Interview by Ron Lippock of the Pgh Sports Daily Bulletin
Where can fans find you on the air and online?
We just launched SportsTalk on TribLive Radio last week, and you can find me co-hosting with former Steeler Deshea Townsend and former Pitt hooper Julius Page (in addition to an excellent array of Trib writers) M-F from 1-5pm online at TribLive.com. At present radio waves are free of the burden of carrying my nasal voice around the Burgh.
What would surprise fans most about this Steelers team?
I imagine that most of them are actually real, ordinary human beings. When I first entered the Steelers locker room in '05 I'll admit my eyes were wide as silver dollars having grown up in Pittsburgh and having followed for years as a fan. To me at the time, these guys were larger than life. When you get to know them a little more personally, you find they have the same issues we all do and are just trying to make a living. This team in particular has quite the family, down-to-earth vibe now that some of the stranger egos have checked their way out of town (i.e. Santonio, Reed, and the old Ben who used to have a mullet).
Who have been the most interesting players you've encountered over the years — and what made them so?
Joey Porter has to be in the top three. Joey was a guest on our show last week and even in something as simple as describing Polamalu called Troy "one of them dogs, he don't say nothing but he definitely bites. He's not a barker, but you not going to go over there and try and pet him." Porter was a sound byte machine, a true entertainer. James Harrison is another one I'd put in the interesting category. From turning down White House visits to threatening retirement over league fines, this guy is captivating. I once did an interview with James that lasted about five minutes, at which point he gave me a look that said 'if you ask me one more question regarding how I feel about something I'm going to shove that microphone somewhere unpleasant."
We heard Tomlin speak out recently about media members revealing "in house" information. How do you draw the line between what you report on and what you decide not to report on?
It's really not so difficult. The local media is allowed to watch Steelers practice, but not allowed to report anything seen there. In that sense, anything you view never really happened. As a reporter, it's all about what you can get players to tell you or what you can get sources and contacts to provide. And because of that, the best reporters are the ones who have been on the beats the longest, are around all the time, and have earned the trust of people in the organization.
What have been some of your most interesting experiences covering the Steelers and why?
Well I'd say my reporting the imminent firing of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians last January would have to be up there. The report was accurate (and re-confirmed to me from several places since), but of course things change quickly in this business and the front office was swayed to keep Arians around. (Turned out to be a great call, by the way, as Arians' continuity has been huge for the offense in 2010.) I certainly took my share of criticism, some really personal attacks from fans and a few media members. But I definitely learned a lot through it all, and let me tell you in times like those you find out who your friends are.
Getting to the Super Bowl — What weaknesses and matchups do you think the Steelers will try to exploit versus Green Bay?
It's awful tough to find a weakness with Green Bay right now. If their starting LT Chad Clifton is still bothered by his neck injury, or if his backup in second year man T.J. Ward has to play, that's certainly a matchup James Harrison can exploit. And although the Packers rookie RT Bryan Bulaga is a first-round pick and has played well, LaMarr Woodley should be a factor in this game. The Steelers need to hammer Aaron Rodgers (as legally as possible) and hope the Packers QB has a Favre-ian interception or two in him here in his first taste of the Super Bowl. And on offense, the Steelers had better be able to run it some.
Conversely, what weaknesses and matchups do you think Green Bay will try to exploit versus Pittsburgh?
With center Maurkice Pouncey out, you know Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers is sending the fire zone blitz up the middle early and often to test fill-in Doug Legursky. And Clay Matthews vs. Jonathan Scott should scare every Steelers fan.
We know the defensive players revere LeBeau — how do the offensive players view Arians?
Let's face it, only one offensive player's opinion really matters here. And Ben loves him.
Is Legursky up to the challenge at center with Pouncey out?
I've always been impressed by "Bronco," even back to his year on the practice squad in '08. He's as tough as they come, mentally and physically. He'll play hard and with a chip on his shoulder. All that said, Packers NT B.J. Raji is going to give him major problems. Pouncey's loss will cost the Steelers 10 points in this game, and the defense now has pick up the slack.
It's early, but still, what are the main priorities for this team in the offseason?
Hopefully, to take Lombardi down to the river and party all summer (next to another Stanley).
Pittsburgh has a new team — the Pittsburgh Power. What do they have to do to win over Pittsburgh fans?
Cheap tickets, cheap beer, and a hot dance team.
Any other thoughts/comments for Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin readers?
"A flute with no holes is not a flute, and a doughnut with no hole is a danish." — The Zen philosopher Basho