Wednesday Apple Pie

This was to be a great column. I was to log a full evening of pre-season football, all the while staying interested and more importantly, awake. The problem was, however, that I had never been able to sit through a full pre-season game.

The evening started off strong with Hines Ward excitement, but soon the "real" game started and my rush of adrenaline all but gone. I tried. Really, I did. But in the end, my utter impatience with pre-season football defeated me.

4:30 pm: ESPN's NFL Live announces that Ward-gate is over. Hines Ward is in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have announced a 6:45 press conference and the hold out appears to have ended.

4:31 pm: messages boards go bananas.

6:54 pm: Listening to the press conference. Bob Pompeani says Hines is in the house. Hines' thanks him. Reporters laugh. Mrs. Apple wants the garbage taken out. I feign interest.

6:55 pm: Hines says its not about "Marvin Harrison" or "greed." He just wants to start and end his career in Pittsburgh. Hearts melt.

6:56 pm: Reporter asks a question. Ward responds with virtual retelling of his opening statement. Hearts melt again.

6:57 pm: Fox Radio inexplicably cuts away from press conference. Did they just really cut away for a commercial? Are you kidding me?

7:00 pm: The pre-game show on ESPN starts. Stuart Scott does his best to make this game mean more than ANY OTHER PRE-SEASON GAME IN HISTORY.

7:01 pm: First question from Scott goes to Ron Jaworski: "Jaws what's going on with Terrell Owens?" I'm bored already.

7:02 pm: Michael Irvin starts speaking. Time to take out the garbage.

7:06 pm: Return to the apartment and we're still talking about T.O. I look for more garbage to take out.

7:14 pm: Suzy Kolber interviews Hines Ward on the Hienz Field turf. She asks redundant questions. Anyone surprised? Yawn.

7:15 pm: Relevant Information Alert: Kolber actually announces that there is no contract signed yet, while Ward nods in agreement.

7:16 pm: And then ESPN jumps to talking about the Chicago Bears quarterback problems. Problems they wouldn't have, mind you, had the Bears attempted to draft/sign/trade for a franchise quarterback. If you thought Bill Cowher de-emphasized the quarterback position over the years, the Bears franchise trumps the "Chin" on this one.

7:24 pm: Roundtable format on the expectations of Ben Rothlisberger. And might I add, that Tom Jackson is a very smart man. He's well spoken and thoughtful. Irvin is now talking. My ears are bleeding. I decide to come back once the game starts.

7:45 pm: Roundtable discussion ensues on the fate of the AFC North. No one talks about the Steelers. Stuart Scott calls them out on it. Jackson shrugs his shoulders in a "what is there to say?" manner. Ron Jaworski says it's only his "opinion." Can it be only an "opinion" when it's always with the Ravens and against the Steelers?

7:50 pm: Next roundtable discussion: "What now for the Eagles?"

7:54 pm: It's been four minutes straight of Irvin antics. I keep hoping for spontaneous human combustion to strike.

7:55 pm: And when we come back to ESPN countdown, we'll here from the fearsome foursome "where T.O. is going to be." Great job Stuart. Not only do you help beat this subject into the ground like a dead horse, but you actually ended a sentence with a preposition. That's good tv. Which leads me to a thought. Is there anyone at ESPN that actually gives any meaningful football analysis other than Jackson? I'll take Merrill Hoge and Mark Schlereth. I even wish Mark Malone was still around.

7:58 pm: This waste of an hour is almost over. I can see the light. Just must get through the last of the T.O. talk.

8:00 pm: Football time. I'll also be keeping a running tab of exactly how many times T.O.'s name has been mentioned tonight.

8:06 pm: Joe Banner, Eagles president, speaks about Terrell Owens. You'd think that with all his money, he'd buy a better hair piece. I think he and Suzy Kolber are talking about something, but I can't keep my eyes off the dead animal on his head. Meanwhile, 11 black shirts kick off to 11 white shirts.

8:08 pm: Donovan McNabb completes his first Willie Williams.

8:10 pm: Nostalgic stat of the night. Donovan McNabb has 1 touchdown for ever 45 completions which ranks 2nd all time. #1? Neil O'Donnell...ahhh the memories. I think I have that AFC Championship game against Indianapolis somewhere around here...NO...gotta stay with this game.

8:17 pm: Ricardo Colclough tells Big Ben to sit and have a coffee. Punt return for touchdown. Steelers lead 14 - 0. Three minutes in and I can already sense the second team warming up. I break out the caffeine.

