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Madden: Harris' game plan suited the occasion

Saturday, November 23, 2002

When you give thanks Thursday, join me in giving thanks for the concept of a column full of refreshing sports notes. Fun to write, fun to read, and they digest easier than Grandma's stuffing.

Walt Harris sometimes lets his ego get the better of him in big games. Not so Thursday. Harris' game plan vs. No. 1 Miami was impeccable. Pitt controlled the ball, made the game short and had a legitimate chance to win despite a steady stream of big plays by the Hurricanes. Quarterback Rod Rutherford wasn't asked to complete many passes, just big ones, and Pitt's defense contained Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey longer than it had a right to. Give Miami credit. Pitt played as well as possible, but the Hurricanes never really had to chase the game, and they got the win. That's why they're No. 1.

dot.gif West Virginia pulled the upset at Virginia Tech Wednesday, then returned home to find that celebrating students had destroyed Morgantown. My question: How could they tell?

dot.gif Penn State running back Larry Johnson is the best college football player in the country and wholly deserving of the Heisman Trophy. Yet he has zero chance to get it. Hey, who cares? If winning an award requires hype more than it does performance, it's not an award worth winning. The Heisman is the most overrated honor in sports. Eric Crouch won it last year, and where's he now?

dot.gif The Steelers desperately need a topnotch cornerback. But if Johnson is somehow available when the Steelers pick in the first round of the next NFL draft, he would be a natural successor to Jerome Bettis in terms of both style and talent. Amos Zereoue is a solid back, but his style doesn't fit the Steelers.

dot.gif Jason Gildon's critique of his team's defensive tactics would be easier to take seriously if the Steelers were doing better at the basics of defense; for example, tackling. The Steelers could know the other team's play before the snap, but it wouldn't do any good because they can't tackle.

dot.gif That said, using the dime defense on third-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 4-yard line with Eddie George in the Tennessee backfield Sunday might have been the single most ludicrous defensive call in the history of organized football. That touchdown was a given before George ever got the ball.

dot.gif Hall-of-Fame linebacker Jack Ham says that Plaxico Burress is a better wide receiver than Lynn Swann was back in the glory days. That's quite a compliment to Burress, and a tribute to how far Burress has come this season alone. And no, Ham doesn't hate Swann. Just Jimmy Allen.

dot.gif The Steelers have six games and (probably) the postseason to prove they're not a bunch of big-headed underachievers who got soft as soon as they got paid. I think that's a fair statement.

dot.gif Drew Bledsoe got hurt, Tom Brady got hot, and, when Bledsoe returned, he hit the bench and the New England Patriots rode Brady all the way to victory in last season's Super Bowl. Kurt Warner got hurt, Marc Bulger got hot, and now that Warner is back, he's going to play and Bulger will sit despite being 5-0 and leading the NFL in passing efficiency. I'm not saying St. Louis is making the wrong decision, but the Rams are ignoring the Patriots' template for success. And if Warner struggles, Coach Mike Martz had better be prepared for a torrent of criticism. Or he'd better put Bulger back in.

dot.gif Considering the brilliance of Jean-Sebastien Aubin in the Penguins' 3-2 overtime loss Wednesday to Montreal and the overall inconsistency of Johan Hedberg, perhaps the Penguins' No. 1 goaltending spot should be thrown up for grabs. Hedberg is probably better, but it couldn't hurt to make him prove it. Jose Theodore was the NHL's MVP last season, but Montreal is making him compete for his job. That's because borderline playoff teams can't afford to have any decisions written in stone.

dot.gif Marty Straka's skating is as good as ever. But his hands haven't yet knocked off the rust from missing, basically, a full season. His passing, shooting and stickhandling aren't up to snuff. Until his skills get back near normal, Straka should be a third-line energy player. Jamming Straka into first-line and power-play roles before he's ready has been a contributing factor to the Penguins' slump.

dot.gif With Andrew Ference, Josef Melichar and Michal Rozsival injured, the Penguins' defensive corps might be better described as the Penguins' defensive corpse. It's time to summon Brooks Orpik, the team's first-round draft pick in 2000, throw him in at the deep end and see if he can swim.

dot.gif It's unfair to single out Tiger Woods as the one golfer who should boycott the Masters until a female member is admitted to Augusta. Golf is no less Woods' livelihood than it is, say, Phil Mickelson's. Woods shouldn't have to shoulder the feminist burden because he's black (which is definitely the logic being applied). Furthermore, Woods has a chance to win the Masters for the third time in a row. He should be allowed to worry about making his own personal history. It's very hard to believe that the time Martha Burk spends harassing Augusta couldn't be more productively spent on more significant women's issues.

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

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