Thursday, August 27, 2009

Breaking the Chain: Is NBC Right to Separate Dungy From Vick?

NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol is putting the media on notice: Michael Vick is no longer Tony Dungy's pet reclamation project.

Characterizing Dungy as "a mentor to get [Vick] through that transition from prison to his re-entry to football," Ebersol is trying to remind everyone that Dungy is now a journalist first and a camp counselor, spiritual advisor, puppeteer, whatever you want to call him, second. Which is all well and good, as it's simply Ebersol looking to protect the investment he's made in Dungy.

But it begs the question: How closely does this jibe with Dungy's personal priorities?

If it all came down to Tony having to choose between an athlete needing some spiritual guidance and his Football Night in America analyst's chair...who's to say that Dungy wouldn't just tell Ebersol, "Go with Christ?" (Which is devout-Christian for "Get bent," or so I've heard.)

One thing that struck me after reading Dungy's first book, "Quiet Strength," was how little of it really ended up as a "football book." So much of it was based around more spiritual concerns that it made Tony seem like the kind of guy who would simply walk far away from football after his coaching days concluded. It was also clear that Dungy never intended to be a coaching lifer, feeling instead like he had some kind of higher purpose than implementing new zone blitzes.

The mere fact that he became an NFL analyst was a bit surprising, and honestly, it doesn't seem like a job that fits him very well. He's not an attention-getting, demonstrative analyst, like other ex-coaches such as Jimmy Johnson or Mike Ditka, and that can work against him in a time crunch like we find at halftime, where each game gets shoehorned into 20 or so seconds.

Football has given Dungy a platform from which to convey his spiritual views to a mass audience, and keeping his foot in the door of the NFL makes it seem like he's afraid of losing that name recognition. The cynics are already deciding (see post-article comments behind this link) that Dungy attached himself to Vick for his own benefit much more than Vick's, anyway.

There's no doubt that a journalist's having an advisory connection to an active player constitutes a conflict of interest. That's another perfectly legitimate reason for NBC to make sure that he distances himself. But the operative phrase there should be, "distances himself." A statement of future-endeavors well-wishing from Dungy to Vick needs to come from Dungy himself. Ebersol making the announcement of Tony scaling back his work with Vick carries a very confrontational tone, almost like the announcement is as much to Dungy as about him. Kind of a "back away from him or you're fired" sort of vibe comes off this fairly terse statement.

I'm sure there are several other former coaches that would queue up in a second for a chance to fill Tony's chair on Sunday nights, and personally, I'm not sure I would mind seeing some of them do it. Tony Dungy DOES seem like a man who has greater things on his mind than whether Matt Ryan's learned to carve up zone defenses, and it may be time for him to concentrate on some of them.

He seems a better fit as a minister than a talking head, anyway. And Lord knows he'll do greater good that way.

Friday, August 21, 2009

No Lesson Learned: The NFL Gun Culture Won't End With Plaxico Burress

NFL players are rattled right now. They play a sport that celebrates the air of invincibility and the indiscriminate use of violence to accomplish one's goals.

Yet, outside the workplace, they have come face-to-face with the evidence that the appearance of being bulletproof does not make them invincible, and they're realizing that they must protect themselves.

The deaths of Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams, Redskins safety Sean Taylor, and former Titans quarterback Steve McNair in violent gunshot attacks have players very conscious of their own mortality. This says nothing of the beating of Raiders receiver Javon Walker and the paralysis of Jaguars offensive tackle Richard Collier. Players are now aware that their careers, if not their lives, can be gone in an instant.

It's that very awareness that prompted Burress to take a loaded weapon with him to the Latin Quarter nightclub on November 28, 2008. Nine months later, Burress has pleaded guilty to criminal weapon possession charges and faces a 20-to-24-month jail sentence.

Meanwhile, in the NFL, what will change? Despite the awareness of the dangers awaiting them outside their front doors, the NFL is still a league of men aged 21 to 35 who live on adrenaline. It's not easy to tell these guys that they need to stay home at night.

