Asked and Answered

The best of Asked and Answered: June 23

With Bob Labriola enjoying a summer break, we've gone through recent editions of Asked & Answered and selected a few memorable questions…and answers.

Let's get to it:

November 8, 2021
DAVID BOGNAR FROM GERMANTOWN, WI: If you had to put together an all-time Steelers front four, who would you put next to Joe Greene at tackle? Would it be Ernie Stautner, Casey Hampton, or Cam Heyward?

ANSWER: I never saw Ernie Stautner play, but I do believe his accomplishments – Hall of Fame inductee, and the first player in franchise history to have his jersey retired – speak to the excellence of his career, and those qualifications would make him a solid selection as a tackle on the Steelers all-time front four. Maybe it's just my personal preference, but I have a lot of respect for the way Cam Heyward plays and what he brings to the team as a leader and in terms of his playing demeanor. In addition to my personal preference, there is one significant historical fact in Heyward's favor: In the history of the Steelers franchise, only two interior defensive linemen have been voted first-team All-Pro more than once: Joe Greene and Cam Heyward. So, I would go with Heyward next to Joe Greene because I don't believe there would be too many offensive lines willing to get down and dirty, if necessary, with those two.

April 5, 2022
LUIS FELIPE FROM CHIHUAHUA, MÉXICO: Would you tell us two of the major upsets or tragic defeats you think the Steelers ever faced, in your opinion?

ANSWER: One of the things it's important for you to understand is that the inaugural season in the NFL for the franchise was in 1933. That means the Steelers will be participating in their 90th NFL season in 2022, so when you ask questions about the "worst ever" or the "best ever" that's including A LOT of history. Limiting myself to the post-Noll era, I would point to the 1994 AFC Championship Game loss to San Diego at Three Rivers Stadium, because the Steelers were double-digit favorites over the Chargers and got stung by playing the game not to lose instead of playing to win; and the loss to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV, because that was sabotaged by turnovers – the pick-six by Nick Collins in the first half and then the lost fumble by Rashard Mendenhall in the fourth quarter.

December 16, 2021
STEVE MADDEN FROM ELDERSBURG, MD: One of your responses in the Dec. 14 Asked and Answered was regarding punting and the fact the NFL and colleges use a different ball. What is the difference between a K-ball and the one used in college football? And further, why would college football not use the same ball since it is essentially a "training ground" for the NFL?

ANSWER: You might perceive college football as a "training ground" for the NFL, but college football doesn't see itself as that, nor does it have any interest in furthering that perception. And so, there are differences in equipment and rules, and I believe there always will be differences between college football and NFL football. As for the football used: In overall circumference, college footballs can be up to 1-1/4 inches smaller than NFL footballs. To get more detailed, the circumference of a college football ranges from 20-3/4 inches to 21-1/4 inches lengthwise from end to end, vs. the 21 inches to 21-1/4 inches in the NFL. The NFL ball lacks stripes, and the college ball has two white ones painted halfway around, and although all college footballs have stripes, the balls vary a bit from team to team. That's unlike the consistency of the NFL, where every team gets the same ball.

In 1999, the NFL switched to special "K-balls" for special teams plays because there was a growing concern that kickers and punters were manipulating regular balls to make them fly higher and straighter. In 2015 got a bunch of former NFL punters and placekickers to explain some of the "tricks of the trade."

Former NFL placekicker Michael Husted, who played nine seasons with the Buccaneers, Raiders, Redskins, and Chiefs, said he would go into the equipment room every Monday and break in the noses of 36 footballs by slamming them on the end of a table or a door jamb. Husted then would inflate the balls as high as 30 psi (the standard for an NFL football is between 12.5 and 13.5) before putting them in a sauna for two days before letting the air out and putting them in the sun. What that process did was soften the leather and broaden the sweet spot. The ball then would be inflated to normal pressure but was essentially a completely different football at game time.

Three-time Pro Bowl punter Reggie Roby would sit and rub footballs with a piece of Astroturf to break it in. Former Jaguars, Bills, and Giants placekicker Mike Hollis would overinflate balls and then rub them down with a wet towel. He would also take a heavy weight plate, place it on top of the football, and then stand on it and roll it around. Others would soak balls in evaporated milk or lemon juice. Some would microwave footballs or bake them in an oven.

The K-balls (or kicking balls) don't travel as far as game-worn balls, and they can't be "guided" as accurately as roundish, softer balls. The K-balls aren't a different size than a regular NFL football, but players describe them as harder and slicker than the average NFL football. When the K-Ball was first introduced in 1999, the original goal was that every kick had a new ball. When that didn't work, a dozen K-Balls were rotated throughout a game to ensure that each one was kicked the same number of times.

But after quarterback Tony Romo, also the Cowboys holder at the time, was unable to handle a brand-new K-ball in a Dallas playoff game in 2007 against the Seattle Seahawks, and his fumble that cost his team a win, the rules were changed again. The dozen K-balls were numbered 1-12, and ball No. 1 was used on the initial kickoff and remained in play until it was no longer an option, at which point K-Ball No. 2 was used and so on and so forth.

Today, according to Rule 2, Section 2 of the NFL Rulebook, six new footballs are shipped directly to the referee of each game and are opened in the officials' locker room exactly two hours and 15 minutes prior to kickoff. The K-Balls are all specifically marked by the referee and used only in kicking situations.

May 24, 2022
SHAUN CHALMER FROM BENDIGO, AUSTRALIA: Saw that we "terminated" John Simon's contract. What's the difference if there is any between terminating a contract rather than "releasing them?"

ANSWER: The difference in the terminology used reflects John Simon's years of service in the NFL. Players with fewer than four years of NFL service are waived, which means they go on the waiver wire and can be claimed by any team interested, and if claimed the player must play for the claiming team or not play at all. A player such as Simon, who was terminated, has four or more years of NFL service, which means he now is free to play for any team interested in him.

May 12, 2022
MICHAEL KUZMINSKI FROM WARREN, PA: If you had to pick the most iconic moment at Heinz Field, what would it be?

ANSWER: That's an easy one for me. It has to be Troy Polamalu's 40-yard pick-6 in the 2008 AFC Championship Game vs. the Ravens that provided the clinching points in a 23-14 victory that sent the Steelers to Super Bowl XLIII, where they won the sixth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history with a 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals.