Week 16: Another Dumb Thing Sports Talk Show Hosts Say, Another Dumb Mike Tomlin Decision

923thefan300pxBy JOE DONATELLI

Normally I recap last week’s game, but because of the holidays all I can remember from last Sunday is bad play calls, incomplete passes and disgust, which makes the Broncos game blend in with most of the Browns’ other games this season. So I’m going to use this space this week to talk about one of the stupidest things that sports talk radio hosts say, and I’ve heard it said several times this week on Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan.

“Let’s just hope the players don’t quit on the coach.”

Pat Shurmur will probably be fired after the Steelers game this Sunday. Everyone in Cleveland knows it. I’ve heard a few of The Fan anchors wonder openly if the players will quit on Shurmur. Anyone who has played competitive sports at the high school level—or higher—knows the answer is, “No, you turd burglar.”

Players don’t play for their coaches. Taking money out of the equation, in general, athletes play sports for the following three reasons:

1.)    They like winning—each play and each game

2.)    They take pride in doing something well

3.)    They like their teammates

I played high school football and not once before, during or after a play as an offensive lineman did I think about my coach. Here’s what I did think, “On the second hut, I have to pull behind the center and kick out the defensive end so the tailback has a hole.” I never thought, “We’re 3-6 this year. I bet the athletics director is going to fire our coach. Maybe I’ll kick out the defensive end. Maybe I won’t.” On the field, you think about what you have to do. There isn’t time to think about the coach.

Sports announcers suffer from the delusion that EVERYTHING they notice matters, and perhaps they must because it gives them more to talk about. In reality, all that sports really comes down to is preparation, strategy and execution, but most talk radio hosts don’t put in the time at the practice facility to see the preparation, they don’t talk to the coaches about the strategy and many—Bernie Kosar is an exception—aren’t savvy enough to properly assess the execution. So they focus on the thing that’s easier form them to see and comprehend: the personalities.

Pat Shurmur will be fired, and that must matter on some level, they think, because people matter. People do matter, but not in a way that gets talked about much.

You know when this current Browns’ season was lost? I figured it out this week while talking to my brother Dan. It was lost when the Browns drafted a rifle-armed quarterback who was used to a no-huddle, shotgun spread and put him in the West Coast offense. The decision not to conform the offense to its key player’s strengths limited the potential of both this offense and its quarterback. Dan pointed this out: Brandon Weeden probably played about as well as anyone could expect in this antiquated, predictable scheme. It’s not Shurmur’s firing that will affect the Browns against the Steelers this week, it’s his continued presence and commitment to putting a round peg in a square hole. That’s a conversation I’d like to hear on The Fan—how seasons are won and lost in June, like this one was. Shurmur’s personality mattered greatly.

When a sports radio talk show host says something like, “Let’s hope the players don’t quit on the coach,” whether he knows it or not, he says quite a bit about how he thinks the world works, and it makes him look naive. He thinks we live in a world in which workers would sabotage their own paychecks because the CEO does not have faith in a key manager. This line of thinking implies that people are motivated, for the most part, by leadership.

As anyone who has ever worked in an organization knows, this is laughable. A manager can be inspiring—or a complete dunce—but if you’re a professional—like, say, a professional football player—you’re not going to jeopardize your own salary because you don’t know who your boss will be next week. The sports radio host who hopes the players don’t quit believes we live in a world in which productivity, motivation and excellence come from the top down. Not only is that NOT how any healthy workplace works, it’s an insult to the people who do the work in an organization because it implies that they draw their strength from some all-knowing leader in middle management.

Let’s hope the Browns don’t quit on the coach? This coach put his key offensive player in a box all season, and the team still played strong. He stood on the sidelines all season with his “Where did I park my car?” face. The entire roster is auditioning for the next head coach, whoever he may be. Why the hell would they quit now?


What am I supposed to do now, spend Sunday afternoon communicating with my family?!

From my brother Brian’s place in Pittsburgh, I was going to be clutching a Terrible Towel with one hand and exchanging high-fives with his wife Heather and about 10 other people with the other hand. This was going to happen every time the Browns played like the Browns (and worse, when the Browns played like the Browns With a Third-String Starting Quarterback Whose Parents Actually Named Him Thaddeus). The Christmas holiday week was going to end with joy and merriment and an AFC playoff berth. Brian and I would have spent the dinner hour and most of next week talking ourselves into a convoluted way Pittsburgh could advance to the Super Bowl.

This would have all happened had the Steelers won last week, 13-10, instead of losing by the same score.

Instead, I’ll be casually glancing at the game on TV while simultaneously trying to locate my son’s Red Japanese Destroyer. Thanks to crappy offense and horrible decisions made by the Steelers last week against the Bengals, and one great gift decision made by Santa Claus, I will not spend the afternoon sitting on the edge of my seat. Instead, I will spend it placing red and white pegs on the edge of an Electronic Battleship board. (Thanks for not coaching, Mike Tomlin!)

Plain and simple, the Steelers blew it. I still don’t think they blow. I might be wrong, but it doesn’t matter anymore.

I don’t want to dwell on the Steelers/Bengals debacle (several sharp and blunt objects are located around this house), but just to recap: Cincinnati coach and professional-horrible-decision-maker Marvin Lewis, after earlier going for it on fourth-and-22 and failing, decided to try a 56-yard field goal in windy Heinz Field with their injury replacement kicker. This was despite the fact that his team was playing excellent defense and he Bengals could have pinned Pittsburgh inside the 10. Everyone in Pittsburgh breathed a sigh of relief when the kick never had a chance.

So Tomlin, evidently not remembering how Pittsburgh lost earlier this season to Tennessee, and evidently not remembering what Lewis had done just three minutes before, decided to throw up all over himself. He sent Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham to try a 53-yarder that he missed, surprising exactly zero people in the greater Pittsburgh area.

A lot of my friends thought we should have punted in that situation, essentially sending a home division game into overtime (good chance to win). That would have been fine, but I think the better move would have been to go for it on fourth-and-4, putting trust in Big Ben to make a play. If it works, any subsequent field goal try gets closer (potentially much closer) and the Bengals have no time to respond. We probably win, 13-10. If the fourth-down play doesn’t work, at least Cincinnati has to travel farther than they do if Pittsburgh misses the field goal.

But, whatever.

As my brother points out, the Steelers haven’t played a solid game since beating the Giants in the middle of the season. (Ugh. He’s right.)

Call me nuts, but I still believe there’s not much difference between the 2012 Steelers and the team that won Super Bowl XLIII. The talent level is comparable. But this year’s team failed miserably in close games all year. In games decided by three points or fewer, the Steelers were 3-5. And in games decided by a touchdown or less they were 5-7. In 2010, the year the Steelers lost the Super Bowl to Green Bay, they were 3-1 in games decided by three points or fewer and 5-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

Sunday’s game against the Browns will be our first meaningless game since 2006. (After I find my son’s Red Japanese Destroyer, don’t think I won’t be gunning for his Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat! You can’t hide for long, Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat!)

