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Sunday at the Post

Changes in Pittsburgh, diva receivers and more news. Michael Lombardi

Print This December 13, 2009, 08:45 AM EST
18 Comments

QUOTE/STORY OF THE WEEK...

“The first day at Annapolis, you get your head shaved and get an orientation by the superintendent and at the end you say ‘Beat Army,’ so right away you know that this is a big deal.” -- Roger Staubach, Navy

“All of us feel we’re part of a very special brotherhood. Gen. MacArthur was very much a part of our world. He talked to us and about our responsibility wasn't just to our teammates or the Army team, but to the ghosts of a million soldiers.” -- Pete Dawkins, Army

Is there anything better than watching the Army-Navy game every year? On Saturday, Navy won again, 17-3, but Army looks to have started to rebuild its program, winning five games this season. The sense of pride and tradition you feel when watching the game far outweighs the quality of play on the field. It’s not just a football game, it’s a tribute to the men and women who have fought for this country in the past, the present and the future.

AROUND THE NFL...

“Consensus -- the absence or death of leadership.” -- Margaret Thacher

1. With the Steelers all but eliminated from the playoffs, there’s a sense in the organization that there will be some changes to the coaching staff — more on offense than defense, according to sources I’ve talked to. There is unhappiness with the lack of commitment to the run game, along with a sense of leadership coming from the offensive side. Too many players have their own agendas and not enough of a team concept. There’s a problem among the players, and the Hines Ward/Ben Roethlisberger problem has not gone away despite the Ward apology. Expect changes.

2. On the subject of “diva” wide receivers, Seattle’s T.J. Houshmandzadeh complained last week about not getting the ball enough, which caused some chuckles in Cincinnati. The Bengals source I talked to said the team was happy to say good bye to T.J. and feel his absence has helped clean up the locker room. The Steelers might have to do the same thing with their diva wideouts.

3. Head coach Eric Mangini threatened at halftime to lock everyone out of the Browns locker room had the team not been able to maintain its lead against the Steelers. Josh Cribbs told reporters that Mangini said, “Do not come back in this locker room without a win.” Cribbs figured he might just have to head to his car with all his equipment. With Bernie Kosar having a larger role and, in fact, going to interview Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame, there’s no telling who’s safe and who isn’t in Cleveland. As one NFL team president who has a relationship with Browns owner Randy Lerner told me last week, “Mangini is not safe at all.” But in the building, Mangini believes he’s safe and is already preparing for free agency.

4. If there’s no salary cap next year, free agency in the NFL will consist largely of players who get released this off season because their performances didn’t match their contracts. In fact, the Raiders could – and I’m not saying they will -- release JaMarcus Russell, understanding they would still owe him about $2 million, but the cap hit in an uncapped year would not affect them.

5. From my sources in Houston, I’m told there’s a prevailing feeling that owner Bob McNair will not make any changes if the Texans can finish strong in their remaining four games.

6. But there’s no doubt that Texans offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will join his father Mike, probably in Washington when he returns to coaching next year. Kyle is a very bright coach who will be his father’s offensive coordinator.

7. Former Raiders assistant coach Randy Hanson was sent a letter by the team demanding that he return to work — with a few conditions. He had to park in the front of the building, enter through the visitors entrance and could not have any contact with the players. Good luck, Randy.

8. Did you see Marty Schottenheimer’s quote on Vinny Cerrato? “I’ve said for a long time, in my opinion the problem down there — obviously it starts at the top with Dan (Snyder) —but (the problem) is Cerrato. I don’t particularly respect the guy. He and I had issues when I was there. Basically, what he said was, ‘Marty, Dan may be listening to you in the preseason, but wait until I get in the owner’s box during the regular season and we’ll see who Dan listens to.’ ” Wow, that’s powerful, and there’s a danger sitting with the owner during games — it breeds discontent in the organization. Earlier in my career, I did sit with the owner, but as I became fully aware, it doesn’t do the organization or individual relationships any good. There has to be a separation between owner, front office and coach — especially on game day. How can Mike Shanahan want to become involved in this environment? He and Cerrato might start off as friends, but it my humble opinion, it won’t last.

9. I want to extend my deepest condolences to my great friend and former NFL coach, Frank Novak, who lost his daughter Linda this past week at age 44 to ovarian cancer. Our prayers are with you and your family.

GAMES OF THE WEEK THAT HAVE MY INTEREST…

“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” -- Thomas Paine

Denver Broncos (8-4) at Indianapolis Colts (12-0)

Broncos Defense
Last 6 games
                          Prev. 4 Games     Last 2 Games
PPG Allowed             
29.3                       9.5
Total YPG                 350.8                    244.5
Rush YPG                 168.8                     75.5
Pass YPG                  182.0                    169.0
Pass TD-INT                7-1                        0-3
3rd Down Pct.            52.5                      31.0
Takeaways                   2                            6

The Colts have six fourth-quarter comeback wins this season, tied for most in the NFL since 1970. A win would give them home-field advantage for the first time since 2005 and third time since 1970 (when they won Super Bowl V).

