Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hanson Proves Lions Can At Least Be Consistent At One Position

He showed up 18 years ago from Washington State University with his right leg and not much else. He didn't even have a name.

For his first few weeks in town, at Lions training camp, all we knew him as was "the kid who's replacing Eddie Murray."

Jason Something-or-Other.

HANSON, we were reminded by the Lions media liaisons.

Kickers in pro football have two kinds of lives, it seems: cameo, or Methuselah.

The 40-year-old kicker is far from an anomaly. If you can survive the first couple of years, you have a good shot at staying in the NFL for a couple of decades.

Morten Anderson, the pride of Michigan State, swatted footballs with his left foot with the reliability of the sunrise. He did it until he was 47 years old. He tried retiring a couple of times, but on each occasion he was asked back. On each occasion he said yes---because being a kicker in the NFL is a pretty good gig. It's like having a desk job for the Mafia.

Funny thing is, Anderson's 25-year career started this way: he twisted his ankle on his very first NFL kickoff, way back in 1982. Twisted his ankle on a kickoff?

You betcha. Twisted it good; he missed eight weeks.

He recovered, and kicked for a quarter century longer.

The Lions' Jason Hanson is 40. He's been losing his hair for years. Every training camp he shows up and his hairline has receded a couple centimeters. But he plays for the Lions, a franchise that has led the league in hair loss for its coaches and fan base for decades. So what do you expect?

Besides, Hanson doesn't kick with his hair.

Hanson survived those first couple of seasons as Murray's replacement, and then we blinked and Hanson is entering his 19th NFL season. One more year and he qualifies for a gold watch.

The man he replaced, Murray, was thought to be old. Murray kicked for the Lions from 1980-91---12 seasons. Then the Lions thought he was losing his power on kickoffs and the field goal accuracy was waning. So they released him, having drafted the kid Hanson.

Murray, by the way, left the Lions and kicked for nine more seasons, retiring in 2000 as a 44-year-old. Eddie even won a Super Bowl, with the 1993 Cowboys. Just like Errol Mann.

Errol Mann---there's a name from the past. Mann was cut by the Lions in 1975 after kicking for them for years and he ended up with the 1976 Oakland Raiders---and Mann won a Super Bowl with them.

Funny how players win Super Bowls before and after playing for the Lions, but not while.

So it's another training camp and Hanson is again entrenched as the Lions kicker, despite nursing an injury to his left, non-kicking leg. Last summer in camp he nursed an injury to his right, kicking leg.

Yet Hanson isn't like some NFL players, who lose their jobs due to injury. Hanson is the Lions kicker even when he can't kick. He's had more job security than a Supreme Court Justice.

Which means Hanson will likely retire from pro football as a Lion. Not that there haven't been some grumblings the past couple of seasons, when Hanson has had the audacity to actually, you know, miss a field goal attempt.

He missed several last year, but he didn't miss them by much. It wasn't like he was hooking them like a bad tee shot. Still, the footballs Hanson kicked last season didn't find their way through the uprights and above the crossbar with the success rate we've been used to seeing from No. 4. The injury he suffered in training camp was presumed to be the culprit.

No matter. Hanson is back, as usual, and he's the kicker, despite undergoing surgery earlier this month on his left leg.

The Lions brought in someone named Aaron Pettrey this year to handle kicking duties while Hanson recuperates. The Lions have brought in a number of kickers over the years, usually rookie free agents. They've done so as if they were trying to satisfy some sort of NFL Equal Opportunity Employer provision.

"Each team shall have two kickers in training camp."

Pettrey's chances of being the Lions kicker are off the board. Vegas wouldn't touch it. He's only with the Lions because they have to have someone kick during the exhibition games.

Every young kicker the Lions have invited to camp has come with the primary objective of hooking on with another NFL team. Hanson's job has been as untouchable as Elliott Ness.

But a good, reliable kicker is hard to find---like a good, honest car mechanic. And when you find one, you don't let him go. You don't even look around for alternatives, almost for fear of jinxing what you have.

Murray became vilified in Detroit for missing the biggest kick of his career---the 1983 playoff game in San Francisco, when his 43-yarder at the final gun started wide right and stayed wide right. Had he connected, the Lions would have advanced to the NFC Championship Game.

Murray kicked for the Lions for eight more seasons, but never did he truly live down that miss against the 49ers.

Hanson hasn't been in such a monumental situation in his 18 years with the Lions, mainly because the past nine of those have been spent in football purgatory.

