Wednesday Apple Pie

Postcard from Wisconsin:

"We're all alright! We're all alright! Hello Wisconsin!"

My fellow work mates and I couldn't help busting out that song while driving down from the UP of Michigan to Appleton, Wisconsin. Appleton is about a half hour outside of Green Bay and it's a thriving suburban metropolis of malls, restaurants and Cheeseheads.

The essence of the "Green and Yellow" can be seen from every human, dog and even cat that I pass along the roads, sidewalks and shopping centers. One thing is clear. Pittsburgh sadly can only be a rival, not the king, in terms of local devotion to an NFL franchise. The main reason being that: there is absolutely nothing else to do up here.

The Packers are pretty much all this area can wrap its arms around. Sure, there are the Milwaukee Bucks and University of Wisconsin Badgers within a 100-mile radius, but the Packers are the life force of this cold, flat farm land.

Passing Green Bay on Route 41, I saw the sign for Lombardi Avenue. Pulling off the exit, one can only get a brief glimpse of the holy land of NFL football fans. But as you round the corner of said avenue, the mammoth green pillar to pigskin lore becomes not some mystical mythological wonder of the world, but a solid, real structure that releases the child within the football fan.

"I became as giddy as a baby in a strip club," to quote my good friend Pappy. I took pictures in front of the statue of Vince Lombardi. I walked inside the Atrium and found it to be thriving with those headed up to the restaurant on the top floor. There was a game room, Pro Shop and many of the other normal features that can be found in today's stadiums.

Walking outside I touched the foot of Vince Lombardi, looked up into the brutal face of Curly Lambeau, took another picture and then looked out into the horizon. This edifice truly was the tallest building in the area. Nothing compared. And that's exactly how the citizens of Green Bay must feel about their team. Nothing else must compare.

Stepping back into the van, I turned and took one last look at a monument to my second religion. How lucky this area is to have such a legendary, important American icon. And it made me realize how lucky Pittsburgh is to have its Steelers.

The team is 3 - 2, well within striking distance of the Bengals. And here is a newsflash: if the Bengals go 13 - 3 or even 12 - 4 then they probably deserve to win the AFC North. But, as the Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons have all proved over the last 11 years, simply getting into the playoffs is sometimes enough to get the chain reaction started.

Besides, I prayed to the football gods. And Vince told me that Art told him the Steelers will be fine.


Six-Pack Recap

1. Indianapolis 45 St. Louis 28 - After sleepwalking in the first quarter, the Colts woke up and easily dismantled the Rams. Can anyone stop the Colts? We'll see how Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Diego and New England fair. That's about it in terms of difficult scheduling for the Colts. Fourteen wins is not out of the question for this team. Home-field advantage is a given.

2. Denver 28 New England 20 - Even when spotting the Broncos a 28-point lead, the Patriots still refused to go quietly. Tom Brady at this point is the offense for the Pats. The Broncos have emerged as a very dangerous team with Jake Plummer's play-action abilities and the misdirection plays. Rod Smith, the ageless wonder, can still get deep and remains a huge threat to any secondary.

3. Dallas 16 NY Giants 13 (OT)- Eight turnovers, no Julius Jones, disappearing Plaxico Burress and staunch defense were the highlights of this contest. The Cowboys jump into first place with this win and the Redskin loss. More importantly, they are 2 - 1 against divisional opponents.

4. Kansas City 28 Washington 21 - Santana Moss proved today why he was underused in NY with another huge outing for the tiny terror. But, the Chiefs proved to have too much offense for the Redskins. Does it surprise anyone that Mark Brunell is playing as well as he is at this point in his career? I'll be the first to say YES.

5. Buffalo 27 NY Jets 17 - Here come those Bills. Now in first place in the AFC East, the Bills have a decent starting quarterback, a strong running game and an above average defense. The Bills have a strong chance to overtake the Patriots. But, until the monkey falls off their back, the Patriots have to be considered a lock.

6. Cincinnati 31 Tennessee 23 - The Bengals pull out a tough win in Tennessee. They seem to play to the level of their opponents, much like the Pittsburgh Steelers whom they host this Sunday in a pivotal showdown. In fact, this is the biggest divisional game since Baltimore and Pittsburgh met at Heinz Field in 2001. In that game the Steelers lost the battle, but they would go on to win the war.


