Let's get to it:
MARK BELOT FROM DETROIT, MI: In your opinion, was Hines Ward a "dirty" player? I believe he was voted as such by his peers one year. Is there any validity to that, or was that just sour grapes?
ANSWER: In 2009, Sports Illustrated polled 296 NFL players, and Hines Ward was voted the dirtiest player in the league. In my opinion, even back then, there were a lot of issues related to his kind of "polling," because it's a fact that NFL players aren't exactly diligent when it comes to voting for things, even allegedly "important" things such as the Pro Bowl and that Top 100 Player list NFL Network spends so much energy and time promoting and broadcasting. In 2008, Ward was fined $15,000 for two hits in games, and he wasn't penalized for either, and he's also infamous for the hit that broke the jaw of Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers, and while there's a rule against that kind of hit now named the Hines Ward rule, it wasn't illegal when Ward did it. In discussing his reputation as a dirty player with Sports Illustrated in 2008, Ward said, "It's hard to sit there and tell everybody it's a violent sport but tone it down a little. When I go across the middle, those guys aren't going to tackle me softly and lay me down to the ground. That's not football. I find it ironic that now you see a receiver delivering blows, and it's an issue. But I haven't changed. I've been doing it this way for 11 years." My view of it was that defensive players loved to hunt wide receivers, but when they encountered a wide receiver who was hunting them, then that became "dirty football." As James Harrison often said, "It's not fun when the rabbit's got the gun."
MICHAEL WOLOZYN FROM OIL CITY, PA: With the rather drastic salary cap reduction being forecast for the 2021 season, it looks like the Steelers may have more than their fair share of issues to overcome with us looking at so many unrestricted free agents at that time. Seems a little unfair. What kind of impact are the other teams in the NFL going to experience?
ANSWER: According to overthecap.com, if the 2021 salary cap is $175 million per team, there would be eight teams projected to be over the cap, with their estimated overages being: Minnesota at $4.6 million, Oakland at $9.8 million, Chicago at $10.5 million, Pittsburgh at $15.8 million, Kansas City at $25.7 million, Atlanta at $39.1 million, New Orleans at $66.1 million, and Philadelphia at $71.5 million, with Houston only about $160,000 under that $175 million threshold. But it's really too early to panic, because there will be some new revenue coming to the league at the end of the 2020 season as a result of the expanded playoff field, which will have a positive impact on the 2021 salary cap, and there's always the chance the NFL and the NFLPA will come to some accommodation to prevent the cap from falling as much as current projections indicate it might. My opinion, and it's really nothing more than a guess at this point, is that such a dramatic drop in the salary cap from 2020's $198.2 million per team to $175 million per team in 2021 is bad for both the owners and the players, and so I believe it's reasonable for something to get done to mitigate that situation.
DON ADAMS FROM BUENA PARK, CA: What was the reason it was negotiated that teams would to go to training camp with 80 players instead of the typical number of 90? Have the Steelers already cut 10 players?
ANSWER: My belief is the roster reduction to 80 is based on the concept that fewer people in an enclosed area is safer during this COVID-19 pandemic. And with no preseason games, plus only 14 padded practices permitted during the entire training camp period, such a reduction shouldn't have that much of an impact. Or at least not have as much of an impact as no preseason games and only 14 padded practices during the entire training camp period. As of this writing, the Steelers haven't cut their roster to 80, but they're going to have to do it.
NOAH ELLISON FROM SUDBURY, ONTARIO, CANADA: I've been reading Asked and Answered for four years now and in that time you are always asked about the great plays or a player's great moments. What was the worst thing you've seen in your time, or the worst executed play?
ANSWER: I cannot say for certain it's the worst, but one that comes to mind immediately happened during Week 3 of the 2000 season, with the Steelers playing the Browns in Cleveland. Losing, 23-20, the Steelers had a third-and-goal from the Cleveland 6-yard line with 14 seconds left and no timeouts remaining. The quarterback that day was Kent Graham, a 31-year-old then in his eighth NFL season, and Coach Bill Cowher made the decision to take one shot at the end zone and if that failed to then kick the 23-yard field goal to force overtime. The only thing that could sabotage the plan was if Graham took a sack, and clearly a veteran such as him was savvy enough to avoid that. Wrong. Graham was sacked, the clock ran out before the Steelers could attempt a field goal, and they lost. That defeat ended up costing them a playoff berth that season.