Hanson would probably give his non-kicking leg to be in a position to miss a big kick.

But he shows up every year, on time, and with a smile on his face. Hanson has been through seven head coaches, a slew of special teams coaches, and more losses than you can shake a stick at. But he's a Lion, always will be, and has never shown an inclination to jump ship.

He's 40 years old and it's becoming less and less possible to imagine any other skinny guy swinging his leg at held footballs in a Lions uniform.

Hanson has been a morsel of comfort food for a fan base that has had to choke down hospital grade cuisine for the past nine years.

But is the end near? Nobody can kick forever---not even Morten Anderson or Jan Stenerud or John Kasay---who's still doing it for the Carolina Panthers, two months shy of his 41st birthday, the only kicker the Panthers franchise has ever employed.

All I know is that Hanson, just two seasons ago at age 38, went 21-for-22 in field goal attempts, including making a 56-yarder. Over his 18 seasons, he's connected at a success rate of 81.8.

I have a hunch that last year's 21-for-28 was an aberration, and that we'll see a reliable, accurate Hanson once again in 2010. And we may see that for several more years.

Jason Hanson just has to keep kicking for the Lions. I was married one week after his first game with the team in 1992. He's the only Lions kicker my marriage has ever known.

If he retires, I'll have to start treating Mrs. Eno a whole lot nicer.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

After Just One Season, Delmas Best Lions DB In Years

The words still rattle around in my noggin, some 20 years after they were spouted for public consumption by the hard-hitting, boisterous free safety for the Detroit Lions.

“Come out to see me on Monday Night Football,” Bennie Blades said into the camera, “and watch me hit Bo Jackson in the mouth!”

In my prior life as a producer and director for local cable television, part of my charge was to rustle up guests for our weekly sports talk show. I had no budget with which to work to secure such guests—just my charm and my wit. So you can imagine where that left us.

But I had spotted Blades at Fishbone’s in Greektown. It was St. Patrick’s Day, 1990. He had just finished his second season as the Lions’ paid assassin of the secondary—a member of Jimmy Johnson’s wild bunch at the University of Miami until being drafted by the Lions in 1988.

Fueled by some of the evening’s libations, I approached Blades, business card in hand, and asked him if he’d like to do our show sometime. He was gracious and willing.

Late in the summer, Blades graced our studios. The Lions’ schedule for 1990 had been released. There was a Monday night game slated for December against the (then) Los Angeles Raiders.

Bo Jackson was in his heyday of being the quintessential two-sport athlete—slugging homers for the Kansas City Royals in the summer and running over would-be tacklers for the Raiders in the fall.

It must have presented a quandary for the Kansas City sports fan, because the Chiefs were longtime, bitter rivals of their baseball superstar’s football team.

The NFL schedule would have Jackson and the Raiders invading the Pontiac Silverdome on national TV late in the 1990 season. Blades couldn’t wait.

So he made the pronouncement on our show, before the football season even started.

“Come out to see me on Monday Night Football and watch me hit Bo Jackson in the mouth!”

The Lions would lose that game to the Raiders—a wild, high-scoring affair. The Lions’ Barry Sanders, no slouch of a runner himself, scored early and often. Jackson and the Raiders countered. Back and forth it went, until the Lions collapsed into defeat in the fourth quarter. Typical.

Blades might have gotten a few hits in on Jackson that night. But the Lions lost anyway.

Bennie Blades was the last of a dying breed: that of the Lions defensive back who could change game plans and inject fear into opposing pass receivers.

Blades wanted to hit people, very badly. He played free safety as if the pass catchers had broken into his house.

Blades’ lineage as a Lions defensive back started in the 1950s, when Dick “Night Train” Lane patrolled the secondary and rarely made a tackle below the jaw line.

The Lions rosters of the 1950s and ‘60s were filled with top notch DBs.

There was Lane and Jimmy David and Yale Lary and Jack Christiansen and Dick LeBeau and Bruce Maher and Lem Barney and Wayne Rasmussen and Tommy Vaughn.

The 1970s and ‘80s saw Jimmy Allen and (still) Barney and James Hunter and Bruce McNorton. They weren’t all Hall of Famers or Pro Bowlers, but they were capable.

It was into this line that Bennie Blades fell when he was drafted by the Lions out of Miami in 1988.

When Blades left the Lions after the 1996 season (he retired after one season in Seattle), that lineage of capable defensive backs ended. The Lions have tried mightily since, but they haven’t been able to find “that guy” in the secondary.

Until now.

