AFC North: Dan Rooney

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Pittsburgh Steelers' 17-9 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
  • McCain
    He twice shook hands with Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and bumped fists with team president Art Rooney as he stood in front of his locker. If cornerback Brice McCain, who signed with the Steelers in March and did not play in the first two games because of a groin injury, had questioned his place on the team, he doesn’t anymore. McCain turned in the play of the game when he returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown that stretched out a lead that had been whittled to one point. The cornerbacks played really well as a group as Cortez Allen had the Steelers’ other interception while McCain, Allen and William Gay combined for all six of the defense’s pass breakups. “Picks come in bunches, so I hope this is the start of something big for the secondary, for our defense,” McCain said after the Steelers improved to 3-2. “That’s how the Steelers are supposed to play. You’re supposed to make plays all day and come down and hit people.”
  • Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, dressed and ready to leave Jacksonville, found time for a quick teaching moment while exiting the visiting locker room at EverBank Field. Engaging the pint-sized Ivan Taylor, whose father Ike has played cornerback for the Steelers since 2003, Tomlin told him, “Keep your eyes up and see what you hit.” That is one of the most important fundamentals in football, and Tomlin preached it after a game in which the Steelers were pretty solid when it came to the basics. They blocked and tackled well and had just seven penalties for 50 yards. The Steelers had been penalized an average of 11 times through their first four games. "I'm pleased that they were down," Tomlin said. "We had a couple of things I didn't like, but I'm not looking for perfection in that area. We're not going to play a perfect game, but I do want to see fundamental things, and I thought I did today."
  • An illegal hands-to-the-face penalty against left tackle Kelvin Beachum wiped out a 17-yard catch by Antonio Brown and ultimately prevented the two-time Pro Bowler from a 100-yard game against the secondary that has been the worst statistically in the NFL. Brown finished with 84 yards on five catches, including a 30-yarder that he took away from Jaguars cornerback Will Blackmon on a key third down. Brown said after the Steelers outlasted the Jaguars that he did not care he had come within a penalty of his third 100-yard receiving game of the season. “Just chasing victories,” Brown said. “Winning is everything.” Brown extended his streak of catching at least five passes for 50 yards to 21 games, which is an NFL record.
Franco Harris, Jimmy WarrenAP Photo/Harry Cabluck
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This is the first of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. Please vote for your choice as the Steelers' most memorable play.

Score: Steelers 13, Raiders 7
Date: Dec. 23, 1972 Site: Three Rivers Stadium

Steelers founder Art Rooney was already headed to the elevator by the time Terry Bradshaw unleashed the last-gasp pass that started perhaps the most memorable play in NFL history.

The gregarious, stogie-chomping owner wanted to get to the field to congratulate his coaches and players on a successful season.

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There was a reason the man affectionately known as "The Chief" and the Steelers fans who streamed toward the exits had already conceded defeat in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game.

The Steelers were facing a fourth-and-10 from their own 40-yard line with no timeouts and a dying clock working against them when Bradshaw dropped back to pass.

Bradshaw escaped a heavy rush before firing a pass down the middle of the field.

Raiders safety Jack Tatum and Steelers running back Frenchy Fuqua arrived at the same time as Bradshaw’s throw, and the ball shot back from the Raiders’ 35-yard line.

Rookie running back Franco Harris had been trailing the play, and, in one of the seminal moments in Steelers history, heard the voice of the man who, ironically, had turned down Pittsburgh’s head-coaching job in 1969, which later went to Chuck Noll.

Penn State's Joe Paterno had always exhorted his players to run to the ball, and in that moment, Harris followed his college coach’s voice to the ball. He scooped it up just before it hit the rock-hard turf at Three Rivers Stadium and, with mere seconds left on the clock, started galloping down the left sideline.

Harris outraced several Raiders to the end zone and stiff-armed defensive back Jimmy Warren before scoring the touchdown that produced the first playoff victory in Steelers history.

Had instant replay reversal rules been in place then, Harris’ score might not have stood since it would have been an illegal pass if Fuqua had touched the ball first.

But the officials ruled it a legal catch on the field after confusion and hysteria had initially ensued, imbuing the dramatic play with controversy and fueling a Steelers-Raiders rivalry that came to define the NFL in the 1970s.

The Steelers lost to the Dolphins the following week in the AFC Championship Game, but "The Immaculate Reception," as it was dubbed by legendary Pittsburgh sportscaster Myron Cope, is widely credited with putting the Steelers on a track to win four Super Bowls from 1974 to 1979.

