookies and veterans which in turn gives them excellent story material. And one can say that in this age of Twitter and 24/7 Sports Talk radio that fans have other means of learning of such departures.
  • But neither is a reason to ignore departures of players like Legursky or Moore.
As Steel Curtain Rising will write in the future, Legursky’s loss could come back to haunt the Steelers mightily in 2013. Did the Steelers attempt to sign him? If not, why? If so was it a money issue, or does he not fit into the new zone run blocking scheme?

These questions are important, and Steelers Nation deserves a press corps that is attentive enough to ask them.

Untold Story Behind the Thomas Signing

And while the Watch Tower is burning into professional press its only right to point out another non-story, this one involving rookie safety Shamarko Thomas.

Days after the Kevin Colbert told season ticket holders that draftee signings would have to occur after June 1st, the Steelers went out and signed 4th round draft pick Shamarko Thomas. Pittsburgh’s dailies reported the move, but did nothing to detail why.

Behind the Steel Curtain did, reporting about how Thomas is supporting his brothers and sisters and can put his signing bonus to immediate use.

Assistant Coaches Get Face Time

One of the treats of NFL draft coverage in the digital age is that post pick press conferences with position coaches get posted on the Steelers website in full.

Watching Carnell Lake and Randy Fitncher was a real treat and an insightful experience, and seeing Johnny Mitchell spar with the press as he compared Nicholas Williams to Steve McLendon was not to be missed. Check them out if you haven’t already.

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Prudence, Rather than "Steelers June Curse" Lurking Behind Roethlisberger's Surgery

For a moment there, the collective heartbeat of Steelers Nation stopped on Wednesday when the news broke:
This was after all the month of June. It involved surgery, and it involved Ben Roethlisberger.

But there is surgery and surgery, and the reports are that this was a simple procedure to clean up some cartilage. Roethlisberger had a similar procedure done during he 2005 season and only missed 2 games because of it.
  • But with that said you never want to have someone go under the knife if it can be avoided.
Or do you?

About a year ago the Steelers faced a similar situation with James Harrison. Harrison knee was bothering him, and the Steelers and Harrison chose to let the knee heal on its own.

A respectable strategy, until the knee refused to heal, swelling continued, and Harrison had surgery in the middle of August. Not only did the surgery keep him out of the line up for the first few weeks of the season, but it wasn’t until mid season that Harrison regained full strength.

Clearly the Steelers are not going to burn their hands on the same pot twice.

June Curse Strikes Royally…

Mike Adams’s stabbing was of course enough to invoke the specter of the Steelers “June Curse,” Adams, however, was not its only victum.

The Steelers placed reserve cornerback Justin King on injured reserve, ending his season long before it had a chance to begin. No reason was given for the move, but the Steelers certainly did not make it lightly as King will cost them over $750,000 against the salary cap.

To take his place the Steelers signed cornerback Nigel Malone.

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Legrusky Gets No Love... In Pittsburgh at Least

Kevin Colbert might have an uncanny knack for uncovering previously overlooked gems in the form of undrafted rookie free agents. Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin likewise have an ironclad dedication to giving these guys a fair sake on the fields of St. Vincents.
  • But the Steelers can be downright unsentimental when it comes to showing these men the door.
Fast Willie Parker made Super Bowl XL the Steelers to lose. Willie Parker left Pittsburgh without a contract. James Harrison was asked to take less, and when he balked James Harrison found himself playing for far less money for the Cincinnati Bengals.

In that sense Doug Legursky finds himself in good company. Legursky cracked the Steelers roster in 2009 as an undrafted rookie free agent, and one year later he was starting for them in Super Bowl XLV.
  • He returned the following year to start 10 games as part of the continuing carousel on offense line.
  • He suited up and started 3 more in 2012, and was proving himself to be an excellent 4th interior lineman.
But that wasn’t enough for Tomlin and Colbert, as Legrusky has come to terms with with Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain is calling “Steelers Northeast” aka the Buffalo Bills, who also employ former Steelers cast offs Kraig Urbik, Chris Scott, Corbin Byrant, and Frank Summers aka Frank “The Tank” Summers.
Steel Curtain Rising will have more to say about the Legursky defection later, but for now we’ll simply say “Thanks Doug. You came through when we needed you. Best of luck to you in Buffalo, as long as it doesn’t come at Pittsburgh’s expense.”

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Jarvis Jones, Le'Von Bell Signed - Landry Jones Remains Lone "Hold Out"

And then their was one. One of the benefits of the 2011 CBA between the NFL owners and the NFLPA is the rookie wage scale. Not only does it protect untested rookies getting horrendous amounts of money thrown at them, it also ensures that tenured NFL veterans get a larger share of the pie.
  • And added benefit is that the once standard rookie holds are a thing of the past.
Eric Green held out all of training camp. Rod Woodson held out for the first half of his rookie year. Even Ben Roethlisberger missed the first few days of his rookie training camp.
  • Not any more.
Without waiting on any of the cash liberated by Willie Colon’s release, the Steelers signed Shamarko Thomas, Marcus Wheaton, Terrance Hawthorne, Vince Williams and Justin Brown followed suit.

As soon as June arrived the Steelers quickly locked up first round pick Jarvis Jones and second round pick Le’von Bell in addition to seventh round pick Nick Williams.

The only pick that remains unsigned is fourth round pick quarterback Landry Jones.

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Steelers "June Curse" Continues - Mike Adams Stabbed in South Side Robbery

Mike Adams now finds himself the unfortunate carrier of what is becoming a rather dubious Pittsburgh Steelers tradition of new millennium.

Perhaps Steelers Nation should begin referring to it as “The Curse of June.” That’s “June” as in “Clever” but rather the month of, because this month it has not been kind to the Pittsburgh Steelers since the turn of the century.

It was in June 2006 that Ben Roethlisberger had his near fatal motorcycle accident. And it was in June of 2008 that Dwight White was taken from us, officially bringing the Steel Curtain to half strength. Steelers Hall of Fame Running back John Henry Johnson likewise passed away during the month of June.

2010 turned out to be a banner year for Steelers Nation’s “Curse of June” Willie Colon tore his Achilles’ tendon in June of that year, and the Steelers 5th round pick from the 2010 Draft Chris Scott also injured himself in off season workouts.

Now fate has seen to it that Mike Adams is forced to bear this burden, as he was stabbed last night outside his South Side home, trying to keep three robbers from stealing his truck.

The Pittsburgh Steelers website is quoting General Manager Kevin Colbert as saying “We are aware of the situation regarding Mike Adams being stabbed earlier this morning. We are in direct communication with both Mike and his family. Mike is expected to make a full recovery."

Adams himself had this to say on Twitter:
According to a report in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Adams confronted three robbers near the interception of 17th and East Carson on Pittsburgh’s south side. One had a gun, another had a knife, and Adams was stabled in the forearm in the stomach.

Adams required surgery, but the stab wounds did not touch in vital organs.

Steel Curtain Rising wishes Mike Adams Godspeed and a good recovery, and advises the rest of the Steelers to stay on guard as its only June 1st.

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