Friday, August 24, 2012

Skip Bayless Wrong In Vilifying Ryan Clark For Ravens Comments; Steelers Make Special Change

"Genius doesn't work on an assembly line basis. You can't simply say, 'Today I will be brilliant.'"

Few sports broadcasters today exemplify that quote more than ESPN personality Skip Bayless. His comments on Thursday's episode of First Take regarding Ryan Clark's interview on the NFL Network this week prove that statement yet again. 

Clark, the starting free safety of the Pittsburgh Steelers, answered questions regarding the rival Baltimore Ravens. As expected, Clark spoke on the games themselves and how last year's games affected him.

"I will say this about the Ravens: Playing that first game last year and watching them dance on the field, seeing them fake an extra point while up 27 [points] already, it allowed me to understand how much they actually dislike us as an organization," Clark said. 

He admitted that seeing them do that left an impression: "It brewed and stirred up a little hate in me, also for me to understand how I have to approach playing them and how I have to look at them."

Clark rightly felt incensed at such a junior varsity move. There was a bit of poetic justice, though, as the Ravens promptly went out the next week and were beaten by the Tennessee Titans, 26-13. They had obviously put too much emphasis on beating the Steelers. Not once, but twice. 

After the week eight 23-20 win over the Steelers, the Ravens players gave their head coach, John Harbaugh, a Gatorade bath. Well, they blew their wad again and Joe Flaccid and co. went limp into the Seattle Seahawks game and lost 22-17. Clark referenced that also, noting a difference with the Steelers' team and organization.

"I still feel like, this organization, we worry about winning championships. We don't focus on beating one team," Clark pointed out. "It won't be Gatorade baths because we beat the Ravens. It won't be parties, it won't be bottles popping and confetti. It will be one game on our journey to win the Super Bowl and I always look at that."

The reason this is being written, though, is because of the usual crack analysis by ESPN's Skip Bayless. And by crack I mean he must be smoking it, because he took issue with what Clark initially had said during that interview. Clark was asked about his personal feelings of the Ravens and responded positively. 

"I get that question a lot and I don't really hate them," Clark told them. "I was working out with Terrell Suggs this summer before his injury and he's a really cool dude. He said it himself that people don't understand that we only hate you two or three weeks out of the year." 

Skip Bayless took exception with this.

Speaking to guest analyst former NFL player Marcellus Wiley, @marcelluswiley on Twitter, Bayless asked, "You bridged the gap between the old NFL and new NFL, what happened to the old NFL that I grew up loving? What happened to the man's game? What happened to blood and guts, and Steelers hating Ravens, hating Steelers, and Cowboys hating Redskins, Redskins hating Cowboys?" 

"This just turns my stomach to see a Raven and Steeler, both of them decent guys, but suddenly it's all peace and love because they worked out in Arizona in the offseason....If you're a Steeler, you don't associate with the Ravens because it can creep into your psyche that you kind of like the Ravens." 

Huh? "Like the Ravens?" We're talking on the field here. "Like?" Like them? Sorry, not on the field. After Stephen A. Smith told him that he was ridiculous, Bayless got a very poignant response from Wiley when he spoke about rivals. 

"Do you know that the best underlying emotion, when you're talking about competition, is love, not hate? Think about sibling rivalry: when you go against your brother, you want to go after your brother much harder than you want to go against a guy who was drafted to another team," said Wiley.

Wiley is not only right, but this is by no means anything new. Players, even of rival teams, often actually befriend one another. They text, call, hang out, golf and apparently work out together in the offseason and have for years. 

As Wiley referenced, Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas were very close all during their playing career, even famously giving each other a quick peck on the cheek at the tip-off of games. They also gave us some historic performances against each other and even almost got into fights and had to be separated a couple of times.

Bayless, though, didn't respond to a basketball example. So, I'll provide a reminder that Reggie White used to gather players from both teams to pray after the game. After the battle, they left it on the field. 

Another example is a little closer to home. After Ben Roethlisberger faced and was eventually absolved of sexual assault allegations, it was Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis who reached out to the maligned quarterback. Big Ben has even been quoted as saying that they text and or call each other regularly in the offseason. 

More impressive than reaching out to Big Ben was what he did before the 2010 Ravens-Steelers game at M&T Bank Stadium. Lewis took stadium security with him before the game and had all 'Ben is a rapist' type signs taken down and removed. A class act move and something that should be respected. 

So, what's Bayless' problem? Where was the vitriol regarding Lewis and Big Ben? This is a career for the players, this is their job. They know how keep it in perspective after the game is done, how, again, to leave it on the field. Wiley pointed that fact out also. 

"The fans are the ones who are supporting this mythology that we hate everyone on the other team."

Ryan Clark is boisterous, but he isn't belligerent. He expresses his opinion, but he isn't contemptible. He interacts with Steelers fans on Twitter and is always personable. Skip Bayless, despite having various valid points when you listen to the entire podcast on ESPN, was wrong overall in his assessment of Clark's sentiments and of the NFL.

I understand that Bayless is paid to cause controversy, to create headlines and to stir contentions among fans. The latter simply won't happen with this fan. Ryan Clark's respect for his enemy, per se, is commendable and he doesn't have to hate the Raven's players or team. 

Besides, I hate them enough for both of us.


Before a completely asinine Mike Wallace-to-Colts trade rumor on Thursday, some real news was released. Al Everest, the now former Steelers special teams coach was fired. 

The first alerts that came down to me were by Mark Kaboly and Jay Glazer. Kaboly tweeted that "Steelers special teams coach Al Everest just walked out the team facility with a handful of his belongings."

Jay Glazer tweeted this from his account "@JayGlazer: Steelers have parted ways with special teams coach Al Everest."

Shocking news. You don't see this type of thing happen two weeks before the start of the regular season. Like Kaboly said shortly after it happened, it's "hard to believe that Steelers ST coach Al Everest was fired for the play on the field. Had to be philosophical differences."

Amos Jones, who was the assistant special teams coach, along with Jerry Oslavsky and Ray Jackson, and reportedly in charge of a lot of what the special teams did anyway, has been promoted to fill the position. He is the third special teams coach under Mike Tomlin - Bob Ligashesky and then Everest.

Mike Tomlin had been disappointed with special teams efforts against the Colts. He said, "I didn't like our return game. [The play] was below the line." The Steelers special teams hadn't had a great preseason to the point of Everest's firing, but it was horrible either.

Tomlin released a brief statement, as can be found on the Steelers website, regarding the move: "We are continually evaluating our coaching staff and support staff, and we have decided to go in a different direction with respect to the coaching of our special teams. I want to thank Al for his contributions and efforts, and I wish him well in the future."

Everest had been an NFL special teams coach for 16 seasons and was starting his third season running the Steelers’ squad, and has since admitted his firing was a "shock" and said there were "professional differences." -