This is my initial foray into the world of blogging. Here, as the title suggests, I'll discuss those things that occupy me mind, body and soul.

Life - My wife, my kids, parents, family and friends. What it means to be from Pittsburgh, and basically the triumphs and travails of a U.S. citizen swept up by the ever blowing winds of change in today's Information Age.

The Universe - From the beauty of a Luna moth in my shrubbery; to the majestic photos from the Hubble Telescope, whose images force us to come face to face both with our insignificance, as well the incredible splendor of the Universe around us; to the physical, philosophical and ethical implications such discoveries as the Higgs-Bosun particle may, and will, have on today's world, as I see it.

and the Pittsburgh Steelers - I'm a product of the Pittsburgh Diaspora, and damn proud of it. The Steelers, and the Rooney family represent the quiet dignity, work ethic, and basic goodness of the people of Pittsburgh, and have done so since 1933. No other organization, in the sports world or otherwise, better represents, honors, and carries forth proudly the basic essence and traditions of the people of its birthplace, than the Pittsburgh Steelers

In no small part, and in no particular order, I dedicate my musings to be found herein to my Wife, my Family, and the People of Pittsburgh, for without all of them, I would not be who I am today. The comments, thoughts and opinions contained herein are solely my own, with all faults or blame laid only at my own feet.

Friday, April 14, 2017

I never met the person named Daniel M. Rooney, but I know the man.  The people from around the world who met him, but had never been to Pittsburgh, know Pittsburgh.

The Rooneys are a wealthy family, but you'd never know it by the way they act, or live.  Yes, they get to participate in events, go places, buy things most of us will never be able to, but you'd never know it interacting with them.

People born in Pittsburgh have an uneasy relationship with success.  For themselves, it's not uncommon for a Pittsburgher having a good stretch of luck to be pessimistic, because generations of Pittsburghers learned that luck can change in an instant.  A pressure vessel blows in the mill; a cable snaps, a breaker fails, all these things can happen, do happen.  And in what for generations was a majority blue collar town, working men and women know that when these things happen, lives can be ended, can be changed forever.

So Pittsburghers are naturally uncomfortable with success, yet there is not one who had interacted in one way or another with Dan Rooney, his father, his brothers or his children would ever claim feeling intimidated or uncomfortable being around such a successful family.  Because the Rooneys are Pittsburgh.

Dan Rooney, like his father Art Rooney Jr., ate lunch every day alongside the Steelers' players, groundscrew, admins, staff, etc.  They drove themselves to work; they lived in the same kinds of neighborhoods as many Pittsburghers.  They knew their neighborhood kids, their parents, their relatives.

Because that's what growing up in Pittsburgh was like; it's a small town disguised as a small city; a city where those who thought highly of themselves had their entitlements pricked.  Where those who thought poorly of themselves had more people than they could count standing by to help them out.

Where people who needed help didn't have to ask; once word got out that a family was in distress, as many strangers as neighbors would pitch in and help, in large ways and small.

I know this is true because I lived it.  When my older brother was injured falling out of a tree, one little article in a local newspaper brought thousands of volunteers to help my parents with his rehabilitation.  For nine weeks, groups of five strangers would arrive in shifts around the clock at our doorstep ready to move my brother's limbs as part of his therapy while he laid deep in a coma.  My brother would not be the self-sufficient, successful person he is today if it weren't for the people of Pittsburgh.

You can read elsewhere the many acts of generosity and selflessness Dan Rooney performed over his 84 years; I can't tell you directly about them because I never met the man.

But he was a Pittsburgher, as his family has been since 1884.  That's all I need to know to know what kind of man he was.

R.I.P Dan Rooney, and my condolences to your family.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Tribute to James Harrison

Stately court of Heinz’ green tableau,
Nine score and two days from now
On thy spacious esplanade,
Midst the home team's promenade,
Will stand tall Harrison's peers 
Watched by fans; eyes wet with tears,
Wishing for a chance to show
Love for him at Heniz' green tableau.