8:25 pm: Anyone who questions Troy Polamalu's importance to the defense should watch his play during the third series against McNabb. Polamalu made a stellar open field tackle, stuffed Brian Westbrook on a blitz and then forced McNabb to mis-fire on third down.

8:30 Good analysis by Joe Theismann on an errant Roethlisberger throw that was almost intercepted. He got caught hesitating to pass and then hesitating to run, which caused his foot work to be all screwed up. I never thought I'd use the words "good analysis" and "Joe Theismann" in the same sentence.

8:37 Nine plays into the drive, the offense stalls. The play calling look very vanilla, about what you'd expect in the first game of the year. No injuries. No turnovers. I'll take it.

8:41 pm: Just as I'm about to write that Willie Williams looks eager to keep his starting job, he gets beat not once, not twice, but three times by Reggie Brown. Help or no help, Williams could be a liability.

8:47 pm: Does Alonzo Jackson really look like a guy the Steelers can afford to keep on the roster this year? I'm happy that he just became a father, but Jackson will need to find new employment come September.

9:00 pm: Another special teams touchdown. Great block by Ricardo Colclough, but once Ike got into daylight, you knew no one was going to catch him. Which brings me to a thought: doesn't this look like we've entered into a "Bizarro" Steeler universe? One where the special teams win games?

9:05 pm: The book officially closes on the first teamers. Nine plays, about 36 yards, one penalty and lots of ugliness.

9:06 pm: I'm officially bored. Time to channel flip.

9:25 pm: And ESPN gives up on the game as they fail to mention a Tommy Maddox interception while discussing Jerome Bettis' fantastic shape.

9:26 pm: Did Mike Patrick really just call Koy Detmer "Brilliant"? The guys in the booth have to have a fourth member, Mr. Beam, visiting. Speaking of Mr. Beam, I think he's around here somewhere.

9:27 pm: Surprise of the game: Only 27 mentions of Terrell Owens. I really thought we be up past 100 by now.

9:28 pm: Mr. Beam makes his first appearance.

9:31 pm: Fred Gibson makes an incredible block on a Nate Washington reception. He just made the team with that block. Okay, I know he'd make the team anyhow, but its more exciting when you see his future in one play.

9:32 pm: Mr. Beam makes his second, third and fourth appearances.

9:33 pm: Mark my words, Fast Willie Parker will pass Verron Haynes on the depth chart. Which brings me to another question. Can Mike Patrick not pronounce Verron Haynes' name correctly? It's not "Vern" or "Vernon" as I've heard more than once tonight.

9:34 pm: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

10:58 pm: I'm awake. I'm awake. And the game is still on heading into hour number three. Should I continue with this dreck or flip to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart? Okay, I switch the channel and never look back.

And there you have it. My attempt to log a full night of pre-season football.

NFC East Mini-Preview

Philadelphia Eagles - Unless you've been living in a cave or Siberia, you know the tragic story of Terrell Owens. If you move past that distraction, the Eagles have a pretty nice defense, which shored up the second half of the season. On offense the team will live and die on Donovan McNabb's ability to generate plays, especially if Owens continues to misbehave into the season. But, that special teams situation is something that every Eagles fans should worry about. Tuesday morning, resident meat-head Skip Bayless announced that Reggie Brown and Greg Lewis were enough to give the Eagles a Super Bowl win. Excuse me while I choke on my own laughter.

NY Giants - Eli Manning throws a touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress. I know its only pre-season, but that sentence is what ever Giants fan wants to hear on a weekly basis. Burress may do well early, but teams in this division will figure him out quite quickly. Especially when he'll have to twice do battle with not only the Eagles' stellar secondary, but the Redskins as well.

Dallas Cowboys - Bill Parcells admitted last year that even HE became seduced by the Cowboys 11 - 5 playoff season in 2003. Then after dumping starting quarterback Quincy Carter last season, the Tuna put the keys to the season on the shoulders of Vinny Testeverde. Without a running game for half the season, the Cowboys floundered while Vinny was forced to try win games through the air. The result? A poor season. But, not all is bad for Cowboy fans. RB Julius Jones looks to be the real deal and Jason Whitten became the most dangerous tight end in the NFC. This season also brings the return of Drew Bledsoe to his mentor. Will magic ensue? Cowboy Matt sure hopes it will. Stay tuned.

