Saturday, January 24, 2009

Memories of Super Bowls past

There was an interesting piece on former Steelers coach Chuck Noll on this week.

Since the Steelers are appearing in their seventh Super Bowl in a little more than seven days, it is fitting someone tries to talk with the one coach that has four rings.

Noll was not available, as it indicates in the story. He seemingly has moved on from football and is concentrating on his other interests during his retirement.

I agree Noll is one of the most underrated football coaches of all time. I believe he is overlooked because he had nine Hall of Famers on his teams in the late 1970s, when he won four titles in six years. Noll had to take all that talent and point it in the right direction. It's easy to have a lot of talent and still lose.

But I wonder whether the Steelers of that era could have been better. My father, a long-time Steelers season ticket holder and witness to the Immaculate Reception, second-guesses Noll all the time. He argues the Steelers could have won the Super Bowl in 1976, the year most experts believe the Steel Curtain defense was at its best.

Running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier got injured in the divisional playoffs when the game was over. In the AFC Championship, the Steelers couldn't handle the Raiders with no running game. My dad argues, the team should not have been in a position to loose two starting running backs.

I wonder why Noll could not put together another great team after that six-year stretch. Of course, no one could expect him to draft another nine Hall of Famers. But the Steelers never competed on that high a level again during his tenure, appearing in only one AFC Championship after 1980 -- a loss to the Miami Dolphins in 1984.

I'm really nit-picking what is a great legacy. I could make similar arguments about the legacy of Bill Cowher, Noll's successor. He made only two Super Bowl appearances despite six AFC Championship appearances. And five of those games were at home.

Noll was a great coach, no question. One of the best ever. He was not the offensive genius like Bill Walsh. He also wasn't flamboyant like Bill Parcells or Mike Ditka. Noll was a great judge of talent. And maybe most important, he was exactly what that team needed. He determined how the Steelers could play their best and then got out of the way. He wanted the focus on the players.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The other game in town

When I was an IU student, men's basketball was the only full-time thought for most people once football season ended. Actually it probably was the only thought for most people during football season, too. Even national championship-calibre teams like the men's soccer team took a back seat to men's basketball.

There also is a women's basketball team on campus. While this team doesn't have the history or tradition as Hoosier men's basketball, four NCAA tournament appearances and no national championships, it happens to be playing better than the men's team this season.

The women's team is in first place in the Big Ten and has a 14-3 overall record. Its 7-1 conference mark is the team's best start ever. Yet this team is playing in front of almost nobody. On Jan. 19, when IU knocked off Purdue in Assembly Hall to take over first place, there were 4,112 fans at the game. It was the largest crowd of the season.

The Lady Hoosiers clearly are a Bloomington gem waiting to be discovered. 4,112 people fill 23.5 percent of the Assembly Hall seating capacity, which is more than 17,400. You could probably hear the ball bouncing on the floor the entire game. This is a first-place team.

A loss to Xavier on Nov. 16 brought 506 fans. The smallest crowd for a men's basketball game this season, which includes the current 8-game losing streak, is 10,701 for the Dec. 22 loss to Northeastern.

Am I calling for 17,000 fans to show up for every game? No. But isn't it time someone jumped on this bandwagon? And as the IU athletic department works to fight revenue issues, women's basketball may be another opportunity.

A boisterous home crowd also likely will lead to more wins. More wins lead to better coaches and recruits, which leads to more post-season appearances. Purdue built its women's basketball program into a power and managed to win a national championship.

I don't think IU women's basketball can become the next Tennessee or UConn, but I think the program can become a consistent winner and NCAA tournament participant.

Monday, January 19, 2009

39 little words

Unless you've been living under a rock, you should know that Barack Obama will be inaugurated President of the United States tomorrow.

While there will be lots of ceremony, a speech and a parade, the most important item will last a handful of seconds. Obama will say
39 words:

"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God."
Once the election is decided, that's all it takes to become the most powerful man in the world, commander-in-chief of the most well-equipped and trained military in the world and hold the keys to enough nuclear weapons to destroy the planet.

My wife and spent nearly an hour reading and signing papers to complete the purchase of our house once we spent days negotiating the price. I have spent several hours filling out and reading paperwork for a job once I managed to convince the company to hire me.

I suppose it's fitting the person taking over probably the toughest job ever conceived takes less than a minute to be installed.

But these words Obama and his 43 colleagues have spoken say volumes about what Americans expect from their leader. Obama will be expected no just to do his job, but do it to the best of his ability. As a media member, I can attest Americans spend a lot of time arguing over whether the president is in top form.

He also is expected to uphold the Constitution and its principals, the framework of the U.S. government. Obama will not be allowed to act as he chooses, he must obey the rules we have given him. That's not easy as we have seen with his immediate predecessor and others.

The president is an instrument of our government, not the master of it, and the oath is a testament to it. He is filling a job Americans open every four years. Tomorrow, we'll be reminded of exactly what we expect of our new employee with 39 words.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Championship Sunday

There will be a lot of these waving in Pittsburgh tonight. It's game day. Finally.

After listening to previews, analysis and predictions, we finally get to see a game between the Steelers and Ravens. This game has all the makings of a classic. In fact it reminds me of the mid-1970s, when the Steelers and Raiders played some classic AFC Championships.

This was one of the best, from the 1975 game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. This clip is a touchdown by Franco Harris.

Another clip from the game, this one a touchdown catch by John Stallworth.

The best part about both rivalries has been the quality of the play. Both teams hit hard and were successful. This year, the Steelers won both regular season games, but each was close. It is fitting both are back for a third match-up.

Expect few points to be scored in the cold Pittsburgh weather. I may be biased, but I think the Steelers can get it done. The game will be close again, but I think the Steelers can make the plays when the game is on the line.
Hopefully they'll be lots of celebrating tonight in Heinz Field.