Loved Josh McDaniels’ press conference last week when he talked about how a team reacts after a good play, or a bad play, against the Colts. They need to just keep playing and celebrate after the game, he said. So true.

Cincinnati Bengals (9-3) at Minnesota Vikings (10-2)

The Bengals have held their opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards in eight straight games, longest streak in franchise history.

The Bengals are third in the NFL with an average time of possession of 33:16 and have held the ball at least 38 minutes in each of their past three games.

They’ve held their opponents under 300 total yards in six consecutive games, are fourth in total defense (293.3 YPG) and lead NFL in scoring defense (15.6 PPG).

Brett Favre is 6-0 at home with 1,799 pass yards, 16 TDs, INT, 119.1 passer rating. Despite a season-high two INTs last week, his five INTs are still fewest in the NFL among players with at least 250 pass attempts.

San Diego Chargers (9-3) at Dallas Cowboys (8-4)

The Chargers have scored 21 or more points in 18 straight games, longest active streak in NFL. They’ve committed just one turnover in their last four games and have just one penalty in two of their last three games.

Chargers QB Philip Rivers is third in the NFL in passer rating (104.9) and has 7 TD, 0 INT, 133.2 passer rating in his last four games.

Rivers has 99 career passing TDs in 64 career games. With one passing TD, he will tie Dave Krieg and Jim Everett for the eighth-fastest in NFL history to reach 100 passing TDs.

Rivers is 5-1 on road with 13 TDs, 3 INTs, 107.5 passer rating. He has a 70.2 completion percentage, 14 TDs, 3 INTs, 117.5 passer rating during the Chargers’ current seven-game win streak (leads NFL in passer rating during span).

The Cowboys have a minus-2 turnover differential, and their 15 takeaways are third fewest in NFL. They’re 2-1 against the AFC and have won 10 of their last 15 games against the AFC.

BOOK OF THE WEEK…

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” -- St. Augustine

“The Catch: One Play, Two Dynasties, and the Game That Changed the NFL,” by Gary Myers, with a foreword by Joe Montana

If you’re a fan of the 49ers, or just a football fan, this book offers insight into the building of the 49ers dynasty. From Bill Walsh to Joe Montana to Ronnie Lott, Gary Myers spent countless time interviewing players and coaches on both teams who played in this memorable game.

“The Catch” uses the game as a narrative background for an inside peak into both the 49ers and Cowboys organization. How the 49ers became the team of the ‘80s and how the Cowboys struggled to remain on top. There are so many wonderful takes woven into this book, it’s a must read for any fan.

ARTICLES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED THAT AREN’T WORTH MISSING...

“I don't want to seem immodest, but I can't help comparing what I've tried to put in my films with what Edgar Allan Poe put in his novels; a completely unbelievable story told to the readers with such spellbinding logic that you get the impression that the same thing could happen to you tomorrow.” -- Alfred Hitchcock

Here is a great article on becoming a more inspirational leader — offering 10 tips to help the process. From the Leadership Institute of Indianapolis.

STORIES TO SHARE...

“I am incapable of rest. I am quite confident I should rust, break and die if I spared myself. Much better to die, doing.” -- Charles Dickens

THE CAB RIDE…

By Barry Kingsley
Copyright Barry Kingsley

Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living. It was a cowboy's life, a life for someone who wanted no boss. What I didn't realize was that it was also a ministry.

Because I drove the night shift, my cab became a confessional. Passengers climbed in, sat behind me in total anonymity, and told me about their lives. I encountered people whose lives amazed me, ennobled me, made me laugh and weep.

But none touched me more than a woman I picked up late one August night. I was responding to a call from a small brick four-plex in a quiet part of town.

I assumed I was being sent to pick up some partiers, or someone who had just had a fight with a lover, or a worker heading to an early shift at some factory for the industrial part of town. When I arrived at 2:30 a.m., the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window.

Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, and then drive away. But I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door. This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself. So I walked to the door and knocked. "Just a minute," answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened.

A small woman in her 80s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knick-knacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

"Would you carry my bag out to the car?" she said. I took the suitcase to the cab and then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness. "It's nothing," I told her. "I just try to treat my passengers the way would want my mother treated."

"Oh, you're such a good boy," she said.

When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, "Could you drive through downtown?"

"It's not the shortest way," I answered quickly.

"Oh, I don't mind," she said. "I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice."

I looked in the rearview mirror. Her eyes were glistening. "I don't have any family left," she continued. "The doctor says I don't have very long."

I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. "What route would you like me to take?" I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.

Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing. As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, "I'm tired. Let's go now."

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.

Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

"How much do I owe you?" she asked, reaching into her purse.

"Nothing," I said.

"You have to make a living," she answered.

"There are other passengers," I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly. "You gave an old woman a little moment of joy," she said, "Thank you."

I squeezed her hand and then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift?

What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life. We're conditioned to think that lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware -- beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

Comments

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JZ
Dec 13, 2009
09:14 AM

I still get a lump in my thoat + the chills every time the players enter the field for the ARMY-NAVY game. Incredible.

