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Madden: Talk shows hurt by Stewart's exit

Saturday, March 01, 2003

It's a beautiful day in the sports neighborhood, so how better to celebrate than by donning a black-and-gold cardigan and perusing some refreshing sports notes? Thanks, neighbor.

Kordell Stewart is leaving town. The Steelers definitely did right by the team and probably did what's best for Stewart. But did anybody stop to think about the local talk-show industry? What the heck am I going to dredge up when things get slow? Stewart is undoubtedly a charter member of my show's Hall of Fame. No Pittsburgh athlete ever polarized local fans quite like Stewart. Some loved him. Some hated him. But Stewart inspired extreme feelings in everyone. I miss him already.

With Kordell gone, what if Barry Bonds suddenly retired? My show would be history. Heck, I might spontaneously combust.

Ed Bouchette, the Post-Gazette's Steelers beat writer, recently said he has "no doubt" the Steelers will begin next season with Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington starting at cornerback. That isn't because Steelers management believes so deeply in Scott and Washington. It's because there are only two NFL-ready corners in the draft -- both will be gone long before the Steelers take the 27th pick of the first round -- and because there are only two corners of note in free agency. It's possible for the Steelers to reshuffle at safety. But overhauling the cornerback position would be very difficult and/or expensive.

I don't know what it would cost the Steelers to trade up to draft cornerback Terence Newman of Kansas State or Marcus Trufant of Washington State. Or what it would cost them to sign St. Louis corner Dre Bly or Denver corner Denard Walker out of free agency? But those options are surely worth considering. The Steelers' window is closing. With a Super Bowl so close, why not overpay?

Here's an interesting rumor: Oakland reportedly wants to trade cornerback Charles Woodson for a first-round draft choice. Woodson, who missed half of last season with a broken leg, will make a very reasonable $1.8 million next year. He is definitely one of the best cover corners in the NFL. The catch? Once his contract expires, Woodson wants to be the highest-paid cornerback in the league. The Steelers will not pursue Woodson. That's a shame. If the Steelers got Woodson, forget about merely making the Super Bowl. The Steelers would win it.

Most feel Dallas did the right thing by cutting Emmitt Smith, who had better stats than Jerome Bettis last season. Smith hasn't been nagged by injuries like Bettis. And he meant more to the Cowboys' franchise than Bettis does to the Steelers. I know the cap implications aren't the same. I know that Dallas is rebuilding. I also know that the Steelers fancy themselves Super Bowl contenders and keeping Bettis leaves them potentially short-handed (and financially overextended) at a key position.

When it comes to the Steelers' free agents, the most ludicrous notion is the idea that quarterback Charlie Batch will get the chance to compete for a starting job elsewhere. Batch was available last year, and no one afforded him that opportunity. He hasn't exactly increased his profile since. Here's betting that Batch is the Steelers' backup next season.

Pitt might have turned a corner in its win at Virginia Tech. Brandin Knight not only scored 25 points, but he also looked truly comfortable for the first time in a long time. Talk about teamwork all you want, but every team needs a go-to guy. Knight is the only Pitt player with that capability.

When a close loss at home causes Duquesne Coach Danny Nee to say, "We're making giant strides to being a competitive program," it shows how pathetic things truly are at the Palumbo Center. When you're 9-18 overall -- and 3-11 in the very average Atlantic 10 conference -- getting excited over a narrow defeat, even to a ranked team like Xavier, is PR window dressing or unabashed stupidity.

Here's another great quote: Penguins center Wayne Primeau said, "We try to play a simpler game on the road." When you're a checking forward who is minus-27, hockey is a simple game. Just fish the puck out of the net quickly and efficiently.

The Penguins would not have made the playoffs with Alexei Kovalev. Nor would they have avoided the now-traditional season-ending tailspin they appear to be starting. The Penguins have precious little talent. But, perhaps even more aggravating, they don't work hard to compensate. The Penguins are one lazy, unemotional, unmotivated hockey team.

Post-Gazette columnist Bob Smizik recently wrote that Kenny Lofton and his fading bat won't help the Pirates rejuvenate their offense, and he's right. But if Lofton can't hit, bat him eighth. The Pirates need his legs and glove in center field. Lofton might not produce runs, but he can help prevent them, even though he's past his prime on defense, too.

My show has hosted many ridiculous debates, but none sillier than the ongoing comparison of Super Steelers linebackers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert. For one thing, that was 25 years ago, so who cares? For another thing, Ham was obviously better, and by a huge margin.

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

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