Cook: Wallace handling boos better than Big Ben's passes

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Steelers fans are among the best in sports. They are passionate, loyal and incredibly supportive. But many are taking criticism this week. They booed their team loudly and often in a 34-24 loss Sunday to the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field. They were especially hard on wide receiver Mike Wallace after he dropped another long pass.

Do you have a problem with that?

I don't.

Wallace said he doesn't.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger does.

"Nobody should ever get booed. We are out there busting our butt. Nobody intentionally does anything to hurt the team. I don't intentionally throw interceptions and guys don't intentionally miss blocks or fumble. We don't intentionally do it."

It's no secret Roethlisberger and Wallace are close. They have done great things together. Their 40-yard touchdown play Sunday, long after the Chargers had complete control of the game, was their 14th touchdown pass of at least 40 yards.

And you're surprised Roethlisberger has Wallace's back?

During Wallace's training-camp holdout this summer, Roethlisberger had a simple, but pointed observation about those who thought the Steelers didn't need Wallace to win: "They're crazy."

Wallace has been huge in a couple of the Steelers' wins this season. He saved the game against the New York Giants with his 51-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. He also made the catch of the season -- a one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone -- for the Steelers' only touchdown in an overtime win against the Kansas City Chiefs.

But Wallace has taken most of the blame for the Steelers' decidedly mediocre 7-6 record. His drop Sunday was his sixth of the season. It was especially hurtful. The Chargers led just, 3-0, midway through the second quarter when he couldn't catch a long pass at the San Diego 45. It didn't matter that Wallace finished with seven catches for 112 yards, including another touchdown catch of 11 yards. It's the drop that everyone remembers.

"I've got to make that play," Wallace said. "That was a great throw by Ben. I've got to catch those."

The crowd agreed. The boos directed at Wallace were so loud you almost couldn't hear yourself think.

"They're always going to boo me because of my situation," Wallace said, shrugging.

His contract holdout.

"Everything I do is going to be under the microscope," Wallace said. "I can't worry about that. The fans are going to be the fans ...

"I've just got to keep playing. I've got to be better. I take [the drops] harder than anyone. But I can't get down on myself. I can't let one bad play flow into the next one. If I do that, I'll never make any plays."

Wallace admitted the boos hurt but quickly added, "Not everything is going to be all good. There are going to be bad times, too. I'm strong enough to keep fighting through it."

The holdout was strictly business on Wallace's part, but many fans took it personally. Most are going to side with the Rooneys in such a dispute.

"How dare Wallace hold out? Doesn't he care about the team? Does he only care about his money?"

You get the idea.

"The fans don't understand the business of football," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "They don't know what guys put into it and have to go through to get their money."

There's a good chance Wallace will leave the Steelers as a free agent after the season. It would benefit him to have a strong finish and add to his value. It would benefit the team.

"We're not going to boo him, I can tell you that," Clark said. "We're going to support him. We're going to need him going down the stretch."

We finish here with two of the great truisms of sports.

"Fans pay their money to see us win," Wallace said.

If those fans aren't satisfied with the entertainment, they have every right to boo. They can't use abusive language. They can't throw objects at the players or go onto the field. But they have every right to express their frustration and displeasure. They have been doing it for years. It just seems a little more venomous now because the players are making so much money and the ticket prices are so high.

And the second great truth?

"If we win the Super Bowl and [Wallace] is catching deep passes, everyone will let him alone," Clark said.

The boos will stop.

There will be only cheers.

mobilehome - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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