Wednesday Apple Pie

Postcard from Chicago.

In the Art Institute of Chicago there are many paintings. Renowned artists like Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Edouard Manet line the walls of this complex and vast building. But, only one work in this collection is known by many as "The Painting". I stopped by the Institute on Tuesday to see "The Painting". I had never seen the original and was not quite sure how I would react when I would.

My guest with me on the trip had been to the Institute before and as we rounded a curve he said, "Get ready. Here it comes." I turned the corner and there it was: Georges Seurat's masterpiece, "A Sunday On La Grande Jatte", the very pinnacle of pointillism.

Pointillism is an artistic technique that Seurat studied and developed that created a solid color out of tiny dots of various other colors. At a distance the painting looks to be full of bold strokes, but only when you get very close do you see the millions upon millions of tiny dots of all colors. 20 feet away I saw what appeared to be man in a brown suit, but up close that brown suit was made up of tiny dots of blue, red, yellow and orange.

It is quite an amazing piece especially considering the size – it took its place as the lone painting on a full-sized wall.

In many ways, pointillism is scientifically found in our daily football lives. At a distance we see a team of 53 players who all wear the same uniforms, but when you get close you see they all have different assignments. Step back again and there is the offensive unit of 11 men working towards one goal: a touchdown, but move forward and you'll see they all are moving in different directions to help achieve the same goal.

Take another couple steps back and you'll see a defense that struggled Monday night to stop the Baltimore Ravens on third down, but move forward really close and you'll see the Ravens' running backs and tight ends open in the dump-off and check-downs, forcing the Steelers out of blitzing packages.

That's the way it goes in a football game. Often times, a unit as a whole is criticized, yet, one player unable to handle his end of the bargain can cause a long night for his 10 other teammates on the field. Forward and back. Solid and dot. Ask Tommy Maddox. Ask Kordell Stewart. Ask Kris Brown. Ask Bill Cowher.

His color is flavored into every unit on this team. In fact his soul and philosophy are the driving force behind the artistic work known as the Steelers. At times that color perhaps over-accentuates one unit and at times it is under-developed in another, yet it is still there.

Georges Seurat, like all great artists, was never fully appreciated during his lifetime. Yet he still created one of the great pieces of art known to mankind. Bill Cowher in a way will never be fully appreciated in his tenure as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers regardless of his amazing records when being ahead by 11 points or more (95 - 1 - 1) and when being ahead at home by a touchdown going into the fourth quarter (which was something like 103 - 1 in the Cowher era. I can't find the stat anywhere after ABC threw it on the screen. If anyone has that stat please send it to me). Never mind that the Broncos almost blew a 28-point lead or that the Bills blew a 9-point lead last week or that a few weeks ago, the Chiefs blew a 24-point lead. Never mind that the Dallas Cowboys lost in regulation when leading by a touchdown with two minutes left in the game while Hall of Fame Bill Parcells helms their squad.

Those records that Cowher holds are quite incredible and under-appreciated. And maybe, just maybe, like Seurat, Cowher will create a masterpiece in Pittsburgh. Seurat only had one to be considered a genius. Perhaps that is all Cowher needs, too.

Six-Pack Recap

1. Carolina 38 Minnesota 13 - Four attempts into the game Daunte Culpepper's season and Minnesota's, at that, comes to an end. The Panthers on the other hand came off their bye week looking crisp in execution. Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith continued to prove that they might just be the most dangerous connection in the NFL. RB Stephen Davis' red zone performance netted two touchdowns. The Panthers coupled with Tampa Bay's current offensive woes make them the obvious choice to overcome the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South.