Walk into your typical nightclub, and you're walking into a combustible mix of things that should be approached with great caution. Testosterone and alcohol can easily create a dangerous situation by themselves, especially in a club environment where no one wants to look weak in front of onlooking females. The danger increases exponentially when deadly weapons are introduced into the situation, especially by a well-known athlete.

As Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger said in a 2008 ESPN The Magazine article, "Depending on the setting, you get guys who just get really gutsy when they get a couple of drinks in them."

The swagger of an NFL athlete, however, dictates that they not back down in the face of aggressively "gutsy" fans. They must be prepared for something to jump off. Unfortunately, preparing for something to happen can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Going in armed can lead to a mindset that says, "If anything goes down, I'm prepared to draw first." That mindset can easily increase the likelihood of an incident, rather than reduce it.

In a 2003 article in the New York Times, former offensive tackle Lomas Brown said "almost every player I knew" owned and carried a gun. None of this is likely to change in the wake of the Burress sentencing.

It can be hoped that players will, however, take the time to consult their attorneys on the gun laws in their area, as Plaxico would have been well-advised to do.

Burress's defenders argue that there was no "criminal intent" behind Plax carrying a gun, but in New York, carrying an unregistered firearm is a criminal act. Burress not knowing that fact does not excuse it, as ignorance of the law is not a legal defense.

It's easy to paint the NFL's players as a crazed pack of gun-toting scofflaws, due to the large media coverage of athletes' legal issues. However, the San Diego Union-Tribune noted in 2008 that NFL players, from 2000 through April of 2008, were a better-behaved lot than society at large.

The general U.S. population was arrested at a rate of one for every 21 people.

NFL players during that time frame were arrested at a rate of 1 in 47, including practice-squad players and those on injured reserve.

To repeat a point, athletes do know that they have quite a bit to lose. There is a need, however, for players to educate and prepare themselves in better fashions. Roethlisberger, as well as former Giants RB and current NBC News reporter Tiki Barber, is public about hiring off-duty police officers for security purposes when he goes out.

Far from making an athlete look weak, having accredited security personnel watching one's back instead of a bunch of friends from the neighborhood is a smart maneuver. That way, a player doesn't go about preparing to defend himself from losing everything in a manner that causes him to take it all away from himself.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Full Moon Fever: Has the NFL Gone Completely Mental This Season?

I've been actively following football for twenty-five years. I like to think I've seen quite a bit from the game in that time. But, to be honest with you, I don't think I've seen a season get ramped up with this much goofiness since the players were walking in off the street in 1987.

First, it's Michael Vick the Eagle. Supposedly, it's all Donovan McNabb's idea, giving the offense another weapon to play with. Fair enough. If Vick's half the player he was when he went inside, he's dangerous. And not just to your pitbulls.

Then, we have McNabb being his usual candid self and saying it'd be great to have a target like Plaxico "O,MFL!" Burress. On one hand, it seems like the usually character-driven Eagles are in danger of being turned into Raiders East, the new halfway house of the NFL. On the other hand, it seems like McNabb's more interested in lobbying for sainthood than polishing his resume for the Hall of Fame. St. Donovan, the patron saint of NFL lost causes. If anyone asks Donovan about Pacman Jones, Philly fans need to run for the hills.

Speaking of the Raiders, they can always be counted on to be some kind of goofy, even boiling down to players fighting in camp. See Williams, Marcus and Romanowski, Bill (the fellas to the left...guess who won the fight).

Now, we have assistant coach Randy Hanson allegedly playing Glass Joe to Tom Cable's Little Mac...even though Cable bears more resemblance to King Hippo, honestly. I love Cable's answers to questions about the incident.

"Sure, I can address it. It's an internal issue that we're dealing with, and that's all I'm gonna say."

Translation: I can address it...but I'm not going to address it. Unfortunately, Tom, once someone got sent to the hospital and the police got involved, it kinda stopped being internal.

