On the Steelers: NFL wouldn't survive death test

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What if a football player died while playing an NFL game on Sunday? What if one died every other year or so? What if one of the biggest stars in the sport, say, Tom Brady was tackled and died? What would happen if death was a possibility every time an NFL game was played? What if 56 players had died playing professional football in Pittsburgh through the years?

The answer is, the sport probably would have been closed down by now, something Teddy Roosevelt threatened more than 100 years ago if they did not make it safer. Either that or it would not resemble what it is today. We truly would likely see flag football.

Yet when it happens in auto racing, they shed a few tears and move on to the next race because it happens too often. You don't get much bigger than winning the Indianapolis 500 in that sport, and Dan Wheldon won it twice. He died in a crash in Las Vegas last weekend. You don't get much bigger than Dale Earnhardt in NASCAR. He died at Daytona in 2001.

Racing enthusiasts will tell you they've made the sport safer. They also will tell you that death is a risk all drivers understand. But if 260 people died playing pro football over the past 20 years as the Charlotte Observer reported has occurred in auto racing, the sport would have been closed down. There are people who want to ban boxing because it's brutal, yet no one suggests that auto racing be banned when so many are killed, and we usually hear only about those killed in auto's major leagues, not on the dirt tracks of Oklahoma.

And why hasn't Congress begun an investigation into the deaths caused by auto racing as they have had regarding head injuries/concussions in football?

Wallace vs. Fitzgerald: See for yourself

One of the NFL's most productive receivers will take the field in Glendale, Ariz., today and his name is not necessarily Larry Fitzgerald.

Although the Cardinals' Fitzgerald is the best-paid wide receiver with a new eight-year, $120 million contract, he takes a back seat to the Steelers' Mike Wallace, who is collecting $600,000 in the final year of his three-year rookie contract.

Wallace has more receptions (33-27), more yards (612-427), a better average (18.5-15.8) and more touchdowns (4-2) than Fitzgerald. Wallace is fourth in the NFL in yards caught. Fitz is playing in his eighth season and Wallace just his third.

"He just doesn't have the longevity," Hines Ward said of Wallace. "Larry Fitzgerald has been doing it for a long time. Mike's on the verge of being a great one. It's just a matter of time. Everybody recognizes Mike for what he's doing. Fitzgerald has done it on a consistent level ever since he's been in the league."

Wallace said he has always admired Fitzgerald's play and that he watches the good ones to see if he can pick up anything.

"Some people say he's not that fast, but you never see him get caught, ever," Wallace said.

Yesterday's (LBs) gone by

The real players who are old, slow and done are Arizona's two starting outside linebackers, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans. The Cardinals have switched to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Ray Horton, but they have not been able to reassemble the pass rush that Porter and Haggans produced in Pittsburgh in their prime.

Porter has one sack, Haggans has none. Both are 34. Porter last played for the Steelers in 2006 and was released under Mike Tomlin's new watch. Haggans played one more season before he was released. In 2005, the two combined for 191/2 sacks to help the Steelers to their first Super Bowl victory in 26 years.

"It's always fun to go against guys you know, Joey and Clark and those guys," said Ben Roethlisberger. Now, more than ever.

Hines Ward's route into history

Ward has creeped ever-so closer to two career accomplishments he'd like to achieve this season: He needs 61 yards to hit 12,000 and 23 receptions to hit 1,000.

After the Steelers drafted him on the third round in 1998, he had one goal: To play.

Soon came another: To start.

With his 188th career start today, he'd like to become the 19th player in NFL history to have 12,000 yards.

"I'd like to just get it out of the way," Ward said. "The opportunities I've gotten I'm making the most of them. I would like to get it out of the way because we keep talking about it.''

He would become only the eighth player to have 1,000 receptions.

"I look at the guys on that list, either they were in passing offenses or they played indoors," said Ward, 35. "People can say I'm old, whatever. I can't change my age. I know when I'm on the field I'm in the right spot. I'm consistent every time my number's called and I continue being there for my teammates."

Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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