Badger me

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“It’s a great day for hockey” was the favorite saying of legendary late Penguins coach “Badger” Bob Johnson. That sentiment sort of echoed the sentiments of Chicago Cubs hall-of-fame infielder Ernie Banks who would, if left up to him, play a doubleheader every day.

As I settled into the press box at Mellon Arena to cover my first Penguins game of the 2009-10 season, I ran into colleague Josh Yohe. Josh said, “Aubrey I’m not sure if you know it or not but the Devils have two players of color on their roster, Mark Fraser and Bryce Salvador.

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AUBREY BRUCE

I wasn’t aware of that but I do know that it was definitely a tidbit of info that was right on time being as though legendary NHL strongman, Georges Laraque is no longer on my beat. By the way, the former Pens enforcer is now with the Montreal Canadiens and will bring his fearsome style and muscle to Mellon Arena on Nov. 25 when Montreal invades the Igloo.

Hockey is a game that more African-Americans will like, the more they are exposed to it. When a player scores a goal, there is no bling-bling. Usually after a few hugs and fist pumps it is back to business. On Jan. 18, 1958 it was a beautiful “night” for hockey because the Boston Bruins shut out the mighty Canadiens 3-0. This was also the night that the first Black man skated in the National Hockey League. But Willie O’Ree cared little about that distinction.

“Back then,” he says, “it just didn’t dawn on me. I was just concerned about playing hockey.”

Most people of color in America do not even know who Mr. O’Ree is so I can honestly assume that there will probably not be a mass pilgrimage to the Mellon Arena by Black Americans anytime soon but I hope that in the near future the Pens will represent more than just a fashion statement in the African-American community.

The Penguins lost to the Devils 4-1 but I agree with “Badger” Bob that every day win, lose or draw is always a “beautiful day for hockey.”

Catnipped

The Steelers lost to the Bengals 18-12. Sounds like a soccer match gone awry. It appears as if Chad Ochocinco, the resident mouth of the Cincinnati Bengals is not as insane as everybody thought. The contest was a poignant reminder of just how limited this “great” Steelers offense really is and how uninspiring Bruce Arians is as a “big league” offensive coordinator. Did you see the Patriots and Colts contest on Sunday night? Now that’s play calling and quarterbacking. First and foremost, I refuse to blame Big Ben or the defense for losing the game because except for a few areas of “trickeration,” Mr. Arians showed me absolutely nada, zilch, zippo as an o-coordinator.

The last possession the Steelers had before Carson Palmer got his knees dirty to seal the deal, was the worst set of plays called for that situation that I have ever seen. With over a minute and a half remaining you can employ an intermediate dink and dunk passing attack, even throwing a few passes in the middle of the field. Any pass attempted over 10 yards is a wasted down. When teams are playing prevent, nickel and dime defenses against you with the clock running low, then the underneath stuff is all you are going to get until you reach or get near the “red zone.” Ochocinco should send a few bottles of “ketchup” to the Steelers top offensive man. Arians needs to “catch up” with the defensive coordinators of the NFL in order for Steelers to do anything consistently on the offensive side of the ball, be it this year or the next.

Big Ben Roethlisberger will never totally reach that elite level unless he has an imaginative coordinator to accentuate and take advantage of all of his positives. If he is better rolling out of the pocket, don’t leave him stationed in the pocket with a “please sack me” or pressure me sign on his chest. If the no-huddle works, use it as your normal offense. Make your QB study film until your entire offensive repertoire can be implemented. Remember former Cincy head coach Sam Wyche and his protégé Boomer Esiason? Well just in case you may have had a memory lapse, they ran the no-huddle to perfection, complete with a play action sleigh of hand element that could be equaled by few teams.

Bruce Arians is unimaginative and uninteresting. His offensive philosophy is almost totally predictable. You do not have to illegally videotape the offensive sequences of Mr. Arians because it seems as if his repertoire of plays is as transparent as they are limited.

But all of the blame cannot be shouldered by the offense or the defense. Special teams for the Steelers have again become “special ed teams” because last Sunday’s matchup was the seventh consecutive game in which Pittsburgh has allowed a kick or punt to be returned for a touchdown. If I were Mike Tomlin I would have the blacksmith in the backroom sharpening the blades on “all” of the guillotines because when in doubt, off with all of their heads.

To prove how dominant that the Bengals defense was, Palmer won the game without even having to pass for a TD. This has not happened since late in the 2007 season. Let’s hope that the Pittsburgh win at Denver was not a fluke because the Cincy Bengals have proven that they are not.

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