Ah, Steeler Week. All across western Pennsylvania, the kinfolk are polishing up the rifles, cleaning out the stills, and pulling the pickup trucks off blocks in preparation for the big game against the hated Browns. Unfortunately for the natives of Appalachia, the biggest weekend of the year has been marred by some ugly rumor and innuendo.
It appears that the widely publicized gunshot wound to the buttocks suffered by Steeler linebacker Joey Porter may not be quite what it seems. In fact, an investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reveals what it terms "a series of buttocks-related incidents" among Steeler players. Coach Bill Cowher strives to keep the story under wraps, twice spitting in the eye of one junior reporter, who asks Cowher about allegations by former Pittsburgh LB Earl Holmes that the head coach condoned "rectal torment" as a way to "toughen up the players."
On Wednesday, Steelers middle linebacker appears on the injury report with a mysterious gluteus injury. Rumors fly that Farrior's nether regions are so severely bruised that he can not sit on the bench. But it's Plaxico Burress' so-called hip pointer that finally breaks the story. Suspicions arise when reporters discover a police report by Steeler RB Amos Zereoue filed the day before the injury regarding a missing pet ferret. That leads reporters to a second missing ferret report—this time by reserve guard Oliver Ross—which was filed the day before the injury to Porter.
A crack team of Post-Gazette investigators goes to work. The paper discovers that the greater Pittsburgh area is the hottest pet ferret market in the nation. Your average ferret kit (a baby ferret) sells for about $150. Yet in Pittsburgh, the going price for one of the frisky young rodents is $250 or more. A review of classified ads and store pricing reveals a troubling annual spike in ferret prices—right around the start of Steelers training camp in June.
Ferretgate explodes onto the national scene just two days before the game. In a tear-filled ESPN Up Close interview, Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox reveals that he has battled severe depression and weeks of intense nightmares. Maddox tells host Gary Miller that the counseling sessions have unearthed a deep trove of repressed memories. Moments later, ESPN staffers scramble to prevent Maddox from killing himself with a ballpoint pen. The show is the highest rated ESPN hosted interview since the infamous "Chris Everett" incident with Jim Rome in 1994.
Ferretgate turns into a ratings bonanza for ESPN, with the Sunday night game between the Browns and the Steelers garnering a huge national audience. But it's not without its challenges. ESPN is forced to avert its cameras from signs that say clever things like, "Jerome up the Buttis!" and "Booty Call!" The network botches one when it zooms in on a sign playing on the name ESPN, only to discover it says Extreme Sphincter Proctology Network.
ESPN later fires three cameramen and an assistant producer for the incident. But none of this stops ESPN from turning a buck. The Sunday night game is proudly sponsored by the C.B. Fleet Company, maker of Fleet Enema brand laxatives and bowel cleansing products. Two weeks later, Art Rooney, Jr. signs a "Bank One Bears" deal with the pharmaceutical firm. The Steelers official signature phrase becomes "Steelers football brought to you by Fleet Enema." The Fleet Enema logo is tastefully displayed on the right shoulder pad of all Steeler uniforms.
None of the talk affects the Browns, who for the second-straight week have adopted the "Sleepy Holcomb" offense. The unconscious Holcomb is in the zone, zipping passes, making reads, and moving nimbly about the pocket. The QB's slack-lidded demeanor makes it impossible for Steeler safeties and corners to read the quarterback, allowing Browns receivers to get a jump on the defense. Dennis Northcutt has a career day, grabbing 14 passes for 633 yards and 8 touchdowns.
After the game, Terrell Owens publicly demands a trade to the Browns. Brenda Warner—never one to miss an opportunity—beats her husband into a coma and goes on the radio to plead with Mike Marts to adopt a "Sleepy Warner" offense in St. Louis. In Chicago, Dick Jauron looks into exhuming former Bears QB Sid Luckman. Chistopher Reeve is spotted working out for the Arizona Cardinals.
With Charlie Batch behind center, the Steelers offense turns into a turnover factory. Batch tosses three interceptions to end the Steelers first three possessions. The veteran backup is lost for good in the third quarter, when the Browns unwrap the Dwarf Toss Blitz on a third-and-long play from the Steelers own 6 yard line. Chuan Thompson and Courtney Brown heave cornerback Daylon McCutcheon so high into the air that McCutcheon is lost in the stadium lights. Steeler LT Marvel Smith shouts "Incoming!" too late for Batch, who is crumpled in his own end zone by the impact, and leaves the field on a stretcher.
The near end zone—heavily populated by Browns faithful—erupts into pandemonium. In a brilliant scheme, fans have smuggled more than 5,000 hungry ferrets into the stadium. Moments after Batch is sacked for a safety, the sky is darkened by a cloud of ferrets sailing through the cool, autumn air. The furry rodents blanket the stadium turf as deep as the 20 yard line as players and coaches flee in panic. Steeler wideout Plaxico Burress gets a wild ferret stuck in his facemask and later receives 20 stitches to repair the damage. James Farrior is caught on camera scooping up the rodents into an athletic bag. The veteran middle linebacker is later arraigned on charges of trafficking illicit animals to Canada, where a chronic ferret shortage has apparently made such business rather lucrative.
For the second straight week, the refs are forced to call the game. But the repercussions to the Steeler franchise are felt for months to come. A government investigation reveals what officials call a "serial environment of anal torment and assault" among Steeler players. More chilling, the investigation finds that ownership and fans are actively involved in the "culture", and that the activities stretch back to the days of Franco "Franks and Beans" Harris. Terry Bradshaw later testifies that his widely publicized bouts with depression and prescription drugs sprang directly from his experiences at Steelers training camp.
Oh, the final score?
And that's the way I see it. GMD