Archive for January, 2011

Why I’m A Super Bowl Fan
January 31, 2011

I’m sitting here writing this entry watching the Pro Bowl. Never did get why they have an all-star game for football. Tough to play this violent game at 3/4 speed.

Anyway, onto the topic of the day and I have to admit that I am a bit of “geek” when it comes to the Super Bowl. I think all guys have some sort of hobby or thing they get geeky about, whether they know even the most trivial items. My geek thing is the Super Bowl. This goes beyond knowing what happens when the Steelers play in this game. I know more about the Super Bowl that I know about my own life.

This game got my attention in 1979, when the Steelers and Cowboys squared off in Super Bowl XIII. I wasn’t a hardcore Steeler fan at the time. I was a kid growing up in Connecticut who quickly became enamored with the game and the spectacle. While I knew little about football at the time, I knew this was big. It was  great game decided,  of all things, a dropped pass by the Cowboys Jackie Smith that might forced the game to overtime.

As the years went on, I made sure I was somewhere to watch the game from start to finish. I didn’t care about the parties, the commercials. I just wanted to see the spectacle. When the Bears and Patriots met in Super Bowl XX, I was in the perfect location to cash in on my first Super Bowl bet. I  mean I lived 45 minutes from Foxborough, Massachusetts and I was convinced Chicago would win convincingly.

As the years went on,  college and the work world, I wondered if I would ever get actually see a Super Bowl in person. A job offer from WTAE was my ticket to Super Bowl XXX, covering the Steelers and Cowboys ( a rematch of the first Super Bowl I had ever seen ). I then began to realize the adage of  “how rare an opportunity” it is to go the Super Bowl since the Steelers didn’t go again for a decade. However, I was there for the magic carpet ride that ended in Detroit at Super Bowl XL.

Three years later, I was there to witness two of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history in Tampa. James Harrison’s electrifying interception return before the half … and Ben Roethlisberger’s Super Bowl winning pass to Santonio Holmes. Now I’m going back again with the Steelers. My fourth Super Bowl. Amazing for a kid who is more than a fan of the game.

I used to collect programs from each game until they started asking for $15  for a program ( really?).  More recently I have collected the DVD hilights of each game … as well as the “America’s Game” series in which NFL Films does a masterful job of telling the stories of each of the 44 previous Super Bowl Champions. Its a must-see.

For a kid who grew up watching the game, it was a moment to remembe to hold the Lombardi Trophy after a Super Bowl. ( Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa ).

I’m more than just a fan of the game, I’ve become a bit of a historian. Maybe its the roman numerals. I don’t always remember my brother’s birthday, but I can remember the storyline from Super Bowl XVIII. ( Raiders 38, Redskins 9 in Tampa; Marcus Allen MVP. Trust me. I didn’t google that ). Let me just share with you some of my Super Bowl favories:

Best game: Super Bowl XLIII ( Steelers vs Cardinals ) or Super Bowl XXXVIII ( Patriots vs Panthers ) Both great shootouts!

Best play: ( Tie ) James Harrison INT return ( XLIII ) and David Tyree’s catch using his helmet ( XLII )

Best team effort: Chicago Bears defense crushing the Patriots ( XX )

Most dramatic moment: Terry Bradshaw’s TD pass to John Stallworth to rally the Steelers past the Rams ( XIV )

Biggest blowout: San Francisco 55, Denver 10 ( XXIV ). We kind of knew it was over … at the coin toss.

Most emotional moment: Seeing Jerome Bettis call  it a career on the podium with the trophy ( XL ).

Most devastating loss: Bills go wide right, losing to Giants 20-19 ( XXV ). A win and they might have gone on to win more.

So what will happen this year between the Packers and Steelers? Classic or blowout? Memorable or one to forget? Who really knows … and that’s why I love this game.

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A Really “Super” Bowl Ahead
January 24, 2011

You are going to hear all sorts of previews, stories, insights and opinions on Super Bowl XLV in the days ahead  to the point that by gameday, you will sick and saying “can we play this game already?”. Well let me put in my two cents early in the process.

First, kudos to Sports Illustrated’s football writer, and proud Ohio University grad, Peter King on picking this match-up back in September. Married to a Bridgeville girl, he predicted the Steelers and Packers in the Super Bowl.

