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Savran: Road to big free agents goes through New York

Sunday, December 03, 2000

The road not taken. That is a road almost never taken by baseball's high profile, high-priced free agents. Granted, such choices are limited to those able or willing to pay $15 million and up. But other less-than-sure-thing teams have offered some of these guys the big money. But they always seem to go with the chalk horses ... the Yankees, Braves, et al.

How about taking a shot on somebody else? I hope Alex Rodriguez signs with Texas. Or Manny Ramirez either stays in Cleveland or goes to Colorado.

Neither are subsistence-level teams like the Pirates or Brewers, but at least it would represent a shift from New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Mike Mussina is a Yankee. Big whoop. Way to go out on a limb, Mike.

To the best of my knowledge, new Pirates catching instructor Russ Nixon has no recent tie to the organization. How in the world did he get hired?

I appreciate the need to make sure that all the commodes flush properly, but doesn't playing two exhibition games at PNC Park the final weekend in March steal just a pinch of the magic from the dual grand openings of the new stadium and the new season?

Former Penguins captain Ron Francis used to say, "The higher up you sit in the building, the easier the game of hockey becomes." His message was clear. The players' perspective 6 feet above the ice is radically different. Still, if your biggest weapon is a preponderance of skilled players, and assuming accurate shooting is a skill, why not maximize that advantage by shooting the puck! Unless the National Hockey League changes its methodology by declaring a victor on the basis of style points, you still have to score goals to win. If my logic is sound, in order to put the puck in the net, you actually have to shoot it in its general vicinity. I know this ranks up there with hit somebody! in the pantheon of Arena rants and chants. I also realize the press box is as high as you can get in the building. And that it's an oversimplification to suggest that ripping one at the guy in the mask is a cure for all that ails you. Still, a measly 18 shots at Peter Skudra, of all people, in Boston Tuesday night? SHOOT THE PUCK!

The good news, I suppose, is that at least there now appears to be a reason for Plaxico Burress' disappointing rookie season. It tells me something about the kid that he never used his injury as an excuse.

There's more to linebacker play than getting sacks. When you see Joey Porter running himself out of position so a tackle doesn't even need to block him, or not staying in his lanes to prevent cutbacks, you understand why he didn't play last season. However, there's merit in the argument that hadhe played in a lost second half of last season, he might not be making these mistakes today.

While most of the focus on today's game has been on how the Steelers might stop the Raiders, I'm wondering the reverse. How will the Steelers move the ball on Oakland? The Raiders are going to play straight up, man-to-man press coverage on the corners. And while teams might beat Charles Woodson or Eric Allen on occasion, not many do it frequently. The Steelers' receivers, outside of visits to Cincinnati, rarely do it. So Jerome Bettis becomes the key today. It's not just the Steelers' best and perhaps only hope of moving the ball consistently, but it will also keep the Raiders' offense huddled near the bench heaters. Unless the rules have changed, they can't score from there.

While Kordell Stewart continues his on-the-job, job audition, if the Steelers don't re-sign Bettis, running back, not quarterback, will become their top off-season concern. Richard Huntley is not, nor will he ever be, an every-down back.

It's funny. I didn't hear Kevin Gilbride's name taken in vain once this week. Not one, single, solitary complaint about play calling. Was the selection that much better, or was it because what he called happened to work?

It further amuses me that when the offense struggles, the following conclusions are drawn: The line stinks, the receivers stink, the running backs stink, the offensive coordinator stinks, and his play calling stinks even worse. When the offense clicks, Kordell played great. End of story. I must be missing something.

Stan Savran is the co-host of "SportsBeat" on Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh

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