If we think we're going to get answers from anyone Raider-affiliated, keep dreaming. The Mafia and Fight Club take tips from Al Davis on ways to keep people from talking. Randy Hanson is, according to the San Jose Mercury News's Tim Kawakami, Al Davis's boy on the staff. As a key witness in Davis's legal war with Lane Kiffin, Hanson may be enjoying the equivalent of diplomatic immunity. He's not been at work since the incident on August 5th, but I'd be quite surprised if he's no longer on the payroll. Knowing Al, he may just pay Hanson to sit home and eat Bon-Bons until the Kiffin case gets settled.

Meanwhile, Cable may get whacked. Figuratively, literally, either way. Depends on Al's mood that day.

Finally, we have Brett Favre allegedly taking career advice from his ten-year-old daughter. Seriously, is his daughter Dakota Fanning? The entire "do what you have to do" speech sounds ripped straight from an Oscar consideration reel. Either your heart melted when he recounted this story, or you rolled your eyes and threw another layer of BS on top of the already sizeable pile that's come out of both Favre and Brad Childress over the last several months. And you might be able to guess that I haven't had to call the mop crew.

And yes, I said several months. Meaning more than three or four. This situation has been in the works for a lot longer than anyone will admit, and it'd shock me if there was no tacit understanding that Brett would show up as soon as he could without going to Mankato State University and bunking in a dorm for training camp.

I do have to give Brett one thing, he didn't do too terribly wrong by the Jets. The Packers had slipped a poison pill into their trade with New York that would have sent three first-rounders to Green Bay if the Jets had traded him to an NFC North team. Favre retired again, let the Jets release him, and got them off the hook for those picks. Good show there. And yes, it's rather sad that I have to applaud a guy for not actively screwing his old team.

Speaking of getting screwed, how long before Tarvaris Jackson goes on Vince Young suicide watch? He and Sage Rosenfels got lied to for months. They may have been the only guys thinking that there might be a chance that Favre would stay retired. But every Viking player needs to pay close attention here, because there but for the grace of God goes every player in that locker room. "We're moving on, we're closing the book, Sage and Tarvaris are our guys...whoops, sorry guys, gotta skip out for a little bit of practice so I can go pick up a GOOD quarterback from the airport." Good luck getting the guys to play to the whistle for all 16 games, Coach.

I'll put it down here, the Vikings go either 7-9 or 8-8, miss the playoffs, and Brad Childress gets fired. The final month of the season, Favre's chucking it 40 times per game, AP's getting 12 carries, and they wonder why the defense starts giving up more points. All that, of course, if the rotator cuff doesn't disintegrate.

If we're going to get any loonier, I think it'll have to entail someone ripping Tom Brady's arm off and letting loose nothing but a shower of sparks and dangling wires. Or Bill Belichick turns out to be one of those Hulu aliens. Or Jared Allen shows up to a game in nothing but a loincloth. Actually, considering the source, that last one just might happen.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Caught In a Mock: It's Just Practice, After All

Yesterday evening, the wife was reading, nothing was on TV, and I had a little spare time on my hands. So, to prepare for another season of fantasy football, I hit up for a mock draft session. Don't judge, I won two leagues last year with this method.

We get into the draft room, it's all full, the first several picks go without incident, although there's mild surprise registered when Larry Fitz goes #6 and Drew Brees gets tagged at #7. Then, some joker decides to grab Tony Romo at #9, and you'd swear someone just farted in church.

One guy, Jason Wade by name, is particularly indignant, but sticks around. We're mildly curious when the same guy who picked Romo takes Marion Barber in the second round.

Then, he goes with Felix Jones in the third, #33 overall. Felix is usually going in the 90's. We're now sensing a pattern.

Fourth round, and it's confirmed: our draft's been trolled. Thank you, Jason Dull, for being a retarded Cowboys homer.