Louis Delmas is only a second-year player but he squawks and carries himself like a 10-year veteran. He played college ball at Western Michigan, which is about as known for pumping out All-Pro safeties as Yale is for quarterbacks.

Yet Delmas has become, after just one measly season, the best Lions’ defensive back since Bennie Blades. Says me.

“We have to play defense with personality, and (Delmas) provides that,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz told the media wonks earlier this week as training camp droned on.

Delmas was the topic du jour because he’s been little more than an anxious, chomping-at-the-bit observer during camp, thanks to a tender groin.

Forgive me, but he’s been like a caged Lion.

The Lions have had Delmas for just one season and already they and their fan base shudder to think of life without him. When news broke that Delmas’s groin injury might require season-ending surgery, the social networks and blogs were filled with mass hysteria.

I can see why.

Louis Delmas is the best thing to come down the pike in the Lions secondary in this century. He’s smart, physical, leads by example, and spices things up in the personality department. He makes plays. He helps give the Lions defense an identity.

The Lions, I suspect, are building around Delmas defensively just as they are around Matthew Stafford offensively. With all due respect to rookie DT Ndamukong Suh, Delmas is the quarterback of the defense. Suh is Delmas’s Calvin Johnson.

For all of the Lions’ inadequacies during the Matt “The Villain” Millen era, the defense has been the 400-lb. gorilla in the room. The Lions have been easier to score on than a Scrabble board. Opponents moved the ball down the field as if they were on a Sunday stroll.

Delmas, by himself, didn’t do a whole lot to stem that tide last season. But he plays a high-profile position in a high-throttle manner. He has no off switch. He should be the Lions’ free safety for years to come. He could be our Ronnie Lott, or at least the next Bennie Blades.

The Lions have tried aging veterans, supposed hot-shots, alleged big hitters (Kenoy Kennedy anyone?), and unheralded kids from the draft, all in an attempt over the years to ply together a secondary that at least achieves the level of respectable.

It’s all failed—a total, unmitigated disaster.

Bennie Blades was eventually joined by William White, Ray Crockett and Melvin Jenkins as the Lions’ secondary became better than average in the early-to-mid 1990s.

Louis Delmas is the new best thing back there—a player around whom to add more pieces, as the Lions did for Blades.

So come out to watch Delmas hit some people in the mouth!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Joe Louis Arena: May it Rest in Pieces

Joe Louis Arena is the only sports venue I know of that became obsolete the moment it opened for business.

One of the best things to come from yesterday’s announcement by Mike Ilitch that he and his family are seriously pursuing a purchase of the Detroit Pistons, is that it probably will accelerate the construction of a new arena to replace JLA—one that will likely house both the Pistons and the Red Wings.

Such an arena can’t come a moment too soon.

Ilitch has been associated with the Red Wings for so long, I’m sure there are folks who think he had a hand in the creation of Joe Louis Arena. He didn’t. JLA opened in 1979, and Ilitch bought the Red Wings in 1982.

Where The Palace of Auburn Hills was built ahead of the curve in 1988, JLA was erected with no vision, no sense of convenience, no adroitness.

Parking is a nightmare. A fellow could have a heart attack climbing the steps leading up to the joint. The concourses are too narrow. There aren’t enough restrooms.

JLA’s exterior looks like a warehouse. It has the aesthetics of war-torn Europe, the warmth of a scorned woman.

They didn’t build an arena, they created a giant mausoleum. Today, it’s old and dilapidated. On Opening Night, it was just dilapidated.

It’s not like they shouldn’t have known better; JLA was built in the late-1970s, not during World War II. You walk in and you want to ask where they used to make the tanks.

The air inside has the freshness of milk left on the counter overnight. It’s more stuffy than an aristocrat whose name ends with “the Third.”

It’s the only sports arena that should have been fitted with drop-down oxygen masks. All the air is borrowed from whatever the patrons brought in with them. The foot traffic is fanny-to-fanny; it’s always rush hour. You could walk a mile and never see the walls.

The seating was arranged as if to punish those who couldn’t afford the lower bowl tickets. The only arena promoting class warfare. The top row in the upper bowl is somewhere in Bad Axe. The game below is only being played on the word of well-placed sources.

If you don’t have the cash, you’re sitting closer to Terry Sawchuk’s retired number than the ice. Between periods you can while the time away by counting the girders.

There are suites, of course, but they’re even further away than the so-called nose bleed seats. Every suite should have come equipped with telescopes.

