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Madden: Steelers sending mixed messages

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Imagine my chagrin when I perused yesterday's Post-Gazette and saw that Gene Collier had beaten me to the hip topic of the week, namely the banning of anti-war hooligans Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon by the Baseball Hall of Fascism. I thus present a selection of refreshing sports notes, which I proudly proclaim to be better than nothing.

The Steelers are a confusing bunch. Signing bonuses paid since the 2000 season concluded are approaching the $80 million mark, the purpose of such spending being to win a Super Bowl. The Steelers are clearly capable of reaching said goal, yet flinch at finishing the job by signing free-agent safety Sammy Knight and/or sending a second-round pick to New England for safety Tebucky Jones. Paying either would be expensive. Getting both would cost a small fortune. But the Steelers already have spent a large fortune. Cutting Mark Bruener seems inevitable. Cutting Jerome Bettis makes sense. Cut two, add two, win.

Knight's wife is expecting a child any day. That should scare the Steelers. When Dexter Jackson's girlfriend had her baby, the Super Bowl MVP safety went into the delivery room a Steeler but came out an Arizona Cardinal. Mother and offspring are healthy. The Steelers' defensive backfield isn't.

No matter who turns out to be Pitt's new basketball coach, Pitt's administration really mangled the search. Pitt never formally contacted Memphis' John Calipari or Manhattan's Bobby Gonzalez, two obvious candidates, thus alienating both. Pitt narrowed down very quickly -- and too publicly -- to Wake Forest's Skip Prosser and Ben Howland assistant Jamie Dixon, giving Prosser big-time leverage to pry more cash out of Wake Forest. Now that Prosser has decided to stay at Wake Forest, Pitt will be stuck with a wholly unqualified second choice that just got turned down for the top jobs at Wright State and Illinois State. The stupidity level of all this was incredible. Pitt basketball went from the Sweet 16 to being a laughingstock in just two weeks.

Pitt should hire adidas representative Sonny Vaccaro as its new athletic director. He seems to determine who coaches everywhere. Pitt could use a man of such influence.

When Penn State president Graham Spanier said publicly that expelled football player Anwar Phillips should not have been allowed to play in the Capital One Bowl, it was almost like he was insinuating that he might be Joe Paterno's boss or something. This is a development worth following. Phillips is accused of having sex with a female student against her will.

When TV interview chick Bonnie Bernstein badgered Kansas basketball coach Roy Williams about a possible move to North Carolina immediately after Kansas lost the NCAA final, Williams responded by blurting an expletive on live national television. Bernstein was just doing her job. Williams was just blowing off a bit of stress. No harm, no foul. Most important, it was entertaining TV that grabbed headlines and spurred water-cooler talk the next day. It was reality TV meets sports.

Reggie Sanders and Kenny Lofton have been big catalysts behind the Pirates' early-season success. One or both, however, easily could be dealt away at the trading deadline if another team offers decent return. Unless the Pirates are somehow in the running for a playoff spot, swapping Sanders and/or Lofton to a contender in need makes perfect sense. Despite being tempted by the dangling carrot of .500, the Pirates are still all about the long run. Still all about trading veterans for prospects.

Aramis Ramirez lost a lot of weight. That enables him to bend over to field a ground ball. Somebody please tell him that.

The Pirates' paid attendance Thursday was 10,384. The actual attendance was around 6,000. The weather was good. The Pirates entered the game an acceptable 5-3. So, where was everybody? Oh, yeah, I forgot: Day game, school is still in, no bobblehead, no fireworks, just baseball, who cares?

Center Eric Staal of the Ontario Hockey League's Peterborough Petes would be my choice when the Penguins pick third overall in the NHL entry draft this year. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder is rated the top North American prospect in the draft, and the Penguins could certainly use a few more North American-style players. Not only can Staal skate, shoot and pass, but he also does the job in his own end. Some pundits rate him a "safe" pick, making it sound almost like an insult. But if any team ever needed a "safe" pick, it's the Penguins. They've wasted too many first-round choices.

I have long believed that golf's old fogies such as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus should get out of the way and leave the spotlight to younger men. God agrees. He rained out the first round of the Masters Thursday, forcing 73-year-old Arnie to walk 36 holes yesterday. I bet Arnie coughed up a couple quarts of Quaker State before he was finished. That was the Bataan Death March with a caddie.

I see where Paul Spadafora is fighting locally against some fighter no one has ever heard of. Gee, what a novelty.

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

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