Renegade plays o'er their head,
His visage, foes came to dread
Portent of loss, bloody fray
Worn on many a hard-fought day,
By the man adorned in black
Known by friend as Silverback
Forced by fate the man let go
Far from loyal Heinz’ green tableau.

In the stands the crowds first'd stun
Swells to shouts of "Harrison";
Then silence reigns, everywhere
In the restless autumn air
Choking sobs, but half suppressed,
Came from many a faithful breast
At the overwhelming blow
Dealt them here at Heinz’ green tableau.

How could this be, is it true
No chance we, to bid adieu?
Would our idol and team pride;
He whom we had deified,
Leave his fellow linebackers,
And loyal fans these half score years?
Bereft are we, spirits low
From the hole in Heinz’ green tableau.

"Comrade, brother, must we part?";
(How his power thrilled each heart!)
"It were wrong for you and team,
To let money come between;
Or so the team did quite state
Thus you chose to abdicate,
Without you no more may know
Fierce-som days at Heinz’ green tableau.
"Valiant totem of our team,
Thus to part is quite obscene;
Did you silence Ravens' dreams,
Opposing fans' hopeful screams,
Knock senseless Cleveland players,
Deny Warner's fervent prayers,
And survive injuries' blow--
Just to yield at Heinz’ green tableau?

"Hero of great games, farewell!
Remorse we must learn to quell,
No hostile words we decree
Will estrange our hearts from thee;
Free Agent you are, exiled
Through our tears you well may smile
At the realm our team bestow,--
Never more on Heinz’ green tableau!

"Now of all who once were true
We could count alone on you; 
Would that one might take the place
Of the Backer we embrace!
Let the tears which on him fall
Move the souls of one and all!
Never Steeler Nation so 
loved one at Heinz’ green tableau."

Extinguished his flame; no more,
Nor his fury, vengeful glore
Fill with fear, Steelers' foes eyes--
Smouldering flames of sacrifice;
As his emotionless face
Vanishes ghostlike into space,
And a dreary sense of woe
Settles over Heinz’ green tableau.

Gone is now the Renegade;
Free'd Goodell is of his Shade;
By the Styx the Legend sleeps;
Steeler Nation with him keeps;
But the river entrance pier
Still preserves its sombre air,
For the Harrison we know
Walks no more on Heinz’ green tableau.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The AFC North: Sibling rivalry between teams (and their fans)

As tradition bound as the NFC North may be, as competitive as the four teams are with each other in the NFC East, or as un-inspirational as the supposed rivalries in the AFC West are, no other division in the NFL has as incestuous a set of lineages and such deep rooted rivalries and dislike for each other as the AFC North.

You couldn't find a more dysfunctional family of personalities if you merged Dr. Phil's weirdest patients with Jerry Springer's trashiest guests.

The Steelers face Baltimore this Sunday, with the Ravens and their fans feeling cocky about their chances for a second straight sweep of the Steelers and potential second straight divisional crown. The Steelers lead the overall series of regular season games 21-15 (8-8 in Baltimore, 13-7 in Pittsburgh). While the Ravens have been in the playoffs the past four twice in that span they have faced and lost games to the Steelers, including the 2008 AFC Conference championship game.

The remaining games on the Steelers schedule include rematches with their other two division rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.

Four teams sharing histories with either playoff hopes on the line, or nothing to play for to salvage a season but bragging rights in defeating a hated rival:

The Favored Son: The Pittsburgh Steelers are the oldest team in the division, being the first of the group to be part of the National Football League, and by far the most popular (bandwagon fans notwithstanding). With a difficult childhood long behind them, the Steelers have matured over the last 42 years into the most successful team in the entire league since the merger.