(Shoot me now.)

This entire season exemplifies the razor-thin line between Really Good and Medicore in the NFL. And, Joe, this should give you reason for hope! If everything falls into place for the Browns in 2013, if all those close losses reverse themselves next year, I honestly think Cleveland could get all the way to 6-10. (Don’t give up hope, Joe! Just ignore that constantly deflating feeling!)

Actually, I’m right there with you today. I wish the Steelers/Browns game meant something. It doesn’t, so I’m off to sink ships.

Or maybe I’ll just ask Tomlin to play for me, so my son has a significantly better chance to win.

Posted in cleveland sports media | 2 Comments

Week 15: How to Approach Sunday (If a Steelers Fan), How to Tell if World is Ending (If a Browns Fan)



7-7 is not where the Steelers we wanted to be. They were 6-3 at one point, but even that was a mirage. We lost to the lowly Titans, Raiders and Browns, and had to go to overtime to beat the even lowlier Chiefs. The Steelers defense looks old and tired — we have no pass rush at all. Conversely, the Bengals come to town for with more quarterback sacks than any defense in the NFL (43). All the momentum Pittsburgh had after Charlie Batch led them to victory over the hated Ravens is gone. The coolest and most telling stat in the NFL, Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, have Pittsburgh as the 17th best team in the NFL (with the 17th best offense and 14th best defense). Speaking of defense, has anyone spotted Troy Polamalu alive? We stink.


Our best player this year, Big Ben, can’t get along with his offensive coordinator. Our best running back, Rashard Mendenhall, is acting like a pissed off 9-year-old who just left his friends in the backyard and stormed into the house bitching. For the season, he has 113 yards and a 3.3-yard average per carry. But that doesn’t matter much, because Pittsburgh basically has abandoned the running game. The Steelers ran 17 times for 69 yards in each of the past two losses. It doesn’t get much better when we pass the ball because our supposedly great wide receivers can’t hang onto it. Pittsburgh employs Josh Victorian. No photo of this man is available on the Steelers’ official website. Our offensive line is average at best, and now we’ve lost Willie Colon with a season-ending injury. Head coach Mike Tomlin, who hasn’t made a single successful in-game adjustment in two months, just declared that our best cornerback, Ike Taylor, will miss his third game with a hairline ankle fracture. The Bengals have won five of their past six games, and the amazingly accurate Football Outsiders site says Cincinnati +4 is the best single bet against the spread in Week 16.


7-7 is right where many fans figured they’d be before turning it on and making a late charge deep into the playoffs. Our next two games are both at home against crappy teams from Ohio, Cincinnati (we should win by 17) and Cleveland (we should win by 17). When we do, we’ll also win the AFC North because the Ravens, who stink and should be 6-8, will lose to the Giants (by 17) and the Bengals (by 1 in a sloppy game). We’ll be the No. 4 seed in the conference, and Heinz Field will be rocking in our home playoff game against the overrated Colts, who we’ll beat (by 17). Then we’ll travel to Houston, who won’t be able to stop our passing attack and have a recent history of not being able to come back from early deficits.


If he hadn’t been injured, Ben Roethlisberger would be in the MVP discussion. He was magnificent against the Cowboys last week, completing 13 of his final 17 passes for 230 yards and finishing with 339 yards and two touchdowns. The play he made at the end of the first half to throw a TD to tight end Health Miller was incredible. Pittsburgh matches up well against the Bengals, who we already beat 24-17 in Cincinnati. Their star wideout A.J. Green did nothing in that game, and he’ll be blanketed again Sunday against underrated Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen. Lewis leads all NFL cornerbacks in passes defensed (26). We’ve held 20 of the last 21 opposing quarterbacks to fewer than 300 yards passing, and Andy Dalton is a doofus who looks like he should be on the cover of a comic book. Our offensive line is rounding into shape, and our secret weapon, rookie David DeCastro, will keep Big Ben upright. The Steelers play their best with their backs against the wall, and they’ve beaten good teams this year, including the Giants, Ravens and Redskins. Winter is here, the air will be crisp, Terrible Towels will be waving and the Steelers defense will be flying to the ball. This is when it all starts. The Bengals but have lost 10 of the past 12 against the Steelers. They have been insignificant since 1988.

Which side of the brain is correct? We’ll find out soon enough.

I say: Steelers 27, Bengals 17



If the Browns were 14-0 right now, I would be writing this from one of those bunkers they advertise on the Glenn Beck show, because I’d be fairly certain the world was going to end.

When the day comes and the Browns reach the Super Bowl, I will be monitoring the sky for giant asteroids and checking the CDC site daily for communiques regarding the outbreak of some incurable disease. I am almost certain I will not be able to enjoy a Browns Super Bowl because I will experience the entire event in a constant state of heightened fear that some act of God will descend upon mankind and make it all go away. The Mayan calendar was one reason I thought this might be the Browns’ year. “If the Browns’ resurgence is going to happen,” I reasoned, “it will happen at a time when no Browns fan can enjoy it.”

As things stand, the Browns are 5-9, in last place in their division and coming off a home loss to a rookie backup quarterback. In other words, there’s nothing to worry about. All is right in the universe. We have nothing to fear. Come Sunday, the Cleveland Browns will still exist, and even though it will appear during the game that our secondary has in fact been decimated by some apocalyptic event, I assure you that will just be our normal secondary out there watching Peyton Manning throw the ball over their heads.

Still, all this talk about the end of the world this week got me thinking. How will we know the world is about to end? What are the signs? When is the proper time to take our Christmas Ales into the basement and make our peace with a God who abandoned Cleveland sports fans long ago? Here are five ways that every Cleveland Browns fan will know the world is about to end.

1. Super Bowl Appearance
Super Bowl Sunday – the Browns are down 5 to, let’s say, the Chicago Bears. With 30 seconds to go, it’s first and goal on the Bears’ 1. Trent Richardson has 250 yards rushing and six touchdowns on the day. A quarterback who is not Brandon Weeden takes the snap and gives it to Richardson when…an extinction-level meteorite crashes through the atmosphere, incinerates Lake Erie and sends what is left of mankind scurrying for caves and underground shelters. (The good news: Life will go on as normal in Pittsburgh.)

2. Art Modell Back in Cleveland
The ghost of Art Modell sits in the front row of the Dawg Pound rooting for the Ravens while John “Big Dawg” Thompson tries to hit it with a giant plastic bone, but the bone passes right through because Ghost Modell is a fricking ghost!

3. Darin Painter Acknowledges Glaring Reality, Admits Steelers Do Not Have Shot at Winning Super Bowl
Probably the least likely scnenario on this list.

4. Steelers Play Ravens in Super Bowl
For this one, the Ravens would have to move over into the NFC East, where they should be geographically, along with Philadelphia, New York and Washington. Inevitably, the Steelers would play the Ravens in the Super Bowl, an event that would not doubt finally turn me into a soccer fan. (Wait, this one is so horrible it seems plausible. Might have to take it off the list.)