Sam Hurd is the fourth-round pick, and Wade goes ballistic. He posts something to the effect of "Thanks for wasting my time, assholes," and leaves.

First off, to quote Allen Iverson, we're talkin' 'bout practice, man.

Some schmuck drafting Tony Romo #9 in a mock has nothing to do with the way I'm going to win my league again this year. (Yeah, I said it.)

Sam Hurd being a fourth-round pick, what does it do? It throws off other players' draft positions by a spot or two. Big deal. Do another mock and those players that went after Hurd will go higher next time, and it will all even out on your sheets.

And yes, players are doing several mocks these days and keeping sheets of who goes where. Once again, don't judge. If you check multiple websites to comparison shop for a TV, you're doing the same thing.

But back to the point. In the grand scheme of things, this mock means absolutely nothing. None of these mocks mean anything, they're just practice.



Sorry. It's hard to stop.

See, if you're even a big enough football fan to want to own a virtual team, it's highly likely that you're a homer for somebody, too. In my family league, I'm surrounded by people who know their shit, thanks to me getting them into the game five years ago.

But, we're pretty much all big Colts fans, I and another guy are big on the Bears, and we also have lifelong Eagle and Redskin fans in the league. Even with that in mind, though, we're all conscious not to overstep for our favorite team's players just because of the team they play on. Sure, Jon the Redskin Fan drafted Mike Sellers a couple of years ago, but that was 14th round, not 4th. It was a throw-away pick, and he treated it as such.

Jason the Eagle Fan seems to somehow always end up with Donovan McNabb and/or Brian Westbrook on his team, but he drafts them in positions that make sense. Coincidentally, he often gets out to fantastic starts, with McNabb and Westbrook occasionally winning games all by themselves. Then, one or both of the two takes his annual three-to-six-game injury sabbatical, at which point Jay's season usually heads straight into the toilet. Such is life.

We do know, however, that someone in our league is going to go with Peyton Manning in the first round. Whether it's because he can't find anyone else to draft (*coughBillcough*) or because he wants to try to trade him for half someone else's team (*coughJustincough*), Peyton goes higher in our league.

Just like around Chicago, Jay Cutler may be drafted in the fourth instead of the seventh.

Just like around Oakland, JaMarcus Russell might be

It's just a fact of life. The rest of us simply smile, knowing that when our pick rolls around, there'll be another receiver or running back there that we didn't expect to see.

And that may be the way to approach a mock.

I chose to be amused by the homer queuing up his entire favorite team before logging off. And that includes the defense fifth and Nick Folk #6. For the record, though, he did manage to make it to the last two rounds before Miles Austin and Tashard Choice got picked for him. Admirable self-control.

But no Marty B? For shame, Jason Dull. What kind of retarded Cowboy homer are you? Mr. Jerry is highly disappointed in you.

And as for Jason Wade, he needs to do two things.

One, grow up. You were doing the mock for a reason, and some goober throwing out stupid picks doesn't do all that much to throw you off, so get over yourself.

And two, get down on your knees and pray to God tonight that you run into someone this dumb in your actual leagues. Easy wins are hard to come by, so take 'em where you find 'em.

We're not curing cancer or writing the Great American Novel here. We're pretending to draft pretend teams of football players so we can brag to our friends that we know more about football than they do.

Are you the kind of kid who throws the board against the wall when you're losing at chess? If not, then learn to act like it. It's a game. Treat it like one, not like war. Less stress that way.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

C.R.E.A.M. (Claim Rape to Earn Athletes' Money)

This is a sports blog, primarily. Sports are supposed to be the shallow end of the pop culture spectrum. Endless arguments about which quarterback is better, debates on whether or not Shaq could have overpowered Wilt, and rants about how Hank is still the home run king are supposed to be as deep as we get.

Instead, I'm preparing to talk about rape. Dammit.

Let me preface by saying that I have a family member who has been a rape victim. Shortly after high school, I also went on a couple of dates with a girl who had been raped by an ex-boyfriend. Residual trust issues forced that relationship to end before it could even really get started.