"I rank it as high as it could be for giving the Steelers the feeling they could be a great team," Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney has said, "that there might be divine intervention, because that play was so remarkable that is hard to believe."

 
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers players from multiple eras -- including this one -- attended Chuck Noll's funeral on Tuesday morning in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

[+] EnlargeRoger Goodell, Mel Blount
John Heller/AP PhotoNFL commisioner Roger Goodell and former Steelers CB Mel Blount embrace before Tuesday's funeral service for Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh.
Former Steelers greats such as Joe Greene, Franco Harris and John Stallworth were there. So were current players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and Ike Taylor.

Commissioner Roger Goodell represented the NFL at the service that lasted just over an hour and turned out to be the simple goodbye that Noll, who passed away Friday at the age of 82, would have wanted.

Make that demanded.

Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin also attended the funeral with Rooney II, the Steelers' president, joining Greene as one of the pallbearers.

No players spoke at the service but a handful of them talked afterward about what Noll meant to them and his legacy:

Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene played for the Steelers from 1969-81 and was Noll's first-ever draft pick.

"I used to be very, very bad-tempered with officials and Chuck said, ‘You know Joe, those guys have families and kids and they probably don't like you talking to them like that,' and I stopped doing it. He just had a way of sharing information with you that was long lasting. There's not many days that go by when I don't think back on something that Charles Henry Noll said. Anytime I was around Chuck it was a learning experience. Just an outstanding person."

Offensive tackle Jon Kolb played for the Steelers from 1969-81 and then coached under Noll with the Steelers from 1982-91.

"I got to coach with him also for 10 years and he made the point to coaches that the game is about the players. We're here to help the players prepare. That was what he wanted to do and I believe just from the talks I had with him, he didn't just want to prepare for the moment and the season but preparation for life, which is not the norm."

[+] EnlargeJohn Banaszak
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoJohn Banaszak recalls the opportunity Chuck Noll provided for him as a Steelers' defensive lineman.
John Banaszak played defensive tackle and defensive end for the Steelers from 1975-81.

"I was an undrafted rookie free agent and there were 17 draft choices in front of me, but Chuck gave me an opportunity and a chance to make that football team and I took advantage of it. I think whether or not I would have played seven years or I would have been (cut) two weeks into (his first) training camp he would have had a very big impact on me anyway. I learned that whether you're in business or you're a football coach or a football player, fundamentals are the essential parts of being successful. He stressed that regularly."

Tight end Mike Mularkey played for the Steelers from 1989-91 and coaches tight ends for the Tennessee Titans.

"You like to be around guys that like playing football and want to do it the right way. That's all he ever asked of his players, and I just told that to my guys in my (meeting) room this past week. He's the best coach I was fortunate to play for but I've gotten more from Chuck off the field about how to do things the right way. Family was important and a balance in life was important, and he showed that every day in his life. I hate to be here under these circumstances but I'm glad I got a chance to be here."

• Read more: A collection of memories from Steelers who played for or coached with Noll.
PITTSBURGH -- The tears that made it hard for Maurkice Pouncey to talk Thursday afternoon also cut short what should have been a celebratory news conference.

Emotion choked the Pittsburgh Steelers center, and it emanated from the day last September when a teammate crashed into his right knee and left Pouncey in the kind of pain that made him wonder if he would ever walk well enough to play football again -- or at least at a high level.

What also had to overwhelm Pouncey: Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, team president Art Rooney II, general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin all attended the official announcement of the five-year contract extension he signed nine months after tearing several ligaments in his right knee, including his ACL.

[+] EnlargeMaurkice Pouncey
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesMaurkice Pouncey is the only center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons.
Their presence as much as the new deal that could be worth as much as $44 million, affirmed to Pouncey that he is a Steeler.

And there is a difference between that and playing for the Steelers.

“It’s true love here,” Pouncey said shortly after the Steelers concluded organized team activities. “I’ll do anything for this team and I’m ready to lead us to where we’ve got to get back to.”

The Steelers concluded that Pouncey is one of the keys to them re-establishing themselves as perennial Super Bowl contenders following consecutive 8-8 seasons.

They made a bold move with the contract that is now the most lucrative for a center in the NFL.

They also made the correct move in locking up Pouncey long-term after the Jaguars had raised the ante at the position by signing Alex Mack to a five-year, $42 million contract (the Browns later matched it to retain Mack).