5. The Impossible Happens Before Our Very Eyes
A Cleveland Browns quarterback will start every game of the season and throw more touchdowns than interceptions. Yes, my standards for apocalyptic panic have been lowered by years of quarterbacking incompetence.

Posted in browns rant, browns suck | Leave a comment

Week 14: Joe Watches Steelers, Santa Gets 10 Letters



The website for the CBS station out of Columbus (WBNS-10TV) said it was airing the Browns-Chiefs game at 1 on Sunday, so I hopped in the car, picked up some takeout from the China King buffet, brought it back to the house, flipped on the tube and enjoyed the best Sunday afternoon of football I’d experienced all season as I watched the Browns crush the Chiefs 30-7.

Oh, wait, no, that’s not what happened at all. I did go to the WBNS-10 website. I did check the local listing. I did pick up Chinese food, but when I got home, CBS inexplicably aired the Steelers-Chargers “football” game, which I only recognized as a football game because I had seen football before, and what the Steelers and Chargers did on that field was similar to the sport.

Thank you, WBNS-10, for denying me the joy of the only Browns blowout of the season. May all of your satellite dishes blow into the Scioto River, you ceaseless Two-and-a-Half Men promoting bastards.

While the Browns crushed the Chiefs, I watched the Steelers struggle against a team coached by Norv Turner. A quick word about Norv Turner: he is a living being that I do not think is actually a man, but rather is an animatronic Norv Turner controlled by an actual tiny Norv Turner located inside his chest. The animatronic Norv Turner is calm, tan and relaxed, but the actual tiny Norv Turner is a Quatto-style ghoul who breathes new life into things he loves before succumbing to his own nature and destroying them.

Oh, and it’s been reported that—even though there are three weeks left in the season—Turner and the Charger GM A.J. Smith will be fired at the end of the season.

And on top of that, Turner started four backups on the offensive line.

That’s who the Steelers lost to this week.

I watched the whole game, and at no point did I think, “The Steelers could win the Super Bowl.” In fact, I kept thinking, “This Steelers might miss the playoffs.” And I was right: there is a 2-in-5 chance the Steelers don’t go to the playoffs. I think they will, because Darin is wrong about a lot of things—I saw the way he dressed himself for most of the ‘90s—but he’s seldom wrong about the Steelers, and even though they don’t have any Super Bowl swagger, of all the teams that will play in the first round of the AFC playoffs, they’re shaping up as The One Team I Would Not Want to Play.

In spite of what they did to the NFL’s reputation as a professional sports league this week, the Steelers are like the guy in the pickup basketball game who plays defense REALLY tight, to the point where you want to go, “Hey, man, I don’t play for the Lakers,” but that guy plays that way because it’s the only way he knows how to play, and also, he’s a dick. That’s the Steelers.

But this Chargers game was stunning. I heard boos at Heinz Field. In Cleveland we boo shoddy punting, third down passes thrown in front of the first down marker and Pat Shurmur’s face, but in Pittsburgh that type of booing—correct me if I am wrong—seldom occurs. To say that the Steelers were ever in this game would be like saying Bruce Jenner was ever is in his marriage. (Sorry to go Kardashian on you. I’m married. I’ve picked up a few new pop culture references as a result.) The Chargers scored two touchdowns in 12 seconds after entering the game without having scored a touchdown in seven quarters. The Steelers played the way Steelers fans think the Browns do.

Ben Roethlisberger, whom it was reported a few weeks ago might die if he played, returned after missing a few games and looked like a guy who had never been injured, because he’s either the toughest sumnabitch in NFL history or the guy in the pickup basketball game who flops any time someone dribbles the ball near him.

lamarIn other news, I would like to congratulate Steelers linebacker Lamar Woodley on starting a professional bowling team. If you’re like me, you love bowling, but you’d rather watch someone you’ve never heard of do it on third-tier cable TV. Way to make it happen, Lamar.

Image of Mike Tomlin stolen from the Post-Gazette




Dear Santy,

I just started reading the wonderful book you wrote, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and I already have a question. So, right away we learn that every Who down in Who-ville likes Christmas a lot (like me!), but the Grinch, who lives just north of Who-ville, does NOT! Man, I don’t understand why someone would NOT like Christmas when it only comes around once or twice a year. There are pretty ribbons and giant red bows, and I love to stare at sparkly things on my living room tree for hours on end while preparing for the next Browns game. As you know, I’m a head coach in the NFL! (Between me and you, I have no idea.) But I gotta tell you, this Grinch person probably doesn’t even CARE about Christmas because he lives in a CAVE and has a SOUR GRINCHY FROWN. Maybe he needs to slow down and take things one day at a time? I just don’t understand why people like him are so negative, you know? I get that around here, and it’s always NO you should have done THIS or you should have tried THAT and you should never have called that stupid TIMEOUT. Anyway, I love your book so far. I’ve read it for the last three hours and I’m already on page 6. Please stay positive and keep moving forward. I can’t wait to keep reading! (Please make the Grinch nicer?) (Well, who am I to tell you what to write, ha ha ha!) (Hey, how was that laugh, probably not as good as yours?) (Because you have a belly laugh.) (OK.)

Your fan,

Pat Shurmur


@NPole Yo Nick! luvn ur style – pls sticky strips for 2 gloves. Gettin coold in da Burg lol & hands not workin rite. ASAP Sat. cool?



SC No. 1,

… . -. -..   — .   .-   -.-. .. -. -.. -.–   — .-.   .-   … ..- — — . .-. .-.-.-

(I feel like I have to whisper or, in this case, talk in Morse Code. Wife and Ben Jr. next room. Talking black-and-gold onesie, which got at Target. Been? Aisle 8, wow to the ow. Love, but as indicated in code above, “Please send a Cindy or a Summer.” Can’t take wholesome. Need to feel old me. HUT HUT BLUE 42, DRAGON DRAGON DRAGON! Cowboys Sunday. Need mojo after dying 3 weeks ago. See that? I’m fine. But I actually died. CHECK RED CHECK RED! Ben Jr. cutest smile, almost like daddy! CHANGE SUPERMAN SUPERMAN SUPERMAN! Cindy tall blonde? Would be nice. HIKE! Or Asian.)

BB No. 7 (you know who I am!)


Really no salutation or polite address of greeting of goodwill necessary in this case. We are both leaders of men and/or reindeer. It goes without saying that many of them are injured. Troy has a calf. Evidently Donner has a hip. We’ll know more later. Right now, we’re proceeding to focus our attention on the men on the field and/or the reindeers in the sky. We’re really not interested in excuses around here. We don’t deal in hypotheticals. Troy plays or he doesn’t. Donner flies behind Vixen or he doesn’t. We have a game coming up. You have a night coming up. I don’t want anything for Christmas this year because we get what we work toward all year round in Pittsburgh. Nothing is given to us. Nothing is handed to us. This team lives in a world of information, not affirmation. We stay in the present, so we don’t need gifts. I’m writing this note to motivate you to have a successful night. Trust your skill and preparation. I don’t have to tell you that if a reindeer goes down or starts dropping packages, it’s next man up. You have much to do, and much to prepare for. No formal, informal or friendly closing is necessary. Questions?


