Week 16 Preview: Tomlin Gets His Grinch On

Philadelphia is the town that booed Santa.  Pittsburgh is much nicer.  We only ban him from press conferences.

Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin‘s weekly Q&A was interrupted by Old Saint Nick yesterday.  Actually, it was a beat writer by the name of Bill Di Fabio impersonating the jolly elf in what is evidently a yearly tradition.  Like any good mall Santa, Di Fabio apparently performed his duties after imbibing a generous quantity of spiked egg nog.  Allegedly his schtick amused ex-coach Bill Cowher but watching his incredibly lame attempts at humor make me applaud Tomlin’s decree that Santa will slide down press conference chimneys no more.

Yep, you can see how seriously we’re taking this week’s 2008 season finale against the Cleveland Browns.

Another reason I’m impressed with Tomlin is he obviously learns from history.  Last year, the Steelers had a meaningless game against the Baltimore Ravens the final week of the season.  He chose to rest all his starters and play only the B team.  This strategy paid off in a one-and-done playoff exit at the hands of the blind referees Jacksonville Jaguars.  Meanwhile the New York Giants, with a similarly meaningless game and facing a long three road game march through the playoffs, played all their starters in a valiant bid to ruin the Patriots’ perfect season which the did four weeks later in the Super Bowl.

With that in mind, Tomlin has said every able-bodied player will suit up and play this Sunday.  That means Ben Roethlisberger, Willie Parker, and James Harrison will likely all see action.  The only serious injury to a starter I’m aware of is S Ryan Clark, who has a separated shoulder and probably won’t return until the playoffs.  Obviously, I expect Harrison and Parker to be rotated with Lawrence Timmons and Mewelde Moore a bit more than usual but it doesn’t look like anybody will be getting the week off.

Not that we need an all-star lineup to deal with the Brownies.  They’re dealing with their own little incident this week when backup DE Shaun Smith decked smug metrosexual QB Brady Quinn.  They allege this incident took place in the weight room but personally, I suspect it began in the showers and had something to do with a soap being dropped.  But I could be wrong.

What I am right about is the Browns will be starting their fourth QB this year, Seton-La Salle High product Bruce Gradkowski.  With both Quinn and Derek Anderson out with season-ending injuries, Ken Dorsey has proven woefully ineffective even by Cleveland standards as they’ve failed to score a touchdown for something like four games.  Cue the Pittsburgh-native cavalry, who started 11 games for Tampa Bay as a rookie back in 2006, posting a rather pitiful 3-8 record (including a whooping by the Steelers where he tossed three picks).

My cousins, Lexi and Taylor, actually met Gradkowski a couple years back when he was giving motivational speeches to local middle schools.  Knowing I love football, they thoughtfully decided to ask for his autograph for me.  While I appreciate their sentiment, I expect my personalized Bruce Gradkowski rookie card will continue to be worth slightly less than my Kevin Polcovich signed mini-bat for many years to come.

Then again, this is Christmukkah.  The season of giving.  And everybody knows the spirit of giving is far more important than the actual product being gifted.  Or at least that’s what Christmas specials tell me.  So as I sit down on Sunday and watch the miserable Browns play this miserable game which means nothing to either team, I’ll remember to be thankful for all the joy and excitement the Steelers have given me this year.

And to all my readers, even those of you who never leave comments (I know who you are), thank you for reading and best wishes for Happy Holidays and a great New Year.

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