Pouncey is the only center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. His teammates respect him so much that they voted Pouncey a captain last season, not much more than a month after he had celebrated his 24th birthday. And Pouncey is the kind of player you build around on the offensive line, especially if your goal is to maximize Ben Roethlisberger's remaining seasons as a top-tier quarterback, something that Colbert has stated.

Questions have been raised about Pouncey and whether the 2010 first-round pick is prone to injury. But he had missed just three regular-season games prior to 2013.

And the injuries he suffered in the Steelers’ season opener were a result of nothing more than rotten luck, as friendly fire took Pouncey out after right guard David DeCastro whiffed on an attempted cut block.

The Steelers are obviously comfortable with Pouncey’s injury history as well as where he is from a health standpoint nine months after hurting his right knee. Pouncey’s teammates, meanwhile, were nothing short of ecstatic about his new deal.

And not because Pouncey is likely to pick up the next couple of dinner tabs.

“He worked his butt off so we’re glad to have the team commit to him like that,” Steelers left guard Ramon Foster said. “We’re more excited than he is about it.”

Just not as emotional.

“I was just telling coach (Tomlin) it seems like five years all over again, and I’m ready to start this path and help this team get back to where we need to,” said Pouncey, who turns 25 the day before the Steelers report to training camp. “This is really an awesome feeling and words can’t really say enough about it.”
PITTSBURGH -- The first day of the NFL draft usually has the feel of Christmas Eve at the Pittsburgh Steelers' headquarters because of the anticipation.

It figures to be a little more somber this year following the death of longtime scout Bill Nunn, who passed away Tuesday night of complications from a stroke.

Nunn worked until the end of a life that spanned nearly nine decades -- and probably provided enough stories to fill nine books. He left an indelible imprint on the Steelers, and he is one of the most significant figures in the franchise’s storied history.

The Steelers' success in the 1970s probably doesn't happen without Bill Nunn.

Think about that for a second.

Also consider that Nunn did much more than put the Steelers on a path to greatness by opening doors for them at historically black colleges. Nunn created opportunities for African-American players when he worked as a newspaper man.

As the sports editor of The Pittsburgh Courier, a newspaper that could claim a national following and a social conscience, Nunn put together an annual Black College All-America football team.

Some teams used this as a draft guide back when there wasn't exhaustive coverage of the annual selection process. And when Mel Kiper Jr.’s hair didn't have multiple Twitter accounts.

As Steelers.com’s Bob Labriola wrote in a retrospective, Nunn discovered players such as Deacon Jones before he joined the Steelers in 1967 and helped change the course of a staggering franchise.

He is more well-known for the latter, and in the almost 50 years Nunn spent with the Steelers, he came to embody the spirit of Art Rooney, the Steelers' founder who was affectionately known as “The Chief.”

There certainly were similarities between the two.

Both lived fascinating lives and seemed to know everybody in Pittsburgh. Those who were around both on a regular basis spoke in reverential terms about them in part because of their ability to connect with people.

The social change that Nunn helped bring about in the NFL no doubt influenced Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who hired Nunn and successfully pushed for more diversity in the league after he became one of the power brokers in it.

The so-called Rooney Rule, enacted in 2003, requires teams to interview at least one minority when hiring a head coach or general manager.

Art and Dan Rooney are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for their contributions to the NFL, and hopefully Nunn will one day join them there.

When you look at how he shaped the NFL’s greatest dynasty to the opportunities he created for African-American players and those in NFL front offices and scouting departments, it’s pretty easy to see that there has to be some place in Canton for Nunn.
PITTSBURGH -- Several Pittsburgh Steelers applauded the NBA for imposing a lifetime ban on Donald Sterling in the wake of the racist comments the league says the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers made in a recorded conversation.

The controversy, which transcended sports, prompted players such as defensive end Cameron Heyward to express how much they appreciate playing for the Rooney family, which has owned the Steelers since their inception in 1933.

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"I’m very blessed and humbled to be part of an organization that values their workers," Heyward said on Tuesday, shortly before NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced the Sterling ban. "It’s just an unfortunate situation with what’s going on out there. A lot of organizations can learn from it and just grow from it."

Steelers left tackle Kelvin Beachum said Silver did the right thing in taking a hard line against Sterling.

