Reality bytes: Soap opera-like season for Steelers thus far with old rival on the horizon

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Lights, camera, action. Let the drama begin! It's 1970s redux with this year's television series remake of "Dallas" and the Steelers and Cowboys set to renew their once red-hot Super Bowl rivalry. Back then, the football soap opera clearly belonged in Dallas and it continued right into the 21st century. Not this year, though.

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Although both teams are desperately fighting for playoff spots, the soap opera has switched dramatically from Dallas to Pittsburgh.

One week, you have the touching picture of Charlie Batch and Ben Roethlisberger's long, emotional hug in Baltimore. The next, you have boos cascading upon the Steelers in Heinz Field during a game they and their coach acknowledged they weren't ready to play.

You want drama? How about rookie Alameda Ta'amu's bumper-car dash through the South Side during which police pulled their guns and might have shot him if there weren't too many people around. He's still on the team -- on their practice squad.

The year began with the outright release of three of the more popular veterans and the retirement of another. The locker room could use a dose of Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke.

There was Mike Wallace's holdout, the longest in more than 20 years by a Steeler and his rejection of all contract offers.

The quarterback detailed how his rib injury could puncture his aorta and the coach acknowledged little about it.

Wallace admitted that he lacks focus at times and that the fans "I think they're out to get me a little bit."

Mike Tomlin not only agreed with Brett Keisel that, in hindsight, they weren't ready to play last Sunday, he also basically acknowledged that he gave up on the game with six minutes left when he did not go for two points because "it was bleak at that point."

The franchise back decided not to show up for last week's game, prompting Tomlin to issue his second suspension of the season.

About the only drama that hasn't taken place is the one many expected: a blowup between the new offensive coordinator and the quarterback.

"I don't think it's a soap opera," Max Starks said. "I think it's reality. At different times, that's the adversity of a year. It's not how you take it on, it's how you overcome it and we still have an opportunity to show that."

Said Ryan Clark, "I don't think those are reasons that make you lose. If we were three games better it's not talked about as much, it's more talked about the way we overcame adversity rather than it being drama."

"I think the more drama we've had are injuries, not so much people going on [injured reserve] but people missing time and things like that. That's probably been a lot more difficult to overcome than a guy not coming to a football game or a guy not coming to training camp."

An obvious choice already in-house

The team will be looking for an offensive line coach to replace Sean Kugler after the season. They have a good one working for them already. His name is Tunch Ilkin.

Bill Cowher and several other NFL coaches tried to hire Ilkin through the years, but the timing wasn't right for him and his young family. It may be now because he's in a different spot in his life. His kids are grown and gone and his wife Sharon died of cancer last year.

I asked him earlier this year if he might be interested now in getting into coaching and he said he might. Ilkin has such a good reputation as an instructor of offensive linemen that he has been hired through the years by various college and NFL teams to conduct clinics. Individual players also would hire him to personally instruct them.

Ilkin and pal Craig Wolfley join Bill Hillgrove on the Steelers radio broadcasts, he also does a show with Wolfley on WBGG-AM (970) and does some video work for Steelers.com. He's good at what he does, but he'd be a better line coach.

Sense and nonsense makes NFL go round

With the idea of adding another measure of safety for its players, commissioner Roger Goodell says the league will explore playoff expansion to as many as 16 teams.

You mean that won't help keep players safe?

It's another example that when it comes to player safety, the NFL will fall on the side of revenue. If safety can be pursued without costing the league money -- such as eliminating kickoffs -- the NFL may be all for it. But if there's a way to produce more money such as expanding the regular season to 18 games or to expand the playoffs, player safety will have to take a back seat.

The league also insults everyone's intelligence that by forcing teams to play two games in five days -- a k a Thurday Night Football -- it does not endanger the health of players.

"We don't have any information that indicates from our data that playing on Thursdays in any way decreases the safety of our players," Goodell said Wednesday. "The injury rates do not indicate that at all over the years. So I think we start with facts, and the facts are that that's not a risk to the players."

How about wear and tear? Does the data show only injuries that occur during Thursday games? Perhaps the stress of playing twice in a short time does not produce the injury immediately but a week or two or three later.

And if that data did show that injuries increased by playing on Thursdays, the NFL would immediately eliminate those games, right?

A snippet from history

Here's an excerpt from a story in the Indianapolis Star about Bruce Arians. Remember that the Steelers and Mike Tomlin announced that Arians had retired:

A few days after the Steelers' 29-23 overtime playoff loss at Denver and being informed during exit meetings by coach Mike Tomlin "how great a job we did,'' Arians received a phone call from Tomlin. He wouldn't be retained.

"I was shocked," Arians said.

He told [his wife] Chris.

"I didn't believe him," she said. "He told me again, and I still didn't believe him.

"He finally told me, 'Dammit, Mike just called and said they were not going to renew my contract. I think that's getting fired.'"

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