2. Denver 49 Philadelphia 21 - The Broncos almost blew this game. The score won't really show how dangerously close they came to the biggest meltdown by an NFL team since the Houston Oilers blew a 35-point lead. Leading 28 - 0, the Broncos watched Donovan McNabb throw three straight touchdown passes including a 91-yarder to Terrell Owens to come within a touchdown. Only then did the Broncos start attacking again on offense. Most people will look at this game as a reason why some teams should continue to attack when up by 28 points, but rather look at the terrible job defensively in the 3rd quarter when Denver's starters took the Eagles for granted. Big mistake.

3. San Diego 28 Kansas City 20 - Antonio Gates had his best game of the season and the Chargers overcame a late Chief rally to take second place in the AFC West. Phil Simms remarked this as a must-win for the Chargers and I agreed with him. Apparently the Chargers also took that seriously and had their best all-around effort of the season. It also helped that Priest Holmes took a wicked hit from linebacker Shawn Merriman and didn't return to the game.

4. NY Giants 36 Washington 0 - It was a sad week for the NY Giants as one of the true ambassadors of the game, Wellington Mara, passed away. Tiki Barber took has grief out on the Redskins to the tune of over 200 total yards. But, Eli Manning continued to play erratically with some terrible throws on top off some great throws. He finished with less than 150 yards passing with one touchdown and one interception.

5. New England 21 Buffalo 16- The Bills blew this game. Everyone in Buffalo should have an awful taste in their mouth over this loss. The Bills had a 9-point lead with just under 10 minutes to go in the game and a Patriot touchdown followed by a Kelly Holcomb fumble gave the Patriots the ball down by two with just under seven minutes to go. It took the Patriots two plays to score and the game was effectively over. But, a bigger issue is of merit for the Patriots. For all of the emotion of Tedy Bruschi's return, the Patriots played with such lackluster effort until the final seven minutes.

6. St. Louis 24 Jacksonville 21 - There I was with a horrified look on my face thinking, "The Rams aren't going to try to score a touchdown when all they need to do is kneel on the ball!" But, there indeed was Stephen Jackson taking the handoff and being forced to the ground by five Jaguar defenders, all of whom were trying to rip the ball out of his hands. The Rams got smart and didn't tempt bad karma by kneeling on the ball the next two downs to end the game.

Apple Pie Six-Pack

1. Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots (GOTW) - Most people on Earth will be saying that the Colts' season will be defined by this game. In fact, should the Colts lose this game, most people will consider the Patriots a shoe-in for the Super Bowl. But, the Colts won't lose this game. They will in fact annihilate the Patriots by at least 14 points. That should shut all doubters up and set the stage for a Pittsburgh at Indianapolis AFC Championship game.

2. Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins - Which team will be more angry and embarrassed this week? The Redskins who got shut out by a team playing with immense grief? Or the Eagles who lost by 28 but really only played one good quarter of football? I'm not sure, but the answer will be revealed by whoever wins the game.

3. Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers - With Brian Griese lost for the season, the Bucs offense has taken a big nosedive. Add to his loss, Cadillac Williams returned last week but he is not the same player he was at the start of the season. And someone has to put Michael Clayton's picture on a milk carton because last year's surprisingly effective rookie wide receiver is going through the version definition of sophomore slump. This is a huge game for the Bucs and one that they won't be able to win.

4. Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens - The Bengals have been having trouble generating offense the past few weeks. They've also been having trouble stopping the run. The Ravens defense should give the Bengals fits and this might be the perfect game for Jamal Lewis to finally get on track. The Bengals have been living and dying by causing turnovers. But, if the turnovers dry up, they may have trouble pulling out extended drives.

5. Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs - After starting 0 - 3 the Raiders have gone 3 - 1 and finally seem to trust Lamont Jordan to be the bedrock of their offense. The Chiefs on the other hand are in the thick of the playoff race but losing Priest Holmes could be a huge blow to this team. They are much better with Holmes and Larry Johnson sharing the carries.

6. Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals - Last season the teams visiting Arizona had a terrible time coming out with a win. The Cardinals, although going 6 - 10 on the season, were 5 - 3 at home, the only team with a losing record to have a winning record at home. The Seahawks can put a stranglehold on the NFC West championship with a win. Their job is a little easier with Anquan Boldin out for an extended people of time.