The Jealous Second Child: The Cleveland Browns are the second oldest franchise in the division (aided by an NFL act of reincarnation and the legal right to the original version's records and history) having been formed in the 1940's. Stereotypically in large families the second child grows up with numerous issues and is commonly the source of much of the strife between siblings. Just as a second child can harbor resentment and jealousy towards its more successful elder rival and shows a propensity to self destruct as it seeks its own identity, they've had 14 head coaches in the past 42 years, the Browns are certainly the source of most of the internecine issues embroiling the division. Its fan base has yet to come to grips with the loss of the original Browns, and the lingering resentment and depression pervades all of its public utterances.

The Quiet One: The Cincinnati Bengals are often overlooked in the division, usually because of their bland, wall-flower like performance on the field. The team exists in part because of an internal struggle inside the first incarnation of the Cleveland Browns, the by-product of which was the team's head coach Paul Brown (after whom the Cleveland team was named), being fired after 16 years by the new owner of the Browns, Art Modell in 1963. Three years later, Brown led an investment group to form the Bengals. More often than not, it's the quiet ones you have to watch the most, as the Bengals proved in 2009 and are proving to be in challenging the Steelers this season.

The Resentful Little Brother: The youngest team in the division the Baltimore Ravens are the second incarnation of the Cleveland Browns, having been relocated from the shores of Lake Erie to a waterside tourist trap in Baltimore in 1996 by the late Art Modell. Treated with indifference by the NFL much like a child of divorce, the Ravens were given "expansion team" status as a means to resolve the legal and ethical morass created by Modell upon his split up with the City of Cleveland. The Ravens' departure from Cleveland left the team under a dark cloud and except for one moment of success since arriving in Baltimore, the Ravens have spent the better part of its 16 years seeking approbations from its more successful rival and role model, the Steelers.

Since the league's realignment in 2002 which created the AFC North, the Steelers have won the divisional title five times, the Ravens three and the Bengals twice. The Browns last won a divisional crown in 1989 and the memory of that achievement is fading away, much like the legitimacy of its four AAFC titles which the NFL refuses to recognize.

The Browns have a miserable 68-141record since their re-birth in 1999. The Browns and their fans appear to resent everyone and everything not born or made in Cleveland. They resent the NFL for not recognizing four of its championships from antiquity; for allowing Modell to relocate the real Browns to Baltimore. They hate and resent anything and everyone associated with Pittsburgh or the Steelers; the Steelers for their continuing success, and the city of Pittsburgh for being the face of the industrial northeast (you never hear of Cleveland being called the Arsenal of Democracy, do you?). They hate the Ravens with a passion for being wrenched from their city, and they probably resent the Bengals for trying to co-exist in the same state, although Paul Brown was beloved as a coach during his 16 years with the Browns. But most of all, the Browns fans hate Art Modell, so much so that the public outcry at the team's suggestion of a moment of silence commemorating Modell's passing forced the team to cancel its plans.

The Bengals may reignite a rivalry with their elder brother in the division, as they prepare for a show down in Week 15 which could determine who claims one of the wild card playoff slots, but they haven't been successful enough on a consistent enough basis to raise the ire of the Steelers. The Bengals and their fans still harbor resentment towards the Steelers for its 2005 playoff loss, their first appearance in the post season in 15 years and the injury to its quarterback Carson Palmer on the second play of the game. While they see the Ravens as a rival to surpass, there isn't much bad blood between these two teams.

The Ravens however, are a different story. As younger brothers often feel, the Ravens resent the success the Steelers have enjoyed since much of it comes at their expense. They'll do everything possible to bring down big brother, from wearing away jerseys at their 2004 home opener, to hiring outside consultants to teach them how to be more like the Steelers in order to defeat them.

The Ravens represent a foster child, forced to live with distant relatives with kids of their own. Such a tragic founding can't help but lay heavy on the subconscious of the Ravens fan base; to receive a team in as unfair a manner as theirs was lost?

Just as in Shakespeare's Richard III the main character laments his un-natural birth "...Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, Deform'd, unfinished, sent before my time Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,...", so must the deliverance of its current team warp Baltimore's unconscious perception of itself. What else would explain the delirious joy the Ravens get out of defeating the Steelers in a regular season game as they did in their home opener last year; defeating the Steelers in what was ultimately an insignificant game, since both teams still made the playoffs.

