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Savran: Did contraction distract baseball?

Saturday, February 09, 2002

Punxsutawney Phil has come and gone, spoken, squeaked or however rodents verbalize. The Super Bowl has come and gone.

The Olympics have come and the NHL will be gone.

And by the time we reconvene next Saturday, Pirates pitchers and catchers will be toiling under a southern sun.

Yet, Major League Baseball and its contract employees are no closer to a collective bargaining agreement than they were on Groundhog Day, New Year's Day, or Bastille Day, for that matter.

Can they begin the season without a contract?

Would they be in this position had they not been spinning their wheels, mired in the sludge of contraction?

Bill Belichick is being properly credited with developing exceptional defensive game plans in defeating the Steelers and Rams. It was an eclectic mix of X's and O's that disrupted the offenses of both teams. But the foundation of Belichick's plan was this premise: "I'm going to put my cornerbacks on your receivers, and I'm betting my guys are better than yours." Pass go Bill, and collect your $200.

Bellicose Bill's greatest accomplishment wasn't devising brilliant game plans. It was convincing his players to believe in them.

Does it soothe your bruised psyches that the Steelers lost to the eventual Super Bowl champions? Or does it serve to twist the knife that the Steelers, who play with the same general philosophy as New England, might have done the same things to St. Louis that the Patriots did?

I believe the Steelers matched up very well with the Rams, principally because they would have possessed the ball, keeping Mike Martz's track team on the bench. But the one thing missing from the equation would have been Belichick's aforementioned basic premise. No way could the Steelers' corners lock on to Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt the way Ty Law and Otis Smith did.

By not running Marshall Faulk when it appeared to be available, did it strike you that offensive genius Martz was more interested in winning the Super Bowl his way than he was in simply winning it?

Does this mean HBO has to go to the Patriots' training camp this summer? What will Brian Billick do to amuse himself?

If finances dictate the Steelers choose (and just because they're both linebackers doesn't necessarily mean they must) between Earl Holmes and Jason Gildon, the choice should be Gildon. Success in the 3-4 defense is predicated on outside linebackers making plays. It's also critical to have playmaker bookends, so the offense can't load blockers on one side. Joey Porter and Gildon need one another, as did Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene. It would be prudent to re-sign Holmes, especially considering this group's window of opportunity remains open. But if it has to be one or the other, you keep the one most important to your defense. That would be Gildon.

With $14 million worth of wiggle room under the salary cap, I'd put a little aside to keep DeShea Townsend. Despite his diminutive stature, I think he's their best cover guy.

Commissioner Gary Bettman believes the Winter Olympics will showcase the NHL's brand of hockey. More likely, the Games will expose it. After watching two weeks of Swan Lake on ice from Salt Lake, what will neophytes to the sport think when they tune in the NHL and see the Ugly Duckling version? There might be challenges to the Truth in Advertising Act.

Based on getting just one point thus far in this critical pre-Olympic stretch, one would hope the Penguins' Olympic participants, all key figures on this team, aren't being distracted by the prospect of playing in the Games. Somebody in the Eastern Conference is likely to miss the playoffs by a point or two. Should that team be the Penguins, winning a gold medal for whatever country isn't going to make anyone around here feel any better.

Let me make sure I understand this correctly. The International Olympic Committee objected to the display of the tattered American flag found in the rubble of the World Trade Center because it doesn't allow displays of nationalism during the opening ceremonies. But it doesn't consider delegations marching in, wearing outfits in the national colors, often adorned with prominent displays of their flag on those outfits, to be displays of nationalism? Nor is having a standard bearer carrying a flag, leading the contingent of athletes, such a display? Am I missing something in the translation to the language of common sense?

Stan Savran is the co-host of SportsBeat at 6:30 p.m. weekdays on Fox Sports Pittsburgh.

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