MICHAEL PRESSMAN FROM AKRON, OH: Since the NFL realignment in 2002, it has been pretty easy to know the rotation of the schedule. However, what did they do before the realignment? I went back and looked at the 1999 season, for example, because I was at the Browns game at Three Rivers Stadium that year. We only played three NFC teams that year. How did they decide the schedule back then?
ANSWER: I don't remember how the NFL made up teams' schedules at that time, because for the 1999 season there were three divisions in each conference, and there were five teams in each division except for the six-team AFC Central Division, which gave the NFL an uneven 31 total teams. Having 31 teams in the league meant there had to be at least one team on a bye every week of the season. That's right, there was a team that was on a bye on opening weekend. The reason for that was because the Browns returned to the NFL for the 1999 season, and the expansion Houston Texans wouldn't begin play until 2002. Because the Steelers were one of the six teams in the AFC Central Division, that meant they played 10 division games – a home-and-home series against Cleveland, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Tennessee, and Jacksonville – and that left them with six non-division games, which were split equally between three AFC opponents and three NFC opponents. It long has been obvious that the perfect set-up for the NFL is 32 total teams with four divisions containing four teams apiece with a regular season that lasts 16 games. From a schedule-making standpoint, it's most easily workable and allows for a final product that is closest to being fair for all teams.
DEAN HARRIS FROM DOWNINGTOWN, PA: Love this forum. As a young kid in Pittsburgh in the 1960s, I remember turning on WQED-TV, and the station was auctioning a football from a game where the Steelers beat the Green Bay Packers, the champions. It was a big deal, I suppose, but I was so young and not following football yet. Is my memory tarnished, or did that really happen?
ANSWER: That really happened. In 1967, the Packers ended up winning Super Bowl II by defeating the Oakland Raiders in what turned out to be Vince Lombardi's final game as the Green Bay head coach. In the final game of the 1967 regular season, the Steelers visited Lambeau Field and upset the Packers, 24-17, on the strength of a 21-yard interception return for a touchdowns by defensive lineman Ben McGee and a 27-yard fumble return for a touchdown by defensive lineman Chuck Hinton. Coming into that finale at 9-3-1, the game was meaningless to the Packers' because they had clinched the NFL Central Division; and coming in at 3-9-1, the Steelers already had clinched last place in the NFL Century Division. Lombardi rested some key players – as an example Don Horn played more at quarterback than Bart Starr – and the Packers played a sloppy game, as evidenced by losing the battle of sacks, 4-0; turnovers, 5-3; and penalties, 6-68 vs. 2-20. The 1967 Steelers defeating the eventual World Champion Packers in Green Bay: it wasn't a dream.
XAVIER AROSEMENA FROM GUAYAQUIL, ECUADOR: I was watching some recorded games from a few years ago, and Martavis Bryant had some stud qualities. I remember expecting that guy to become the next Randy Moss. I read somewhere that Martavis suffers from acute anxiety and this has played a huge role in his behavior. If that's true, why wasn't this caught by NFL scouts?
ANSWER: Martavis Bryant was suspended three times over a four-year period by the NFL for violating its substance abuse policy, and while there has been speculation that he was on the verge recently of applying for reinstatement by the league, reports are that he has not yet done so. While I'm not privy to any details about Bryant's college career at Clemson with regard to positive drug tests, I would maintain the NFL knew about his issues because otherwise he wouldn't have lasted until the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. A 6-foot-4, 210-pound receiver with Bryant's speed, hands, and playmaking abilities isn't the 118th overall pick in a draft unless he's carrying some baggage. My guess is the Steelers decided to take a chance on him, but Bryant just wasn't able to overcome his addiction.