Answer Man

After a brief hiatus, the Answer Man is back in town and he tackles the tough questions that others can't.

JW: First of all, do you know anything about Ben's thumb?

Answer Man: No, that serves no purpose. (Laughs at his Bill Cowher imitation). No, I really don't. This is what I do know: There is no way they would be playing this guy if it was a situation where it could do damage. They wouldn't risk him. I just think he's a little bit of an eccentric when it comes to his own injuries, kind of in the way Terry Bradshaw was. Hypochondriac is a hard word. I'll stick with eccentric.

JW: Is calling the thumb broken a stretch?

AM: Talking to doctors, "broken" is a word that encompasses a wide range of medical conditions from "not very severe at all" to "oh my God let's operate." In the strictest sense of the term, yes, there could be some non-displacement hairline that showed up on an MRI. When people think of broken, they think of something much more. It might not be that and it might not have any danger of becoming that based on him continuing to do what he's doing.

JW: Since all three interceptions he threw last week were throw to the right, I tend to believe it's affecting him, don't you?

AM: Yeah. I'm sure that it's not 100 percent, but, first of all, there are no other options and I don't believe in any way that they would be risking this guy's future. I just know they think way too much of him.

JW: What do you make of the secrecy?

AM: Coaches. And the other thing is, too, again, if a player has a predisposition to eccentricity with injuries, and you make a big deal out of it, and he continues to get asked about, then he starts thinking ‘Wow, this is really bad.' It probably makes it worse. If this was a different guy, at a different position, maybe it would've been handled different.

JW: Are this team's problems deeper than losing a left tackle that has caused an average line to collapse?

AM: I think that the reality of life in the NFL is this: As good as we may think this Steelers team is – and I'm one of those people who think it's a pretty good team – there are 12 other teams just as talented. That's the way every season is. I think there are 12 to 15 teams on Labor Day that have the kind of talent that can play in a Super Bowl. Then there's all that other stuff that comes into play: injuries, luck, even blind luck, and from that there is a confidence or an attitude that's built within your own team. I just think that whatever nebulous mojo that helped carry them to 15-1 last season, and made them seem invincible so many weeks in a row, is missing and now it's going the other way. And I don't think that's a factor of preparation or attitude or want-to or any of that stuff. I just think this league is so close – I'm not going to use "the fine line"; I know you're looking for it – there are no teams anymore that can just line up on a bad day and just blow you out with their talent like the Steelers of the '70s, the 49ers of the '80s, the Cowboys of the '90s. The good teams, with the exception of a couple – New England being one and that's why they deserve to be considered a dynasty in their time – but you look at the playoff teams, the division winners, they're changing every year. Look at Atlanta last year. Atlanta. They're where we are now; great running game, great defense last year, superstar quarterback, seven and five.

JW: But Michael Vick is a shakier proposition than Ben Roethlisberger. Falcons fans have to be more nervous about their future than Steelers fans, wouldn't you think?

AM: I'm a lot calmer if I'm a Steelers fan because of the stability of the organization. I just don't ever see the Rooneys making Atlanta Falcons-type decisions. I'm not talking about them lately but the Falcons have done some goofy stuff in the past. I just think there's a stability here, an understanding of this league, what it means and what it is, that the guy from Home Depot doesn't get. [Arthur Blank] is a genius and he's a billionaire, but not in this. So he might be more prone to making a mistake in an area that Dan Rooney lived in every minute of his life.

JW: How do you see Cowher leaving the Steelers? By his own choosing? Is that how it will have to be? Are they that stable?

AM: (Laughs) Will it have to be? That's quite a way to phrase that question.

JW: But people think he's King for Life.

AM: Well, I'm sure there are some scenarios where he would be fired, but I don't know that any of them are realistic. He could be fired if this team got beat 59-0 on Sunday and then there were guys screaming at coaches and suspensions, but I just don't see that being realistic for the people that are here and the kind of guy he is. So based on every realistic scenario that I can foresee, I think he's going to retire.

JW: He would have no immediate plans of doing that, would he?

