FORT WORTH, Texas
The bus lugging the first wave of Super Bowl media to the Steelers' hotel rolled out of Dallas via Elm Street. Because of the police escort, people on the sidewalks stopped and waved, then we turned left in front of the former Texas School Book Depository, passed in front of the grassy knoll and sped up onto the Stemmons Freeway.
Naw, that wasn't chilling.
Actually, other than the subzero wind chills predicted for North Texas by midweek, the only relevant chill in the Metroplex Monday was on the figurative cold media shoulders that greeted Ben Roethlisberger, which had been regularly scheduled for any Super Bowl eventuality, but it was unexpectedly brittle in the wake of the he said/he said between Roethlisberger and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
"The one thing I take a little bit of issue with is when guys tell me they're being screwed," Goodell said to Sports Illustrated's Peter King. "[Most often] they're not recognizing they have a role in it. [I talked to] I bet two dozen [Steelers] players, and not one, not a single player, went to his defense. I wasn't personal in a sense, but all kinds of stories like, 'He wouldn't sign my jersey.' "
If the exact geography of Steelers Nation is that the major river is called the Mighty Paranoia, this was the perfect definition of a major tributary. Here you have the commissioner, the commissioner, saying during Super Bowl week that the Steelers are a house divided when it comes to loyalty to No. 7.
When you add it to The Conspiracy To Put The Manning Brothers In The Super Bowl (2005), The Conspiracy To Force James Harrison Into Retirement (2010), The Conspiracy To Change All The Rules To Ruin The Great Steeler Defenses Of The '70s (circa 1972-80), and The Conspiracy To Quickly Adjudicate The New England Patriots Spygate Scandal So As Not To Invalidate The Results Of The 2001 and 2004 AFC Championship Games (2007), (to say nothing of the second and third shooters on the grassy knoll business) you can work yourself into a fine frenzy, if that's your deal.
Before both Goodell and King clarifying some things late Monday, a rhetorical ice storm erupted inside the Omni Hotel during the first Steelers' availability.
"I don't know what [Goodell] means, or you mean, by 'coming to his defense,' " said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to the first direction question on the matter. "I don't know the nature of the conversation or the discussion, so it's going to be difficult for me to comment on it, to be quite honest with you. Ben is a highly respected member of our football team."
Roethlisberger, forced to comment 15 minutes later, said he thought Goodell was wrong to suggest that no Steelers had his back, as they say.
"I'm just thankful my teammates are who they are, and I'm really appreciative of them," he said.
Naturally, Hines Ward and James Farrior were poked for a reaction as well, and both virtually recoiled at the notion that the franchise quarterback had sketchy support in the locker room.
"I was highly upset about this whole situation," Farrior said. "When Roger Goodell came to us in the preseason, I think I was the guy that asked him a lot of questions about Ben. I really didn't get any answers from him that I was looking for, but I was definitely disappointed in what the verdict was and how they proceeded. I definitely didn't think he should be suspended for four games."
And it might have gone on like this, particularly in the phantom conspiracy vein, for another six days except for some intensely germane -- what do you call them? -- facts. Such as that Goodell spoke to King for his piece on Jan. 7, and that Goodell's dirty two dozen weren't necessarily all Steelers. When this hissing fit hit the fan Monday, the commissioner called King to say the writer mistakenly added the parenthetical Steelers to that direct quote. King pled guilty, but maybe Goodell shouldn't get a full pardon.
King's month-old interview with Goodell was wide-ranging, as they say in the trade, and elicited observations about the difficult disciplinary histories of Tank Johnson and Michael Vick, among other hard cases.
Still, the advisability of such candor about No. 7 doesn't seem terribly well intentioned, to put it charitably, much less totally prudent, coming as it did at what was then the start of the NFL playoffs.
I don't think there was anything that should be described as vulpine in Goodell's comments, but the result was not as flattering to the office as some discretion might have been.
As for the quarterback, he came through Monday no worse for the queries.
"I'm very blessed to be playing for an awesome organization -- the Steelers, the Rooneys," he said. "I've got great teammates, great coaches, so I'm just thankful to be a part of it. I always said it was a blessing to be drafted by the Steelers and I'm proud to wear the black and gold."
Bring on Tuesday.
[I talked to] I bet two dozen [Steelers] players, and not one, not a single player, went to his defense. I wasn't personal in a sense, but all kinds of stories like, 'He wouldn't sign my jersey.' "
-- Roger Goodell, to Peter King of SI.com, a statement that King later retracted
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org .