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Madden: On Steelers' MVP and other musings

Saturday, December 23, 2000

I am giving myself -- and you -- an early Christmas present by doing a whole column's worth of refreshing sports notes. Easy to write, fun to read!

Jerome Bettis was a decent choice for Steelers' MVP. But if the award could have been given in tandem, I would have suggested the cornerback combination of Dewayne Washington and Chad Scott. Washington and Scott played very well, and their excellence in man-to-man coverage freed the Steelers' safeties to find the ball and make plays. Also, didn't the defense badly outperform the offense? Shouldn't somebody on defense have won MVP? Then again, Bettis propped up a whole platoon.

Minnesota quarterback Bubby Brister, much maligned when he played in Pittsburgh, carries a good portion of the Steelers' playoffs hopes on his well-traveled right arm when he leads the Vikings into Indianapolis tomorrow. It should delight you to learn that the Bubster is undefeated as a starter since 1995. The bad news: He has started only four times since then, going 4-0 for Denver in 1998 when John Elway was hurt -- and hurt bad, I'm guessing, if the Broncos felt compelled to use Bubby. But hey, Denver did win the Super Bowl that year. Bubby's the man. Write it down.

If the Vikings lose -- and if that knocks the Steelers out of the playoffs -- all the tailgaters in this town will say Bubby threw the game to screw the Steelers. Write that down, too.

Dan Kreider had an excellent season, as being the winner of the Steelers' rookie of the year award indicates. But before you lobby the Steelers to cut injured Jon Witman and install Kreider as the team's No. 1 fullback for next year, consider that Witman made a base salary of $440,000 this year compared to Kreider's $193,000. Keeping both would likely be no big deal in terms of the salary cap, so keep them both. I don't think Kreider's performance was a fluke, but it's possible. Witman has experience.

If all the Penguins can muster on a road swing through Montreal, Florida and Tampa Bay is three ties, they're a lot more than one player away from making the Stanley Cup final -- even if that one player is Mario Lemieux. What's Bobby Orr doing these days?

Plenty of ridiculous trade gossip swirls around the Penguins on a daily basis, with most of it seeming to assume that opposing general managers were members of the cast of "Dumb and Dumber." Aleksey Morozov, Matthew Barnaby and Michal Rozsival to Chicago for Tony Amonte and Boris Mironov? Puh-leeze. But one rumor that is just plausible enough to inspire me to root fervently against it has Alexei Kovalev going to Washington for tough guy Chris Simon. Kovalev is having a career year, while Simon is a glorified goon who scores the occasional goal. The Penguins are built on talent. Simon might protect Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, but he would otherwise upset the mix and wouldn't come close to replacing Kovalev's ability or production. Plus, the Penguins have class. Simon doesn't.

The Penguins' biggest weakness is defensive zone coverage. Foes seem to get a tap-in from right in front of the Pittsburgh net every night. Maybe they could sign Washington and Scott.

If I coached the Penguins, Matthew Barnaby would have a bigger role. He forechecks relentlessly, draws penalties and stands up for his teammates. But if Ivan Hlinka isn't going to use Barnaby, they might as well trade him. Of course, that's the same mentality that sent Markus Naslund to Vancouver for Alek Stojanov. And Stu Barnes to Buffalo for Barnaby, for that matter.

Knowing Craig Patrick, he'll see how the Penguins look with Lemieux for a couple of months before he even considers making a major deal. Which is exactly the way he should play it.

Why didn't the Pirates make a bigger push to get Pat Hentgen, who signed a two-year deal with Baltimore worth $9.6 million? That's eminently affordable for a solid pitcher -- heck, he's a former AL Cy Young winner -- who would probably have slotted in as the club's No. 2 starter behind Kris Benson. Beaver County's John Burkett signed a meager one-year, $1.75 million deal with Atlanta despite having better stats than Terry Mulholland, whom the Pirates gave $6 million for two years. Yeah, I know, Mulholland's a left-hander. Better a lousy left-hander than a decent right-hander, I suppose.

Hey, I hear the "City Game" between Duquesne and Pitt can once again be a hot basketball rivalry now that the Dukes upset the Panthers. Trouble is, by the time the teams play next season, both will have been used for cannon fodder in their respective conferences and everyone will forget about the magic (gag, choke) of this year's contest. The only way Duquesne and Pitt will ever play a game Pittsburgh cares about is if both teams are contending for NCAA tournament spots. Which won't happen anytime soon.

Yeah, it was touching when all the retired Steelers greats returned for the final game at Three Rivers Stadium. And it was moving when Willie Stargell threw the "last pitch" when the Pirates closed out their tenure at said multipurpose facility. But if you want to witness raw emotion, be at Mellon Arena when 6 1/2 feet of the best hockey player in history skates onto the ice just before game time Wednesday. That moment will be Led Zeppelin, Elvis and the Super Bowl all rolled into one.

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