Are The Steelers Feeling Dinghy?

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Sunday, March 04, 2007
By John Smathers
Steelers Fever Columnist

Poor Eric Steinbach. I just hope he has a good boaters' health insurance policy.

Jerome BettisIf you follow the wires as I do, or you're an NFL Network addict, you knew instantly on Saturday morning that the Cleveland Browns doomed another player to injury by signing him to a contract.

Steinbach doesn't have to watch NFL Network to know about the Browns' curse that has claimed no fewer than eight of Cleveland's key personnel the past several few years, guys like fellow o-linemen Russ Verba and Orlando Brown, 'solider' Kellen Winslow, receiver Braylon Edwards and cornerback Gary Baxter.

The big one hit when LeCharles Bentley, the Browns' big free agent signing of last year, went down with a season-ending injury in training camp. The spate of injuries has kept down an already-low franchise.

There's no truth to the rumor that Steinbach, who suffered as a Cincinnati Bengal for four years before defecting to Cleveland, fell down a flight of stairs or wandered out in front of the team bus right after he inked his seven-year deal.

I don't know about you, but I don't think you have to be some kind of Buddhist monk to sense the really bad karma here.

Steinbach recently said, "I like taking my boat out and just cruising." Really? Well, watch out Lake Erie fishermen, 'cause there's a Browns lineman on the waters with a death wish, or at least a career-ending injury wish.

Oh, and did I mention that Mr. Steinbach was one of the Bengals' Infamous Nine? You know, one of last year's delinquents. In August, he was arrested by a Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources officer for operating a boat under the influence of alcohol on the Ohio River.

Yeah. At first, I was kidding about the Lake Erie thing, but maybe they really should issue an alert when this guy takes out his dinghy. Seriously.

Now the Mistake by the Lake has a Mistake on the Lake. Well, I'm glad to see they're keeping it in the Buckeye State at least.

Unfortunately, speaking of bad karma of the AFC North, it's not isolated to Cleveland or the Cincinnati dental boutique where Chad Johnson gets his hair and teeth done at the same time. There seems to be some brewing in Pittsburgh, too. It has nothing to do with Steelers linemen, but it is related to one now-former Steelers linebacker.

No, there isn't any dark cloud following the Steelers like the one that follows the Browns offensive line. But it does appear that your favorite football team is just a little lost in the fog, or maybe it's the dark shadow of a menacing chin.

To hear the Steelers talk, they may be, in fact, lost. First, it was no Jerome Bettis. Now it's no Bill Cowher and no Joey Porter. While Steinbach should give mariners reason to worry up north, coal barge captains should know that the Steelers ship of state is adrift on the Ohio River. Or so it seems.

Here are the words of one Hines Ward -- a supposed team leader, no less -- in Saturday's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after Porter's release:

"(Alan) Faneca called me, some of the veteran guys, my phone has been blowing up like, 'What the hell are we doing?' A lot of guys are questioning what's going on, kind of worried about the makeup of this team, where we are actually going to go."

Ward and other high-profile players such as Ben Roethlisberger have said publicly that they are looking forward to playing for new Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. But Ward's Porter quote is a little disconcerting.

Much was made over a Bettis-less locker room last year. I don't know how much his retirement hurt the Steelers from a leadership standpoint, but it sure didn't help. Now another leader is gone.

Are the Steelers starting to line up their 2007 excuses already? Or has Cowher's retirement unhinged this team? First, Bettis retired. There went Cowher's offensive personification on the field. Then Cowher retired, and Porter was released. Now Cowher and his defensive personification on the field are gone as well.

I don't know. Do these players feel lost, or am I making too much of this? Is this just players' quotes taken too seriously? Players say a lot of things, including all the cliched 'right things,' but sometimes a quote jumps out at you and makes you wonder. It's like making a clear spot on a fogged-up window and peering through it to learn what players are really thinking.

Well, before you give yourself a headache from rolling your eyes, just remember that this team was high as a kite at this time last year. Then like a forgotten helium balloon from your Super Bowl XL party, the Steelers slowly started their descent. It was one thing, then another.

I'd sure hate to watch the team take eight games into the 2007 season before it finds itself or its 'swagger' (my favorite word).

So what is Tomlin's task? OK, besides free agency and preparing for the draft? Maybe Tomlin doesn't need to do anything. Maybe these Steelers just became too engrained in the Cowher way. Maybe the players need to realize that the Steelers are, believe it or not, like any other team in the league -- that the Steelers, too, can change head coaches and even philosophies.

Wow, what a concept.

Bill Cowher is a talking head now, or at least until he buys a mansion in Sandusky and becomes Steinbach's new coach. Mike Tomlin is the Steelers' new coach and hey, I think he knows what he's doing. Maybe parting ways with Porter was part of his plan to gain control of this team.

We'll find out soon enough if Tomlin doesn't know what he's doing, but until then, the Steelers need to be professionals.

Oh my God, it doesn't say 'Cowher' on the coach's office door anymore.

It's time to embrace the horror, guys. Shut your mouths (because you'll need to take a deep breath and hold it) and jump into the deep water.

Just watch out for Steinbach's dinghy.