Labriola On

Labriola on Rodney, Hines, and Vince

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • The June 8 edition of TV Guide contained a list of the year's top 50 television shows, according to data provided by Nielsen Media Research. The list spanned Sept. 22, 2014 to May 20, 2015, and it excluded repeats, sports pregame and postgame shows, and programs with two or fewer episodes. NFL football finished tied-for-No. 2, No. 7, and No. 18 on the top-50 list.
  • NFL Sunday Night Football was tied with NCIS for second behind The Big Bang Theory. NFL Thursday Night Football was No. 7, and NFL Monday Night Football was No. 18. Once upon a time, the major networks were reluctant to try NFL football on a weeknight because the executives were certain it would be trounced in the ratings by traditional prime-time programming.
  • Not anymore. Now, maybe it's the other way around.
  • Rodney Dangerfield invented it, but in terms of Steelers football Hines Ward was most famous for it. Dangerfield launched his comedic career into orbit once he began incorporating what became his trademark, the "no respect" joke. Ward massaged the concept a bit to come up with the "nobody thought I could make it," and he wasn't joking even a little bit.
  • As Ward continued to mine the disrespect angle even after being voted Super Bowl MVP, its impact was lost on everybody but him, and that probably was the value of it all along. Motivation is a critical element of success in a professional sport – or in any worthwhile endeavor, in fact – and when Ward discovered something that did the motivating for him he carried it with him until the end of his career.
  • Vince Williams is the guy in this current Steelers locker room with the most legitimate beef along the lines of "I don't get no respect."
  • When veteran starting inside linebacker Larry Foote tore a biceps in the 2013 opener and was lost for the rest of that season, Williams, then a rookie sixth-round pick, emerged from a group of young players to start 11 games at the position. Four months after that season ended, the Steelers used their No. 1 pick on Ryan Shazier, and several weeks after that Shazier was installed in Williams' position on the starting defense.
  • Rather than pout or complain publicly about losing a starting spot to a guy who had yet to play a single NFL snap, Williams showed up at his second training camp with what football coaches often refer to as "the proper playing demeanor." He was aggressive, ill-tempered, physical. He got into some on-field scraps. Stood out during the live-tackling drills. Played special teams passionately. Made himself impossible to cut.
  • When the 2014 season evolved as one where Shazier missed seven games over a nine-week span with injuries, Williams and Sean Spence came to share the spot, with playing time divided based on whether the defense was aligned in its base 3-4 or in the nickel. Williams finished with 30 tackles and a fumble recovery on defense, plus another 15 tackles on special teams, which tied him for the team lead in that category with Terence Garvin.
  • Today, Shazier is healthy and therefore back as a starting inside linebacker alongside Lawrence Timmons, but Williams is not the type to shrink from a challenge, and I've got to believe he's using the "no respect" angle to keep himself on edge. Whatever works. And this seems to be working for him.
  • Speaking of Shazier, if anyone was concerned that he might have a lingering sense of entitlement over being a first-round pick and instant starter, there has been none of that on display this offseason. In fact, Shazier told Chris Bradford of the Beaver County Times that "I definitely have something to prove to my teammates." Such an attitude will serve him well.
  • There is no offseason anymore in the NFL, at least not from the media side. The sport is covered 24/7/365 on multiple platforms, and the beast has to be fed. There are a lot of people whose jobs depend on a satisfied beast, but what can result is rampant speculation that creeps into misinformation.
  • That's a description of this item written by Field Yates, billed as an ESPN insider: "More bucks for Brown? Star wide receiver Antonio Brown will make just shy of $23 million over the next three years, a significant discount for the most consistent pass-catcher in the league. And although Brown denied reported interest in looking for a new deal, it is still a situation worth monitoring. Brown is a worthwhile re-investment, as he led the NFL in catches and yards in 2014 yet ranks 11th among wide receivers in base salary for 2015. Pittsburgh has traditionally avoided new deals for players prior to the final year of their contracts, but Brown might force them to make an exception."
  • So to summarize, Antonio Brown denied interest in withholding his services in the seeking of a new contract, and anyway, the Steelers don't re-do contracts prior to the player entering the final year of the existing deal. Now you don't have to invest in the cost of becoming an ESPN insider. No need to thank me.
  • A few years after Jerome Bettis came to the Steelers in a 1996 draft day trade with the St. Louis Rams, Franco Harris offered the opinion that Bettis would end up being the best running back in franchise history. High praise indeed, and recently, Bettis said something similar about Le'Veon Bell.
  • "I think he's special," Bettis said. "He's a special player on the field, everything you see him do. He has the frame of a big back but the agility of a smaller running back, which makes him a very, very special player. He's a big back but also able to catch the ball out of the backfield, be elusive, do so many things. Being a three-down running back, that, in and of itself, is a special treat to have. I think if he continues on his course, I think he can be one of the best that ever put on a uniform — not just a Steelers uniform, one of the best running backs ever."
  • History will be the ultimate judge of Bell's career and whether Bettis' forecast for him comes true, but what's undeniable already is that Le'Veon Bell is different than any other running back in franchise history. His receiving ability is what makes him so. And by receiving ability, I'm not talking about a guy who can catch a ball that's thrown to him. Bell has receiving ability like Marshall Faulk had receiving ability. Special receiving ability.
  • Of the 23 quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, six are from Western Pennsylvania, and last weekend they were feted at an event called Gridiron Gold, which benefitted the Neighborhood Legal Services Association as well as the player's selected charities. For the record, the six Western Pennsylvania quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame are George Blanda, John Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly. Namath, Marino, Montana, and Kelly were present at the event. Unitas and Blanda, both deceased, were represented by family members.
  • Steelers President Art Rooney II served as the honorary chairman of the event, and as such was required to make some remarks to the sellout crowd at the Wyndham Grand Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh.
  • "A night like this reminds me that I am glad we won a couple of Super Bowls," said Art Rooney II. "If we didn't, we would've been remembered as the franchise that cut Johnny Unitas and didn't draft Dan Marino. Thank God we won a couple."
  • To make up for those moves, it's probably best the Steelers have won three times more than a couple.
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