The stories of Super Bowl week will be many: The Steelers trying to win their seventh Lombardi Trophy, the showdown between Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger, the meeting of two traditional powers who are storied in history but humble in ownership, Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy being a Pittsburgh native, etc.

However, the greatest story of this Super Bowl maybe the Steeler and Packer fans. Before the Steelers and Packers “nation” stuff started, these were already two of the loyalist and most unique fan bases in all of pro football. The Terrible Towel lovers vs the Cheeseheads. These two franchises have the greatest following of fans and travel very well. The 100,000-seat Cowboys Stadium may not be big enough for all the Steeler and Packer fans that want to attend this once-in-a-lifetime game.

MIke Wallace’s game winning grab with no time left to beat the Packers in December 2009.

If you want tradition and history, there is nothing quite like this match-up. When you think Steelers-Packers, you think Bradshaw and Starr, Lombardi and Noll,. Nitschke and Greene. Add to that, the last match-up the two teams had back in 2009, a see-saw showdown on the North Shore which saw four lead changes in the final quarter and the Steelers winning on the final play, add you have a making of Super Bowl for the ages.

Let the hype begin … and let’s hope the game can live up to the hype!

One Win Away
January 21, 2011

One win away.

I’ve been here before. I have had the pleasure of covering or attending seven conference championship games … both here and in other cities. While the Super Bowl is the ultimate prize in pro sports, there is something about the conference championship game that makes it perhaps a little more dramatic.

NFL Films recaps every season with the hilight film “Road To The Super Bowl” … and its always done prior to the big game. The climax of the hour-long film is the conference championship games. As they say “four teams, two games, one shot at glory”.

Its the final game before the biggest game. The teams usually play in the elements and that adds another dimension to the contest. Then, its the fact its a championship game: an homage to the days before the Super Bowl when the AFL and NFL would each hold title games … and then the winner would advance to the Super Bowl.

I’ve seen some interesting atmospheres in this town prior to the AFC Championship. There was the overwhelming confidence of the 1994 Steelers before they were shocked and stunned by San Diego. There was the trepidation when the Steelers played the Colts in 1996 … and won because the receiver for Indy dropped the ball in the end zone. There was the string of title games from 1998 to 2004 where this town started to question if the Steelers could win “the big one”.

Then, there was the exorcising of the demons on the road in Denver in 2005 en route to Detroit. Now, those days of doubt have been forgotten. The Steelers and their fans are nervous, but confident their team can win against the Jets Sunday.

I think what make this game so special and so different is that its our last chance to cheer for the Steelers this season – in person. Not everyone can go to the Super Bowl, but Pittsburgh can host a championship game and can use its voice to help the Steelers to victory.

It will be the 11th title game held along the Three Rivers. An NFL record. As Steeler author Jim O’Brien told me, and I echoed it, we are lucky in this city.

Final Thoughts From The Inaugural
January 19, 2011

I’m back home after a whirlwind two days in Harrisburg watching something is truly made in America: the smooth transition of power. From Presidents to governors to mayors and even the local dog catcher, moving power from one group to another is done in a peaceful in a democracy.

Such was the case in Harrisburg as Republican and now former attorney general Tom Corbett assumed the governorship from Democrat Ed Rendell. I had  a unique insight on this process because I had sat down a couple of weeks earlier with the then governor-elect. It was the only one-on-one interview he did prior to his swearing-in. We covered many subjects, but the theme I came away with during our half-hour discussion was that he was going to balance the budget and achieve financial growth by reducing spending, not taxing more.

During the wet and cold inauguration on the capitol steps, there were familiar faces from our region. Just the presence of so many from western Pennsylvania signals a change in Harrisburg. For too long, the perception from western Pennsylvanians has been Harrisburg has been focused on the eastern half of the state. With Corbett, along with many other legislative leaders from here in positions of power, are certain to turn Harrisburg’s attention west.

Governor Tom Corbett addressing audience following being sworn-in at Inauguration in Harrisburg

The day itself was cold, wet and rainy. Ice had formed on all the chairs. I was as shocked as anyone they performed the ceremony outside, but I think it was more symbolic than anything else. After 8 years of  the Rendell administration, the Republican governor and his people weren’t about let bad weather spoil their moment in the spotlight.