Apple Pie Power Rankings

1. Indianapolis Colts - Peyton Manning had two weeks to replay every loss to the Patriots.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers - Struggled but a win is a win, especially when it is in-division.
3. Denver Broncos - The defense is falling asleep in the second half of games.
4. Atlanta Falcons - All Vick does is win. But can he win in the pocket?
5. New England Patriots - For all the hype, Tedy Bruschi couldn't help that run defense.
6. Philadelphia Eagles - Won't be able to win in hostile environments in the playoffs.
7. Seattle Seahawks - Can virtually assure themselves the NFC West with a win at Arizona.
8. NY Giants - Slow down the bandwagon. Not all games will be that emotionally charged.
9. Cincinnati Bengals - Five interceptions and the Packers still brought them to the wire.
10. Carolina Panthers - Jake + Steve = Unstoppable.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars - The loss in St. Louis left me scratching my head.
12. San Diego Chargers - The Bolts not dead yet.

The Rant
From the gut of Super Fan Pappy Fried Chicken

I moved to New York City on September 30, 2002, the day after Tommy Maddox became the savior by supplanting Kordell Stewart as the Steelers starting quarterback. I remember the date not so much because I was leaving home and family and friends for the chase of a dream on Broadway or for the end of Slash, but because it was my first trip to Heinz Field.

The stadium was beautiful - 64,000+ yellow seats. The view of the city is stunning. Even the corporate sponsor's name is welcome. We found our new home. It is not flashy, but neither are the Steelers and that is the way we like it.

This is supposed to be the place that other teams do not even want to fly over on the way to their own games. Yet, at some point in each of the past few seasons, a story has popped up about the presence of the fans at the stadium. Now, I have been to Heinz Field a few times, most recently at this year's New England game and I was screaming my head off along with the other 65,000 in attendance; it did not feel like anybody was doing much. Like making wind in the wind. I was also able to make it to at least three or four games per season in old Three Rivers Stadium and when that place got rockin' you had to scream in the ear of the person sitting next to you just so they knew to pay attention while you repeated what you were saying three more times. In the open-ended, open air of the new stadium it seems that the product of all the hoarseness at the end of the day, while absolutely worth it, swirls away like a 50-yard field goal toward Mount Washington.

The yellow seats caused raised eyebrows and shielded eyes at first sight, but now we should be thanking the maker of that bold decision. Black seats would have become too hot from exposure to the sun and any other color would look ridiculous sitting there empty as a lot of seats do during the game, while their owners line the walkways for a better view. Not that we really care, but it does look bad when the camera pans the crowd and sees the non-moving yellow blobs among the moving black and yellow ones. If anybody does not want to sit in their seat for the game, drop me a note. I will gladly park my posterior in your vacant lot. I will even buy you a beer.

The fans are there. You can see them and you can hear them and they have not changed.

Somebody from the home team is always going to implore the fans in the stands to raise their voices another level for the next game. With the number of Steeler fans that show up and make noise at away games along with a better view from the standing room and nothing structural to keep the noise in the building, you have to wonder how much the home field itself is creating an advantage.

Mock Apple Pie

Last Week's Results

DCFB 75 Tehran-Pyongyang Axis of Evil 64
Gemini vs. Smooth Smoke Daddies (Night): Two weeks ago Gemini 30 Dogs of War 24
Woodside Avenue Cyber Gemini 24 The Sweatin' Sopranos 6

This Week

DCFB (6 – 2) vs. 28th Avenue Premonition (6 - 2) – Could be a preview of the championship game.
Gemini (2 - 4 - 1) vs. Imperial Dawg (2 - 5) – The league's two worst teams face off.
Woodside Ave. Cyber Gemini (6 – 2) vs. The Texan Terror (4 - 4) – The Terror inexplicably started four players on a bye last week. Three weeks until the showdown with the un-mighty Kobra Kai coached by our very own "tannybrown".