Apple Pie Six-Pack

1. Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings (GOTW) - One year ago, the Packers were 1 - 4 and left for dead. Their team last season was as filled with holes as this season, although the injury bug has decimated the offensive playmakers such as Javon Walker, Ahman Green and Bubba Franks. But, this team still has Brett Favre and the NFC North is so poor this season that the Packers still can be considered the favorite to win the division.

2. San Diego Chargers at Philadelphia Eagles - The Chargers head into Lincoln Financial mired at .500 and in danger of letting the Denver Broncos run away with the division. The Eagles headed into their bye week with a divisional loss to the East-leading Cowboys. This game means more ultimately to the Chargers, but the Eagles defense won't let Ladanian Tomlinson run wild like he did last week. Watchers of this game will want to tune into the proceedings 100 miles north of Philadelphia where...

3. Denver Broncos at NY Giants - ...the Broncos face off against Big Blue. The Giants are in the same position as the Eagles. They are also recent victims at the hands of the Cowboys. The Broncos are riding high with five straight wins after falling to the Dolphins in week one. The Giants will have a tough time with the Broncos misdirection offense, but let us all remember that Jake Plummer can't stay this consistent all year. Right?

4. Atlanta Falcons at NY Jets - This game looked great before injuries start to take their toll. Some people thought this could be a Super Bowl match-up. Now, it looks like two teams that don't have any business being in the Super Bowl, much less the playoffs. That's right. Atlanta in my mind doesn't have any business in the playoffs.

5. Oakland Raiders at Buffalo Bills - The Bills can take a half game lead on the Patriots with a win over the Raiders. This shouldn't be too much of a problem if the Bills can contain Lamont Jordan, who hasn't had the breakout season everyone expected.

6. Baltimore Ravens at Chicago Bears - The Ravens defense is still playing at a high level, but now they face the most underrated running back in the lead with Thomas Jones. The Ravens last week finally found some offense, but the Bear defense should be able to shut down anything the Ravens throw at them.


Apple Pie Power Rankings

1. Indianapolis Colts - Playing the Niners was like shooting fish in a barrel.
2. Denver Broncos - Memo to Pittsburgh. That's how you beat the Patriots.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers - I'm not dropping them any further because it was Tommy Maddox.
4. Philadelphia Eagles - On a bye.
5. Cincinnati Bengals - They can smell the AFC North within their reach.
6. San Diego Chargers - Bounce back with a big win and huge performance from Tomlinson.
7. New England Patriots - Can I really give up on this team? I really want to, but I just can't.
8. Atlanta Falcons - They win, but they drop because the loss was really, really ugly.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars - Had no business winning this game, but bought some insurance from The Gun.
10. Seattle Seahawks - I can't move them any more than a spot because it was the Texans.
11. Dallas Cowboys - Here comes the new home of the "Old Folks Home".
12. Washington Redskins - They got some offense, but the defense let them down.


The Rant
From the gut of Super Fan Pappy Fried Chicken

Let us take a look at our crowded backfield for a moment. Fast Willie Parker has given us cause for concern recently. He has gained a combined total of 136 yards on the ground in the last three games. That is 25 yards less than he gained in the first game of the season against Houston. He has been sharing time with Bettis and he did give a snap or two to Duce in the New England game and yes, he has faced some very stout run defenses in those past three games, but a starting halfback has to perform better. No question.

There also does not seem to be any question that the Bus will be making his last stop at the end of the 2005 Steeler season. Thanks for the memories Jerome. Keep running forever. You will always be a member of Steeler lore.

Duce Staley is discontent and will become more so the longer he remains in his civvies on game days. He has put up a good front thus far, but who is he kidding? He is not ready to play back-up to anybody yet. He has one or two good years left in him if he can get healthy. I know... BIG if. I heard report he came out of the womb listed as questionable.

Verron Haynes? Hmmmm. Serviceable, but I cringe every time that screen pass goes his way. 50% success rate? More like 25% and do not even get me started on the draw. I do not think as highly of him as most do and that is putting it lighter than I usually do.

I really am very happy with the current crop and I hate to look so far ahead, but this thing could get ugly if there is no clarification soon. Parker made it easy to rest Bettis and Staley early. Staley's current situation - whatever is wrong with him - will ease the pressure of having to dress him for a couple more games and I am sure something else will happen that will permit the coaching staff to put off a decision for a couple more games. That will leave the end of the season with a few tough calls for playing time. Not a bad problem to have, but we still need a solution then and for next season.