Joe Louis Arena was never state-of-the-art, unless the state of your art is circa 1950. It’s the only arena I know of that was a demotion from its predecessor, Olympia Stadium, which even at age 60 was ten times the hockey palace than JLA was on Opening Night in 1979.

JLA is a 20,000-seat cave. You keep wanting to look out for the bats.

The arena was old and outdated the night they swung the doors open for the first time. If it was a Broadway show it might have opened and closed in one night.

In the early days, the hockey team was worse than the arena, if you can imagine such a thing. Then the team got better and the arena just kept getting older. They’d try re-painting it from time-to-time, like Tammy Faye Bakker’s face, but it only postponed the inevitable.

The funny thing is, when JLA opened on December 27, 1979, it was deemed to be some sort of marvel—a real nifty place. It wasn’t until you got further from its grand opening, and you saw the types of buildings built shortly after it, that you realized we were sold a bill of goods.

Then along came The Palace of Auburn Hills, and that only underlined the foibles of JLA.

The Palace opened in the summer of 1988—less than 10 years after The Joe but light years ahead of it in every way imaginable.

So brilliant was the planning and architecture of The Palace that even today, some 22 years after its opening, the arena is presented as a model for what a sports and indoor concert venue should be.

If Ilitch succeeds in buying the Pistons, no doubt a new, dual-sports arena will be in the offing, likely downtown.

The Red Wings’ original 30-year lease with JLA has expired, and the team then negotiated a temporary extension to that lease, until another arena is built—or until the Red Wings move elsewhere (The Palace) as a stopgap measure.

Regardless, it appears as if the days of the Red Wings playing in Joe Louis Arena are (finally) numbered.

I call dibs on the plunger at its implosion.

Retro Tuesday: Charles Rogers

I've been ranting in this space for over five years, having started "Out of Bounds" in April, 2005.

So I thought it would be kind of fun to step into the vault every Tuesday and drag out a delectable morsel from the past.

So "Retro Tuesday" will appear here every week---a blog post culled from the last five-plus years.

Today's piece comes from August 2, 2006. The troubled Lions receiver Charles Rogers was struggling to make the team in his fourth season.


(from August 2, 2006)

Rogers' Career As A Lion On Life Support

Chuck Long. 1986's #1 draft pick, a stud QB out of Iowa. A can't miss kid, they said. Just you wait and see. We waited. We waited some more. Then the Lions could wait no longer, and drafted Rodney Peete out of USC.

Reggie Rogers. 1987's #1 draft pick -- a fleet-footed defensive end who could chase down running backs, sideline-to-sideline. But Reggie was involved in a car accident in which a person was killed, and in which Reggie himself was badly injured. There was a trial. Vehicular manslaughter. End of career.

Andre Ware. 1990's #1 draft pick -- a record-setting arm at the University of Houston. Drafted into the frenetic, ADD-like offense of the run-n-shoot that the Lions were playing around with. But Ware lacked one significant ingredient to being a serviceable NFL quarterback: the ability to throw the ball anywhere near an intended receiver. The poster boy of all bad Lions' draft picks.

Juan Roque, 1996's #1 draft pick -- a six-foot-eight, 330 pound tackle out of Arizona State. Supposed to be a pillar of the offensive line for years to come. He ended up being simply a pillar -- the inanimate kind. Career over in short order.

Stockar McDougle, 2000's #1 draft pick -- a six-foot-six tackle out of Oklahoma. If Wayne Fontes was still here, he would have said McDougle could "block out the sun." Turns out Stockar couldn't block his way out of a paper bag -- parchment paper, even.

And now....

Charles Rogers, 2003's #1 draft pick -- an amazingly talented receiver out of Michigan State.

Rogers is perilously close to being lumped into the above group.

Already, training camp just six days old, there's talk that Charlie Rogers is having trouble grasping the convoluted offensive schemes of new coordinator Mike Martz. He didn't participate in one single play yesterday, the scuttlebutt is. Whispers are floating around questioning Rogers' cranial capacity. Well, at least that's different; they used to question his commitment, his work ethic, his durability.

Charles Rogers: not smart enough to play in the NFL?

Now they wonder whether Charlie Rogers has the smarts to be a competent NFL receiver.

If I had some dough to toss away on a gamble, I'd place some cash that says Rogers will no longer be a Lion when the regular season begins next month against the Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field. Not traded, not placed on injured reserve, or the PUP list. Just ... cut.

Rogers and 2005's #1 pick, Mike Williams, were mentioned as the two players who had to have perhaps the two best training camps on the entire team. Both are under the microscope of doubt and skepticism.

Neither is impressing, by all accounts, and it's certainly fathomable that one of the two -- doubtful both of them -- will be released by the Lions within the month. My bet is on Rogers, because he's had a couple more seasons in Detroit than Williams. Yes, the Lions would have to chow down on Rogers' contract if they cut him, but as team president Matt Millen said last week, the club wouldn't hesitate to do that if it was for the betterment of the program.

Rogers' latest setback is yet another in a series. There was the freakish broken collarbone suffered midway through his rookie year in 2003, followed by the freakish broken collarbone suffered during the first series of the opening game in Chicago in 2004. Last year, Rogers was suspended for four games by the league for violating its substance abuse policy. Now the "he's not very smart, after all" training camp.

Too much to overcome? Certainly too much to blame the Lions, should they cut him.

Time is running out for Charles Rogers in Detroit. Odds are.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Ageless Modano Back for Another Kick at the Can with Red Wings

Mike Modano and 40-years-old make an awful couple.

It’s Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett. Chocolate ice cream and anchovies. Paisley and polka dots.

Modano sat at the rostrum at Joe Louis Arena Friday afternoon having just signed on as the newest Detroit Red Wing.

And that’s exactly what he looked like: the newest Detroit Red Wing.

Modano has played in the NHL for 21 years, his social security records say he’s 40, but I can’t accept his age.

Modano was at ease in his new No. 90 Red Wings jersey, answering reporter's questions with his perfect tan, blemish-free face, full head of hair, and big white teeth.

A 40-year-old hockey player with 21 NHL years behind him ought to have a face that looks like un-ironed corduroy. His voice should be raspy and his tongue should be pocked with marks from hitting the gaps caused by his missing teeth.

His face shouldn’t be tanned, it should be yellowed. You should be half looking for bolts coming out of his neck.

But there Modano sat, chatting as if he was an author on a book tour, not a 40-year-old giving the NHL another go, having wondered mere weeks ago if he had it in him to play another season.

Have it in him? He looks like he could do 10 laps around Belle Isle without breaking a sweat.

Just when you think someone’s trying to pull the wool over your eyes about Modano, here he comes talking about playing with Reed Larson during his first moments as a Minnesota North Star.

Reed Larson?

Larson was a rookie 34 years ago, and Modano was his teammate?

OK, so maybe Mike Modano is 40-years-old, but the only thing that seems 40 about him is his birth certificate.

Modano now wears the Winged Wheel because the Red Wings are the NHL’s Mafia: they often make offers you can’t refuse.

“If the Red Wings hadn’t come calling, I’d probably be retired now,” Modano told the media Friday.

But they did come calling, and it was a real shakedown.

Modano flew out to Detroit last month, having dinner with GM Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock.

The two spoke of how Modano would only need to be the third-line center and quarterback the second-team power play instead of carrying the load. They told him how great it was to play in Detroit, and no doubt they had testimonials from former veterans to back that up. They said if another Stanley Cup was on his mind (Modano won the Cup in 1999 with Dallas), then Detroit was good one-stop shopping.

Babcock later said he impressed upon Modano how playing at home (Modano was born in Livonia and grew up in Westland) would rejuvenate his body and invigorate his heart.

This signing was a big wagging of the tongue to those who say the Red Wings have only been able to sign high-profile players because of all the money they have at their disposal.

Holland had precious little money to wave at Modano. He might have even gone Dutch with him at dinner.

Modano doesn’t play just anywhere for the $1.5 million the Red Wings were able to scrape up. He’s in Detroit because Holland knows how to sell the team and its philosophy. He knows what veterans like to hear, and he drums that into their heads until it becomes folly to say no.

Listening to Modano at the press conference Friday, you wonder if he’s giving owner Mike Ilitch $1.5 million to play here, rather than vice-versa.

“To have fun, win, not have to waste energy—that’s what I like about the Red Wings,” he said. “This team makes the game look so easy, the way they handle the puck and with all the world class players they have.”

And never discount the allure of getting another “kick at the can,” as the hockey folks call chasing the Stanley Cup.

“To tell you the truth, if (the Red Wings) weren’t close to winning, I’d probably not have come here,” Modano confessed.

The Red Wings have made a high living off the backs of the league’s geriatric players.

Their roster over the past 15 years or so has been dotted with big name players closer to age 40 than 30.

When you come to the Red Wings as an aging player, you somehow transition from “has been” to “still has.”

Very few veterans have joined the Wings and fallen.