"I think it was needed," Beachum said. "What [Sterling] did was not right and was very disappointing. If I was a player for him I would be very disappointed to know that my owner spoke like that, especially being of African-American descent."

When asked if the controversy showed the contrast between Sterling and Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney, Beachum chuckled.

"It’s not even a comparison," the third-year veteran said. "Ever since I’ve known the Rooneys they’ve been cordial. You never hear anything that’s negative in any way. Any man that can come up and shake your hand and talk to you and have a great relationship with you, and you know genuinely that’s how he feels, that’s a great thing. I’ve had that with [Dan Rooney and Steelers president Art Rooney II]."

Dan Rooney is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he has long been at the forefront of promoting diversity in the NFL. He pushed for a requirement enacted in 2003 that requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate when hiring a general manager or head coach, and it is commonly known as the Rooney Rule.

Veteran wide receiver Lance Moore played the previous nine seasons in New Orleans before signing with the Steelers last month.

He said he is fortunate to have played for an owner like Tom Benson in New Orleans and now for the Rooney family.

“Tom Benson did things the right way. He made sure his players were taken care of, and the players in turn played hard for him,” Moore said. “The Rooneys, from the short time I’ve been here as well as what I’ve heard about them, they are awesome. They are all about their players and their organization and doing things the right way.”
Ben RoethlisbergerAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarBen Roethlisberger, the Steelers' first-round pick in 2004, has forever impacted the franchise.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers needed more than a little luck to end their long search for the rightful heir to Terry Bradshaw, the quarterback they had taken first overall in the 1970 NFL draft.

Ten years ago today -- and almost a quarter of a century after they selected Bradshaw by winning a coin toss to secure the top pick over the Chicago Bears -- the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick.

As with Bradshaw, the pick set the franchise on a glorious course.

Bradshaw struggled early in his career and was benched and booed by fans before winning four Super Bowls, but with Roethlisberger, the Steelers got a serious return on their quarterback investment earlier than anyone could have expected.



An injury to starter Tommy Maddox in the second game of the 2004 season thrust Roethlisberger into action. And the quarterback who had been considered more of a project than the two picked ahead of him (Eli Manning and Philip Rivers) because he hadn't played against top competition at Miami (Ohio) responded by winning his first 14 starts.

The Steelers suffered a disappointing loss to Tom Brady and the Patriots in the 2004 AFC Championship Game, but they finally found their quarterback after going through their share of them following Bradshaw's retirement in 1984.

Roethlisberger led the Steelers to three Super Bowls from 2005 to 2010, winning two of them, and he showed a flair for extending plays after his pass protection had collapsed, as well as directing clutch fourth-quarter drives -- both the result of a competitive streak that is as long as one of the three rivers that converge in Pittsburgh.

He authored his signature comeback in Super Bowl XLIII when the Steelers trailed the upstart Arizona Cardinals by three points and were backed up at their 10-yard line with less than three minutes left in the game.

Roethlisberger needed eight plays and a little more than two minutes to lead the Steelers to a game-winning touchdown, capping the drive with a 6-yard scoring pass to Santonio Holmes.

The pass was vintage Roethlisberger: daring and something more likely seen in a backyard game, not the NFL's biggest stage. Roethlisberger unleashed the pass under pressure, throwing it into a crowd but only where his receiver had a chance to catch it.

That unlikely play, in retrospect, serves as something of a metaphor for Roethlisberger's Steelers career, because so much had to break just right for him to wear black and gold in the first place.

“We didn't expect that he would end up in Pittsburgh,” Ryan Tollner, Roethlisberger's agent, said.

Indeed, 10 teams picked ahead of the Steelers in the 2004 draft, including the Browns, who would have been hailed for taking the Ohio native to lift the struggling franchise.

And Roethlisberger's camp didn't know to what extent he was on the Steelers' radar.

The team had met with Roethlisberger at the NFL scouting combine and also hosted him for a pre-draft visit, but they never worked him out. Tollner figured he would go to the Raiders at No. 2, the Cardinals at No. 3, the Giants at No. 4 or the Browns at No. 6.

If none of those teams drafted Roethlisberger, Tollner thought, Buffalo at No. 13 would be the probable landing spot for his client.

