Steelers Notebook: Sleepy Leftwich savors election
Thursday, November 06, 2008

Byron Leftwich went home last night with the intent of getting some sleep.

"I haven't slept in two days," the backup quarterback said.

He stayed awake Monday night to help the Steelers win in Washington, then stayed awake again Tuesday night to watch Barack Obama win the presidential election.

"I had to see that," said Leftwich, a native of Washington. "I think it was a special moment for everybody that's ever seen this. I don't have kids, but ... being an African-American, I could look my kids in the face and say anything is possible and really mean it any time you have an African-American as president."

Leftwich said he watched Obama's victory speech, then got on the phone to older people, including his mother, in order to "talk to somebody in their 50s, 60s and 70s and [hear] what they think.

"It's amazing to hear how far we came. Me being 28, I didn't see it all. I wasn't in the '60s and '70s. I didn't see all of that. To hear from them and see where we are now, you have to love the direction we are going."

Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, 53, lived during those times. He has been a path-maker of his own in sports -- the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl, after the 2006 season.

"This is way beyond that, you can't even compare it to that Super Bowl," Dungy said of Obama's victory. "That was exciting in the sports realm, but this is something I never thought I would see in my lifetime, and to see it come through fruition, to watch last night and see all of the people in the crowd in Chicago and all of the young people, it just makes you think that our country has come a long way in 40 years."

Changing punters

The Steelers released veteran punter Mitch Berger yesterday and signed Paul Ernster, who lost a competition with Berger in training camp.

Berger, 36, had hamstring injuries that pestered him the past two games and was inconsistent through eight. He averaged 41.9 yards gross and 38.1 net on 42 punts. As a vested veteran who was on the roster for their opener, he will be paid his full salary for the season.

Ernster, 26, was claimed off waivers from Detroit July 29 after punter Daniel Sepulveda was lost for the season with a torn ACL. He was released Aug. 30 when they chose to go with Berger. Ernster also will take over Berger's job as the holder for Jeff Reed's kicks, getting the ball from new long-snapper Jared Retkofsky.

"We appreciate Mitch's efforts, but, quite honestly, it wasn't up to snuff," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We have experience with Paul; he lost a heavily contested battle with Mitch during training camp and in the preseason. We have some continuity there with him. He has spent a bunch of time working with Jared our snapper and has held some for Jeff. We feel like that transition has a chance to be real fluid."

New injury for Parker

Running back Willie Parker, who returned to play against the Redskins for the first time since he sprained his left knee Sept. 21, has a new injury -- to his shoulder.

"I think that he is going to be fine," Tomlin said. "Hopefully, he can come in here and be ready to practice tomorrow. We didn't let him practice today. We will see where he is in the morning."

Tight end Matt Spaeth practiced and was not on the injury report, but he wore a soft cast to protect an injured right hand/wrist at practice yesterday. He hopes not to be so restricted Sunday, when he will start for injured Heath Miller.

"It'll be fine," Spaeth said. "I'm not going to wear anything that will really restrict me during the game. I told them we'll have to come up with something that's not over my hand. This is precautionary."

Spaeth went through a full practice yesterday, but many of his teammates did not two days after their game in Washington.

Among others who did not practice because of injuries were quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder), nose tackle Casey Hampton (toe), offensive tackle Marvel Smith (back), outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf), running back Najeh Davenport (hamstring), safety Tyrone Carter (ankle) and cornerback Bryant McFadden (forearm).

Punting leaders

The top punters in the NFL through nine weeks of the NFL season and where Mitch Berger, pictured at left, stacked up against them before being released yesterday:

Punter, team.....Ypp.

1. Donnie Jones, Rams.....50.0

2. Mat McBriar, Cowboys.....49.0

3. Mike Scifres, Chargers.....48.8

4. Shane Lechler, Raiders.....48.7

5. Dustin Colquitt, Chiefs.....47.9

27. Mitch Berger, Steelers.....41.9

First published on November 6, 2008 at 12:00 am