Dear Santy,

I don’t understand. It just seems like the Whos down in Who-ville are so nice! They like to sit down to a feast. They feast on Who-pudding, and rare Who-roast-beast. But the Grinch can’t stand that in the LEAST? Why not? I don’t comprehend why you would write a book in which an antagonist can’t appreciate someone else’s hard WORK and eventual PROGRESS. And who wouldn’t like Who-pudding?! Does it have caramel? I love caramel! When I’m staring at shiny pointy Christmas tree thingies, I really like to lick caramel off a spoon and devise new offensive game plans. Anyway, the world needs more people like these Whos! And now they’re singing! Oh joy! The Whos are holding hands and they’re singing!!!!

Your fan,

Pat Shurmur (new holiday picture depicting my best smile enclosed)



Actually, nevermind. I’m just going to skip it this year.

R. Mendenhall


To: @JollyKringle

From: CaseyHampton_GreatNoseTackle

Date: December 13, 2012

SUB: Grease or soap?

Fellow Big Man (lol),

What you at now, three bucks 75? Three fiddy? Saw you at the mall munchin a steak sammich! Question: What kinda grease you rubbin on the coat sleeves this year? I have to grab me some (sammich + grease!). How much and where? Gotta be Santa for kids at a hospital this year and can’t figure out how the hell you slide yo ass down without getting yo ass stuck up in that chimney. Got the tape measure yesterday and flue is smaller than flab. Maybe Murphy’s Oil Soap? I saw the old commercial with the nuns using it on the pews and they’re looking fine! (the pews). So what kinda mayo is moving onto that steak sammich these days? I’m xtra lite mayo this year lol. Where you at, four bills? You up to four bills? Oh my, no, trust me, I absolutely believe it.


Dear Santy,

Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! That was horrible, how the Grinch hated the noise, but you know what, I felt like I started to relate to him as a character in your excellent book. I especially liked how the Grinch hitched up old Max and said, “Giddap.” I use that word all the time, and now I finally know where it came from! Giddap! Heee-heee! Wait…what’s going on? What’s happening now? Someone’s trying to stop the Grinch! Little Cindy-Lou Who, who is no more than two? GET YOUR STUPID DRINK AND GET YOUR SORRY ASS BACK TO BED AND LET THE GRINCH SHOVE THE CHRISMTAS TREE UP! How did you hear him anyway? Maybe it’s because you’re sleeping with four other Whos, and you couldn’t even roll over. That happens to me. DOESN’T MATTER. NOT SIGNIFICANT. There, the Grinch patted you on your head, and now you need to go to bed with your cup. All the Whos need to be a-snooze so my new friend the Grinch can concentrate on doing his JOB and focus on the TASK AT HAND and take it ONE GAME AT A TIME and not worry about the MEDIA or the FANS or the fact that no one understands what coaches go through, especially ME.

Your fan,

Pat Shurmur (I wrote before, didn’t hear back, hope you received?)


Hi Santa,

I’m a nice guy, so maybe I’ll just ask for all the world to come together this holiday season, and concentrate on what’s truly important —peace on earth, goodwill toward all humanity, continued health and happiness for my family and friends, and for a venomous plague to quietly seep into the locker rooms of the Steelers, Bengals and Jets, so somehow the Browns can make the playoffs at 8-8. They should be at least 7-6 at the moment. But let’s keep things in perspective. I’ll ask for more sincerity and honesty in the world, and for warring nations to remember that life is too short for friction and factions, that we should all strive to present the best of ourselves, that we should always remember that giving is better than receiving, and that maybe the venom could be in the form of a young microbe or deadly virus. Whatever works. Oh, speaking of young microbes and deadly viruses, I’m heading to Court Street here at Ohio University to drink my sorrows away. Actually, forget everything I just wrote, and just send 19 Advil.

Joe Donatelli

Somehow living in Athens, OH


Dear Santy,

It came without ribbons? It came without tags? It came without packages, boxes or bags? Giddap! I’ve puzzled three hours, and now my puzzler is sore. But I just thought of something I hadn’t before: Maybe I don’t have to be such a bore? Maybe, perhaps, I could go the store, and buy a bicycle roller skate drum! I could play it for hours while eating a plum! Instead of just staring, I could smile with such glee, while staring at bright shiny points on my tree! Or not. Forget that. I represent Cleveland sports. Instead, I will think of that Who bitch of a daughter, who got out of bed for that cup of cold water. I will snarl while I mutter in angry-black murmur.

I once was your fan. Sincerely,

Pat Shurmur

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Week 13: 1 Hug Defined the Steelers, 4 Plays Killed the Browns



In professional sports, most athletes care more about themselves than their team, city or fans. It’s totally understandable — the average NFL career lasts less than three years, so it’s hard to fault someone for constantly “looking out for No. 1.”

I thought about that simple truth when I watched No. 16 hug No. 7 as the final seconds ticked away in Baltimore on Sunday evening. The man on the right, No. 16, much-maligned third-string Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, buried his head into the injured right shoulder of No. 7, the much-heralded Ben Roethlisberger.

So-called “Reality TV” is scripted and rehearsed, which is why sports is the only actual reality TV left. This was about as good as it gets, the shot of an injured star giving his replacement a much-deserved embrace. The still-frame mental image is etched into the brains of Pittsburgh “yinzers” everywhere.

The hug was about more than an unexpected triumph of a backup quarterback in an NFL game. It was about a man showing genuine appreciation for a mentor. It was about another man who spent a week enduring punch lines about his age and arm strength, now awash in victory if not vindication. The moment between Ben and Batch was about more than two players, and that’s why it was so powerful.

It wasn’t just about what showed on the scoreboard (Steelers 23, Ravens 20) or the game log (276 yards passing by Batch, 216 of them in the second half). It was about a locker room coming together, and the hope for what might become of a trying season. This win meant little to Batch’s legacy, and he knew it — the guy who once handed off to Barry Sanders in Detroit hadn’t been on the league’s radar since being traded to Pittsburgh in 2002. But Batch is savvy and insightful enough to realize the win meant a great deal to anyone who plays for or roots for the black-and-gold.

You can’t create this kind of organizational power, chemistry and selflessness overnight. Few teams in pro sports have it — the San Antonio Spurs do, the St. Louis Cardinals do, and that’s really about it. An unscripted hug embodied all that’s right with sports, and it was fantastic.

I wonder what went through Batch’s head the moment he hugged Ben.

Charles D’Donte Batch grew up about six miles southeast of Pittsburgh in Homestead, Pa., a small town along the banks of the Monongahela River. As a kid growing up in a different Pittsburgh suburb, I remember reading about Batch when he was setting passing records at nearby Steel Valley High School. I also remember reading about him years later, when Detroit Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg yanked him in favor of journeyman Ty Detmer. The Detroit Free-Press then called Batch “a $10 million mistake,” the value of his signing bonus.