Meanwhile, another member of Roethlisberger's inner circle was convinced the Giants were going to draft him. Terry Hoeppner, his coach at Miami, had spoken extensively with Ernie Accorsi about Roethlisberger and had gotten a good vibe from the Giants' general manager.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/John Marshall MantelQB Ben Roethlisberger hasn't forgotten about all of the teams -- especially the Browns -- who bypassed him in the 2004 draft.
That is why when the Giants drafted Rivers -- they subsequently dealt him to the Chargers for Manning, who had been taken first overall -- Hoeppner fired a water bottle in disgust across the table where he was sitting with Roethlisberger and others at the draft in New York City.

The Redskins took safety Sean Taylor with the fifth pick, providing an opening for the Browns, who needed a quarterback after Tim Couch, the first overall selection in 1999, didn't pan out.

"[Roethlisberger] is a northwest Ohio kid, and played in-state at Miami of Ohio and here the Browns are, they've struggled at the quarterback position for a long time," Tollner said. "Ben is sitting there and they elect to go with a tight end. It's something Ben's never forgotten and he never will."

The Browns' picking tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. proved to be one of the draft's pivotal points. But the Steelers also came close to passing over Roethlisberger after he lasted through the first 10 picks.

The team had zeroed in on Arkansas offensive tackle Shawn Andrews, but owner Dan Rooney deftly shifted the conversation to Roethlisberger before the Steelers made their pick.

Rooney had good reason to speak up.

The Steelers had built their dynasty in the 1970s -- and transformed an organization once synonymous with losing -- through shrewd drafting.

They had missed an opportunity near the end of Bradshaw's career when they passed on local legend Dan Marino in the 1983 draft and instead selected Texas Tech defensive tackle Gabe Rivera with the 21st pick.

The Dolphins pounced on Marino with the 27th selection, and his strong arm and quick-as-a-hiccup release allowed the Pitt product to become an early star in Miami and eventually a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer.

The Steelers, meanwhile, shuffled through enough quarterbacks in the post-Bradshaw era that seven different players led them in passing from 1983 to 2003.

Rooney fretted that overlooking Roethlisberger also might come back to haunt the Steelers.

"I couldn't bear the thought of passing on another great quarterback prospect," Rooney wrote in his book "Dan Rooney: My 75 Years With The Pittsburgh Steelers and The NFL."

"So I steered the conversation around to Roethlisberger. After some more talk, we came to a consensus and picked Roethlisberger."

Ten years later, Roethlisberger remains the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl -- he was only 23 when the Steelers beat the Seahawks in February 2006 -- and joins Eli Manning and Brady as the only active quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl victories.

Roethlisberger, who turned 32 in March, already has broken many of Bradshaw's Steelers records and is five victories away from becoming the 13th quarterback in NFL history to win at least 100 regular-season games.

It hasn't all been smooth for Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.

A motorcycle accident after his first Super Bowl victory left Roethlisberger seriously injured and may have contributed to his uneven play in 2006. And two sexual assault allegations made against him less than a year apart led to a four-game personal-conduct policy suspension by the NFL at the beginning of the 2010 season (Roethlisberger was never charged with a crime).

Roethlisberger since has rehabilitated his image, gotten married and started a family. He is considerably closer to the end of his career than the beginning of it, though he played every snap last season.

It's safe to say Roethlisberger is one of the best draft choices in Steelers history -- and the most critical one to reconnecting the team that has won a record six Lombardi trophies with its triumphant past.

Oh, and yeah, Roethlisberger is 19-1 in his career against the Browns, the most notable and personal of the teams that passed on him 10 years ago.

"I think that Ben getting where he did in hindsight was the best thing that could have happened to him because he went to a strong organization but he went in a position that kept him feeling like an underdog," Tollner said. "He entered the league a very respectable pick at No. 11 overall but very driven to prove that 10 teams made a very bad mistake in passing on him."

Ike Taylor, Steelers a natural fit

March, 10, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- It made sense for the Steelers and Ike Taylor to get a deal done that will work for both sides.

The Steelers could not afford to lose a cornerback --- even one whose best days are behind him -- and Taylor did not want to finish his career anywhere else.

Taylor
Presto, the contract that saves the Steelers $4.25 million in salary-cap money this year and allows Taylor to play his entire career in Pittsburgh, one that started after the Steelers unearthed a project out of Louisiana-Lafayette in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL draft.

It's tempting to wonder where Taylor would rank among the all-time Steelers' defensive backs -- and how many Pro Bowls he would have made -- had his hands cooperated as much as his coverage skills did while shadowing opponents' wide receivers.

