Festivus for the rest of us

It looks like a return to the postseason – don't even mention defending the Super Bowl – is a lost cause but in the midst of this holiday season blogger Ryan Wilson takes an opportunity to air his grievances on the 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers in true Festivus fashion.

From the always handy Wikipedia:
Festivus is a nondenominational holiday featured in "The Strike" episode of Seinfeld … Many people, influenced or inspired by Seinfeld, now celebrate the holiday, in varying degrees of seriousness. Some do it religiously; others do it with good tidings in their respect to Seinfeld.

According to Seinfeld, Festivus is celebrated each year on December 23, but many people celebrate it other times, often in early December. Its slogan is "A Festivus for the rest of us!!" An aluminum pole is generally used in lieu of a Christmas tree or other holiday decoration, shedding holiday materialism. Those attending participate in the "Airing of Grievances" in which each person tells … everyone else all the ways they've disappointed him/her over the past year, and after a Festivus dinner, The "Feats of Strength" are performed. Traditionally, Festivus is not over until the head of the household is wrestled to the floor and pinned.

In the spirit of the season – and with the hometown team stumbling through 2006 like Troy Williamson after taking a punch in the face – a Pittsburgh Steelers-inspired Festivus column seemed only logical.

The aluminum pole's all set so let's get things started with the traditional Airing of Grievances:

  • Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident got the 2006 season off to the kind of rollicking start that results in four wins through 12 weeks. The subsequent appendicitis and concussions were little "extras" that sealed Pittsburgh's fate.

    To be fair, Roethlisberger seems to have fully recovered from his chaotic off-season, but it's hard to argue that the Steelers wouldn't be a much better team if the star quarterback used his head for something other than a car crusher during his summer vacation.

  • Duce Staley retiring from football, but forgetting to tell his employers. Or, more aptly, his employers ignoring the fact that Staley was done, but still wasting a roster spot to keep him around. I've been a Staley supporter since he arrived in Pittsburgh in 2004 and as recently as training camp I thought he – along with Verron Haynes – might be able to replace Jerome Bettis. To date, Staley has adequately replaced the Bus is in the Steelers' dining hall and that's it. I don't expect to ever again see Staley in uniform, and I could be easily convinced that he wears his Steelers-issued sweats 24/7, never breaking character as Pittsburgh's de facto mascot. Staley's whole approach to the season reminds me of one of my favorite Seinfeld lines:
    JERRY: (to George) Again with the sweat pants?

    GEORGE: What? I'm comfortable.

    JERRY: You know the message you're sending out to the world with these sweat pants? You're telling the world: "I give up. I can't compete in normal society. I'm miserable, so I might as well be comfortable." (George is baffled)

    This is how I feel about Staley: his (in)actions scream: "I give up!" And the Steelers? Well, they're the enablers.
  • The overall suckitude of the offensive line. This unit has been inconsistent all season (although, they have succeeded in consistently getting the quarterback killed) and here's even more proof of this bunch's ineptitude.

    I've written before that the o-line has never been particularly adept at pass blocking, but this season the run blocking has been just as atrocious. I willingly admit that sacks are more often on the quarterback than the line – and Roethlisberger deserves some of the blame – but when the protection collapses so catastrophically it's impossible to ignore.

    There is absolutely no way anybody can convince me that the Baltimore Ravens should be a better pass-blocking team than the Steelers. That conversation begins and ends with the fact that the Ravens' starting center is Mike Flynn. I'm certain that if the NFL had tests that measured overall athletic ability, Flynn would come in last in the league. Behind Bill Parcells. And his man boobs.

    As I wrote earlier this week, I think these issues have less to do with personnel and more to do with coaching. We'll see.

  • The secondary collectively dressing up as the 2002 unit for Halloween and forgetting to take off their costumes. Okay, I'm not willing to concede that the defensive backfield deserves to be compared to the distinguished Lee Flowers, Brent Alexander, Chad Scott and DeWayne Washington (with a Hank Poteat kicker), but after surprising a lot of people with their solid performance last season, 2006 is a head scratcher.

    I want to believe that much of the decline is due to bad luck, a few botched coverages, some not-so-hot game plans and perhaps most important, injuries. And just so there's no confusion, I don't really think Troy Polamalu + Ryan Clark = Lee Flowers + Brent Alexander. In fact, the safeties have played pretty well. The cornerbacks? Not so much.

  • The maddeningly uneven play of the wide receivers. One of my all-time favorite shows is the "Ricky Gervais Show." It's a podcast that during its run consisted of Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington talking about the most inane topics imaginable for a half-hour.

    (Gervais and Merchant wrote the original "Office" – none of that American rip-off crap – and have since gone on to write and star in HBO's "Extras." Pilkington is a deadpanning oddball who served as Gervais' and Merchants' radio show producer for a few years before graduating into a co-host of sorts.)

