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  • April 2019
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How Disappointing; Pittsburgh Sports in 2012

Oh, sports. All year, through each and every season, you give me hope. I invest time and emotion into you and sometimes it’s even worth it. Then there are the other times, years like 2012, when you fulfill your awful, inevitable promise to ruin my life.

OK, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s been a bad year for Pittsburgh sports. This year, every team that I care about has completely self-destructed in one way or another. Let’s review, shall we?

The Pittsburgh Pirates The Pirates came into the season facing a seemingly inevitable Major League Baseball record-breaking 20th consecutive losing season. It was an ominous milestone, but the Pirates decided to temporarily shake the monkeys off their collective backs and put together a very solid season through the all-star break.

Their record shortly after the break was 67-54. That’s right–13 games over .500. Things were looking up. Nobody wanted to jinx it, but, at 13 over, people in this city seemed ready to come out and say it–there’s no way the Pirates will screw this up. No, sir, this is the year we at least finish above .500. And that’s just about the time the slide started.

The Pirates started to lose and lose big. Even then, with a September schedule that featured plenty of games against the Cubs, Astros, and Mets, the suddenly flat Buccos could find a way to limp into the playoffs, right? No. The Pirates kept losing, prompting me to calculate daily first their playoff chances and then the number of wins they needed to stay above .500.

That great feeling permeating small-talk around town began to fade. Sports fans who were excited to have a meaningful conversation about the Pirates had to come to the realization that 2012 was different, yes, but not in the way they’d hoped. It was, instead, the year the Pirates engineered the biggest collapse in Major League Baseball history. Better focus on the Penguins and Steelers, right?

Wrong. After a sad first-round exit last season courtesy of their hated rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, The Penguins haven’t played at all this season due the the NHL lockout. They have, therefore, disappointed fans by default. I won’t blame the players, but a lost season is a lost season.  Will we see the Pens take the ice at all this winter? It’s not looking good. All games through Dec. 14, along with the New Year’s Day Winter Classic and the All-Star Game, have been canceled. The last NHL lockout resulted in a completely lost 2004-05 season and Penguins Captain Sidney Crosby is talking about playing in Europe.

The Pittsburgh SteelersThen there’s the Steelers. The Steelers made the playoffs last season like they usually do, but they were Tebowed. In fact, I think we were the only team to truly BE Tebowed. So sad. This season, the Steelers are confounding us all with injuries, inconsistent play, and some suspect coaching decisions. You know how the Steelers seem to always lose to bad teams? Yeah, they’ve done that a lot this year. The Steelers have lost to the sub-par Titans, Raiders, Chargers, and Browns. One week you get a gutsy, seemingly season-saving performance by 3rd-stringer Charlie Batch, and the next week you get a completely incompetent effort at home against the San Diego Chargers. (If the CBS sports guys didn’t pound it home enough yesterday, I will remind you that the Chargers had never won a regular season game in Pittsburgh until yesterday’s blase performance.)

Wow–reading over all of this reminds me that it truly has been a terrible year in Pittsburgh sports. (And I didn’t even get into college sports.) What good can come of that? Well, for me, there has been the surprising upside of finding a way to not let it ruin my day. Believe me, I’ve let a Steelers playoff loss, or Penguins’ first-round playoff exit, ruin my day(s) before. That’s why I don’t want to let it happen in the future. Why? Because it’s inevitable. All of these teams will lose again in excruciating fashion, so don’t think that it won’t happen. It’s a game, and while I totally understand getting caught up in the stories  and the emotions, out boys in black and gold will play and win again.

Need another reason to get over the latest sports disappointment? We’re spoiled! The Steelers have more Super Bowl wins (6) than any other NFL team! The Penguins, too, have won three Stanley Cups and recently captain signed Sidney Crosby to a 12-year deal that will keep him in town until he’s close to retirement. As for the Pirates, well, they haven’t done much in a while, it’s true, but that doesn’t invalidate what they have accomplished–five World Series championships and rosters featuring Roberto Clemente, Honus Wagner, and Willie Stargell.

I’ll leave you with this, video of the greatest, most clutch, home run in history, and proof that, sometimes, things do work out–it’s Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run against the juggernaut New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. It was the only walk-off, series-clinching, home run in World Series history and it happened across the street here in Oakland.

So, even though it’s the Monday after a Steelers loss, I hope you have a good one.

– Corey, The Labs @ CLP

21st century football, or ‘how physical is too physical?’

By Justin K. Aller, Getty Images

If you live in Western Pennsylvania, chances are you know a fair amount about football. This region is often referred to as the “Cradle of Football” because of all the great players who grew up around here. (And, of course, Pittsburgh is home to the six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.)

In Pittsburgh, football is everywhere. Even if you aren’t a die-hard Steelers fan, you can probably still recognize Troy Polamalu’s flowing mane, Hines Ward’s smile, and Brett Keisel’s beard. In Western PA, Mondays after a Steelers’ loss are unbearable (everyone is in a bad mood!), and the excitement in the air before a playoff game is palpable. Why? I could speculate, but what it ultimately boils down to is this — football just matters here. 