Even with only 14 career interceptions in 11 regular seasons -- and let us not forget the pick against the Seahawks that helped Pittsburgh win Super Bowl XL -- Taylor's place in Steelers history is secure.

And he is not quite done yet.

A source told ESPN.com that Taylor had no interest in leaving the Steelers and that he wanted to do whatever he could to stay with the organization and help it return to Super Bowl contender status following back-to-back 8-8 seasons.

Hence the pay cut that satisfies both sides.

It is no secret that Taylor has an incredibly close relationship with chairman emeritus Dan Rooney, who is on a short list of candidates for a Steelers Mount Rushmore.

But his new contract is more a product of practicality than nostalgia, and Taylor gets one more season to add to his Steelers legacy -- while also serving as a bridge to the cornerbacks it is incumbent upon Pittsburgh to sign or draft.

Or both.
Politics, NCAA violations, weight issues and draft strategy. Yes, your wake-up call covers a wide spectrum Friday ...

RAVENS: Nose tackle Terrence Cody acknowledged to the team's official website that he "didn't play that well" in 2012. Cody said he struggled to maintain his strength after going from 370 pounds in college to 325 pounds last season. “That was Mount Cody. That’s my old self,” Cody said, referencing his college nickname. “Now I’m like ‘Speed Bump Cody’ because I’m smaller.” Cody, who lost his starting job last season, will have more competition on the defensive line this year after Baltimore signed Chris Canty and Marcus Spears in free agency.

BENGALS: Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick disputed a report that he was part of the alleged recruiting violations at Auburn. In the report, former Auburn cornerback Mike McNeil said coaches gave him $500 to entertain Kirkpatrick during a 2008 recruiting visit. NCAA rules limit student athletes to spend less than $50 per day on visiting prospects. Kirkpatrick ended up playing for Alabama. "Nobody gave me any money, and nobody spent any money on me that I know of," Kirkpatrick told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "I don’t know what they would have spent it on. We went to a party, but nobody was paying to get in there. We just walked in like everybody else seemed to be doing.”

STEELERS: Back as the chairman of the Steelers, Dan Rooney reflected on his three years as the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, a role in which his immediate boss was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Rooney told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Secretary Clinton would tell me, 'I want you to go to the Irish government and tell them this is how we feel. We hope they will be on our side.' There were many times that they did not agree. Sometimes, they wouldn't agree, and it would end, and then you had to go back." Rooney said it's not all that different when it comes to persuading politicians or fellow NFL owners. "There are a lot of similarities in dealing with people," he said.

BROWNS: As the Canton Repository pointed out, the Philadelphia Eagles made a deal involving a top-40 pick in eight consecutive drafts during Joe Banner's time as team president. Now that Banner is the Browns' chief executive officer, is Cleveland looking to make a deal? “My history has been more trading down than up or staying,” Banner said recently. “I have had some instances where we’ve traded up for a player we thought was really good at a position we thought was difference-making. But historically I have either stayed or traded back. Accumulating picks over the course of the draft is a good strategy generally.” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. believes the Browns will have a chance to move down from the No. 6 overall pick because teams will want to jump in front of Arizona (No. 7 overall) to get an offensive tackle like Central Michigan's Eric Fisher or Oklahoma's Lane Johnson.
This weekend is perhaps the worst one of the year. It's the first without football. The next NFL game is the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 4, which is 178 days away. Luckily for us, there's something called free agency and the draft to keep us occupied. Right now, it's a very slow period in terms of NFL news. You'll see what I'm talking about when you read the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Coach John Harbaugh said Haloti Ngata's knee injury is "nothing serious." Ngata, a Pro Bowl defensive tackle, missed the final quarter of the Super Bowl with the injury and had an MRI on Thursday. "There are some things in there we’ll just have to see," Harbaugh said, via the team's website. "It won’t be anything that should keep him out of training camp or anything like that." Harbaugh also addressed the condition of inside linebacker Jameel McClain, who suffered a spinal cord contusion in Week 14 and was eventually placed on injured reserve. “I’m very optimistic based on what Ozzie [Newsome, general manager] shared with us yesterday," Harbaugh said.

BENGALS: Geoff Hobson from the team's official website believes the Bengals are going to add a running back but it's not going to come in free agency. "I think they're looking young and fast and with three picks in the first 54 (of the draft), look for him somewhere in there," Hobson wrote. "There are a lot of backs out there and they should be able to get a solid speedster at one of those selections to team with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Is it going to be Ray Rice? Who knows? At No. 55, Ray Rice wasn't supposed to be Ray Rice."