Minnesota Willie
Dec 13, 2009
10:12 AM

Hey Mike...Loved "The Cab Ride". Now that's the Christmas Spirit and what life is really all about. Thank you.

Mr. T
Dec 13, 2009
10:34 AM

Excellent column, Michael. And I concur with MW, above, "The Cab Ride" is a great read.

Joe
Dec 13, 2009
11:19 AM

They won a super bowl with this offensive coaching staff and now all of a sudden their bums. What a complete overreaction. The Steelers are where they are because they couldn't finish teams on the other side of the ball.

Henry
Dec 13, 2009
11:24 AM

Diva WRS in Pittsburgh. They're not releasing their last two super bowl mvps. Give me a break. Those guys are not replacable.

Mike M
Dec 13, 2009
11:26 AM

Beautiful. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Mark Wentz
Dec 13, 2009
11:33 AM

For those of us who enjoy your leadership quotes, you really let us down with that Thatcher quote. Good leadership facilitates and encourages consensus. If anything, the quote should be changed to "Consensus - the absence or death of autocracy"

deljzc
Dec 13, 2009
11:42 AM

Mike,

The comments about the Steelers seem a bit ambiguous.

Are you saying Hines Ward is a diva wide receiver? Because that doesn't really make sense considering his career. His numbers this season are high, he just got a contract extension to let him retire a Steeler. Hardly the recipe for diva behavior.

Are you saying the Ward/Roethlisberger relationship means Ward is on his way out the door? That doesn't make a lot of sense either. I know you undervalue his abilities (you don't even consider him an "almost blue"), but from a fan that watches every game, he is a difference maker vs. zone defenses and has the same impact as Welker does with the Patriots. Plus he's better in the red zone than Welker in my opinion. And they don't even compare as blockers or physical receivers.

I guess I'm confused at what you are reporting. Or is this a speculation/rumor piece?

Everyone knows Roethlisberger can ruffle feathers, he's a bit of a premadonna and has considerable power in the Steelers organization. There have been reports along these lines for the last 4 seasons.

But is it really going to lead to Hines Ward being released? That's sort of what you are implying with the article and I'd appreciate if you'd either report that or not.

Robert Boland
Dec 13, 2009
01:56 PM

Thank you Michael Lombardi for teaching and inspiring us on yet another Sunday. Your work is a gift to every reader.

Paul
Dec 13, 2009
06:59 PM

Wow do you really make money just making crap up. I need that gig..thank god your out of Cleveland.

Technology
Dec 14, 2009
05:16 AM

Very good article.
Thanks

Yatrix
Dec 14, 2009
09:48 AM

@Henry

Why couldn't they release them? Past achievements shouldn't dictate future commitments. Ward is not an elite WR (and past his prime) and Holmes is not a guy that can take over a game like a Fitz, Marshall, Moss, etc. He's very good, but very replaceable. Pitt has a bunch of 2 and 3 WRs; no one elite, so why can't they be replaced?

Ben once commented on saying they needed a big WR and he was right then and it still holds true today. If Pitt had great WRs, Ben wouldn't have to run around like crazy, taking shots, while his guys got open. He could toss a few up for them to go get.

The only guy that can't replace in their receiving corps is Heath Miller.

steeler
Dec 14, 2009
09:47 PM

Mike, where are you getting this garbage about a riff between Roethlisberger and Ward from? Because it is 110% garbage.

Ben and Ward are NOT at odds. The media went to town about Ward's comments that were indeed taken out of context in the interview because of poor choice of wording by Hines. Ben fired back a lighthearted jab before the Browns game that "I am sure Hines, will do what's best for Hines" with a smile on his face. Ben chose his words very carefully and looked to be taking the high road instead of accidentally say something that would cause a problem.

I was at the Raiders game which was the very next game after Ward made the comments and you could see Big Ben and Ward on the sidelines looking like the best of friends??? In fact, after the TD pass from Ben to Hines the whole section we were sitting in behind the Steelers bench watched the two meet on the sidelines, pat each other on the backs and they went on taking and laughing the entire series the defense took the field. I didn't see anything close to animosity?

Now, I do think there is a difference of opinion between the players and the offensive play calling and agree that Arians should go (let this serve notice that the Bill Cowher should forever remain the last experiment of a Browns coordinator joining the Steelers...Arians was pushing it!)

Your story implies that the reason of the Steelers implosion is based on an issue where there is a divide between the players and not missing the lucky bounces and plays they got last year, the injuries to their top 2 defensive players, poor special teams play and shoddy offensive play calling by Arians...

mike
Dec 15, 2009
10:58 AM

does anyone think this "author" has any credibility? Mikey boy here undermined many people when he worked for cleveland way back didn't you mike?

Then he can't get an NFL job cause of his rep of being a prick & when he does get back in the NFL he has to work for FREE..........remember that Oakland gig? Didn't you get tossed outta there as well mikey boy?

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poker
Sep 26, 2010
09:55 PM

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