John Steigerwald's Sports Column
2012 was a bad year for the Pittsburgh pro sports scene
Talk about a rotten year.
You’d have to do some serious research to come up with a worse year for fans of Pittsburgh’s major pro sports teams.
Maybe 2012 could be called The Year of the Collapse.
Here’s a look at what happened:
It started with the total collapse of the Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Yeah, it was the Flyers, but the Penguins didn’t just go down three games to none. They collapsed, blew a 3-0 lead, lost the first game in overtime game, and then managed only to salvage a little bit of pride before being totally dominated 5-1 in Game 6.
Who knew it would be the last time they would play a game for 10 months?
If there is a 2013 season, none of it will matter until the Penguins advance at least one round in the playoffs.
If they don’t, there will be talk about getting a new head coach.
Collapsing wasn’t enough for the Pirates. When they stink, they set standards of smell never before experienced by the human nose.
Their collapse turned out to be the biggest nosedive ever taken by a team that was 16 games over .500 after 108 games. In the history of baseball, more than 500 teams had been 16 or more games above .500 after that many games. Every single one of them finished with a winning record.
They’ve made moves to guarantee that they will never suffer that humiliation again. They signed a washed up starting pitcher for $14 million and a .211-hitting catcher for $17 million and traded their closer – one of the best in the National League – to Boston for a bunch of guys who couldn’t play for the Red Sox.
Pirate Fest set an attendance record and season ticket sales are ahead of last year. Auld Anxiety.
Would it be impolite to suggest that the Steelers collapse was every bit as epic as the Pirates, even if they manage to beat the Cleveleland Browns to finish 8-8?
The history may not match up but the math does. The Steelers were 6-3 after nine games, and if they beat the Browns, it will mean they lost five of their last seven. That’s a lot like a baseball team losing 50 of it’s last 70. Actually, mathematically it’s almost exactly the same.
No matter how you cut it, that’s a collapse. The Steelers have more legitimate reasons for going into the toilet – injuries being the most obvious – but they will have tanked every bit as badly as the Pirates.
If they lose to the Browns and their third string quarterback and make it six losses in their last seven games, they may have to win the Collapse of the Year award.
• I know it could change in the next five minutes, but as I write this, I’m feeling pretty optimistic about the prospect of having NHL hockey to watch for the next few months. Put me down as being more than happy to settle for a 48-game schedule.
Forget the talk about fans not caring. They stopped caring about the labor negotiations and non-negotiations a long time ago. Most hockey fans just want to see hockey again. You can bet that the Penguins’ first telecast will get a good rating. And by the middle of February, no real hockey fans will care about the games that weren’t played.
• If I were Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, I would be looking for a player or two to step up as a leader between now and next September.
Tight end Heath Miller, who was voted 2012 team MVP by his teammates, would be a candidate. He is never going to be a vocal guy and will always be a great leader by example, but somebody needs to fill the void left by Hines Ward and James Farrior.
Miller doesn’t like drawing attention to himself, but he could send a much needed message to the team (especially the young receivers) by showing up at training camp wearing a shirt that says, “Shut Up And Play.” That would he a great motto for the 2013 Steelers. Maybe Ryan Clark could wear the shirt as a message to the young guys in the secondary.
Troy Polamalu, who’s not known for being a vocal leader, said after the loss to the Bengals that maybe the Steelers needed to be humbled. He’d look good in one of those T-shirts, too. But nobody would look better in it and be a better recipient of the message and a better role model than Ben Roethlisberger.
No matter who’s coordinating the offense next year, Roethlisberger needs to establish the policy in mini-camp that he’s not answering any questions about how he likes the offense. His answer should be, “I’m the quarterback. This year I’m going to just Shut Up And Play.”
• Happy New Year
John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter. His website is Justwatchthegame.com.