Blog ... If I Were A Carpenter

It's been about 10 days since the apocalypse and I'm beginning to crawl out of my hole. Yes, the quarterback learned plenty, and the offensive line figures to improve next year with Kendall Simmons back and promising Max Starks in place of Oliver Ross, and the defense will take on the necessary additions Dick LeBeau needs for his pass rush.

All of those units failed miserably with the Super Bowl on the line, but because they figure to improve appreciably there's reason to believe the Steelers will be an even better team next year. They might not post that mind-boggling 15-1 record again, but could realistically improve as a team. So not all is depressing, however there's one numbing aspect I can't shake and that is the head coach. Now, I'm not about to begin working for but it's the one aspect of the playoff loss to New England that's still disturbing. Bill Cowher is now 1-4 at home in the NFL semifinals. You want to cut the guy some slack because he did go up against an outstanding team with a rookie quarterback calling the shots, and for the most part the Pittsburgh media has cut Cowher slack this time around because Cowher did a brilliant job this season. He was a big reason for the success, the appearance in the semifinal. He kept the players focused, wouldn't allow injuries to become an excuse and, I thought, handled the media with aplomb. But the team went out and laid an a-plomb bomb in the playoffs. They squeaked past the New York Jets in the first round before laying the egg against the Patriots. Political writer (and Pittsburgh native) Howard Fineman may have put it best when he described Cowher as "inspirational but unimaginative." It's an apt description that did nothing to lift the depressing haze surrounding Steelers fans lo these 10 days. Can the guy ever win the big one? Is Cowher the classic tease that can roll through the regular season but never the playoffs? Would a 16-0 regular-season this calendar year be met with skepticism in the next playoffs? Will there ever be a payoff? The question was put to one of the great football writers of our time, Paul Zimmerman, this week, and he replied with optimism for Steelers fans, pointing out that both Tom Landry and Don Shula "couldn't win the big one" but both finally did. Landry went 4-5 in playoff games (1-2 in semifinals) before his championship 1971 season. Shula also went 4-5 in playoff games (0-3 in championship games, including the immortal upset loss to the Jets in 1969) before the undefeated 1972 season. Cowher was 4-5 prior to the 1997 season, so by statistical pattern that was the year he should've won. Of course, it didn't happen. Cowher is now 8-9 in the playoffs and the inspirational-but-unimaginative tag has never been more appropriate. But as Zimmerman pointed out, the Steelers are in great shape as a franchise. Cowher will have another chance. He knows how to position his team; now he needs the talent to take over. In that sense, Cowher is comparable to Mike Ditka, another unimaginative coach who stuck to his predictable game plan with the 1985 Chicago Bears and won through sheer might. That could happen with the Steelers. Fans can only hope that when the Steelers do have that sheer might and can steamroll any team in its path, Cowher doesn't change gears in an attempt to break from his mold. He is what he is. If he does some day put together a truly physical powerhouse, Steelers fans had better hope Cowher just gets out of the way and let's that team rumble.

This new off-season blog is a work in progress and we're hoping to update it 3-4 times a week, perhaps more if the news warrants it. To catch up on some old housekeeping, the Steelers added 10 players to their roster and sent five to NFL Europe. Now, tracking down the names of these players for this little entry was something of an adventure. The team's official site doesn't list any additions. I went to the Steelers roster at, which lists punter Mike Barr. Knowing that can't be right, I called up the roster at and it includes Dante Brown. Knowing that can't be right, I looked up the roster on our site and it includes Drew Caylor. Knowing that roster can't be right, I called the Steelers, and a spokesman said "We haven't officially released anything yet. Nothing's been finalized yet. We hope to have something soon." I asked about the five players sent to NFL Europe -- reportedly Matt Farrior, Bob Dzvonick, Lewis Moore, Sam Simmons and Lenny Vanderwade -- and the spokesman said, "That still has to be finalized." I'd expect the Trib to have the names right. Of those five, the first three are interesting in name recognition only. Farrior is the brother of James; Dzvonick played at nearby Shaler H.S.; Moore was a linebacker at Pitt. I doubt these guys are anything more than fodder, particularly Vanderwade, who looks like a few of my old stoner friends from high school. And if sending a wide receiver to Europe means anything in the way of development, the Steelers would've sent Walter Young -- a member of their 2004 practice squad and now (reportedly) on the roster -- instead of Simmons, who appears to be nothing more than a scrapheap pick-up.

Speaking of Shaler, the school may have turned out a winner in Dzvonick but it certainly turned out a loser in radio loudmouth Mark Madden. This piece of garbage spent the season spewing rumors gleaned by his cub reporters in the locker room this season and typically blew them out of proportion, including one ridiculous rumor in Madden's continued harassment of Jerome Bettis. Long-time radio pro Stan Savran finally called Madden "a coward" and it was reported by the Post-Gazette's sometime media critic Bob Smizik. Madden says you don't have to face an athlete after criticizing him, and he's probably right. But I don't operate that way and neither does Smizik. I remember starting out in the business and watching Smizik roll into a press conference and sitting in the front row the day one of his columns ripped the speaker at that press conference. He was there if the speaker had anything to say, which he didn't. I've admired Smizik's approach to his job ever since and have in fact attempted to emulate him. Today, I'm admiring Savran's work and laughing at the idiot Madden, a true coward in every sense of the word. He's been ripping me ever since I criticized one of his columns on the air, and of course I did so to him personally. He couldn't address the criticisms then, instead handling it the only way he knows how, through cowardice and lies. Have fun with him, Stan, but remember chewing him up and spitting him out will be an enormous task and one probably not worth the waste of your time.

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