But even with this kind of insight, I still can't pretend that I can ever even come close to understanding what rape can do to a woman's psyche. Anger, guilt, and distrust are only a few of the stew of emotions that can derail hopes for a happy, loving relationship later in life.

But in the wake of the Ben Roethlisberger accusation and the Rick Pitino extortion case, the phrase "rape culture" has entered my personal lexicon for the first time, and I'm not too sure how to feel about it.

When the Big Ben civil suit became public, we had a rather brief discussion of it on EWB. I and a few others smelled bullshit right off the jump. Turns out, we might be pretty close to the truth, but more on that later.

In retaliation, my friend Razor (go read him at American Razor and Kick-Out Wrestling) posted this article, entitled "When Sports Culture Meets Rape Culture."

Razor's reasoning, in a prior EWB posting, is one I completely agree with. To quote him:

There's definitely some shady business associated with this, but either way it pisses me off. It pisses me off when women falsely accuse men of rape, but it also pisses me off when people automatically assume "this whore just wants money!"

The entire business of sexual assault in and of itself should be enough to piss anyone off, but that's not the point here. The point is that there wouldn't be that automatic assumption of "this whore just wants money" if there weren't so many cases where, well, the whores just wanted money.

Roethlisberger's former teammate Jerome Bettis had a similar accusation leveled in 2002, but no charges came about. According to the Westmoreland County District Attorney, there was "clear" evidence that the accuser's family intended to extort money from Bettis.

Rick Pitino was forced to contact the FBI when his now-admitted one-night stand, Karen Cunagin Sypher, began to hit him up for cars and tuition for her children, then simply went Randy Moss on him and asked for "straight cash, homie." To the tune of $10 million, no less.

When the Kobe Bryant case was ramping up back in 2004, USA Today studied 168 cases of sexually based criminal accusations against professional athletes in the 12 years following Mike Tyson's 1992 rape conviction. Only 32% of those ended in either convictions, guilty pleas, or plea agreements to lesser charges. Many of those were against either:
  • former professional athletes who weren't All-Star caliber talents in their day;
  • college athletes;
  • or boxers whose careers were either winding down or finished.
What's the difference, you ask?

Straight cash, homie.

If a college athlete is accused of rape, how is an accuser going to profit? Most likely, they're not. College athletes are, for the most part, broke college kids, just like anyone else.

If a washed-up, broken-down boxer is accused of rape, how likely is an accuser to profit? Most boxers aren't renowned for their financial savvy even before ten to fifteen years of getting their brains rattled by other men's fists.

If an NFL bench-warmer is accused of rape, there may be some money in it, but not nearly the kind that a Bettis or Roethlisberger or Pitino could command.

These cases are much easier to take seriously because there's not nearly as much motive to fabricate. And like it or not (and I personally don't, but these are the times we're living in), whenever a rich man is accused of a he-said-she-said crime, which rape quite often is, there is A LOT of motive.

Anyone who was read Aesop's fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf as a child is bred to be this cynical from toddlerhood.

The fable teaches us that not everything can be taken at face value. People lie. People concoct tales.

The boy who cried wolf was bored and wanted some excitement. Andrea McNulty was apparently hearing the ching-ching-ching of that child-support coin, if her co-worker's affidavit is to be believed.

While railing on "rape culture" for the cynicism surrounding athlete rape accusations, writers like Kate Harding and Jaclyn Friedman should give equal time to all the girls who have cried wolf...including Andrea McNulty and Karen Sypher. If victims are ignored or disbelieved, it's because there truly is a precedent.

We're not all insensitive clods who believe that every woman's asking for it every minute of every day. We all have mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, daughters, nieces, and none of us would experience anything but horror if they were involved in a case of this kind. But, we'd like to think that our family would contain the kind of people who would be more interested in justice than a payday, as well.