After Batch was traded to the Steelers in 2002, he has stayed in his hometown of Pittsburgh these past 10 years. Some seasons he’s been asked to start. Some seasons he’s been injured. In his tenure as a Steeler, until this year, he had never been asked to throw more than 53 times in a season. Against the Browns in Week 13, he was downright horrific. His three interceptions and ghastly underthrown passes provided fodder for critics, and I was one of his harshest.

Batch’s one-year contract expires at season’s end. These were likely his final moments on an NFL field.

Taking over on Baltimore’s 27 yard line in the fourth quarter, he completed two quick passes to Health Miller and Emmanuel Sanders for 20 yards, then soon a game-tying touchdown strike to Miller. Then, on Pittsburgh’s final drive, needing three points to win, Batch completed five consecutive passes for a total of 45 yards before kicker Shaun Suisham drilled a 42-yard field goal to win the game, sending 71,442 disappointed Baltimore fans home.

As Batch’s emotions took over Sunday evening, he may have been thinking about any of those things — the glory days in Homestead, the hard times in Detroit, the days on the bench in Pittsburgh, a city’s fans desperately looking to him for a win. I have no idea.

I do know what I’m thinking now: The Steelers might win the Super Bowl for the seventh time, despite probably not winning the division. In a season when nothing seemed to be going right — injuries to five of their best seven players, stomach-churning losses to the Raiders and Titans, eight turnovers to the Browns — here now the Steelers are, finally healthier and clicking on defense and seemingly ready to make a serious playoff run.

Pittsburgh is 7-5 and would have the sixth and final AFC playoff spot if the regular season ended today. The Steelers’ remaining games are home against the Chargers, at the Cowboys, home against the Bengals and home against the Browns. It’s an easier schedule than either the Ravens or Bengals have, and there’s a decent chance of Pittsburgh finishing 11-5, especially if Ben comes back for all four games.

In 2005, Pittsburgh won its final four regular-season games to squeak into the playoffs as the sixth seed in the AFC. They then won three postseason games on the road and won the Super Bowl. No team had ever done that. Since then, the New York Giants did it in 2007 season and the Green Bay Packers did it in 2010. It has become a somewhat stylish path to a Super Bowl victory—go about 7-7, be written off completely and then get hot at the right time. Joe and I talked about this last week (well, I talked about it, and Joe laughed and politely called me “overly optimistic,” in this audio conversation: Browns Fan Vs. Steelers Fan Week 12 Chat).

If Pittsburgh gets the chance for a seventh Super Bowl win, it will be largely due to the presence of No. 16. After the game while speaking to a reporter, Batch said, “For me, I just wanted another chance to start again after last week. But when you have a performance like that, you don’t know if it’s going to happen. I wanted to prove to myself I could still play.”

I didn’t know you could, Charlie. You proved me wrong. More than that, you reminded me why I love rooting for Pittsburgh, and why I love sports.



I’m a Browns fan, which means I can’t enjoy anything, even our epic two-game winning streak at the hands of the Steelers and Raiders, two teams I really enjoy beating. I keep thinking about four plays. Had each play gone differently, the 4-8 Browns would be 8-4 and in the thick of the playoff hunt, which is pretty much the most enjoyable part of the NFL season outside the playoffs. The pre-season is garbage. The early season games tend, let’s be honest, to stink. (Christian Ponder dominating! Brian Hartline running wild!)

In the run-up to the playoffs, every game matters, and every game is like a mini-playoff-game because it carries IMPLICATIONS!

No, not that implication. Although being a Browns fan can often feel like that implication. I’m talking playoff implications. I would love for our last four games against Kansas City, Washington, Denver and Pittsburgh to matter. Two of the games sort of matter—Browns fans always get up for the Broncos and the Steelers. But they don’t matter-MATTER. They’re just games that we will never remember come January because there are no stakes.

Think: 8-4. In this, the year of the God-awful 2012 AFC Playoff Hunt, we could be 8-4. Do we deserve to be 8-4? Probably not. But outside of Houston, New England and Denver, I’m not sure any AFC team deserves to be 8-4. There is a good chance a team that is 7-5 right now (Steelers/Bengals) might go to the playoffs and win the AFC. That’s how awful the AFC is. The Jets, Bills and Dolphins are each—with one more win than the Browns—still in the playoff hunt. Four plays! RIPS UP TIM COUCH JERSEY. Gaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Play 1
Week 1 Vs. the Eagles

Trailing 16-10, Michael Vick threw an interception into the arms of rookie linebacker L.J. Fort. Fort dropped it. Vick threw the game-winning touchdown pass on the next play. That was a garbage Eagles team then, and it’s a garbage team now. Browns should have won that game. I’ll own up to losing when the better team wins, but that’s not what happened.

Play 2

Week 4 Vs. the Ravens

OK, the Ravens were the better team, but they’re not as strong as their record indicates. Late in the game Greg Little dropped a for-sure touchdown pass that would have pulled the Browns within three in a game they absolutely could have won. A win against the Ravens would have changed the tenor of the season.

Play 3

Week 7 Vs. the Colts

Josh Gordon drops what should have been a 41-yard touchdown catch late in a game the Browns would go on to lose 17-13. If Gordon makes that catch, I’m convinced they win.

Play 4

Week 11 Vs. Cowboys

Cowboys down three. They have the ball. They’ve run one successful play all game—Romo throws the ball within 15 feet of a receiver and hopes he catches it. Not impossible to game-plan against. What happens? With their hopes fading, the Cowboys get a gift from the Browns in the form of a 35-yard pass interference call on Sheldon Brown. That sets up the tying field goal. The Cowboys win it in OT. Again, that’s not a good Cowboys team. That was a totally winnable game.

On the bright side, Little and Gordon have started making plays, and Brown looked 25 years younger last week. But if our playmakers step up, and a linebacker desperately trying to stay in the league makes a play, it’s an entirely different season for Browns fans, the Browns and coach Pat Shurmur.

X … X … X

I watched the Raiders game with a bunch of Browns fans on Court Street last week. Things we all agreed on:

— Pat Shurmur always has a look on his face like he can’t find his car

— Phil Dawson is the most reliable player on the team

— The Browns’ front rotation on D is STRONG

— Ben Watson needs to get the ball more

— Montario Hardesty is starting to look like an NFL running back

— Reggie Hodges always looks like he’s punting into 50 mph winds

— Courtside’s sausage pizza is sick, yo (that one was mainly them)

— We’re no longer engulfed in panic anytime the ball goes near Greg Little

— You should never draft a fullback from Stanford; your fullback should be a thug from one of the thug schools

— The Browns need to draft a corner with their first pick, and they also need a safety who can “kill people”

— Knocking the Steelers out of the playoffs is pretty much all we have left this season; everyone is hoping that December 30th means something

Photo of Browns fan stolen from Thoughts of R.S.

