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Madden: Trash talk, crowd don't mean a thing

Saturday, January 26, 2002

With this week's biggest game in the history of Pittsburgh football just a day away, I'd like to note three things that will most affect the outcome (in no particular order): Talent, execution and luck.

That considered, I'd like to note two things that will not affect the outcome: Trash talk and the crowd.

Trash talk is the lifeblood of the talk-show industry, so I'm surely not complaining when New England cornerback Ty Law says the Steelers' receivers are cocky, sees his statement get blown totally out of proportion, then halfheartedly recants. Law didn't actually say anything bad about anyone -- calling somebody cocky isn't even a misdemeanor by the NFL's laws of protocol -- but what's wrong with getting your name in the headlines for a couple days? Law also said that no one had yet busted Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress in the mouth. True. That's why they wear face masks, I'm told.

No athlete gets more motivated in response to trash talk. If he/she does, that's a pretty sad athlete. In the case of the AFC championship game tomorrow, the event itself should provide sufficient motivation for the Steelers. That and the prospect of spending a week in New Orleans with yours truly.

Trash talk does not affect the result. Never has. Never will. The most famous trash talking occurred before Super Bowl III, when Joe Namath of the American Football League's New York Jets guaranteed victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts of the NFL. The Colts lost, so they obviously didn't get any more motivated. It would be a stretch to say Namath's verbiage flustered the Colts. It would be accurate to say the Colts played badly and quarterback Earl Morrall somehow couldn't see receiver Jimmy Orr wide open behind the Jets' defense at a crucial point. Talent, execution, luck, and oh, yeah, eyesight.

Noted Balti-moron Brian Billick got it right. The players play the media for suckers. The players say stupid stuff, and the media regurgitates it. Hey, sure beats actual reporting and analysis.

The players have zero malice aforethought when they berate an opponent via the media. They just like to hear themselves bleat. Everyone seems to shake hands after. No legitimate hatred festers. Even Ward and Rod Woodson are buddies now. Can't we all get along? And shut up, too?

Trash talk will never be more annoying that it was before the Ravens and Steelers played in last week's biggest game in the history of Pittsburgh football. The mindless word-drool spewed before that game made you want to beg Shannon Sharpe to give Mr. Ed his teeth back. Give me a talking horse -- of course, of course -- over a bunch of fading champions trying to convince themselves they're still a legitimate contender via the verbal equivalent of whistling in the graveyard. Just another example of trash talk not working. And of the players using the media to stage ink-stained vaudeville.

I've got to admit, it was kind of inspirational when the Heinz Field denizens turned up the volume for Kris Brown when the much-maligned Steelers kicker lined up a 46-yarder in the wake of a previous miss. I credited the fans for helping Brown propel the ball through the uprights.

Boy, what an idiot I was. I guess I just got caught up in the moment. Except on those occasions when the home crowd interferes with the snap count of the visitors, a loud, raucous, boozy, out-of-its-collective-mind gathering of fans doesn't affect anything except the fragile psyche of a visiting politico.

How about that jerk from Baltimore, by the way? He rolls into Heinz Field decked out in Ravens regalia, then cringes when a little bad language gets yelled his way? What did he expect, the welcome wagon? I don't condone abuse of any kind, but, in reality, the guy's lucky he didn't get hit.

Fans are necessary in one way: Gate receipts, food/drink sales and merchandising dough really do go a long way in making sporting events a moneymaking operation, and don't think it's not appreciated. But athletes don't sustain extra energy from the home crowd. If they did, they would make a big play every time the local faithful yelled a little louder, and the Steelers' track record in AFC championship games at home over the past eight years shows that doesn't happen. Noise isn't inspiration. It's just noise.

In fact, with player-team loyalty totally deceased on both ends because of the miracle of free agency, it's fair to say that player-city loyalty also is dead. Athletes don't play for you. They play for each other, they play for a paycheck, they play for a ring, but they don't play for you. Most of them live someplace else in the off-season and will go elsewhere for more cash at the drop of a hat.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't support a team. That doesn't mean you shouldn't cheer. To me, loyalty to a team -- to the colors, to the logo -- is the most beautiful kind of loyalty there is.

But realize that athletes really don't care about you. If they did, Burress would invite you to his parties. Oh, athletes pay lip service to loving the fans. That makes you keep spending money on tickets, beer and T-shirts. But see what happens if you ask one to help you change a flat tire.

Mark Madden is host of a talk show from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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