We don't put athletes and coaches on this ivory pedestal and think they can do no wrong. If anything, any person who holds athletes to even the minimum standards of typical people is hopelessly naive. Thousands of athletes over the decades have proven themselves to be shallow, immature, selfish, manipulative, greedy, and/or hedonistic.

Still, rich, famous, sexually promiscuous men have targets on their backs. If they were less sexually promiscuous, maybe they wouldn't have quite as many of these problems. Unfortunately, that's like asking a lion to go's just not part of their nature.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's Attitude, Not Color: When Did "Prima Donna WR" Become a Racist Term?

I'll be the first to tell you that listening to Jim Rome's radio show is like watching some terrible comic who thinks that if he repeats the same shitty joke twelve times, it'll magically become funny the thirteenth time. And then listening to a lot of the sounds of silence in between.

That said, I still make a focused effort to try and catch his ESPN TV show in the afternoon, for reasons I think I'll discuss in a future post.

On this particular afternoon, I heard an argument that was, to borrow a phrase, pants-on-head retarded. Not from Rome, as might be expected, but from one of his Forum guests.

In a discussion about whether or not Terrell Owens fit into Buffalo, Buffalo native Vincent Thomas of SLAM Magazine had an interesting theory. For one thing, Thomas essentially put his hometown on blast for being racist, or at least "a place where there's still an undercurrent of racial tension."

Okay, fair enough. But he didn't stop there.

Thomas then proceeded to put the entire NFL-covering media and fanbase on blast for the very same condition. Vince has apparently decided that because most of the NFL's wide receivers are black, and many of them are seen as being "prima donnas" or "divas," that these terms are now veiled racist slurs.


Did I miss a memo?

Here I'd always thought that diva is as diva does. T.O. being a perfect candidate for this conversation has nothing to do with his skin, any more than Chad "Future" Johnson Ochocinco or Randy "Yeah, I Take Plays Off" Moss or Plaxico "OW, MY FUCKING LEG!!!!!!" Burress catch grief over their race.

These guys get blasted for being goofballs because (news flash) THEY ARE GOOFBALLS. TO's Sharpie, Chad putting the pylon, Joe Horn making a phone call from behind the goalpost...hell, let's go even older-school and bring up this literary classic. All of these are goofball actions. In terms of obnoxiousness, they fall somewhere between Matt Leinart's hot tub club and Jeremy Shockey passing out poolside.

Shockey's a fine example of a white player whose act generates even more annoyance than TO or Chad Machogrande could ever muster. The big difference between Shockey and a guy like TO is that we only hear Shockey's line of BS in post-game interviews and ambulance-chasing pictures on TMZ. He's not begging people to watch a reality show of his life...although the producers of "Celebrity Rehab" are probably on line two right now.

These players act in the most "Look at me" ways they can possibly muster, and when they're not showing up on the SportsCenter highlight reels, they're trying to take over other media. Ochocinco's been waging a Twitter war with Mark Schlereth. T.O.'s pissing and moaning at Rome (yes, over Twitter) for justly pointing out that "The T.O. Show" is D.O.A. in the ratings.

Who are the great white hopes at WR these days, anyway? There's Wes Welker, the king of the seven-yard slant (and the occasional car-wreck hit). When he scores (which doesn't happen nearly enough for his fantasy owners, myself included), he knows how to act like he's been there before. Same with guys like Kevin Walter, Greg Camarillo, and Dallas Clark. (Yeah, I know Dallas is still listed as a TE, but he's as much of a TE these days as I am a nose tackle.)

As a Buffalo native, Thomas of all people should know that not all black wide receivers are considered nutjobs, since his team employed one of the best and classiest wide receivers ever. Maybe you heard of him.

Andre Reed didn't have to turn every touchdown into a sub-Carrot Top prop comedy show. Jerry Rice scored more touchdowns than anyone, and he just tossed the ball to the ref and said, "Okay, now I'ma get another one." Cris Carter never had tearful news conferences where he said, "That's my quarterback, man," then turned around and eviscerated said QB weeks later for being BFF's with the tight end.