Posted in browns suck | Leave a comment

Week 12: Joe and Darin Talk About What Happened

Audio: Browns Fan Vs. Steelers Fan Week 12 Chat


As you can see from the link above, Darin and I talked after the Browns-Steelers game this week. If you’re a fan of this site, you should give it a listen. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Sadly, during the call, I did not get a chance to thank all of the people who made this week’s Browns win possible. So I just want to do that right here.

I would like to thank Charlie Batch for not retiring when he reached middle age, right after the AFL-NFL merger.

I would like to thank the Steelers’ front office for keeping the cupboards so bare at backup QB. Is Tommy Maddox unavailable because he’s in the middle of the CFL Playoffs?

I would like to thank Plaxico Burress for stepping out of retirement. He hasn’t played since 2011, but to his credit he looked like he hadn’t played since 2008.

I would like to thank all four Steelers running backs for all of those fumbles. Holding onto the ball is not one of the first things you learn in Pee-Wee Football. It’s not a basic skill or anything. It takes years to figure out how not to give the ball to the other team when you have it. These guys can be excused.

I want to thank my buddy Jason (huge Steelers fan) for going to the game. The last time he went the Steelers lost that game, too. I am buying your ticket next year, Jay.

I want to thank Joe Haden for playing in this game. It’s so nice of him. How about no more missed games, Joe? Notice how the defense stops sucking when you’re out there? Just a thought.

I want to thank Trent Richardson for being the first Brown actually worth watching since 1999.

I want to thank Josh Gordon for doing something rare for the Browns and representing an approximate facsimile of an NFL receiver.

I would like to thank modern technology for allowing my blogging partner Darin Painter (who is still very depressed about this loss) to record our thoughts after the game and post a link to them on this website.



My breakdown of the recorded conversation Joe and I had on Monday night (click on the audio link at the top of this blog entry):

0:09: By not picking up the phone immediately, Joe has obviously decided to prolong my agony. He knows he’s in control here, and it’s a veteran move on his part. The Browns rolled the Steelers, 20-14, in a game in which Pittsburgh made 117 turnovers. Hopefully we’ll hear his voice soon, and that he won’t gloat for the entire 22 minutes.

0:26: The image of Joe rubbing his body in confetti is only slightly disturbing to me, when it should be extremely disturbing.

1:16: Aside from watching the “game,” everyone had a great time at Karin Painter’s house in Greensburg, Pa.  It’s so much better to watch the “game” with Steelers fans from the ‘Burgh rather than rooting for them alone on my couch in suburban Cleveland, staring blankly at our TV and then out the window, to the bitter cold, melancholy grayness and potential river fires that define the town.

1:30: OK, it was 8 turnovers, not 117. Same thing. All four Pittsburgh running backs — Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Chris Rainey — lost fumbles. Three came in the first half, leading to two field goals that gave the Browns a 13-7 lead.

2:44: “I respect your take even though I don’t respect your team.” This essentially sums up why I enjoy writing (or this week, voicing) the Browns Fan Vs. Steelers Fan blog with Joe. This idea wouldn’t work if Joe were angry, loud, dirty and one-eyed, like 99.9% of Cleveland sports fans.

4:30: Joe was talking to me from his temporary home in Athens, Ohio, where we both went to school at Ohio University. We graduated in 1998, the same year Charlie Batch was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the second round of the NFL draft. Joe and I actually watched Batch play against OU in Athens. (Batch played for Eastern Michigan, also in the Mid-American Conference.) The longer I write this paragraph, the older I feel. I’m going to end it now.

5:31: Batch graduated with a degree in criminal justice. He could actually do this!

6:28: Most Steelers fans miss the Pittsburgh/Cleveland rivalry, but that doesn’t mean we want them to beat us, ever. We only miss the rivalry because having one with Baltimore is ultra-annoying.

8:40: There’s no way the Browns keep Shurmur. He’s gone unless Cleveland wins out and finishes 8-8, in which case the thermostat in hell will read 31.9 F.

10:50: Just for the record, the Steelers have had coaches Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin (all led teams to Super Bowl wins), while the Browns have had coaches Blanton Collier, Nick Skorich, Forrest Gregg, Dick Modzelewski, Sam Rutigliano, Marty Schottenheimer, Bud Carson, Jim Shofner, Bill Belichick (36-44 with Cleveland), Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Terry Robiskie, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini and Shurmur. [Cue to Joe stabbing his left arm with a No. 2 pencil.]

12:15: Statistically, according to ESPN Stats & Information, one additional turnover forced or turnover avoided ads 0.207 wins to your total from the starting point of eight expected wins for a neutral margin. So win the battle by an average of one every game, and you’re looking at the expectation of an 11.3-win season. And unofficially, when the Steelers turn the ball over 8 times in a single game, you’re looking at a possible loss to the Smash, my son Gibson’s Jr. Flag football team, which finished 4-4-1.

15:05: The long-awaited debut of rookie guard David DeCastro could come Sunday in Baltimore after the Steelers activated him to their 53-man roster. DeCastro, their first-round draft choice, was placed on the newly created injured reserve/designated to return list after a knee injury in the third preseason game. He began practicing last week. I’m telling you, he will be the No. 1 reason Pittsburgh plays in the AFC Championship Game in late January.

15:23: Or it could turn out like 2009, when the Steelers lost to the three bottom-feeders in the league — Oakland, Kansas City and Cleveland — and missed the playoffs by one game. [Cue to me taking the No. 2 pencil from Joe.]

19:16: Did you enjoy this smooth transition? I should mention that I interview people for a living. Maybe I should have followed my true dream of becoming a shepherd.

21:30: There we go! That’s the spirit!

Posted in steelers suck | 4 Comments

Week 11: Browns’ Season of Unrelenting Misery Continues, Darin Breaks Ribs


Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto—a guy who has been a Browns cheerleader all season—actually compared the Browns to a dead rat after the Cowboys loss last weekend. The man is also the paper’s religion columnist, which is probably not a coincidence, and of all the things he could have compared the Browns to, I repeat, he chose a dead rat.

Hey, buddy, how’s your NFL team doing this year?

Oh, you know, fine. How’s yours?

Oh, our team? The top sportswriter in Cleveland thinks our team is diseased vermin.

Really? That’s shocking. With all this parity, you’d think the Browns would be good once in a while?

Yeah, but that’s like expecting a dead rat not to be a dead rat. Once you’re a dead rat, there are not a lot of other things you can be. The ceiling is low when it comes to dead rats. A smelly doorstop, maybe? Something to do with plague research? Perhaps a toy for a child you dislike? That’s the thing about being a dead rat. You can hope it’s something else, but in the end it’s a dead rat.

Who am I talking to?

I’m Browns Fan Vs. Steelers Fan blogger Joe Donatelli. Who are you?

I’m your imagination. Aren’t you stealing this talk-to-yourself bit from that sportswriter you mentioned? Pluto?

Yes, I am. Pluto—I’m stealing your bit this week. Why? I talked to myself all game long. This just seemed appropriate.

You watched the game on Sunday? I thought at some point this season you would throw in the towel. I’m surprised you lasted this long.

