For all I know, Mike Tomlin decided not to play Ryan Clark in Denver tomorrow night a long time ago and allowed the mystery to play out until he no longer could keep the cat in the bag. That would be following a long tradition of football coaches trying to keep everything secret except the color of their teams' uniforms.
The idea that Denver might know early in the week whether Clark or Tyrone Carter would start at free safety might provide the Broncos with the slightest of edges, but, in the NFL, those can mean the difference between winning or losing, making the playoffs or not. If Denver knew from the beginning of the week that Carter would play free safety and not Clark, it would give them an advantage when putting the game plan together. The longer the Broncos had to wait before knowing for sure, the better. That is how the Steelers felt about it.
This is how I feel about it: Maybe if the Broncos concentrated on how to beat Tyrone Carter, they would forget about what they do best, or at least take away from what they do best. And what if Ryan Mundy steps up and plays like Ryan Clark? Then, what? You've wasted all that time trying to exploit what you thought was a weaker free safety and now the guy in there plays up to what Tomlin might call, the "standards."
In baseball, they don't care what the other team knows. They announce their starting pitchers well ahead of time, allowing for the two opponents to set their batting orders accordingly. If a football coach were running a baseball team, he would announce one thing and do another. Or not announce his pitching choice at all. Or start a lefty and, after one batter, bring in a righty.
Football coaches are paranoid about everything. Trust me on this one. Jackie Sherrill once thought someone was spying on his Pitt team in 1981 during a training camp practice at Edinboro University. He shouted down from his scaffolding overlooking the practice field to two of his sheriff's deputies who were in charge of security. Sherrill told them to check out a suspicious character way, way down the road, off campus, leaning against a telephone poll.
They jumped in their car, drove over to the guy, talked to him and returned back to Jackie, who stood on his tower awaiting word. "Well?" Sherrill asked.
"He's waiting for a bus," one of them answered.
Early in Bill Cowher's coaching tenure with the Steelers, linebacker Hardy Nickerson wore a wrap on one hand in training camp. He told me he broke a bone, but that he would still practice and play. I wrote it. Cowher assailed me the next day, said I put Nickerson in danger because opponents now would target the linebacker's hand! Can you imagine, an offensive guard trying to block a middle/inside linebacker and instead of trying to get good position on him to do his job, thinking, "Oh, I must go after his wounded hand?" Me neither, and I told Cowher that. He said I was naïve.
Paranoia grips NFL coaches. They could have given President Nixon lessons.
I asked linebacker James Farrior last week about why the Steelers believed it was important to keep their decision on Clark a secret for as long as they could. Did he think it mattered to Denver?
"I don't think so, but a lot of coaches around the league like to keep that stuff kind of secret," Farrior said. "Me, as a player, I don't really think it makes a difference either way."
No one puts on a better charity event than Deshea Townsend. In the past, he has had garage sales where his teammates brought something from their garage for auction. He never did get that Porsche one promised.
This year, he's going after their heads, their helmets, to be precise for his "Black & Gold Art Show" Nov. 23 at Tusca restaurant in the SouthSide Works. Steelers players have either designed or painted their own helmets in unique ways, then autographed them.
Among the more interesting are a certain quarterback's helmet that is painted like a golf ball and has "Roethlisberger 7" on it. Hines Ward had his South Korean kids, who visited a few weeks ago, paint Korean words on his helmet.
They created one for Dick LeBeau.
"We put ear phones over the top and drew it like it's his brain," Townsend explained. "We have all our zone blitzes on it all the way around."
All helmets are authentic Riddell white and will go on auction that night. There also will be autographed jerseys, including Nos. 7, 26, 51 and 86.
"For all Steelers fans here who have so much memorabilia, this is something that can add to your collection," Townsend said.
The event benefits Townsend's Pay It Forward Foundation. For tickets/information go to www.dtownsend26.com or call 412-298-1611.
You have to give Sports Illustrated credit. The magazine took a flawed little poll of 296 NFL players -- some of whom may even still be in the league -- at training camps this summer and turned it into marketing genius.
One of the questions was guaranteed to garner the most attention: "Who's the dirtiest player in the NFL?"
Then they release it during the November television ratings sweeps period and right before the "winner" plays on "Monday Night Football."
Brilliant marketing, SI, even if it is defective. First, there are 1,696 players on active rosters in the league. The magazine once sent a young reporter to Steelers camp, and, among those she polled, were rookie free agents who were never before in the league and would never make it.
Nevertheless, the magazine never claimed it was scientific, and it certainly got the attention. Even Hines Ward, who moved up from No. 2 in the poll last season to No. 1 this year as the NFL's "dirtiest," took it in good humor.
"I'm going to tear it out, frame it, put it in the office. I finally got a title for once. It's a big honor."
First Published November 8, 2009 5:00 AM