Baltimore, having focused so much on beating the Steelers, and claiming the divisional crown, must go to sleep at night after defeating the Steelers with the soliloquy Shakespeare wrote for Richard in their dreams:

"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths..."

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Even though the Ravens struggle to imitate the Steelers success, their bratty little brother attitude and lack of dignity show them to be the upstart imposters they are. Just as Richard undergoes changes in character throughout the play, from an engaging and witty raconteur in Act I, to the universally despised scheming perpetrator of regicide in Act VI who is ultimately overthrown himself, the Ravens insistence on being shown the respect and admiration the Steelers enjoy, which they and their quarterback Joe Flacco have yet to earn, will only fuel the fires of their rivalry with Pittsburgh, and could ultimately backfire on the Ravens as such behavior backfired on King Richard.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Steelers vs Ravens: Odds are even a loss could be a win for the season

The Steelers will not have QB Ben Roethlisberger in what was being considered an epic showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens Sunday night.
This game is now being viewed by many as an anti-climatic exercise in futility for the Steelers given their injuries, and their performance last week against the Kansas City Chiefs.

That is, if you believe in what the bookies in Vegas are saying, having changed the odds from the Steelers being favored by four and a half points, to the Ravens favored by three;

That is, if you believe what Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and all the talking heads in the mainstream media are projecting as the outcome of this game.

Of course, those same bookies in Vegas, a constituency NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL seem to curry from afar, picked the Steelers to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs by 12 points.

Of course, those same mainstream media types were projecting a blazing comet of a game by Haley's offense against the team that dismissed him as their head coach just 11 months ago.

It's too bad the credibility these prognosticators have with the public isn't as fickle as their success rate.

One thing that is more certain than prognosticator's picks; more certain than Goodell's regular referees making the replacement refs look competent; more certain than Ravens head coach John Harbaugh finding another way to demonstrate his lack of sportsmanship or class... absolute certainty about this game, win or lose, is that "how" the Steelers play will set the tone for the rest of their season.

If the Steelers offensive line that showed up against the New York Giants makes an appearance Sunday night at Heinz Field, Byron Leftwich (whose last meaningful game was ironically enough in November four years ago) will have time to use the cannon arm he still possesses to find Mike Wallace or Emmanuel Sanders down field, in an area the Ravens are weak...

...and if the Steelers running backs that performed so well against the Bengals, Redskins and Giants don't hesitate at the LOS but instead use the power running they showed in previous games, Byron Leftwich will be spared the kind of brutal hits that otherwise would make him the Elijah Price of the NFL.

If the Steelers defense can reprise the creative coverage it implemented against RGIII of the Redskins, and make the Ravens receivers cry "No Mas" like Victor Cruz of the Giants did...

...and if James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Brett Keisel and Lawrence Timmons adopt the Cobra Kai mantra of "Strike first, strike hard, show no mercy" against Ravens QB Joe Flacco, then win or lose, they will have set the right tone for the rest of the season.

Lest they forget, the Steelers have the Cleveland Browns the very next game. The Browns always ramp themselves up for games against the Steelers; a win against their hated rivals gives the Browns and their fans the only solace in their otherwise perpetual years of sorrows.

And then the Steelers, facing the Ravens the very next week in Baltimore, will also be going up against the Ravens' home field winning streak of 15 games, which began after the Ravens loss to the Steelers in 2010.

These three games will define the remainder of the Steelers 2012 season, regardless of whether they make the playoffs, or how far they go.

If the Steelers team from the first 2011 Ravens game, or the team from last week's game against the Chiefs show up Sunday night, that will indicate the team has lost heart. Every team facing them going forward will be smelling blood, and the Ravens will have no fear in their hearts, or doubts in their minds, when they take the field at the site of their latest super bowl victory in Week 13.