    Anyway, Pilkington has outrageously childish views on most things, and one of his pet peeves is that the planet is overpopulated with animals. When either Gervais or Merchant asks him how to best control this population problem, Pilkington's usual response is "get rid of 'em." (It's impossible to convey how ridiculously hilarious Pilkington is, but this might give you an idea.)

    All of this is just a very long-winded way of expressing my sentiments about Cedrick Wilson: get rid of 'em. He serves no useful purpose on this team other than harassing officials about defensive pass interference calls when not collecting phantom offensive pass interference penalties of his own.

    Unlike Nate Washington – who gives new meaning to the term "wildly inconsistent" – I can't point to one thing Wilson's done during a game that makes me take this viewpoint. Watch him for a play or two and he's fine; watch him for the entire season and I want to gouge my eyes out. This is truly a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Get rid of 'em.

    I mentioned Washington above and he's certainly struggled through rough patches this season. That said, the guy's still a rookie. Sure, he's been on the team for two years, but Tiffin University isn't known for preparing college kids for the rigors of NFL life. Washington admitted to over-thinking and that's understandable, but despite his occasional bout of the dropsies, he's still gobs better than Wilson with infinitely more upside.

    Hines Ward had a miserable start to the season – in part, due to a hammy injury – played like a Pro Bowler for a five-game stretch in the middle of the season, and then, after injuring his knee against the Browns, hobbled his way through the 27-0 beat down administered by the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday.

    I'm all for guys sucking it up and playing injured. There's a lot to be said for players who make short-term sacrifices for the (perceived) good of the team even if the long-term consequences might be potentially problematic. But against Baltimore, Ward would've been just as effective if the training crew wheeled him to his position while he was lying in a hospital bed. He was useless as a pass catcher and when Roethlisberger had more than three milliseconds to throw the ball, Ward would drop more than he snagged.

    As he relates to Festivus, Ward's case is unique. I'm actually airing a grievance that the guy played too injured. It's not everyday you can say that about NFL players and in truth, Ward didn't come close to costing Pittsburgh the game. On the whole, Ward personifies what it means to be a professional and the league would be a much better place if it had more guys like him.

  • Hair-brained coaching decisions that have helped torpedo the season. I could probably spend the entire weekend coming up with a list of ridiculous choices from the head coach that resulted in not-so-good outcomes, but I'll try to keep it to just five:

    1) Ricardo Colclough, punt returner extraordinaire! Of all the dumb decisions, this is, by a light year, the dumbest. Blame Colclough if you want, but Cowher lost the Bengals game all by himself.

    2) Routinely bungling timeouts. The most egregious example is the Falcons game. Cowher challenged an early second-half Warrick Dunn touchdown that was obviously a touchdown and then burned through two timeouts late in the game trying to ice a 50-year-old kicker. Of course, the Steelers were able to get in field-goal range with a few ticks on the clock but a false-start penalty by Nate Washington ended regulation and predictably, Pittsburgh lost in overtime.

    3) Releasing proven special teams players for the sake of … well, I have no idea. Pittsburgh's special teams are the worst in the NFL and a lot of that can be attributed to guys like Chidi Iwuoma, Andre Frazier and Quincy Morgan getting the boot. Injuries to James Harrison and Willie Reid certainly haven't helped things – and couldn't have been predicted way back in August – but it's hard to make the argument that the team is better without these three players. In fact, it's impossible to make that argument without wearing a straight jacket and being heavily medicated … or having the title of Steelers' head coach. Either way.

    4) Imitating Bernie from "Weekend and Bernie's" for 12 straight weeks. I know some people don't think Cowher's passionate sideline spectacle necessarily translates into wins and losses, but can't the guy humor me, at least? I can't explain how Cowher goes from a game-day maniacal loon to the sideline version of Steven Wright in the span of eight months. It's just weird. And troubling. Maybe Cowher cares more about football than ever before, but it's impossible to tell by looking at him.

    Frankly, I'm comforted by his sideline antics – it's my security blanket. And if Cowher's not up for it, maybe before the game the medical staff can just hook him up to some electrodes and at the appropriate time – say after another Cedrick Wilson dropped pass – one of the trainers can shock him into flailing and foaming all over the place, just like he used to do without provocation. C'mon, somebody throw me a bone.

    5) Inviting Jon Dekker to training camp and not making him the first overall cut, and keeping Brian Jackson St. Pierre around while the special teams imploded … every week. Neither of these personnel moves are so absurd that they require their own bullet, but they're both pet peeves and I just feel better knowing I mentioned them here. Thank you for your time.

  • This Airing of the Grievances will hopefully put us all in the holiday spirit and I welcome you to air any grievances you may have. And remember, Festivus isn't over until somebody wrestles and pins the head of the household – or in this case, the head coach – to the floor.

    If there was ever a job for Tyrone Carter ...

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