Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Two Weeks to Kill

With the bye week coming up, and almost a week before we know who the Steelers will play on Saturday, January 15 at 4:30, expect a lot of goofy stories about stuff like Hines Ward appearing on "Wheel of Fortune," or Plaxico Burress's house being burglarized, and not too much in the way of football-related news that actually might give some insight into what the Steelers are doing to prepare for a return trip to Jacksonville.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I wanted to mention a column Mark Madden wrote last week on his ESPN Radio website. I'll reprint most of it here because to do otherwise would be a disservice to those people who enjoy reading crappy writing (which might explain why you're here in the first place); and it will also give me an opportunity to make fun of Madden. Anyway, here it is:
On my show last week, I talked about several unpleasant locker-room incidents involving Ben Roethlisberger. Among them:

*Roethlisberger pointedly and repeatedly snubbed Pirates outfielder Jason Bay, only acknowledging him when he was forced to. Bay visited the Steelers' practice complex at the behest of the Pirates, who were seeking a photo op with Pittsburgh's "two hot rookies."

*Chukky Okobi berated Roethlisberger for "big-timing" him. Roethlisberger and Okobi were reportedly tight when both were backups. But now consorting with a scrub is said to be beneath Big Ben.

...Obviously, Roethlisberger performing at a high level is top priority.

But if him behaving like a jackass is allowed to continue unabated, the odds of him performing at a high level over the long run become somewhat diminished.

Want proof? Consider the career of Jaromir Jagr.

...Jagr is now a slightly above-average player. No better. It's sad in light of what might have been.

It doesn't always turn out that way. Plenty of prima donnas excel in big-time sports.

But given the Steelers' team-first stance, given that the Rooney family has always stepped on this sort of behavior, and given that the Steelers have always tried to put themselves in an old-school light, it would be best if Big Ben were shown the error of his ways. Sooner, not later.
OK, first of all, this is clearly a case of Madden having written a column after going on a two-day Krispy Kreme bender. Is Roethlisberger being a jerk because he didn't want to meet with Jason Bay with the media in full attendance? The Post-Gazette's Chuck Finder tells a slightly different story than the one Madden spins above, but I'm sure the Fat Phantom was with the rest of the local media that day (presumably in close proximity to the donut table), so he can backup his story by more than just saying "One of my sources told me..." Here's what Finder wrote last month when the two rookies got together:
The quarterback with the lucky 7 on his jersey didn't want to mess with the gods of something or other, be it rookies, football or sports in general. Or maybe he merely didn't want to do another photo opportunity.

Whatever the reason, when a couple of Pirates officials brought 2004 National League rookie of the year Jason Bay by the Steelers' South Side facility yesterday, Ben Roethlisberger was glad to meet him -- away from any prying lenses.

...Roethlisberger, a leading candidate for NFL offensive rookie of the year after winning the weekly award eight times in 14 weeks, declined to pose with Bay around a media horde in the Steelers' locker room after practice.

When five television cameras, three still photographers and a dozen reporters holding microphones and notepads clogged the doorway, injured linebacker Kendrell Bell wondered: "Who ya'all waiting for, the president?"

The Steelers' starting quarterback displayed his elusiveness by going out a back door and meeting Bay privately in the weight room next door.

"I think we have a lot in common," said Bay. "He seemed like a real down-to-earth guy, 'I'm not trying to grab the spotlight.' You just deal with it. And he's been in a rush of media, double all that I got."

Added Roethlisberger, separately addressing the media afterward: "It was great meeting with him. He's a great player. A great guy. He deserved it."
Boy, what a jerk. It's almost as bad as some fat guy having his own radio show, saying really ridiculous stuff and haranguing his guests. Honestly, I have no idea what Madden's talking about in this column. But it gets worse.

Madden reports that Chukky Okobi accused Roethlisberger of "big-timing." I guess if anyone should know something about being big, it's Madden. In all seriousness, who cares? I mean really, is this news? Isn't this the same NFL where players turn in their coaches for practicing too much (Arizona), and for frivolous fines (NY Giants); where running backs accuse coaches of "stabbing them in the back," (Seattle) and players accuse their coach of quitting on them in the middle of the season (Cleveland)? And Madden's belly-aching about Roethlisberger "big-timing" it? Can you imagine that conversation between Okobi and Roethlisberger? In my mind I see it playing out in the Steelers locker room in much the same way the "Beat It" video unfolded. In one corner is Chukky Okobi, the no-name leader of the rival gang; in the other corner is Roethlisberger (playing Michael Jackson, of course), leading his band of misfits, and everybody's decked out in bandana's and ripped jeans. And in the final dance-off is the inevitable knife fight between Okobi and Roethlisberger -- winner take all.

Now if this is actually what happened, then it is news. Otherwise, Madden should save his breath. To paraphrase Allen Iverson, "we're talking about 'big-timing?'" That's all the Hamburglar can come up with when describing Roethlisberger as aloof and a prima donna?

If I had to guess, my money's on Madden needing to meet a deadline, wanting to write something controversial, and with the Steelers being 14-1 at the time, and the hockey season all but kaput, he had to make something up. And for what seems like the millionth time, I fell for it. But that's OK because I was actually struggling for something to write about.

Despite all the goofiness, I must say my favorite line from the column is, "But if him behaving like a jackass is allowed to continue unabated, the odds of him performing at a high level over the long run become somewhat diminished."

You know, that's a great point. Let's see, have there ever been any professional athletes who were real jerks off the field and really successful on it (Hmmm. Me scratching my head)? With about three seconds thought, here's a list of some so-so players I could scrape together (in no particular order): Ty Cobb, Barry Bonds and Kobe Bryant. Madden mentioned Jagr above, but since hockey is no longer a sport, I won't discuss him here. Now, I never saw Ty Cobb play, but by all accounts he was one of the best baseball players of his era and also one of it's biggest jerks -- and he played until he was like 93. Now an argument could be made that Bonds has only been proficient as an old-timer because of steroid use (allegedly, of course); but don't forget, he was league MVP in 1990, 1992 and 1993 -- back when he weighed 160 lbs. And I don't think anyone would dispute Bonds' icy relationship with some teammates and the media when he was in Pittsburgh. Kobe Bryant is arguably one of the best professional basketball players on the planet, but to say that this guy has some problems is like saying that Karl Malone might hit on your wife if you all sit together at a basketball game.

Anyway, my point is that you can be a jerk and still be an all-star, and to state otherwise is just silly. But of course, it's also silly to try and rationalize anything that Madden writes, because his intent isn't to make a salient point, but instead to get people so riled up, they'll call his show so he can berate them ... which reminds me, I need to go make a phone call.

(Oh yeah, tomorrow I'll be talking about Hines Ward's appearance on Wheel of Fortune and the burglary at the Burress residence.)