I haven’t given up yet, and the reason why I haven’t—and I think most Browns fans will understand this—is because I’m an idiot. I watched the Cowboys game from The Pigskin here in Athens, Ohio this week. It was awful. At no point did I think we would win, even when we were winning.

At least this was an exciting game.

Not really. True story: I had promised my wife we would hike Bong Hill (no, that’s not a euphemism for anything, it’s an actual place in Athens, and yes, it got its name for exactly the reason you think it did) after the game. She called as the game went into overtime. “Can I pick you up?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. “Did the Browns win?” she asked. “It’s in overtime,” I said. “Don’t you want to watch the end of the game?” she asked. “No,” I said, “I know how it ends. Come get me.”

And that’s how I came to miss the end of the Cowboys debacle on Sunday. I knew how it would end for the Cleveland Dead Rats because this roster, coaching staff and entire organization are infected with some kind of football loser plague, and I’m tired of watching them, and I’m tired of writing about them, so let’s talk about something more enjoyable such as making fun of the Steelers, whose march to a first-round playoff loss was interrupted by a truly mediocre Baltimore Ravens team this week.

OK, let’s talk about Steelers. They lost to the Ravens. That had to make you happy.

A Ravens win never makes me happy.

OK, but the Steelers lost at least.

Yeah, but the AFC (NFL: JV!) is so putrid they’ll probably still make the playoffs, even with Princess Sparkle Pony on the sidelines.

Princess Sparkle Pony?

That’s why I call Ben Roethlisberger, the toughest bastard to always be afflicted with nagging injuries that may or may not be serious to ever play the game.

Isn’t that what Darin wrote last week?

Yeah, except Darin wrote that before we learned that this latest injury could kill the Steelers’ QB and EVERYONE IN PITTSBURGH. OK, I added that last bit. I hope Ben is OK, and that his injuries are not serious, but of course he is the first QB I can remember who gets a rib injury that could kill him. Of course.

It’s crazy that the Steelers don’t have a viable backup, right?

Completely. For a team that expects to contend for the Super Bowl every year, and that supposedly drafts so well, how they don’t have a slightly-above-mediocre quarterback behind Ben on the roster is beyond me. Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch are fine quarterbacks if your goal is to win the MAC East. But neither of those guys has what it takes to carry a team to the Super Bowl, and this Steeler team, unlike years past, doesn’t have the running game and clutch receiving to cover up bad backup QB play.

No takeaways in that Ravens game. They must really miss Troy Polamalu.

Yeah, but here’s the thing. Not having Troy Polamalu lining up at safety is something every other NFL team has to deal with, too. It’s not like the Steelers lost their Troy Polamalu, but all of the other teams still have their Troy Polamalus. The Steelers have to do what every other team in the NFL does—play without Troy Polamalu. Our safety is a guy named Usama Young. I look forward to watching him make a solo tackle at some point this season. I don’t want to hear it.

This is a little off-topic, but is it me, or have the Steelers been particularly insufferable this season?

Oh, it’s not you. The sense of entitlement is ridiculous. It’s off the charts. Even Darin has noticed it, and he views the entire world through his yellow-colored towel. Look at this guy. His team has won six Super Bowls, all of which it looks like he was alive to see (maybe not conscious to see, but alive), and his team is a perennial contender with a good owner and good coach and a Pro Bowl quarterback.

Oh, what happened here, did the ref call holding on Willie “Holding, 10-Yard Penalty” Colon?

I’m a Steelers fan. One bad thing happened. I’m so upset. Wah!

You really showed that ref, Middle-Finger Steelers Fan and Evil Futuristic Sammy Hagar.

Browns-Cowboys image stolen from Fort Worth Star-Telegram


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The crazy thing is, immediately after that unexpected beginning, I think I just broke two ribs and can hardly write.

Yes, this actually happened. What?! No, I’m not totally sure, except that I am. Yes.

Wait, after writing that last sentence, I just remembered that the entire right side of my body is in intense, sharp pain every time I lift my arm or move a finger, and that two ribs are probably, definitely broken. So I will keep writing.


Huh, that’s strange. The more I think about the fact that I just broke two of my ribs, the more I’m determined to hang in there and just show everyone what I can do. I want to prove myself even though there’s a chance I’m putting this entire blog season in jeopardy.

As you might have assumed, yes, that just smarted a bit. It’s almost as if something’s wrong with the collection of bony and cartilaginous structure that surrounds my thoracic cavity and supports my pectoral girdle, forming a core portion of my skeleton. You know, my rib cage. The one that currently includes two broken ribs.

People — nice people with good intentions, who probably hope I can finish — just walked into the room and looked at me holding my side. They saw me squinting, as if I just broke two ribs. One of them said, “Darin, are you OK? You really don’t seem to look the same. Something seems amiss. Perhaps you’re injured? Did you hurt your shoulder?”

I looked at them and said, “I’m OK, I’m OK.”

What I really meant to say was, “I am certainly not OK. Have you watched me for the last few minutes? I’m starting to believe everyone who reads this will completely understand that I am not currently OK. Every time I look down at my keyboard and stare at a letter — let’s just use J as an example — I let out a slight moan and then I get the sensation that a large commuter train — let’s just use Amtrak as an example —  has just rammed into my right side, potentially breaking two of my ribs.”

But instead, I just said, “I’m OK, I’m OK.”

I have no idea why I plan to continue.

I know full well there’s another person here, Charlie, who can finish for me. He is sitting over there staring at me now, as I’m writhing on the floor, wailing and wailing, my keyboard just barely within reach of my outstretched pointer fingers.

Well, maybe I didn’t break my ribs. I remember that the most common cause of a fractured rib is a direct blow to the chest, often from a viscious hit from an NFL linebacker, but sometimes when you’re just jumping into the endzone to celebrate an unexpected 33-yard touchdown run.

Charlie is decent. He could finish this well. He has done so in several similar situations before, and he could do it again, despite having headphones that look like they were just removed from a 1984 Sony Walkman.

Hang on. No, I’ll just finish.

Instead of telling anyone about my two broken ribs, I’m going to attempt one long one sentence that will cause everyone to stand and applaud! I can do this! People think I’m strong enough, and this will be my shining moment of the season, and I’ll prove them right! They will finally see I should be doing this every day!


I’m ready. This is it. I see an opportunity to be the hero. Here it goes:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog and he agagabap7buabnat[paugabba b$@^WHH#!@!*&!.


Short and unusually off the mark.

This is because I have 22 non-broken ribs. And the average adult human has 24 ribs. Which means two of my ribs are broken.

Which means the Steelers lost to the Ravens, 13-10.

Which means Pittsburgh’s best defensive game of the year was flushed down the crapper. Which means the Ravens are slightly above average, but nowhere near great. Which means the following Mike Tomlin’s post-game press conference comment is super-scary: “Byron did a nice job of communicating where he was and, more than anything, we just wanted to do a nice job of communicating.”

Which means I have no idea what happens next, other than everyone in Pittsburgh asking a friend or neighbor about the current employment status of Dennis Dixon.