Celebrating scores is all well and good, and I'm one who thinks the No Fun League needs to loosen the noose a bit in that regard. But I'm there to watch football on Sundays, not a Saturday Night Live skit or a Greek tragedy in three acts.

Even Vince Thomas's fellow forum guest, longtime columnist Terence Moore, laughed off Thomas's attempt at calling down the thunder Whitlock-style. Terence even got off the line of the day when he scolded Thomas with, "You know, I've been black for a long time." He then proceeded to, in not so many words, politely tell Thomas that he was full of it.

Terence gets it. Just like Forrest Gump got it. Trying to make every NFL fan or media member who pokes fun at or is tired of TO or Chad Quesotampico into a racist is a blatant play for attention by someone who's obviously not gotten enough through his writing. Well, congrats, Vince, here's a little attention for you. Enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A 71-Year Streak Ends: In Praise of the Pittsburgh Steelers

For the first time since 1937, the Pittsburgh Steelers have opened their training camp without Dan Rooney in attendance.

Usually, it takes poor health to keep a devoted owner like Rooney away. Happily, however, Rooney is missing this camp for a completely different purpose: a sideline job.

Rooney was sworn in last month by Secretary of State Clinton as the new ambassador to Ireland, and it is those duties that are keeping him away from the team as camp begins.

The mere fact that a football team owner was endorsed for an ambassadorship is an indication of the kind of respect that the Rooney family has engendered, and not just in Pittsburgh. The stability that the family ownership has brought to the Steelers contributes mightily to the point of this column.

I preface this by saying that I am not a Steelers fan. I was born a Bears fan and raised with dual loyalty to them and the Colts once the Colts moved to Indianapolis. That said, I still say without any hesitation that the Pittsburgh Steelers have the best-run organization in the National Football League—and it's not close.

The Steelers were the first franchise to reach six Super Bowl championships. They've done so without any of the ownership-generated drama that has plagued the two organizations still tied at five, the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers.

Since 1970, the Steelers have had only four ten-loss seasons. The Denver Broncos are the only organization with fewer, having only two. The Miami Dolphins have equaled the Steelers' mark with four, and three of those came from 2004 to 2007.

This absence of any long periods of futility may have contributed to the greatest measure of Pittsburgh's stability, their remarkable use of only three head coaches in the last 40 years. Their hiring of Mike Tomlin came at a young enough age that Tomlin himself could conceivably coach for a couple of decades, as well.

Even when the family ownership needed to be "restructured" to bring the team in line with the NFL's policy on owners' gambling interests, the transition from five Rooneys to two was handled with relative smoothness. Certainly, there was none of the acrimony and legal wrangling that seemed to accompany the 49ers' transition from Eddie DeBartolo Jr. to his sister, Denise.

The Rooneys blend into the firmament when there's no negotiations being done, unlike the bombastic, hands-on style of the Cowboys' Jerry Jones.

New England's Robert Kraft is quickly gaining respect for his handling of the Patriots, but his team's involvement in a game-taping investigation still taints him. No such cloud hangs over the day-to-day operations at Heinz Field.

Even though Al Davis may have coined the phrase, "Just win, baby," the Steelers seem to be embodying it much better than any franchise in the NFL. Pittsburgh continues to win without players turning up in hosts of commercials, without harboring long lists of players with legal difficulties (Ben Roethlisberger's current issues notwithstanding), and without players, coaches, or owners behaving in a "look at me" fashion.

They may not always win, but they do "just play, baby." Dan Rooney's 71-year streak of attending training camp is perhaps the most vivid illustration of why the Steelers' consistency has made them the NFL's flagship organization.

Setting aside all residual bitterness from Ben Roethlisberger's shoestring tackle of Nick Harper in 2005 (but don't get me started on Slash's illegal catch 10 years prior), this Colts/Bears fan tips his hat to the Steelers, and the family who has made them what they are.