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Savran: Steelers score big with free agents

Saturday, November 17, 2001

You realize, of course:

The way an NFL team is forced to do business in these times, merely being successful in the draft isn't enough. It remains the most important element of player procurement, but doesn't ensure success by itself.

Consider the contributors added outside the draft avenue in -- if we can refer to it as such -- the Kevin Colbert era. Jeff Hartings, Rich Tylski, Kimo von Oelhoffen, Brent Alexander, Dan Kreider, Mike Logan and Mike Jones, who would have contributed more had it not been for the unexpected immediate emergence of Kendrell Bell, a Colbert draftee.

I'm not quite sure about the personnel power sharing between Colbert and Bill Cowher, but someone, maybe both, has been making a lot of productive decisions.

Tomorrow's Steelers-Jaguars game might be the last you see of Tom Coughlin, unless you plan on watching Notre Dame next season. A loss to the Steelers would make it very difficult for Jacksonville to avoid a losing season, which would make it difficult for Coughlin to escape the noose already being fitted for his neck.

That drill-sergeant routine might be fine in college, where the roster of players changes every year and they're more subservient because of their age and the fact a coach can rip their scholarship out of their hands.

In the pros, that harsh stuff can wear very thin, especially when you're not winning.

If PNC Park had not been built, the Pittsburgh Pirates would be staring down the barrel of the contraction gun.

If Mario Lemieux was to make a serious run at the NHL's scoring title, it likely would mean an earlier than anticipated elimination from this spring's postseason tournament.

To come from so far behind, he would have to play in almost every remaining game. That, of course, goes against the stated intention of taking off half of the games played on consecutive nights and selected road games.

That went out the window when the team got off to such a horrible start, causing Mario to re-evaluate, wanting to play every game until the team recovered from that rocky beginning.

By his own admission, Lemieux was spent by the middle of the Buffalo series last year, let alone the conference finals. So in deference to his hockey senior citizenship, the plan was to make sure he was fresh for the games that matter most, games in which he matters most.

It's not that I wouldn't enjoy seeing him win the scoring title, but competing for the Stanley Cup is a higher calling. With the number of games he'd have to play to achieve the former, I'm afraid it would come at the steep price of not being able to have a chance at the latter.

Speaking extemporaneously is nerve-racking, especially when you're not accustomed to it and don't enjoy it. It's especially bad when you're under extreme pressure as Craig Patrick was in his Hall of Fame induction speeches this week.

So it's understandable that you forget to mention certain people. Still, did you notice that when he enumerated the coaches he had worked with in his Penguins' regime there was no mention of Ivan Hlinka or Kevin Constantine?

And that never once, while discussing the great players of the era, did a certain J-squared pass his lips?

A certain J-squared is a minus player with Washington. He's in lock-step with his personal history, complaining about his skates, his physical ailments and taking part in Coach Ron Wilson's practices with all the vigor of a conscientious objector.

Have you noticed that Kris Beech -- who, admittedly, has played in more games, has about the same number of points as J-squared?

And is a plus player?

And makes 11 million fewer dollars?

Steelers fans, who are deliriously happy with the team's 6-2 mark but continue to maintain they have gotten there despite Kordell Stewart and not because of him, have a dark cloud around their silver lining.

This is going to be the year of decision on the Steelers' quarterback.

If Stewart had continued to struggle, chances are he would be struggling elsewhere next season. But the facts are that he has improved tremendously, as have the Steelers.

So, while you enjoy the exploits of this team, understand that every win further solidifies Kordell's position as the quarterback for years to come.

Put that in your red zone ketchup bottle and pour it.

Stan Savran hosts a sports talk show, weeknights from 8 to 9 p.m. on WBGG-AM (970).

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