Let's get to it:
ROBERTA CAMPBELL FROM PORTAGE, IN: Another year, and it's another year that Hines Ward didn't make the cut to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's beginning to look like LC Greenwood all over again. Do you think either of them will ever finally get in?
ANSWER: I hope I'm wrong, but I've given up on L.C. Greenwood ever being enshrined in Canton. I thought his candidacy had legitimacy because for a long time he was the Steelers' all-time leader in sacks, and that the Steel Curtain, of which Greenwood was an original member, was the only of the all-time famous defensive lines – Minnesota's Purple-People Eaters, the Los Angeles Rams' Fearsome Foursome – to have only one of its members in the Hall of Fame. But there seems to be no buzz about Greenwood's candidacy, and as each year passes, he becomes more of a memory.
The situation with Hines Ward is in a different category, and that has to do with the explosion of receiving statistics because of the way the sport has evolved recently into a passing league. Not to be all about gloom-and-doom, but what also seems to be working against Ward right now is that he has yet to make the list of finalists – the final 15 – that would allow his candidacy to be discussed by the Hall of Fame Board of Selectors when they gather for the session typically held at the site of that year's Super Bowl. And this year's list of finalists includes three wide receivers – Torry Holt, Andre Johnson, and Reggie Wayne – and because it's rare for more than one player at a particular position to be elected within a particular class, it seems as though the voters have decided Holt, Johnson, and Wayne deserve to be elected before Ward. I still believe Ward is deserving of enshrinement and am hopeful he can be elected, but it looks more and more as though it's going to be a long slog.
KEVIN HART FROM ZANESVILLE, OH: What is the Steelers' record on Monday Night Football at home and when was the last time the Steelers lost a home game on Monday Night Football?
ANSWER: The Steelers are 28-5 (.848) at home on Monday Night Football, and the last time they lost at home on Monday Night Football was on Oct. 14, 1991, to the New York Giants, 23-20.
TIM SIVERD FROM SOUTH HILL, VA: If Ben Roethlisberger retires, and it was up to you, which veteran quarterback would you acquire to compete with Mason Rudolph for the starting job? I say Gardner Minshew, but of course my son says I'm crazy.
ANSWER: Your son sounds like a wise young man.
ANGELO MORELLA FROM POLAND, OH: Cam Heyward has had a great year, but the Steelers are very clearly in the beginning of a rebuild. Since he will be 33 next year and owed $61 million over the next three years, would the Steelers look to trade him for additional draft picks?
ANSWER: Would the Steelers look to trade Cam Heyward, or are you suggesting the Steelers should trade Cam Heyward? Because the answer to the first part of that is "no." According to reports, the amount the Steelers owe Heyward over the next three years in salary and roster bonuses is around $42.8 million, not $61 million. Cam Heyward will go down as one of the truly significant players in franchise history, which is 88 years' worth of NFL seasons and counting, and you cannot and will not get draft pick capital – in the real world, anyway – that would come close to allowing the Steelers to replace what he contributes as a player, leader, community asset, and human being.
JASON BRECHT FROM ANAMOSA, IA: I watched a replay of Steelers vs. Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII recently. Wow, that Steelers defense was just brutal. Every guy, every play. That had come to be known as a standard for the Steelers for a long time, but it has been a while since we have seen that from the entire unit. Do you think there has been a drop-off there in recent years and if so, is that attributed to different mindsets/personalities of players, coaching, league rule changes?
ANSWER: The funny thing about memory is that as more time passes, the more the bad things fade away. The Steelers 2008 defense indeed was a historically great unit in that it tied the NFL record for most consecutive games holding opponents to under 300 total yards at the start of a season, and James Harrison set what at the time was the franchise record for sacks in a season, and Harrison authored the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history earlier in the game. But just imagine if Ben Roethlisberger didn't engineer that final drive in Super Bowl XLIII and make a great throw to Santonio Holmes who made a great catch. I can almost hear the whining about "how could they leave Larry Fitzgerald so open" and "who busted the coverage that allowed Fitzgerald to run untouched right through the defense" for a 64-yard go-ahead touchdown with 2:37 left in the fourth quarter.
Anyway, teams cannot play defense anymore the way the 2008 Steelers did, because it has been legislated out of the league. Go back and watch the 2008 AFC Championship Game between the Steelers and the Ravens at Heinz Field. You can't play that way anymore, with that level of violence. You can't hit receivers that way anymore. I'm not saying player safety is a bad thing, but if you're wondering where that style of defense has gone and why the Steelers don't play that way anymore, well, nobody plays that way anymore. It's not allowed.
BILL NEIL FROM MARSHALL, VA: Please explain what a "pancake" block is. Is it legal? Does it carry a penalty?
ANSWER: A pancake block is when an offensive player blocks a defensive player and ends up by planting the defensive player on his back. It is legal, and it's not a penalty but sometimes it draws a flag because an official will mistakenly assume that the offensive player used his hands illegally to dominate the defensive guy so thoroughly.
WES PLANTHABER FROM HUNTINGDON, PA: I had a debate with a couple of my friends regarding a difference of opinion on the AFC North. My statement, which was met with much ridicule and disagreement, was: With the Steelers being the only team in the division paying a quarterback who isn't playing on a rookie contract, their salary cap situation as a result is a huge disadvantage to them in terms of having the cap space to build a deep roster, which in turn makes injuries more damaging. I stated when Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, and (if) Baker Mayfield get paid in their second contracts as franchise quarterbacks it will level the field. What is your opinion on this?
ANSWER: When your starting quarterback is playing on a rookie contract, you can afford to pay Mike Hilton $24 million over four years to be a nickel back, as the Bengals did; you can afford to pay Matt Feiler $7 million a year to play guard as the Chargers (Justin Herbert) are doing; you can afford to re-sign some interior offensive linemen to contract extensions with extra cap space toward the end of a season, as the Browns did. Having a quarterback who's making the big bucks doesn't preclude a team from contending and winning a championship, but it makes it much more difficult to build a deep roster. It's simple arithmetic, and how your friends can argue with that is beyond me. My advice to you is to stop the debate and just play the wait-and-see game. You may have to wait a bit, but eventually your friends should come to see you are correct.
MARK COHEN FROM GIBSONIA, PA: You've been covering the Steelers for quite some time. Which stadium that no longer exists do you miss the most? Which do you miss the least?
ANSWER: Miss the most: since you didn't specify home or on the road, it has to be Three Rivers Stadium. Miss the least: no contest, it's Cleveland Municipal Stadium. What. A. Dump.
SVEN IVERSON FROM DEWEY, AZ: No question, just a statement: Thank you, Ben. Every year we started out with a shot because of No. 7.
ANSWER: And the Steelers always had a chance to win every game, too, for the same reason.