The Steelers face an unenviable task; they face without their franchise quarterback a bitter rival who claims a 7-2 record .

But this is a team sport, and the Steelers epitomize the concept of team. Head coach Mike Tomlin is the paragon of leadership, a coach who commands the respect of his players as no other, as was proven by Tomlin being selected as the number one coach for whom NFL players most want to play. The Steelers roster is filled with team oriented players like Willie Colon, Heath Miller, Ryan Clark, Brett Keisel; men who have made careers out of "One Team, One Goal".

This team is full of men who thrive on "Us versus Them", not ESPN highlights. Professionals who relish being counted out for the adrenaline rush that comes with defying the odds.

It is this team mentality, this banding together against adversity, this synergy of talents and personalities that makes the Steelers as a whole greater than the sum of its parts; even when one of the missing parts is Ben Roethlisberger. They did it in 2010 against all odds, and the learned opinions of the mainstream media. They can do it again this year.

Vegas bookies and the Ravens be warned: Odds are the true Pittsburgh Steelers are coming.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Homage to the People of Pittsburgh: My Pilgrimage to the Holy Shrine of Steeler Nation

The word Haj is Arabic for "pilgrimage". As the fifth pillar of Islam, it is considered a religious duty for every Muslim capable of doing so at some point in their lifetime, to visit the Holy City of Mecca. The Haj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people and their submission to their God.
Malcom X is quoted as describing the Haj thusly:
"There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood... But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held."