We love the Steelers because they represent something tough and enduring and, despite some necessary strife and struggle, successful (attributes modest Pittsburghers may secretly identify with).

While the 2011 Steelers love to pass the ball (utilizing their impressive corps of talented young receivers) the franchise is traditionally associated with a tough up-the-gut running  game and crushing defense. The hard-hitting defense has been a mainstay since the vaunted “Steel Curtain” defense of the 70s, but recent rule changes have begun to shift the way the game is being played and, therefore, the way the Steelers are allowed to play. Hits and tackles once considered textbook are now drawing penalty flags, while the players responsible are fined and sometimes even suspended.

Just today, Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebacker and “repeat offender” James Harrison (the man responsible for THIS PLAY) was suspended for one game without pay after a helmet-to-helmet hit left scrambling Cleveland QB Colt McCoy with a concussion. (See the play at NFL.com HERE.) This is Harrison’s fifth illegal hit on a quarterback in the last three seasons.

To better understand this ruling we have to look at the 2010 NFL season when the league decided to crack down on tackles they considered to be dangerous. Take a look at an excerpt from this Associated Press story from last season:

Not only is the league worried about defenders turning themselves into human missiles, but also with them aiming for the head with the forearm, shoulder or any other body part.

”We’re certainly concerned,” said Anderson, a member of the league’s competition committee and one of its loudest voices on the need for enhanced player safety. ”The fundamentally old way of wrapping up and tackling seems to have faded away. A lot of the increase is from hits to blow guys up. That has become a more popular way of doing it.

”Yes, we are concerned they are getting away from the fundamentals of tackling, and maybe it has been coached that way. We’re going to have to look into talking to our coaches.” (AP, 2010)

The league not only talked to coaches, but also modified its rules (read the NFL – Rulebook here) in an attempt to cut down on these dangerous hits. The NFL Rulebook reads more like a phone book, but here’s the specifics of the roughing the passer penalty that James Harrison was flagged for last Thursday (and a bunch of other Sundays in recent memory):

A.R. 12.47 ROUGHING THE PASSER
Second-and-3 on A35. Quarterback A1 rolls out of the pocket, and while moving, throws a pass to A2
who is downed at the A40. Just after A1 released the ball, B1 tackles the quarterback making helmet-to-helmet
contact in the process.
Ruling: A’s ball, first-and 10 on B45. Roughing the passer because of the helmet-to-helmet hit. (12-2-12-3)

We can probably all agree that helmet-to-helmet hits are dangerous, but what if they’re unintentional? In that case, who’s to say whether a helmet-to-helmet hit was intentional or not? It’s a slippery slope, which is probably why the league has begun to penalize all helmet-to-helmet hits regardless of intention.

It’s confusing and frustrating, but you could make a strong argument that these rule changes are a step in the right direction. Believe me, I know it’s frustrating that the Steelers won’t be dressing #92 against the Forty-Niners on Monday Night Football next week, but at least they’re being proactive about preventing injuries (even if they’re spouting off mixed messages to their fan base about big hits).

For years the NFL turned a blind eye to player injuries resulting from repeated head trauma. That is until 2002 when Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist here in Pittsburgh, discovered a new disease — Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). That year, Dr. Omalu found CTE in the brains of Mike Webster, Terry Long, Andre Waters, Justin Strzelczyk and Tom McHale.

What is CTE? It’s a degenerative brain disease found in those who have suffered repeated head trauma. People with CTE may show symptoms of dementia such as memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression. What’s worse is that these symptoms may appear within months of the trauma or not until many years later. (Read more about CTE HERE.)

The first deceased athlete examined by the CSTE researchers was John Grimsley, former Linebacker for the Houston Oilers and Miami Dolphins, who died in February 2008 at the age of 43 from an accidental gun shot wound. Examination of Mr. Grimsley’s brain confirmed extensive CTE. In both sets of photographs, below, the brain tissue has been immunostained for tau protein, which appears as a dark brown color. (2011, CSTE)

And CTE doesn’t just affect football players–the disease is prevalent in hockey and professional wrestling, too. In May of this year, New York Rangers brawler Derek Boogaard died of an accidental overdose. When doctors performed the autopsy they found his brain was riddled with the disease.

How do you solve this problem? In football, some have suggested removing face masks, having lineman begin each play standing (rather than in the 3-point stance that results in repeated blows to the head), or even getting rid of helmets all-together (so players theoretically hold back on the big hits). So far, other than the new rules, nothing has changed.

So, yes, I’m upset that James Harrison won’t dress next week, but knowing what we know about CTE, maybe these rule changes are for the best.

What do you think? Take our poll and let us know.

– Corey, Digital Learning Librarian

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