Washington Redskins - Will Dan Snyder get it right at some point? The man who made his mission bringing down the mighty Jerry Jones has been unable to give the Redskins franchise any consistency. Between hiring and firing coaches, signing average players to huge contracts and bring Joe Gibbs out of the old-folks home, Snyder has succeeded and thoroughly turning this once proud organization into a yearly laughing stock. This team has a strong core defense, but unfortunately, the offense leaves a lot to be desired.

Predictions NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles: 12 - 4
Dallas Cowboys: 9 - 7
NY Giants: 6 - 10
Washington Redskins 6 - 10

NFC North Mini-Preview

Green Bay Packers - Is this the end of Brett Favre? After having one of the shakiest seasons of his incredible career, Favre returns to a Packer team that will have trouble making the playoffs. Last season, they somehow won the NFC North, but were victimized in the playoffs by poor defense, turnovers and a Vikings team that finally figured out how complete a full four quarters.

Minnesota Vikings - No Randy Moss? No problem. The Vikings are a good bet to reach the Super Bowl, although, I won't be taking it. WR Nate Burleson gives Dante Culpepper a young, rising star to throw to and adding Fred Smoot to a rising defense, the men in purple could be the real deal this season.

Chicago Bears - You have to feel for Rex Grossman. He's probably a good kid, but he'll never really get an opportunity in this league after another major injury. But, Bears fans should scold their franchise for not investing in a legitimate franchise quarterback.

Detroit Lions - My sleeper playoff pick, the Lions, must prove that Joey Harrington is the real deal. He has some great weapons to throw to, so this team shouldn't have a problem scoring points. My real issue is the defense which at times last season was shredded like iceberg lettuce.

NFC North Predictions
Minnesota Vikings: 11 - 5
Detroit Lions: 9 - 7
Green Bay Packers: 6 - 10
Chicago Bears: 4 - 12

The Fried Truth From Super Fan Pappy Fried Chicken

As promised, Super Fan Pappy Fried Chicken returns this season to give his thoughts and passions on the Steelers.

Other than the little mentioned and highly T.Overshadowed Hines Ward holdout there hasn't been much mention of the Steelers outside of Steeltown. That makes it harder to catch preseason games here in NYC, but it also gives the opportunity to view other perspectives.

Everybody appears to be writing them off this year because Ben Roethlisberger doesn't wear a helmet off the field. There has been the occasional crack-pot comment about the "big" losses of Plaxico Burress, who dropped as many as he caught last year and the oft injured Kendrell Bell. Giants' fans will find out soon enough that Plax is just a mediocre receiver trapped in the body of a star wideout.

That being said, the most anticipated position watch Monday night was the number two receiver position. It was great to see the enormous smile of Mr. Ward on the sideline, but I immediately felt bad for Chris Doering. It must have been tough finding out two hours before your first game that it would also be your last one.

None of the receivers had a standout game. Antwaan Randle El and Cedric Wilson were not on the field long enough to show us anything and while each of the rest had some nice catches the most impressive moment came in the form of a beautiful block by Fred Gibson on an also very nice reception by Nate Washington. The block caused the collective chests of the Steeler nation to puff up and drool for 86 to be back in the line up once again.

The run game did not look too hot, but the fault lies with an o-line that has yet to gel. No worries yet. My wish for this years crop of runningbacks is for a healthy Staley to prove his worth, a ride to the Super Bowl for a most deserving Bus, a third down Parker, a year of practice squad for Noah Herron and a pink slip for Verron Haynes.

The special teams was a wonderful sight, minus a few wrinkles, and if they continue to play the way they did Monday they will really earn the 'special' part.

I am not worried about the defense at this point, because there is no need to. The cornerbacks are going to make each other better and special teams success will keep more of them around this year. The list of names on the D-line depth chart warms the heart. Linebacker is a little thin, but the Steelers have not had a problem putting a playmaker there in a long time.

My choice for the QB to go would easily be Charlie Batch. On Monday he seemed to be trying too hard and he looked uncomfortable. We don't need two overpriced veteran backups and Tommy Maddox is more comparable to Big Ben's style. Brian St.Pierre could be a serviceable number two guy on any team as he has proven once again with solid play on the field.

This is going to be a good year for our boys and while I would prefer to be in the 'Burgh feeling the electricity of the season, I am comforted in the knowledge that I have recently successfully converted a Colts fan and a Patriots fan to root for the good guys! Till next time. PFC out

WAP will return in two weeks

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