There they went

By Ryan S. Pugh

CLARION NEWS Sports Editor

A lot can change in the span of a couple of months. It wasn't too long ago the buzz around the National Football League was what about the Steelers finishing the first perfect season since Richard Nixon's first term in office.

It was almost a guarantee Pittsburgh would be hoisting the Super Bowl trophy for the seventh time. But the "Stairway to Seven" talk will have to wait for another time (that's someone else's phrase, not mine).

It will be kind of a weird January without hearing the newest version of the annoyingly haunting "Here We Go" song but it's been a while since that song has gotten any play on the Pittsburgh airwaves. This year was the Steelers first trip back to the playoffs since the 2017 season and Pittsburgh made just two trips to the AFC title game in the decade.

There is a lot of blame to go around when it comes to Pittsburgh's borderline humiliating loss to Cleveland otherwise known as the butt of every NFL joke for the past 20 years. But the biggest blame goes to head coach Mike Tomlin. As they say, the fish stinks from the head.

The fact that Pittsburgh came out flat in its first playoff game in three years is inexcusable. The Steelers under Tomlin have had a bad habit of "playing down" to their competition. Over the past few years, there have been inexplicable losses to inferior opponents on the Steelers' resume.

However, what happened last Sunday might take the cake when it comes to unexplainable losses. Cleveland came into the game without its head coach and a few of its starters due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the Browns facility. Moreover, Cleveland wasn't allowed to hold practice the entire week before the game. And still, the Browns looked like world beaters for three hours on Sunday night.

I understand this is the NFL and there are no gimme wins on the schedule but if you are a head coach and you can't eke out a win against a team that hasn't practiced together for an entire week, it might be time to find another profession.

However, it wasn't like this loss was the reversal of some trend as Pittsburgh limped its way into the playoffs losing four of its last five regular season games. The Steelers' offense became predictable down the stretch and the defense never recovered from the loss of linebackers Devin Bush and Bud Dupree to season-ending knee injuries.

Even with everything that was going against the Steelers doesn't excuse spotting Cleveland 28 points in the opening quarter.

As I said, there is a lot of blame to go around and good portion of the loss can be placed on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's shoulders. For a minute during the game, I questioned if Roethlisberger was color blind because he seemed to connect with the guys in the orange helmets as much as the guys in the black helmets.

I don't think Roethlisberger or Tomlin should be back next year but they will be.

I know the Steelers organization is not going to fire Tomlin. And I understand the Pittsburgh organization is hesitant to fire coaches for fear of turning the franchise into a banana republic of sorts. And Tomlin's staunchest defenders will point to the fact Tomlin has not had a team finish with a losing record in his 14 years as head coach. But I will counter with they don't hold parades for good regular seasons. They don't print up t-shirts for an above .500 season. Just sayin'.

I personally think the whole organization needs gutted. Draft and develop a young quarterback or trade for an established signal caller. Revamp the offensive line. Get a running back that has enough elusiveness to dodge and outrace defenders. It's not a simple fix but it needs to be done.

Most Pittsburgh fans weren't alive the last time the Steelers were truly bad but I was. Those mid- to late-1980s teams were pretty gruesome to watch. When fans were debating who would make a better starting quarterback; Mark Malone or Bubby Brister? Things were not going well.

Sadly, the Steelers' loss to the Browns wasn't the most grotesque thing to come out of the Wild Card weekend because of Nickelodeon.

The Nickelodeon network broadcast the Bears-Saints game on Sunday and did things on the broadcast to appeal to children.

Maybe I'm just an old man screaming at a cloud, but I don't think a kid needs to see a player get slimed virtually to enjoy a football game.

You know what fascinated me as a 7-year-old football fan? The Don Strock-Duriel Harris-Tony Nathan hook-and-ladder play in the 1981 divisional playoff game between the Dolphins and the Chargers. That was arguably the greatest game ever played and I watched it as a 7-year-old with a television broadcast geared toward adults.

I am also against all of the garbage Major League Baseball teams do to keep fans entertained at the game. Things like t-shirt tosses, mascot races, scoreboard hijinks, etc. are ridiculous.

You know what should keep you entertained at a baseball game? The baseball game. You want all of your other senses stimulated, Kennywood is just down the road.

Before I go for my dose of Geritol and watch Matlock, I wanted to say that you'll notice the CLARION NEWS sports section is looking a little different during this ongoing (seemingly never ending) COVID-19 pandemic. And in these unprecedented times, I will not be able to cover the same number of basketball games or wrestling matches I have in past winters due to other responsibilities I have with this newspaper.

I just want fans to know, I am going to try and cover as many games as I possibly can and if I don't get to cover your team, it is not a personal affront to your team or your school.