I don't use the term loosely, and nor do I mean to trivialize the meaning or import of such an important element of anyone's religion, but like Malcolm X my life was changed by a people displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood.For to me, this trip to Pittsburgh and Heinz Field was as much a spiritual and emotional pilgrimage as it was to attend a sporting event.
I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, but left during the Diaspora. I left behind my mother and older brother, as well as many friends who remained. Some are still there, others followed later on seeking a better living elsewhere.
A week before my 21st birthday, my father died of a heart attack while he was getting into my car to drive to the bus stop to pick me up for a visit home from the University of Pittsburgh. When he was an hour late, I had a friend pick me up and drop me off. While I knew my mother was traveling, finding both my car and my father’s in the driveway, but no one home, was ominous.
A couple of hours earlier my brother found my dad face down in the driveway and applied CPR but to no avail. The shock of his death, and the haze I was under for my last two years of college, as well as the lack of opportunity (and my mother’s urging) is what finally pushed me out of the Pittsburgh area and to Washington DC.
I’ve been back only a few times for brief visits with my brother, and once to settle my mother’s estate. It wasn’t until a couple of seemingly disparate events took place somewhat recently that circumstances led me to take this journey.
The first was in 2006 when the company I worked for was purchased by PNC Bank. It seemed fitting to others that a bank from Pittsburgh, a strong union town, would purchase the entity I worked for; after all, my job involves unions as well. But to me, it was a whisper in my ear that would not stop that I could not escape my roots.
My mother passed away from a stroke 13 years ago; again my brother was alone at the scene, applied CPR and stabilized her, but she passed away shortly after the ambulance arrived. Aside from my brother, I had no other familial ties to my birthplace.
The second event was my finding Behind The Steel Curtain. While I had followed the Steelers as regularly as I could by watching on national TV (and later DirecTV), it wasn’t until I began to frequent BTSC that I felt once again part of a community that shared the same values I grew up with; that shared my roots. While many readers have no connection to Pittsburgh other than through the Steelers, it is the commonality of that shared bond, of our affinity for the Steelers and their owners the Rooneys, that connects us. And in submersing myself within the vastness of Steeler Nation, I began to yearn for home again.
Pittsburgh is an easy place to make fun of, if one believes only that what’s current, or "hip" or "cool" is to be admired. At its core, even while embracing Starbucks and the latest in computer technology, Pittsburgh and its people are old fashioned. They focus on who you are, not what you earn; they care whether you are kind and friendly to the elderly couple down the street, not how many senators or sports stars you know.
Get past the fawning accolades you hear about the Rooney family, read beneath the national hype they receive during Steeler Super Bowls and realize that the owners of the Steelers are beloved in Pittsburgh because none of that stuff matters to the Rooneys. The Chief, Art Rooney Sr. lived in the same neighborhood all his life, and walked to work. He ate with his employees and knew the names of all their children and grandchildren, and whether someone was sick, or had passed away. His son Dan is the same way; he comes back from his Ambassadorship in Ireland to attend Steeler games; he eats with the employees; he eschewed a driver and walked to work when he still worked in the front office. But this wasn’t unique to the Rooneys; this was characteristic of the people of Pittsburgh.
Many people know of the city for its sports teams. The Steelers, the Penguins, and yes, even the Pirates.
Many people know the history of Pittsburgh.
In the late 1800s Pittsburgh was the city that helped preserve the Union during the Civil War; it produced over half of all steel and over a third of all glass made in the United States during that conflict.
In the 1940’s Pittsburgh was the center of Roosevelt’s ‘Arsenal of Democracy’, providing much of America’s steel during World War II.
In 1964, over 2,000 Pittsburghers volunteered their valuable time to help a six year old comatose boy none of them knew. These strangers responded to a newspaper article describing the desperate attempts by the child’s parents to preserve the child’s ability to function should he ever wake from his coma. Five strangers at a time, three times a day, seven days a week for nine weeks, these people unfailingly showed up to exercise this comatose boy’s arms, legs, and neck to restore muscle tone, and to try to re-awaken and re-train the boy’s brain and nervous system.
Today, that six year old boy owns a home, manages his own investments, and volunteers his time to help others.
That six year old boy is my older brother.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to reminisce often about my childhood, as we are all wont to do. As I’ve watched my children grow and go off to college, the loss I feel for the laughing little boy I would throw into the air, or the little girl who would sit for hours in my lap pretending to read my books along with me, would beget within me also a sense of loss for my own past.
And the more time I spent watching the Steelers, and on BTSC reading Homer J’s, or Ivan’s wonderful pieces on Pittsburgh and the Steeler Way, the more I realized I had a pilgrimage to take, an obligation to fulfill.
Similar to how Malcom X described the Haj, is the annual pilgrimage Steeler Nation takes; whether "blue-eyed blondes, [or] black-skinned Africans", Steeler Nation encompasses all races, all nationalities, and they all participate in the same ritual of following the Steelers, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood.
And since the epicenter of Steeler Nation, both in terms of location as well as membership is Pittsburgh, and since within me was a geas that could not be denied, it was to Heinz Field I went.
The people who helped my brother surely have long since passed; their names lost with the passing of my parents; I had no allusions of any grand gestures to make. And none were required; that is not the Pittsburgh way.
Instead, I communed with my people, and while doing so gave to each a small but very Pittsburgh-like gesture. I volunteered to take pictures of couples, so they could be together in a picture in front of their favorite players’ uniforms in the Great Hall, instead of one always being alone in the picture; I held my umbrella over an elderly woman in the driving rain while she struggled to get out of a taxi; I gave up my seat in a restaurant to a young family with toddlers, so the parents could more easily sit with their children; I thanked the shuttle driver by name, and complimented him on his driving in heavy game day traffic.
And I befriended a lonely Redskins fan named Kenny who was sitting next to me at the game. Surrounded by loud and boisterous Steeler fans, I welcomed him to Pittsburgh and reassured him, after the third or fourth time he apologized for cheering for his team, that he was welcome to enjoy his team’s moments without concern and for him to let me know if he needed anything during his stay.
And I shouted myself hoarse when "Renegade" played in the fourth quarter, leaping to my feet and waving my Terrible Towel (original model, circa 1975 as shown in Terrible Towel Wall exhibit at Heinz Field) in the air with 50,000 of my people, my brothers and sisters, my family.
permalink: 2012/10/30/3573046/my-pilgrimage-to-the-holy-shrine-of-steeler-nation

