Scratch the Steelers as possible candidates to open the NFL season against Super Bowl champion New Orleans Sept. 9 in the Superdome.
There has been speculation the NFL might pit the past two Super Bowl winners in the first game traditionally held in the city of the current champion on Thursday night of what is called Kickoff Weekend. But Steelers president Art Rooney II said he expects the Steelers to open the season at home Sept. 12 because of scheduling conflicts with their neighbors, the Pirates.
"We won't be playing in New Orleans," Rooney declared Thursday. "We have to be home that weekend because of the baseball schedule. Unless they wanted to play us away three weeks in a row, and I don't think they'll do that."
Although it no longer is mandatory the Steelers and Pirates cannot play home games at the same time -- as was the case in old Three Rivers Stadium -- both teams prefer that not to occur because of the close proximity of Heinz Field and PNC Park and some parking lots that are shared by the two pro clubs.
"We suspect we'll open at home and be on the road the next two weeks," Rooney said.
The Steelers will open the season Sunday because the East Coast end of the traditional opening Monday night doubleheader will be played by the New York Jets in their new stadium. They could still be featured on the Sunday night game, the pairings which will be announced during the NFL meetings next week in Orlando, Fla.
Rooney said those meetings have little on the agenda dealing with the NFL labor situation, even though the current collective bargaining agreement will expire next March.
"We are where we are, we still have to negotiate a deal that works," said Rooney, a member of the NFL's labor committee. "Obviously, we're going to discuss it, but I'm not aware anything major will happen at this meeting."
What he would not discuss is any potential negotiations on a contract extension for coach Mike Tomlin, who has two years remaining on the deal he signed when hired in 2006.
"We'll get there when we get there. We think and hope Mike will be a coach here for a long time. That's about all I can say about it."
He did say he thought the team itself was stronger today than it was two weeks ago after signing five unrestricted free agents and locking up three of their own potential free agents.
"We feel good about it, real good about it," Rooney said. "I think we got a number of guys who can come in and help us. I think there are guys who will be on the field. Some may be on the field more on special teams, but Larry Foote is a guy who can play. I think he'll see a lot of playing time. I think we are stronger than when we first started this."
Rooney, on the two main rules issues on the agenda for the meetings next week:
• Player safety: "I think it's something we need to continue to look at. There are areas we can do better in. By the same token, I'm not sure we need dramatic changes at this point. Hopefully, we're talking more about little tweaks to the rules rather than major changes."
• The overtime proposal that the kicking team (in the postseason only) should get a chance at possession provided the receiving team does not score a touchdown on its first possession: "We've been for a change in the rule since we first started discussing it a few years ago. I guess I'm happy it's on the agenda. I'm not sure I'm excited what the proposal is. It sounds to me like they may be making it more complicated than necessary."
The Steelers prefer the simpler version that has failed to pass previously wherein each team gets at least one possession in overtime, and that the rule should stand for all games, not just the postseason.