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Labriola on Mason vs. Ben, Brady, Duck

Ready or not, here it comes:

• Steelers fans long have had interesting/bizarre relationships with the quarterbacks on their favorite football team.

• Back in the very early days of Chuck Noll's tenure as coach, they had a love affair with Terry Hanratty, to the point where they were upset the Steelers drafted Joe Greene on the first round in 1969 instead of him, and then they wanted Hanratty to play instead of Terry Bradshaw even as late as 1974.

• Then in the early 1980s, they loved Cliff Stoudt, but then by 1984 they hated him so much they turned out in huge numbers to make the Pittsburgh Maulers' USFL home opener a sellout only because they wanted to boo Stoudt and pelt him with snowballs because he was the starting quarterback of the visiting Birmingham Stallions shortly after leading the Steelers to a 38-10 butt-kicking by the Raiders in the Divisional Round of the 1983 playoffs.

• They hated Mark Malone, and so they loved Bubby Brister. But then they hated Brister and so they loved Neil O'Donnell. Then because of Super Bowl XXX, they really hated O'Donnell and as a result loved Kordell Stewart. When that relationship soured for the final time, they turned their affections to Tommy Maddox.

• Maddox pick-sixed that relationship into the toilet, and so they turned their affections to Ben Roethlisberger, but even that soured with some because he had the audacity to win "only" two Super Bowls.

• It has been said about the Pittsburgh populace that it doesn't know what it likes so much as it likes what it knows, but when it comes to Steelers quarterbacks the team's fans like the one they know the least about. Applying that "logic" to the current depth chart at the position would have Paxton Lynch as the current favorite, and the rest of the pecking order probably would find Devlin Hodges as the No. 2 favorite, with Mason Rudolph bringing up the rear.

• Why? Nobody knows the exact answer, but applying the "logic" of the past, Lynch is the favorite because he hasn't thrown an incomplete pass or an interception in a Steelers uniform; Hodges is next because he's a nice underdog story and has a nickname; and Rudolph, well, he's last because he's the guy with the most talent, and of those currently under contract not named Roethlisberger he's the guy who has performed best in a Steelers uniform. But since he's not Roethlisberger and hasn't immediately made the fan base forget that Roethlisberger needed to have his right elbow surgically repaired and has been guilty of doing things inexperienced NFL quarterbacks do, well, he is a disappointment who deserves to be thrown out with next week's trash.

• Even though this is an era in sports where nobody is interested in allowing facts to get in the way of a hot take, I now will present a tale of the tape through the first eight NFL starts in the careers of Rudolph, Roethlisberger and Tom Brady, and through the first five NFL starts for Hodges.

• We start with Roethlisberger, whose rookie season was as successful as any rookie season for a quarterback in NFL history. In his first eight NFL starts, Roethlisberger completed 70 percent of his passes (120-of-172) for 1,412 yards, with 10 touchdowns, four interceptions, and a rating of 104.1. His yards per attempt was 8.2, his yards per completion was 11.8, his longest gain was 48 yards, and he was sacked 16 times. In those eight starts, his team was 8-0.

• Next up in Brady, whose first eight starts came in his second NFL season because as a rookie he was inactive for all but one game with Drew Bledsoe and Michael Bishop being the quarterbacks in uniform on game days. But in those eight starts as a second-year pro, Brady completed 65 percent of his passes (154-of-238) for 1,565 yards, with 12 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a rating of 87.9. His yards per attempt was 6.5, his yards per completion was 10.2, and he was sacked 21 times. In those eight starts, his team was 5-3.

• Next is Rudolph, whose first eight starts came in his second NFL season, because he also spent his rookie season on the inactive list. In his first eight starts, he completed 62 percent of his passes (150-of-244) for 1,524 yards, with 10 touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a rating of 79.3. His yards per attempt was 6.2, his yards per completion was 10.2, and he was sacked 14 times. His team's record in those eight starts was 5-3.

• Finally, it's Hodges, and he's listed last because he has only five career starts, with a sixth to come on Sunday in Baltimore. In his five starts, Hodges has completed 68.2 percent of his passes (79-of-115) for 782 yards, with four touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a rating of 70.3. His yards per attempt is 6.8, his yards per completion is 9.9, and he has been sacked 11 times. In his five starts, the Steelers record is 3-2.

• Roethlisberger clearly had the best start to his playing career, but the difference between Brady and Rudolph isn't that significant. Their completion percentages (65 percent for Brady and 62 percent for Rudolph), their yards per attempt (6.5 to 6.2), yards per completion (10.2 to 10.2), touchdowns (12 to 10), interceptions (seven to eight), and record (5-3 to 5-3) are not significantly different in any category. Brady's sack total of 21 compared to 14 for Rudolph shows the Patriots' quarterback wasn't as adept at avoiding negativity at the hands of the pass rush.

• While Brady started eight straight games, Rudolph started three and was knocked out of the third with a helmet-to-helmet hit that left him with a concussion. He then missed two weeks, the second of which was the team's bye, and then returned to go 3-0 in his next three starts before a nightmare Thursday night in Cleveland including four interceptions and ending when he was assaulted by Myles Garrett.

• That four interception night in Cleveland was awful and Rudolph deserved to be benched as a result, but young quarterbacks, and even some not-so-young ones, have awful performances, and it's worth mentioning that Rudolph bounced back nicely in his next action – last Sunday at MetLife Stadium – and seemingly had the Steelers on a path to a comeback before the Jets pass rush drove him into the turf and injured his left shoulder.

• This is no attempt to predict Rudolph's career will follow the same path as Brady's, but it does make it clear that rushing to judgment often leads to an incorrect one.

Today, Dec. 27, 2019, is the 44th birthday of one of the most iconic gimmicks in sports. The following is the official account of how the Terrible Towel was born, and it's the official account of the birth because it comes to you from the typewriter of Myron Cope, who conceived and created the Towel, and he wrote about the conception in his book, titled "Double Yoi!"

"On a fateful December afternoon, Pat Bertalantis, the secretary to the vice president and general manager of WTAE-Radio, Ted J. Atkins, phoned me at my desk. "Can you step over to Ted's office?" she said.

"Crossing the hall, I found the tall, burly GM huddled with the vice president of sales, Larry Garrett. Atkins got quickly to the point. 'As the Steelers flagship radio station, we think we should come up with some sort of gimmick for the playoffs – something that will involve the people.'

"Atkins paused, then barked at me: 'Come up with a gimmick.'

'"I am not a gimmick guy,' I replied. 'Never have been a gimmick guy.'

"Garrett, the sales exec, spoke up. 'You don't understand,' he said. He explained that were I to successfully promote some kind of object the fans could wave or wear at the playoffs, advertisers would be so impressed by my hold on the public that they would clamor to sponsor my daily commentaries and talk show.

'"Besides,' said Garrett, 'your contract with us expires in three months.'

"No, he was not threatening that I might be let go. He was suggesting that a Steelers gimmick, if successful, would give me leverage for a nice raise. 'I'm a gimmick guy,' I conceded …

"Nearing kickoff, the Steelers gathered in their tunnel for introductions, whereupon the crowd exploded – and suddenly by my estimation, 30,000 Terrible Towels twirled from the fists of fans around the stadium! Where had those Towels been? Well, the day was wet and nasty, so I supposed all those fans either had been sitting on their Towels or had stuffed them into their coats. Whatever, my reputation was saved and my next raise assured.

"Yes, the Terrible Towel was born that day, December 27, 1975, bursting into the world like a bawling infant."

And it has grown into a healthy, thriving adult.

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