Instead, once-fading stars like Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, Brent Gilchrist, Larry Murphy, and Chris Chelios—to literally name a few—have slipped on the Red Wings sweater, and before you know it, extended their careers by four, five years, with Stanley Cups in tow.

Owner Mike Ilitch even got caught up in the hype before Modano took the stage.

“I’m feeling it,” Ilitch said, his head bobbing. “Cuppy, cuppy, cuppy!”

All this pomp and circumstance for a player who’ll be essentially playing for peanuts this season. That Modano is a Red Wing at such a paltry salary is a testament to both him and the team with which he signed.

“I’ve followed him ever since he left Little Caesars,” Ilitch said, referencing Modano’s teenage years spent playing for Ilitch’s youth team. “It’s like he never left. His name always had a strong presence around here.”

It sure is like Modano never left. It’s also like he never aged. He’s the only 40-year-old NHL player who could play in the league and star in “The Bachelor.”

Although Modano’s wife, singer/actress Willa Ford, might have something to say about that.

So will he play beyond this season?

“I’ve been saying ‘one more year’ for five or six years now,” Modano said, grinning. “With me, it’s kind of year-by-year. Depends on how much fun I have and if I feel rejuvenated.”

If the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup next June, it’ll be easy to spot Modano.

Just look for the big teeth and hair.

I demand to look at that birth certificate.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Bradshaw Forgets Own Legacy in His Rebuke of Clausen

The irony drips like a faucet with a bad washer.

The speaker was Terry Bradshaw, Hall of Fame quarterback---he of the four Super Bowl rings won with the Pittsburgh Steelers. And he was offering his opinions on some of the young gun QBs in the NFL currently.

After damning the Lions' Matthew Stafford with praise, Bradshaw turned venomous when it came to Carolina rookie Jimmy Clausen, the Panthers' second-round pick out of Notre Dame.
"Let me say what I said before earlier up to the (NFL) draft," Bradshaw began about Clausen. "I didn't like him in college and I don't like him now. I never did like him. I don't like his delivery. I don't like his motion. I think he's too slow. "Physically, the way he threw the football, I just didn't like him. (There's) way too much shoulder action. (He's) just another guy as far as I'm concerned."

About that irony...

Bradshaw was drafted first overall by the Steelers in 1970, out of Louisiana Tech. Before long, most of the city would have chipped in for a one-way plane ticket out of town for their young QB.

Bradshaw didn't possess the classic skills of a top-flight NFL quarterback, as it turned out. He didn't have a very strong arm. He was slow. He wasn't all that accurate.

On top of that, Terry Bradshaw was portrayed as not having the brains to be a pro quarterback.

Bradshaw was a country bumpkin who didn't sound like anyone from the Steel City would embrace. He opened his mouth and southern twanged words dropped out. He was a hick, trying to win over the blue collars of Pittsburgh.

The Steelers were coming off a 1-13 season when they drafted Bradshaw. If this is our savior, the Steelers fans said, then we're living down below where it's burning all the time.

Bradshaw wasn't a premier quarterback. He really wasn't. He rose to the level of adequate just in time for the Steelers to add pieces like Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Franco Harris. Oh, and the best defense of the 1970s.

Bradshaw's career numbers don't leap out at you. They don't even blink. If they were in a window, they'd be the last item chosen by the shoppers---with CLEARANCE labels slapped over it.

But Bradshaw won four Super Bowls, armed with a running game, Pro Bowl receivers, and one of the stingiest defenses ever fielded.

It's reminiscent of what baseball manager Leo Durocher once said about one of his players, Eddie "The Brat" Stanky.

"He can't run, he can't hit, he can't field," Durocher said. "All he does is beat you."

Bradshaw couldn't throw, couldn't run, couldn't elude. He was less than smart.

But he's in the Hall of Fame with those four rings.

So I had to chuckle when I read Bradshaw's rebuke of the young Clausen, who has yet to throw his first NFL pass.

Very similar dreck was spewed about Bradshaw, back in the day. To Steelers fans, Bradshaw wasn't a quarterback---he was a criminal sentence that had been levied on them.

Until the organization surrounded him with fellow Hall of Famers, on both sides of the ball.

Bradshaw ought to know better than to offer such stinging criticism of a young quarterback before his career has really gotten going.

Forty years ago, Bradshaw arrived in Pittsburgh---a country bumpkin with precious few brains. Thirteen years after that, he retired as an under-talented legend.

Now he's burying Jimmy Clausen before the kid is even in the starting gate.

Maybe Terry isn't so bright, after all.