My solution? Glad you asked. Since Bettis will no longer be there to bail us out after he is permanently supplanted in the Steeler backfield by another potentially ineffective starter - we have started to notice a trend with Parker- the most obvious solution is to draft a bonafide stallion with their first pick in the draft, a guy who could come in and be a part of a three-headed monster offense that already includes Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger.

I have not given up on the guys we have, but instead of struggling to find an answer, why not just eliminate the question? Easier said than done, I know. I feel as though this campaign needs to begin now in order for it to have enough time to sink into the collective heads in the Steeler front office. Young running backs that are going high in the draft are seeming to have an instant impact on teams and we should really consider how dire the situation might become if Parker does not pan out. The defense is going to hold up. It has been time tested. We can not hope for another Bettis to just fall into our laps next season. Roethlisberger, Ward and "With their first selection in the 2006 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select. . . . . " Complete the tri-force. Unleash the monster.



Mock Apple Pie

Last Week's Results

DCFB 98 The Astorian Last Stand 61
Gemini vs. Dogs Of War (Night): Two weeks ago Gemini 8 Grey Groose 8
Woodside Avenue Cyber Gemini 18 Boller's Holy Rollers 23

This Week

DCFB (4 - 2) vs. Oregon Nugz (3 - 3) - Time to see if my trade with the Nugz was worth it. I gave them Terry Glenn and Corey Dillon for Chad Johnson.
Gemini (0 - 4 - 1) vs. The Dogs of War (2 - 2) - The second of the back-to-back contests.
Woodside Ave. Cyber Gemini (4 - 2) vs. Blitzburgh Dogs (2 - 4) - Try to rebound from tough loss to the Boller's.


Rotten Apples

When I got into my hotel Sunday night in Houghton, Michigan, my dad had sent me an email that my mom wanted to title "Rotten Apples". Below is the email.

Well sports fans here we go to into overtime. The game between Jacksonville and Pittsburgh has not lived up to its billing of being an outstanding game but through the first (60) minutes we have had our share of ups and downs. Most of the ups being for Jacksonville and most of the downs being piles on the Steelers.

The overtime kickoff goes one yard deep into the end-zone and Quincy Morgan brings it up field for the Steelers and HE FINDS THE SEAM and gets two GREAT blocks and an angle toward the right side and HE SHEDS THE TACKLE ATTEMPT by the kicker and is finally knocked out of bounds at the Jacksonville 26 yard line.

The Steelers go with the run to "Fast" Willie Parker around left end BUT OH NO!!!!!!! He fumbles the ball BUT it takes a STEELER BOUNCE right up into his hands and they maintain possession, but a three yard loss. Second down will be better: better for Jacksonville; Tommy Maddox under center looks the field over and takes the snap, turns and now HE IS STILL LOOKING OVER THE FIELD for the BALL HE DROPPED. Some of the friendly folks from Jacksonville find it for him and JACKSONVILLE'S BALL!!!!!!

The Steeler defense comes to the rescue and hold Jacksonville after giving up 1 first down and Jacksonville has to punt. COULD EL do it again? Nope not this time, BUT WAIT! FLAG ON THE PLAY !!!!! Jacksonville has an illegal man-down on the punt. Coach takes the five yard penalty and makes them kick it again. GOOD MOVE! But El still could not do it again.

Steeler ball first and ten and things are getting better. Offense comes out in "NO HUDDLE" Mode (it worked in the fourth quarter; let's do it again). Maddox back to pass into the right flat where he had had a pass intercepted in the first quarter. "NUFF SAID!!!! It is picked off again and returned for a Jacksonville touchdown. GAME OVER!!!!!!!!!

With emails like that, who needs to watch the game?



Bites

I think it's quite obvious Tommy Maddox is a shell of his 2002 self. Just like Kurt Warner, The Gun, has fallen into comical status.

Regardless of how badly he played, the Steelers were still a fumble and/or missed field goal away from winning the game. This team will be okay. Okay?

Was this game unimportant? Is that why Ben didn't play? Is that why Hines didn't play? It seems like that's the attitude that was taken by the players and coaching staff. And in the end, it may prove to be unimportant. Remember, after next week, the Steelers' schedule gets a ton easier.

And with Cowher's history, does it really matter where this team plays its playoff games?


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