Labriola On

Labriola on overreacting, the no-respect card

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • Week 1 of OTAs is in the books. Let the overreactions begin:
  • Once upon a time, NFL teams said goodbye to their players at the end of one season – typically before New Year's Day for those not making the playoffs – and then there was no more contact with those players until the one and only mandatory element of the offseason, which was a single three-day minicamp.
  • That was the procedure during Chuck Noll's time. Once Bill Cowher became the coach in 1992, and then the salary cap era was ushered in for 1993, the NFL offseason began to expand. That expansion now has us in an era when the Combine and the Draft are television events, an era during which what the players are required to do and prohibited from doing both have been collectively bargained.
  • OTAs provide a pre-summer fix for the football junkies, but for a team with the stability of the Pittsburgh Steelers – from the front office, to coaching staff, and even to the overall roster makeup – what has happened this week on the grass at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, and then what will happen over the next three weeks whereupon the offseason program will end with a three-day mandatory minicamp, is only a small step in the journey.
  • Remember, Troy Polamalu had some of his best seasons after skipping OTAs to train on his own. For the proven players, and these Steelers have a number of those on both sides of the ball, it's about getting their bodies ready for the rigors of an NFL season.
  • What is described as "live contact" in the CBA is prohibited during OTAs, and so the on-field sessions at best serve as a practical teaching tool, which is most valuable to the young/new guys on the roster.
  • Even though most of the legitimately important progress that can be made during OTAs has more to do with the mental than the physical, people who are reading this right now want something to get those overreactive juices flowing.
  • Since I am always nothing but accommodating, here you go: The Steelers still are opening each session with "7 shots," that drill where the ball is placed at the 2-yard line and it's 11-on-11, offense vs. defense. Artie Burns had an interception during Tuesday's "7 shots." Also on Tuesday, Ben Roethlisberger dropped a 40-plus yard rainbow perfectly into Markus Wheaton's hands as the receiver was sprinting down the right sideline being double-covered by a trailing cornerback and a safety coming over from the middle of the field.
  • If those kinds of things continue to happen over the next nine months, well, then we can all look back on the first week of OTAs as the harbinger of it all. Or not.
  • ESPN's "30 for 30" series is consistently some of the best of what sports television has to offer, and a recent episode titled "Believeland" chronicles the futility of Cleveland's professional sports franchises, with the Browns' 1964 NFL Championship being the city's most recent.

The Steelers participate in Day 3 of the 2016 Organized Team Activities at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

  • As could be expected, the Browns' near-misses in the 1980s – Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble – are chronicled, as is Art Modell's battle with the city over financing for a new stadium and then the move to Baltimore for the 1996 season.
  • The Browns returned to the NFL for the 1999 season, and the league granted the team's new ownership's request to open against the Steelers in Cleveland to make it an extra special occasion. So it was that Steelers at Browns on Sunday night, Sept. 12, 1999, was chosen as the event to christen Cleveland Browns Stadium.
  • And Steelers Coach Bill Cowher used one of the oldest motivational tricks in the book to make sure it would become a date that will live forever in Cleveland sports infamy.
  • It went something like this: One of the more popular television shows at the time was The Drew Carey Show, and Drew Carey set the sitcom in Cleveland, which also is where he was born. The theme song for the show was "Cleveland Rocks." Needless to say, Drew Carey was a Cleveland civic treasure of that time.
  • The Browns wanted to incorporate Carey and the theme song to his popular hit show into the pregame festivities on Sept. 12, 1999, and to figure out a way to have it coincide with the start of the network's broadcast of the game required some shuffling. As it ended up, the Browns requested permission from the Steelers to skip the pregame introductions of the visiting team in order to fit in the things they had planned with Drew Carey.
  • Cowher, a former Browns assistant coach under Marty Schottenheimer for four seasons, said sure. No problem. Go right ahead with that Drew Carey song and pyrotechnics, and whatever else you want. We understand. It's a big night for Cleveland.
  • Then before the game, Cowher used it during one of his final talks to his players before they took the field against the Browns, and in this particular telling of the events it morphed into a "no respect" slap in the face.
  • A Steelers team that would finish that season at 6-10 dominated the game and made what essentially was an expansion team in Browns uniforms look like it didn't belong in the NFL. Cleveland's offense managed two first downs and 40 total net yards as the Steelers cruised to a 43-0 victory. Even Mike Tomczak threw two touchdown passes for the Steelers in mop-up duty, for goodness sakes.
  • Yep, for Browns fans that night, the Drew Carey pregame turned out to be the only highlight. And an easy way for Cowher to motivate his team for its season opener.
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