All-Hallowed Heinz – All Treat, No Tricks

A long time ago, in a Pennsylvania township far far away, a young PaVaSteeler would begin thinking about Halloween in August. For weeks he would read and re-read all the stories he could find by Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe and other writers of Horror to find inspiration for his next costume. For days he would scrounge around the house looking for materials to construct the scariest costume he could devise, certain that "…this year, this will finally be the one costume that will truly strike fear in all who confront it.
But alas, no matter how realistic he thought his "Illustrated Man" self-drawn tattoos looked, how life-like he believed his "Cthulhu" costume appeared, or how macabre he felt behind his mask in his Red Death getup, when he confronted adults going door to door in his creations, he always heard the patronizing tone of their feigned screams of horror.
While such disappointments never fully ruined his Halloween, young PaVaSteeler never felt he experienced the kind of birthday one should expect being born on All Hallows Eve.
As with most people, the young rebel PaVaSteeler grew up and matured, and as I changed, so did my expectations for my birthday. My birthday present to myself this year, a [first time] trip to Heinz Field to watch the Steelers unmask RGIII and the Redskins turned out far better than I could have hoped, scary weather and all.
The Steelers were certainly in for a fright, or so thought many football pundits and citizens of Steeler Nation. RGIII came into town masquerading as the third ranked quarterback by passer rating, two slots above Ben Roethlisberger; first in passing completion percentage, sixth in rushing, and first in total hype for the season.
The Redskins team as a whole was coming into town disguised as a legitimate threat, having the week before led last year’s Super Bowl champions New York Giants by three points with less than two minutes to play. While they lost that game, the Redskins were confident the Steelers’ defense, itself suspected of only being disguised as a "Steel Curtain", would fall easy prey to the multiple threats its young QB phenom presented.
Let me summarize it how I saw it from row Z of Section 510: it was a classic Steeler beat-down. An irresistible (in many ways) force in RGIII met an immovable object in Coach LeBeau and the Steelers’ defense, and the force lost. I’ll let others give you the technical and statistical breakdown of the game. The only scary part of the game was the recurring fear I had that the Steelers would somehow turn into a 22 man Three Stooges Revival troupe as they took the field in their Halloween uniforms.
Instead, let me share with you my impression of Heinz Field.
Heinz Field is indeed hallowed ground. Being a Pittsburgh native who left a long time ago and only infrequently returned to visit, until Sunday I had only seen Heinz from afar. As fantastic as it looks on the skyline, you can’t appreciate what a tremendous architectural and iconic place it is until you’ve had a chance to walk its confines with 45,000 to 50,000 die hard Steeler fans who showed up to the game.
I’ve visited many stadiums across the country to watch the Steelers play, and in all honesty, I don’t believe a single one comes close to marrying contemporary design and functionality with homage to the city and people who have supported it's team and the events that make up its history like Heinz Field does.
FedEx Field in Washington DC is such a monument to revenue generation and political deal making that any sign of the Redskins’ long and storied history is merely an adornment to the true purpose of the place; to line the pockets of the politicians who sought it for their jurisdiction, and enrich the owner who uses it to wring every last cent possible out of Redskins fans.
Reliant Field in Houston is a modern design marvel, but the Texans have no history, and the place just feels like a typical "bigger in Texas" memorial to itself.
M&T Stadium in Baltimore is…located in Baltimore; not much more needs to be said. It is functional and easy to get to, but frankly, aside from the garish purple which abounds in it, it doesn't really reflect what little history or success the Ravens have achieved. You could replace all of the Ravens’ logos with those of the East Carolina University Pirates and visitors from out of town wouldn’t know the difference.
But Heinz Field is a pantheon of images and symbols of both the Steelers and the city of Pittsburgh. Its two main wings and U shape configuration greet you as a welcomed "aht of tahn" guest as you dis-embark from an 1800’s style riverboat.
Make no mistake however; as home-like as Heinz Field is to the Steelers, opposing teams and their visiting fans bear the full brunt of Steeler Nation football. The steel overhangs at the top of the sideline bleachers reflect outward our fans’ cheers and cries of "Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go". Boos for blown calls by the referees or the punk-like antics of opposing players like the Redskins’ DeAngelo Hall rain down through the stands and onto the field in true Pittsburgh-like fashion; we’ll let you know without question our displeasure, but unlike places like Seattle or domed stadiums, we don’t audibly beat you senseless with our opinion. We let the Steelers do that.
Unlike its predecessor Three Rivers Stadium, which was a closed-in circle of cold and foreboding concrete, Heinz Field, with its prominently displayed steel superstructure paying homage to Pittsburgh’s industrial roots; its wings holding twin umbrellas atop its spiraling walkways like a gentleman sheltering his lady from the rain, and its see-through design mirroring the open and unembellished nature of the people of Pittsburgh says more about the character of the Rooney family and what they truly feel for their city and the people who have supported their business for generations than any billionaire’s name over a library or university building.
Heinz Field is the antithesis of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ billion dollar temple of self-importance. The Rooney’s have built an iconic and living memorial to the people and city that embraced their $2,500 purchase of a rag-tag collection of football outcasts and never gave up hope that someday it might make something of itself.
Because the Rooneys are a part of the fabric of the history and culture of Pittsburgh, and have been for generations; because the Rooneys never forgot their roots by thinking money or fame made them "better" than the people who paid their dimes and dollars to support the Steelers…
… Only because of such a relationship between the public and a private organization is such a thing as Heinz Field possible. If you are a member of Steeler Nation, and want to truly understand who and what the Steelers are, get thyself to Heinz Field. I promise you, it’s no trick, and an experience to which it is well worth treating yourself.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Question of Leadership, or Talent?