AM: Well I've read his quotes saying something about when his youngest daughter gets out of high school that he might not be interested in coaching anymore, and I believe she is a freshman now.

JW: Hang in there, Steeler fans.

AM: Let me just say this: I'm listening. All of you Steeler fans out there who think you have a better idea than him, I'm listening. But I'll tell you what: A lot of your ideas aren't. A lot of people thought Jim Haslett; a lot of people thought Mike Mularkey. I mean, would you trade for either one of those now? I wouldn't.

JW: My argument is that coaching the Pittsburgh Steelers is the best job in football. You can take your Alabama, your Penn State, your Notre Dame, this is the best job.

AM: (Looks out the window at a blizzard) Florida.

JW: No, this organization would have its pick. So maybe it wouldn't be Urban Meyer, but they would have their pick. I don't have to have a guy on the top of my mind, but if the job opened up, they could have their pick of the best.

AM: They didn't in 1992.

JW: That was because the guy had to follow The Emperor. Now we have a pattern. Now we see that these people keep coaches for 30 years. The owners stay out of your business and let you do your thing as coaches.

AM: OK, but you're not going to get the most money here. And I'll bet you your first contract isn't as long as you'd get some other places, either.

JW: It really wasn't my intention to come in here and talk about firing the coach.

AM: I think it's legitimate because there are scenarios in which he would get fired, but I don't see them as being realistic. I mean he could walk in and throw a chair through the window of Dan Rooney's office, but that's not going to happen.

JW: Anyway, this three-game losing streak doesn't have you too concerned about the future, does it?

AM: Right. There are certainly things that have to be addressed here, no question. And I believed from the beginning that you don't ever win in this league when you load up for one run at the title. It just does not happen.

JW: They didn't really do that here, did they? They didn't go get the big jerk and tell themselves they could put up with him for one big season.

AM: They don't do that, but what they did was sign Larry Foote to a long-term deal, Jeff Reed to a long-term deal; both of them restricted free agents. Reed is a kicker, yeah, OK, we'll talk about kickers because they're harder to find, but the mistakes that have happened here is that too many guys have been afforded a status they have not yet earned. Some of these guys are playing well. Clark Haggans, Max Starks, Jerame Tuman, Foote; to quote the great Troy Edwards, "What he done?"

JW: You're saying those guys haven't played well?

AM: No. I think Haggans has. Foote has not. But what I'm saying is we signed Haggans a couple years ago based on three-quarters of a pretty good season. "He's our starter." Boom. Hey, man, I want to bring in a couple people and see if he can hold off a little competition. But he's the one guy of all the ones I've mentioned who is probably doing the best. But I mean Larry Foote came in for Kendrell Bell. He played one year. I don't know; is he worth what he's making? I think sometimes there's too much of a rush to say "OK, that's solved. Move that over there. Now let's look at this." Because then it's comfortable. Once it's comfortable … that's why you have 6-10, 15-1, because it's not comfortable. That's why I worry about this team, not so much because of its complacency because I don't believe that there is that, but the Bears haven't eaten since 2001; the Bengals haven't eaten since 1990. When you're playing chicken on the road, the Bengals don't give a (care), man, they're going to go into that wall 100 miles an hour. At this point, they don't care. But the Steelers are, well, we really want … ahh … oh, man, I don't know. You've been there before so you're confident you can go again. You have it in the back of your mind. It's balls-out but not to the degree of some of those other teams. They had the attitude until Jacksonville.

JW: So I take it you're leaning to the hungry Bears this week?

AM: Hey, the other team has coaches too. If Lovie Smith allows Kyle Orton to be Tommy Maddox, they will lose. And that could happen. I mean, Kyle Orton could come in here and throw us the ball five times. And if he does that they will lose. But the Bears are not afraid. If Kyle Orton doesn't turn the ball over, and he completes four of 17 passes for 23 yards, do you think the Bears give a [care]? I mean, they'll play 3-2 football for 60 minutes. They've been slugging it out and scratching and clawing all year. It doesn't mean anything to them. And there's also this: Who's going to block their pass-rushers?


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