  • On the subject of Tedy Bruschi, Paul Maguire asked, "Has he lost anything?" early into the first quarter of Sunday Night's game. Basically this vanilla question was a lob for Joe Theismann and Mike Patrick to hit out of the ball park. And they did not disappoint. Both announcers gushed over Bruschi saying that he looked in shape and was getting his conditioning done in-game. Apparently I must have been watching a different game then. The Tedy Bruschi I saw missed tackles, looked heavily out-of-breath after most plays and sat for much of the second quarter. But, who wants to kill the feel good story of the week for ESPN?

  • Kelly Holcomb's terrible decision to throw a dump-off to Eric Moulds six yards from the first down marker on fourth down on the Bills' late drive was just another reason why Holcomb is not starter material. Joe Theismann criticized Holcomb rightly, "You just can't make that throw. As a quarterback, I don't know how you can make that throw." I don't know either, Joe.

  • The Steelers only had four pressures on the quarterback by my count on Monday night. The biggest came on the last play. Sometimes it's not the plays you make but when you make them. Regardless, the offensive line for the Ravens played its best game of the season with only a few breakdowns in protection towards the end of the game.

  • Anthony Wright wasn't pretty. His passes were often high and wide, but for the first time all season his receivers held onto the ball.

  • After being one of the league's most highly penalized teams the Ravens registered one penalty from scrimmage, a holding call. This discipline shows just how much this game meant to the Ravens.

  • Although all signs point to the Ravens looking for another quarterback in free agency or the draft, Anthony Wright put together a nice audition last night. He played within himself and only one of his interceptions was a poor throw. The other was gratuitous.

  • I like Willie Parker. I really do. But the reason he is not a move the chains guy is that he rarely gets the 5 - 6 yard run. He'll either be stopped for two or break it for double digits. Until he proves he can consistently pick up anywhere in the 3 - 7 yard area, the Steelers will be forced to throw on third and long more than they would like.

  • The Ravens' strategy was pretty obvious last night. Keep the receivers underneath, keep eight in the box and don't let Heath Miller get off the blocks untouched. That being said, could no one on the Ravens squad cover Hines Ward?

  • One of the biggest plays of the game had to be Quincy Morgan's wily move on Chris McAlister in the final scoring drive. Not only did he turn the All-Pro cornerback around, but he got so wide open that he gave Big Ben his easiest completion of the game. He is the fourth wide receiver this team did not have last season.

  • That was also a throw Ben would have hesitated making last season. That was the definition of dropping the ball into a zone.

  • The Steelers moved the ball with ease in the four wide reciever set, but they sure had two of their most beautiful drives to begin both halves. The first was a nine-minute beauty that covered 79 yards. The second took off another five minutes and covered 60 yards. Those are the definition of Steeler football.

  • Although they went four wide on the final drive, the Steelers still had more than enough time to run the ball a few times, none being more effective than Jerome Bettis' bounce to the outside. This may have been Cowher's best call of the game and one that will go unnoticed. Knowing the Ravens defense was reeling, tired and on their heels, Cowher called Bettis to go off-tackle just seconds before the two minute warning took place. John Madden and Al Michaels wondered why they were rushing when they were so close to field goal position with two timeouts left. But instead of "turtling", Cowher attacked the Ravens' winded defense. Figuring either a pass or Bettis up the middle, they got sealed off on the right side and Bettis bounced it outside for an 11-yard gain.

  • As great as that call was, Cowher's decision not to play-action pass or bootleg on 3rd down of that same drive is one he probably wanted back. Camera shots of his face after that play showed that he knew he should have vetoed that call. But, in hindsight, with Jeff Reed clutch in game-winning field goals, a 37-yarder with no wind was as close to a gimmie as possible.

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