Which means, Steelers, just get in. Just find a way to get in the playoffs. You’re all scheduled to be healthy at roughly the same time. And you’ll be dangerous. No one will want to play you.

Just. Get. In.


Posted in browns suck, steelers suck | 1 Comment

Week 10: Here We Go (With the Big Ben Drama … Again)

Note: Browns fan Joe Donatelli has a bye this week.


Let’s say you’re sitting at a poker table, and the game is No Limit Hold ’Em. The guy across from you keeps winning pot after pot. He has a reputation for being a phenomenal player — he even won twice at the Main Event at the World Series of Poker. His presence elicits fear in opponents.

Also, this guy happens to be 6’5” and 240 pounds. His attitude matches his stature — imposing and aggressive, like at any moment he might hop on a motorcycle without a helmet and break his jaw and nose, or get served with a sexual harassment lawsuit stemming from an encounter with a casino employee in Nevada.

You’re not sure what to make of this guy. You respect his talent and appreciate his consistent winning record. You realize he’s adored by the media and a rabid fan base. But people whose opinions you respect — a few sportswriters, plus several people who knew him when he attended Miami of Ohio University — tell you he’s a complete megalomaniac. They have stories about how he’s a drama queen.

You look down at your pair of pocket kings. You then look across the table at this hero figure. He keeps giving you a wry smile, like he knows something you don’t, like he’s been here before and you haven’t, like he’s in commercials that he knows you’ve seen. The dealer turns over the “flop,” and everyone at the table folds except you and him. He smirks before pushing all his chips into the middle. He’s “all in.”

You sit there, wondering what in the world he has. In a broader sense, you wonder what he’s all about. What really makes this guy tick? Perception and reality are the same at the moment. Does he actually have something now, or is he just bluffing? Maybe he’s hoping to solidify his reputation — one that obviously has worked?

You have a full house. Everyone seems to be paying hyper-attention to every move this guy makes, and man, he seems to be loving that. It’s maddening and annoying. Was he really dealt pocket aces? You remind yourself he’s a fantastic player, a two-time champion that talking heads have recently compared to Houdini. OH MY GOODNESS, WHAT DOES THIS GUY HAVE?! He might have a higher full house.

He also might be full of crap.

Essentially, that’s what it’s like to follow, support or prepare to play against Ben Roethlisberger when he may or may not be badly injured.

This is what I think: (1) Big Ben is the toughest quarterback in the NFL, a consummate winner with a history of playing through nagging injuries, and (2) Big Ben wants me to feel that way because he’s a selfish narcissist who winces theatrically after routine hits, stays on the ground a few seconds too long when he thinks the cameras are rolling and induces the media with self-made stories.

As a fan, I experience a strange dichotomy: Ben is the two-time Super Bowl champion of the football team I love, and he’s the embodiment of a personality I detest. He’s a huge winner on the field, but doesn’t seem to be a likable person off the field. I get excited when I go to a sports bar to watch him on TV, yet I don’t think I’d enjoy talking with him over a beer at that very same sports bar.

At homes and sports bars across the country, every Steelers fan is wondering the same thing. How bad, really, is his right shoulder?

The only correct answer, given Ben’s history of theatrics, ends with a question mark instead of a period. Evidently, even the Steelers aren’t sure, as they wanted a second MRI performed on the star quarterback.

Officially, Ben has a “sternoclavicular dislocation,” or “SC sprain,” which means the central end of his clavicle has separated from his sternum (chestbone). That doesn’t sound good. In published news reports, the injury has been called “uncommon” among athletes, and one that typically involves weeks of recovery time. Presumably, that’s why Byron Leftwich will almost definitely start Sunday night against the rival Baltimore Ravens.

If Leftwich starts, it’s not the end of the world. Of the 137 games the Steelers have played since Roethlisberger’s first season of 2004, Ben has missed 14, including his four-game suspension in 2010. In that span, Pittsburgh is 86-37 (.699) with its star QB and 9-5 (.643) without, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

No Steelers fan needs to hear stats, though, to realize the 2012 Steelers need Ben badly. We can’t win the Super Bowl without him.

So from a fan perspective, I hope he’s running around like crazy on third downs in December. From a human perspective (the two don’t always equate), I hope he feels healthy soon, that his shoulder and ribs (which are also injured) get sufficient rest, and that he returns to the field whenever he’s good and ready. A sore shoulder sucks, let alone a SC sprain on a professional quarterback’s most important body part.

But this is important, too: When Ben does come back, no one — not a single fan or media member — should magnify this story and act as though we’re witnessing the miraculous return of the Messiah, right in time for Christmas and the NFL playoffs.

I hope we all keep in mind that this is the same guy who told a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter that he had a partially torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, only to downplay and basically recant the news in “aw-shucks-but-I’m-fine” fashion when it appeared the next day. This is the same person who may or may not have fractured his right thumb in November 2011, an injury that caused him to miss zero games and receive a zillion “man, he’s just so tough” media comments. This is the same person who, during last year’s playoff loss to Denver, ran quickly to the line of scrimmage when the offense went no-huddle, but limped badly after incompletions.

Actuality is clear. You’re injured, or you aren’t. You have pocket aces, or you don’t.

Character is complex. It’s the cumulative result of choices. Ben has developed the image of the conquering Superman by mixing impressive actuality (2012 stats: 66.1% of passes completed, 2,287 yards, 17 touchdowns, four interceptions, 100.0 passer rating) with striking trickery. Toes are “slightly broken” and ribs are “partially cracked.” Recovery time looks like four weeks, unless it’s just one. A glove on the injured thumb “helps tremendously” but really isn’t needed. The muddled saga is never-ending.

Perhaps it’s all a self-motivating mental tactic. Highly determined people often have an abject fear of failure. Maybe Ben deals with his by heightening injury drama so the table stakes are lowered when he returns. Throw for 350 yards in your first game back in primetime, and you’ve turned in a “gritty, tough-as-nails performance for the ages.” The spotlight shines, and you’re immediately interviewed. But throw three interceptions and miss open receivers, and well, what did we expect given your severe injury? Shouldn’t we just be thrilled to see the fearless leader back in the huddle? The spotlight fades, and you’re immediately excused.

The question remains: When will Ben return? What does he really have?

Your guess is as good as mine.

I hope Leftwich plays well in the next two games (home against the Ravens, then at the Browns). Then I hope Ben is ready to go for Week 12, when Pittsburgh plays the Ravens again, for the second time in three weeks. I hope we split the next two games, and enter that huge contest with a 7-4 record.

In the meantime, let the vague injury updates, semi-truths, media hyperbole and probable histrionics begin.

What does he have? I grimaced when I saw the replay that caused the injury, and felt depleted when I heard he was unexpectedly taken to a nearby hospital immediately.

I think he’s really hurt. We Steeler fans are looking at all the information, trying to get an accurate read. I think he’ll be out for three games.

That’s my bet.

But given Ben’s flair for raising the drama, I would understand anyone who simply calls bullshit.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments