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Madden: Trick plays make Steelers a sideshow

Saturday, December 08, 2001

Refreshing sports notes: Easy to write, easier to read. Does it get any better?

Steelers president Dan Rooney once told me, with no small amount of pride, that the Steelers would never be a sideshow. Memo to Mr. Rooney: When your quarterback wanders around feigning confusion while the ball is snapped directly to a running back, that's something that belongs in a circus, never mind a sideshow. That's flag football crap. Just because something works doesn't mean it isn't stupid.

Did Jerome Bettis beg Bill Cowher to let him play tomorrow because he desperately wanted to compete? Or because he desperately wanted to get his name in the paper? There's no denying or minimizing Bettis' contributions to the Steelers. He may well be the NFL's MVP. But when Bettis told the media that he would try to talk his way into the lineup -- when he knew there was no way he'd be able to do so -- it smacked of shameless self-promotion. Let somebody else grab a headline, Jerome.

Bettis, of course, should not play tomorrow. The Steelers are 9-2 and a lock to be in the playoffs, which means there's a bigger picture to be considered. A bye would be nice, and home field through the AFC playoffs would be nicer. But the Steelers stand a better chance on the road with a healthy Bettis than they do at home with a banged-up Bettis. In fact, if the Steelers beat the Jets, Bettis should also sit out the next game when the Steelers visit Baltimore. Given Bettis' demanding style of running, a two-week vacation now might mean a much more energized Bettis for the postseason.

In the Sports Illustrated cover story on the Steelers, Kordell Stewart mentions that besides having five offensive coordinators in seven years as a pro, he also had three offensive coordinators in four years of college ball with Colorado. I'm amazed. Amazed he didn't mention how many offensive coordinators he had in high school, that is. You're playing well, Kordell. No need for excuses anymore.

Tomorrow is a big game for Kendrell Bell. The rookie inside linebacker was frequently double-teamed Sunday by the Minnesota Vikings, and the result was zero tackles. Steelers foes are well aware of Bell's excellence by now. He's going to get extra attention. Let's see how Bell handles it.

Even if Jerame Tuman doesn't play any better, he's still playing well enough. Tuman is no Mark Bruener, but his blocking has been more than adequate and he has proven especially adept at sealing the corner, which is a primary job for the Steelers' tight end.

Mario Lemieux shouldn't play in the Olympics. In fact, no NHL players should play in the Olympics. NHL players are not paid by their respective national programs. They are paid by their respective NHL teams. In the Olympics, valuable assets will be put at great risk by hockey organizations that face no long-term consequences if injuries occur. By the time the NHL playoffs start, a lot of marquee players will be running on empty. NHL players debuted in the Olympics in 1998. NHL TV ratings and ticket sales did not rise one bit in the afterglow of those Olympics. Interest in hockey did not tangibly increase as a result. And please, spare me the crap about the glory of representing your country. You want to represent your country, go to Afghanistan. These guys will just be playing a game.

I don't know if Aleksey Morozov is on the verge of fulfilling his pedigree as a former first-round draft pick, but I do know he's the third-leading scorer on the Penguins. And I do know that he had a superb game Thursday at Boston, collecting two assists despite playing with a bad back. There are a lot of things you can still question about Morozov, but courage isn't one of them.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig cut a pathetic figure when he testified in front of Congress this week. If baseball really did suffer a $232 million operating loss this season, Selig knows how to solve it, and the answer isn't contraction. The answer is a salary cap, but weak-kneed wimp Selig isn't willing to hunker down and battle for it, especially when he knows that such a fight would divide the owners, the men who pay him his 30 pieces of silver. If baseball really did lose that much -- and I'm not sure I believe it -- then the owners merely need to become financially responsible. I'm not sure they can learn that from Congress.

Sources close to the Pirates' organization say the team will not sign anything more than a token, low-priced free agent this summer. Which beats the heck out of signing another Derek Bell.

The New York Yankees are reportedly going to sign Jason Giambi to a seven-year contract worth $17 million to $18 million per year. That narrowly beat out the Pirates' offer: An all-you-can-drink pass to the Clark Bar, a framed picture of Giambi standing next to the statue of Willie Stargell, $500 per game, $100 per home run, a rent-free one-bedroom apartment on the South Side, transportation to and from PNC Park by water taxi, free steroids and a chance to bat behind Jack Wilson.

The return of Ric Flair is a good reason to start watching wrestling again. But after viewing an episode of the WWF's "Monday Night RAW," you'll quickly realize it's the only good reason.


Mark Madden's talk show can be heard from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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