STEELERS: In the third annual Shear Da Beard, defensive end Brett Keisel removed his signature facial hair. Teammates, coaches and even chairman Dan Rooney crammed into a packed Pittsburgh restaurant for the shaving event, which benefits the cancer programs at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. "My (2-year-old) daughter came in the door and she was like 'Who is that? I don't know him,'" Keisel told the team's official website. "I had to get my voice out to her and make sure she realized it was me talking to her. She finally warmed up to me."

BROWNS: The team completed its coaching staff by announcing the hirings of John Settle (running backs), Ken Flajole (inside linebackers), Steve Gera (special assistant to the head coach), Chris DiSanto (assistant strength and conditioning) and Derik Keyes (assistant strength and conditioning). “The additions of Ken and John, as well as Chris, Derik and Steve, round out what I believe is an extremely strong group of coaches with diverse backgrounds, covering many years of experience at both the NFL and collegiate levels,” head coach Rob Chudzinski said. “They are all outstanding teachers and leaders who will bring out the best in our players.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Could the Pittsburgh Steelers play a regular-season game in Ireland?

If Dan Rooney has his way, it will eventually happen. League officials visited Dublin's Croke Park this year and found the venue "very attractive."

"I think sometime very soon it will happen and I think the commissioner is interested in working something out and, sure, I'd like to see the Steelers involved," Rooney told the BBC News-Northern Ireland site.

Rooney has been the United States ambassador to Ireland since 2009.

Hensley's slant: I've never been in favor of moving regular-season games from fans here in the United States, especially the ones who pack their home stadiums. I understand that the owners want to market the game internationally. That generates more revenue. I just dislike the fact that one of the eight games at Heinz Field in a given season could get displaced because of Ireland.

BENGALS: ESPN's John Clayton told the Bengals' official website that he is going to wait before giving a final grade to the Bengals, but he thinks Cincinnati is going to be in the hunt thanks to another big draft. "They're not as good as Pittsburgh and Baltimore yet," Clayton said. "(But) let's put it this way. I think they're going to be contending for years." Clayton questions the addition of running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. "He's never carried it very much or been the lead guy," Clayton said. "He isn't used to a lot of carries and he's going to a running division and running team." Hensley's slant: There weren't any explosive running backs available in free agency. Cincinnati had to choose between Green-Ellis and Michael Bush. Green-Ellis provides more ball security and more power in the red zone.

BROWNS: Josh Cribbs set career highs in receptions (41), receiving yards (518) and touchdown catches (four) last season. He still believes he can make an impact as a wide receiver. “I’m going to catch the ball when it’s thrown to me,” Cribbs told the Browns' official website. “I’m excited about getting the ball in my hands and doing something with it. I’m still proving to the naysayers about catching the football, but I have no problem proving everybody wrong.” Hensley's slant: Cribbs might not get his way, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Cribbs isn't expected to come close to his 567 offensive snaps from last season because he is expected to see "heavy duty" on special teams. The Plain Dealer reported the Browns hope Josh Cooper and/or Jordan Norwood can fill the third receiver spot.

RAVENS: The Ravens’ medical staff has been examining sleep studies put together by the U.S. military to determine if it would make sense to change the team’s schedule when heading to the West Coast. One change would be to slowly move back morning meetings throughout the week (the morning meetings would begin 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday but start at 10:15 a.m. by Friday) so players will get acclimated to West Coast times. "We’re turning over every stone, looking at everything in our program, to find any way to get better,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh told the Ravens' official website. Hensley's slant: A change is probably in order for the Ravens. Last season, half of their regular-season losses came on the West Coast. Baltimore lost at Seattle (22-17) and at San Diego (34-14). The Ravens' only West Coast trip this season is at San Diego on Nov. 25.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was asked if he was "more convinced than ever" about quarterback Joe Flacco's ability to lead the team to the Super Bowl after his performance in the AFC Championship Game.

"Not more. I'm as convinced," Bisciotti told the Baltimore Sun at the NFL owners meetings. "The question has never been raised behind closed doors, 'Are we sure Joe is our guy?' Not once. Not by anybody, not by scouts, coaches, ownership. It just does not come up. What he needs to do to improve always comes up, but that comes up with every player in our personnel meetings. He has to get better, but every one on our team has to get better. He's no different except that he gets a disproportionate amount of attention."

