Wallace's one trick is a wonder
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Over the breadth of his first three NFL seasons, it's been difficult not to be impressed with Mike Wallace, most especially if you are Mike Wallace.
In a league reliably stockpiled with wideouts who are consistently taken with themselves, the Steelers' All Pro defers to few, if any, on the matter of self-worth, it seems to me, so it wasn't to buttress young Mike's confidence that Kevin Colbert happened to mention last week how much the club wanted to keep him around.
That would be utterly pointless, and among the many facets of his standout career at the top of the Steelers' personnel office is the hard truth that Colbert is not exactly in love with the sound of his own voice.
So what's with all the vocal valentines Colbert sent from Indianapolis last week? The "for sure we want Mike to finish his career with the Steelers ... we're going to do everything we can to keep Mike ... he's only scratched the surface of what he can do."
Might be nothing more than what is plain, but there is so much at work in the looming determination of Mike Wallace's immediate future that it's been hard to tell what's real this past week.
Colbert isn't in the least duplicitous by nature, but he's an expert survivalist in the dense forest of off-season politics, as is his top lieutenant, the brilliant capologist Omar Khan.
So when Colbert warbles noises that can sound from a distance like Mike Wallace is a blooming Jerry Rice and that the Steelers love him to death, it's not impossible that the Steelers are trying to drive the price of any offer sheet so high another team wouldn't come near Wallace with it. That way, if someone is callow or obtuse enough to break their bank for him, the Steelers would at worst come away with the knowledge that they've delivered unto some rival a major cap headache, not to mention adding a first-round draft choice in exchange for a player that is not exactly trending up at this point.
It'd be simpler for everybody if we knew where Wallace's career was going, but that's something about which there is no small uncertainty.
On Oct. 23, 2011, Wallace scored on the longest pass play in Steelers history, 95 yards from Ben Roethlisberger on a day when the wideout had only two other catches for 23 yards. He has not had a 100-yard game since.
He did not catch a touchdown pass in Pittsburgh's last five games, including the Jan. 8 playoff loss at Denver.
He's averaged 18.7 yards per catch in three years here, but only 8.8 yards per catch in the postseason. In eight post-season games, he's averaged 34 yards.
On Sept. 25, 2011, at Indianapolis, Wallace had 144 yards against the Colts and his sixth consecutive 100-yard regular season performance, one short of the all-time NFL record shared by Michael Irvin and Charley Hannigan.
But when he failed to tie the record the next Sunday in Houston, all the juice seemed to go out of his game. By the time Tim Tebow ended the Steelers' season that night in the Rockies, Wallace had goat horns out to here, right? Ben threw it to him 10 times, only three of which Wallace managed to catch for a meaningless 26 yards, and he dropped the 52-yard first-half pass that flipped all momentum to the Broncos. Ben needed Jerricho Cotchery just to force an overtime.
That doesn't sound like the kind of player you want to hang a franchise tag on and wind up paying him something in the neighborhood of $9 million.
Mike Tomlin himself has called Wallace a one-trick pony, more as a motivational ploy than a serious assessment, but here's what makes the Wallace issue so complicated: Even if he is a one-trick pony, it's one helluva trick, and the Steelers dearly love it.
Of all the known pony tricks -- the rearing on command, the galloping with people standing on them, the rolling over, the shaking hands, the waving, the bowing, even the attempted-if-always-unsuccessful pony card tricks -- the Steelers love best the one where Wallace scalds a secondary for 40 or more yards on one play, something he's done 11 times.
The next time Wallace and Ben pull that stunt, they'll have done it twice as often as Terry Bradshaw and John Stallworth. Even in the jet-fueled post-modern NFL, only Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne had done that more than Roethlisberger and Wallace, and only once more at that.
When you're in the entertainment business, this is not small potatoes.
Still, the best trick out there is probably the way the NFL makes us pay attention to this stuff seven months prior to kickoff.
First Published February 26, 2012 12:00 am