The start was surreal, with the clown in the gas mask bong rocking the media room in Pittsburgh. Reporters throughout wondered what in the world has gotten into kids these days.
"Hey, gas masks have been around since the '70s," I said to Dale Lolley sitting next to me. And then I turned for confirmation, only to look out over a sea of millenials.
"You're the only old hippie in here," Dale said with a laugh.
Back from the good ol' days, yeah, I suppose.
Would I have passed on the doper? Absofrigginlutely. For one thing, the guy's a tackle. Stop saying teams passed on "the best player in he draft over something half of the draft class does anyway." This is the same guy cited by Robert Nkemdiche after he fell off the hotel balcony, right? Yes, so capital PASS, no matter what the talking heads are saying.
Still waiting for the Pittsburgh Steelers to pick, but reporters are more immersed in their own predictions. I predicted Vernon Hargreaves would fall to them at 25, and Chris Adamski tweeted that I had a good chance since Hagreaves had slipped (one spot) and I had a great chance to hit it.
"Are you trying to mush me, Adamski?" I asked.
But he did not know what "mush" meant. Dale knew. Mike Prisuta knew. So we explained that old "Bronx Tale" to the kiddies.
So partying and gambling were out, and, yeah, you can "Get Off My Lawn!" too.
But getting old is OK. With clear eyes and a full heart I was ready to start thinking about football.
With William Jackson gone, the least surprised guy in the room when the Steelers drafted Artie Burns was me.
I know. I know. Patting myself on the back again. But this has been discussed ad nauseum in stories and on our message boards. Burns was the proverbial next man up and the Steelers really had no option but to reach a bit.
Not that reaching was how they defined it, and I don't think they're lying.
* Kevin Colbert said he knew this cornerback class would be a rich one when he and his scouts traveled to Florida back in November. Mike Tomlin called him "a natural bump corner," but I don't take that to signify a change in team philosophy. Not at all. Carnell Lake told us back in 2011 the team looks for that as part of the overall cornerback package.
* My interest had to do with the Miami pro day those guys attended. It was called a monsoon by the Palm Beach Post, which reported that players were "stomping through puddles as they performed outdoor drills."
The Post also reported this about Burns that day: "The top prospect at the event, cornerback Artie Burns, did not run the 40 — he was happy with his NFL Combine time of 4.46 — but broad-jumped 10 feet, 4 inches. Burns was pegged by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. as a late first-round pick."
Colbert has a smile -- he had been beaming about the pick ever since he sat down -- but he recalled with some amusement the storm in Miami.
"It didn’t start out that way," he said. "The indoor portion of the pro day was beautiful and sunny. The University of Miami doesn’t have an indoor facility, so we went outside and then it started to pour."
* I had compared Burns earlier in the week to Bryant McFadden, whom Colbert had drafted in the second round in 2005. While their sizes and times may be nearly identical, both Colbert and Tomlin shook their heads when I sought confirmation on the comparison.
* Somebody then showed his inexperience in covering drafts by asking Colbert why he took Burns instead of Mackensie Alexander.
"We’ll never talk about another kid," Colbert said, before finishing again with his commentary on the strength of the cornerback class. It leads me to believe the Steelers don't think they reached for Burns in the slightest.
"Again, we were just fortunate that he made it to us," Colbert said.
* Earlier in the week I had read a terrific story on UCLA NT Kenny Clark's relationship with his jailed father and was wondering how Burns got along with his father and how he was dealing with Artie Senior's incarceration for cocaine trafficking. Dad had been jailed in 2006 when Artie Jr. was in fourth grade, and I was wondering what kind of hope he had of seeing his dad any time soon. That hope was the positive theme of the Clark piece.
"They gave him 25 years and he’s done a 10-year sentence so far," said Burns. "He has no parole."
But even without the hope, and the impression I received in talking to Burns -- and later in reading about him and his strong support group -- is that he has adjusted to dealing with that, along with the sudden death of his mother and the burden of providing for a girlfriend, infant child and two young brothers at the age of 20.
Perhaps dealing with the ups and down while performing at elite levels of track and football prepared him well. At least that's how it sounded.
"I pretty much had to step up and be that male role model to them," Burns said. "We kind of already depended on each other. It was a tough transition but also a smooth transition."
* Even though he grew up in Miami, and was educated at noted football factory Miami Northwestern H.S. -- which has spawned a long line of football stars, including former Steeler Sean Spence -- Burns sounded very much like a local product when he twice called his new team "the Stillers." The next day, at his introductory press conference, he explained why he had "idolized them" since he was very young.
"I played for a team called the Stillers, my pee-wee team, so, that’s when I started off wearing that black and yellow and watching the greats play," Burns said. "I was playing running back. Actually, Jerome Bettis is the one who really caught my eye. When I watched him play, how aggressive he was, that kind of stuck with me. So, I always followed the black and yellow no matter losing or winning."
"Black and yellow." That wouldn't be the first time this weekend a drafted rookie cited the Wiz Khalifa song. And it chaps me. Like everything Khalifa does. And it brings this first day back around to the ridiculous gas mask that people seem to think was so cute.
Anyway, kids, it's Black and Gold. Stick to that.
* Burns also called Tomlin "one of the coolest coaches I've met" because "when he talked to me, I could tell that everything he's saying is legit. He just seems like a genuine person. The way he carries himself, he's just got so much swag to him that it's something you want to have in a head coach."
Can you say Father Figure?
Hey, the young man deserves it. And I believe he's going to be a success. I'm kind of surprised that most analysts in town believe this is a l-o-o-o-n-n-g range pick, that Burns won't be ready for a couple of years. I'm increasingly becoming more optimistic. This is a guy who's gone through a very tumultuous time and kept his wits (and family) about him. That family is moving north with him and will be taken care of. Burns is now going to be able to focus on, and receive, quality coaching. He's plenty athletic and I believe he's going to put it all together sooner than most expect. And it's not like there's a lot standing in his way at the position.
(To be continued)