Bisciotti, though, couldn't provide any information on the ongoing contract talks with Flacco and running back Ray Rice.

"They don't give me updates really," he said. "[Vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty] and Ozzie [Newsome] have their numbers. They're deep into, I'm sure, both of them. All I know is they're suiting up for me this year. To me, that makes it easier for me to see. I'll always watch with interest as most of our fans do, and all I can do is go back on our track record of all of our other great players and it always seems to work out."

Hensley's slant: Bisciotti said last year that the Ravens would start negotiations on a long-term deal with Flacco in 2012, and he followed through on that this offseason. But we'll see the level of the team's commitment and confidence in Flacco when the length and details of the eventual new contract are revealed.

BENGALS: Team owner Mike Brown said he doesn't think the Bengals were targeted for bounties by the Saints. The Bengals played the Saints twice in a three-year period when the bounties occurred. In one preseason game, quarterback Carson Palmer suffered a high ankle sprain when he tried to pull the ball down on a busted play and a Saints defender rolled on it. “I never had a sense when we played them that they were playing in an illegal fashion or trying to hurt us,” Brown told the Cincinnati Enquirer. Hensley's slant: I'm still confused how players are motivated by bounties. For the most part, the reward for taking out a player was $15,000. A player under contract for $1 million that season makes four times that amount for that game. Is it really worth it?

BROWNS: General manager Tom Heckert said talk that players don't want to come to Cleveland is "crazy." He told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "We had great talks with a lot of people and people think we are going in the right direction. It's really the exact opposite. The people we've talked to, it has nothing do with Cleveland. They want to play here. There's a reason why D'Qwell Jackson wanted to come back here. We signed Joe Thomas. Joe told us he wouldn't have signed back here if he didn't think we were going in the right direction. So I think there's a lot of positive things.'' Hensley's slant: I don't believe the notion that players are avoiding Cleveland. The reason that free agents haven't come to the Browns is because they're getting outbid by teams like the Redskins. And draft picks will be happier to get picked by the Browns when the franchise can get back to its winning ways.

STEELERS: Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney downplayed his appearance at the NFL owners meetings even though there are strong indications that the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland will step down from his current post after 2012."It's great to be here," Rooney told Pittsburgh reporters, "but my job is in Ireland. I take it very seriously." Rooney hadn't attended the meetings since 2009. Hensley's slant: The Patriots' Robert Kraft summed up the owners' affection for Rooney the best when he said, "He has that special glow, like the elder statesman that you respect, just the classic guy. He always has had the league's best interest at heart."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Before yesterday's Hall of Fame class was named, former Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown tweeted not to watch the announcement because he wasn't selected.

Butler
It seems Brown is mad that he wasn't selected in his third year of eligibility. If you took Brown's advice and didn't watch, you missed out on Steelers defensive back Jack Butler getting elected into the Hall of Fame after a 52-year wait. Yes, more than a half century.

Butler, 84, one of two senior nominees, was a four-time Pro Bowl player who retired after the 1959 season. His election was refreshing compared to the players today who expect to make it.

"I never, ever, ever thought I would be here. I just didn't think that would be the reality," Butler said. "When I was a kid, I dreamed about being a big, strong, good football player. I dreamed of about going to Canton, Ohio, and being in the Hall of Fame. But I never, ever down deep believed what I was dreaming."

Butler was named one of the 33 greatest Steelers of all time in 2008. His 52 interceptions were the second-most in the NFL at the time his career ended. With 52 interceptions in 103 games, Butler has the best interception rate (50.5 percent) of any player in the Hall of Fame.

“Jack was one player,” longtime Pittsburgh executive Dan Rooney said, via the team's website, “who could have played with the great Steelers teams of the 1970s.”
Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North: Morning take: Not likely. The Ravens have enough receivers over the age of 30 in Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin. They need to get younger and faster at the position, not older and slower.
  • Cleveland Browns linebacker/defensive end and pending free agent Matt Roth says he prefers to play for a winner next season.
Morning take: Roth likely isn't returning. He was unhappy with the Browns last year after not receiving a long-term extension and doesn't want to go through another rebuilding process.
Morning take: Rooney has been a key figure in labor piece for about two decades. But he has plenty of work on his hands now as the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.
Morning take: The Bengals are hard at work and need to be during this NFL lockout. Time will tell whether these players workouts will help, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

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