A young lieutenant may command a platoon but it is the grizzled Sergeant who provides the leadership, both to the platoon, and also to the lieutenant; it is how the young officer accepts the advice from, and learns to use, the Sergeant, that will indicate how good of a leader the lieutenant will become.

The middle linebacker commands the defense; a duty admirably performed by James Farrior for many years. With his retirement, Timmons was seen as the best person to assume command; that apparently has not happened.

It is the fault of Central Command (the Coaches) for a lack of leadership on the field if Timmons is unable, or unwilling, to provide that leadership. Harrison and Woodley are decorated veterans, but their positions and roles do not allow for them to be the commander; they are the heavy artillery. Troy’s role as the “wild card” also precludes him from assuming command, due to his instinctive ability to call for himself an impromptu role.

Whether the decline of the Steeler defense is due to the front line not preventing the O Linemen from reaching the linebackers, or the linebackers inability to seal off the edge, or make penetration is under review (chicken or egg situation maybe?).

What is clear however is that the performance of individual players, predicated on the performance of each of their teammates, is not being maximized. This requires leadership to address; the leader on the field must be able to diagnose what the problem is and address it, if possible, on the field by varying the calls he makes.

If this does not result in success, then the field commander must address it to the “higher ups” in the chain of command, identifying the weak link(s) and request replacements, for if he is not being given the weapons with which to perform his duty as field commander, then he goes into battle out-manned.

As of now, with the remaining 13 games of the 2012 season facing them, the Steelers, with all their injuries and question marks on the abilities of the individual defensive players, are like the British in the Battle of Balaclava (October 25, 1854), sitting at the mouth of the valley before them, with the Eagles, the Ravens, Bengals, Giants, waiting in the field of battle to oppose them (as memorialized by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his “The Charge of the Light Brigade”.
Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Tomlin has no choice but to enter this battle with the injured troops he has, the depleted ranks, the aging veterans. Hopefully he can succeed better than the British did that fateful day:

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When the British, having rode into the valley with over 600 troops, lost over 200 of them before retreating.