During the last TV time-out of the first period tonight, the Penguins welcomed the Versus broadcast crew.
And the fans booed.
People, John Buccigross isn’t walking through that door. Gary Thorne and Bill Clement aren’t walking through that door.
Versus won’t be winning any Emmy awards for a while, but that’s no excuse for being rude and ungrateful to the only network willing to air hockey games in the United States.
Once upon a time, Mario Lemieux would single-handedly turn around hockey games by sheer force of will.
The Penguins would have a rough 1st period, fall behind by 2 or 3 goals, and shamble around for the first 5:00 or so of the 2nd, just for good measure. Then Mario would get disgusted and say to himself, “Yes, I do have to carry the entire team tonight, so I better get started.”
And the Pens would then reel off 4 straight goals, and 66 would have a hand in all of them, and a 3-0 deficit would end up a 5-3 win. (Guess who got the empty netter?)
It was like Mario had a secret button hidden somewhere on the bench. One of those big red industrial emergency stop buttons with a Lucite molly guard marked “FUCK IT, WE’RE WINNING THIS GAME!”
Now I’m picturing Jordan Staal in last night’s Pens/Red Wings game. It’s the 3rd period, he’s just finished a shift, he’s back on the bench, and he has to adjust a shin guard. He leans over, and something catches his eye. There, mounted under the top sill of the dasher, is that red button. The inscription on the plastic cover tempts him. He wonders, “Is that hooked up to us or the Wings? Is this a trick? Can Coach see me? Nah, he’s giving Hasenfratz the stink eye over that interference call on Sid… It’s already 5-2, what’s the worst that could happen?”
One hat trick and a Grand Theft Datsyuk later, he’s partying with Ruslan Fedotenko. The Penguins have extracted a small measure of revenge on the Red Wings. The Detroit faithful are walking away frustrated by the night, and maybe a little worried about a real rematch in this year’s Finals.
The last three meetings between these clubs ended with two overtime wins for the Pens after game tying goals at the death and one near miss. When the Wings play perfect hockey for 60 minutes, they’ve proven that they can beat the Penguins. But the split second they show a weak spot in their defenses, the Pens attack it, break through it, and then it’s the Wings hanging on for dear life.
Last year, the Pens had a breakthrough game in November against the Ottawa Senators, defending Eastern Conference champions and off to a torrid start. From that day forward, they made strong, steady progress toward a division title, and laid waste to the Eastern Conference side of the playoff bracket. Could this be another November Breakthrough? Does this mean that the Penguins are finding that next level that will lead them to the promised land?
We may not need the button again this year.
UPDATE: The Commish is wise. He has indeed overturned the fine on Tuck after reviewing the tape.
Another day, another series of fines from Comrade Goodell. And one of them is likely to backfire on the National Football League.
Justin Tuck of the Giants was fined $7,500 for this hit on Cowboys quarterback Brooks Bollinger:
When the quarterback more or less jumps into the hit, it’s a bad call. When the tackler lets go as he’s falling to prevent his “full body weight” from coming down on the quarterback, it’s a bad call. Hell, when Troy Aikman, an ex-quarterback who retired because of too many concussions, disagrees with a call that ostensibly protects the quarterback, it’s a bad call.
If the NFL was smart, they’d overturn this on appeal, because every linebacker and defensive end in the league is developing this attitude right now: “If I’m going to get fined whether the hit is dirty or not, I might as well get my money’s worth and go for the dirty hit.” Don’t think for one minute that this sentiment isn’t floating around your team’s locker room right now.
Obviously, the NFL has good reason to protect quarterbacks, considering this list of starting QBs on Injured Reserve, or listed as Out or Doubtful for this week: Kyle Boller (BAL), Tom Brady (NE), Brodie Croyle (KC), Matt Hasselbeck (SEA), Damon Huard (KC), Jon Kitna (DET), Dan Orlovski (DET), Kyle Orton (CHI), Carson Palmer (CIN), Matt Schaub (HOU), Alex Smith (SF). Croyle and Orlovski replaced Huard and Kitna, respectively, when they went on IR. Detroit just pulled Daunte Culpepper off the street.
Ben Roethlisberger is officially listed as probable, but will probably be a game-time decision, and may be one more hard hit away from really being out. His backup, Byron Leftwich, is only with the Steelers because Ben’s original backup, Charlie Batch, is on IR.
Tony Romo is questionable, coming back from an injury to his throwing hand, which is why Bollinger was in there in the first place.
That’s all the more reason to ensure that Justin Tuck’s hit is not fined. If the league office, after poring over replays from every camera angle, can’t tell a clean hit from a dirty one, how do they expect referees and players to tell the difference, at full speed, in the heat of battle? That’s why plays like that are reviewed later. If the refs miss a dirty play, then that player should be fined, and when the refs botch a clean play, then the league should admit it, learn from it, and move on.
With every bad fine for a clean hit, you’ll see more and more players thinking, “Ah, $%&@ it. It’s clobberin’ time!” And if the league responds with more and/or larger fines, it will just keep escalating until, God forbid, somebody suffers an injury that is career-ending, life-altering, or possibly fatal.
Dirty hits will be punished. We get that message, loud and clear. It’s time for the NFL to send the message that clean hits will not be punished.