I saw many familiar faces from our region in the audience … all friends and colleagues of Corbett, including Allegheny County GOP committee chair Jim Roddey. In a moment of candor, he admitted to me that the incoming Governor knew his policies and measures would not be popular and was willing to accept the real possibility that if they did not work, he could very well be a one-term Governor. A sobering thought on Inauguration day.

Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling Protestors, including people from Pittsburgh, at Inaugural in Harrisburg

Just outside the ceremony, another event took place. People from across the state, including a bus load from Pittsburgh, were there to protest Marcellus Shale gas drilling. They are concerned about the impact of the booming industry on the environment and their drinking water. Supporters told me they fear the industry could run rampant in the state because it was also one of the biggest contributors to the Corbett campaign. The governor-elect told me he plans to form a committee of environmentalists and industry leaders to look into the issues involving gas drilling in the state. We will watch … and see.

A final thought. This was the second inaugural I had ever covered. The first was the historic Obama inauguration which is still the coldest day I can remember. Obviously, this inaugural was smaller, but no less a display of the smooth transfer of power. It’s really one of those things we often take for granted, but one of those traditions that is truly American and should be celebrated …. no matter which party wins.

Pre-Inauguration Insights
January 18, 2011

Sorry for the late post, but hopefully this is greeting you as you arrive at the office today. I’m writing this as I head off to bed on election eve in Harrisburg. Tuesday, Pennsylvania will have its first new governor in eight years … and a new set of challenges for the top office holder in the Commonwealth.

If you have never been to Harrisburg, it’s an interesting town. The downtown and capitol areas are busy and full of energy, but if you venture off from the downtown area you find a city in flux. Not much industry or business. As the governor-elect told me, Harrisburg would be in trouble if not for it being the seat of state government.

Notice much of the media has begun to descend on Harrisburg as there is a sense of excitement and anticipation. Whether you voted for Corbett or Dan Onorato, there is little doubt that when a new governor is sworn-in, life will be better for its citizens. There’s always the hope that whatever ails a community or a commonwealth will be cured with new leadership.

However, even the governor-elect, in his only pre-inaugural interview, that sacrifices must be made by residents and lawmakers in order to get onto sound financial footing with the state’s $5B budget gap. Add to that, a governor who doesn’t plan to raise taxes to close the gap, and you have the makings of tight times for Harrisburg where things could get worse before they get better.

Big question coming into Inauguration day is how made will the weather be. The Weather Watch 4 folks tell me if you want to see tomorrow, take a look at Pittsburgh weather tonight. Yep. It’s going to be one of those days but the Corbetts want to hold this outside and I don’t think anything is going to stop them.

The other interesting note is the protest planned for the capitol area. Those who feel Marcellus Shale drilling should be curbed or banned altogether will assemble in the capitol area to protest. There will be a bus load from Pittsburgh there as well. It’s an issue on which our governor feels very strongly that it could be the savior for the state. Opponents think it could be the death of it as well.

Should be a very interesting day … and when I get a few moments … I’ll blog some more thoughts. One little inside tip: Corbett will be sworn-in on the same bible used by the founder of Pennsylvania. William Penn.

Pretty cool!

One-On-One With The New Gov
January 13, 2011

A Western PA resident is about to take over the top job in the state. Attorney General Tom Corbett is set to be sworn-in Tuesday as the 46th Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Many of you want to know what he has planned for the next four years. What will his election mean for your family, your pocketbook and your community?

Well, Channel 4 has the answers .. because I went one-on-one with the Governor elect. An exclusive half-hour discussion on several topics of interest to you. It’s the only interview the Governor-elect gave before his inauguration. Look for it – when we come to you live from Harrisburg for inauguration activities – starting Monday on Channel 4 Action News at 5.

Sitting down in Harrisburg with Governor-elect Tom Corbett in his only pre-inauguration interview

Corbett was candid about the state’s future and his plans. He also surprised us, giving us a guided tour of the state capitol building  including areas that are not part of the public tour. I think you will find in interesting and informative.

Also, keep checking back here Monday and Tuesday. I’ll be blogging on the events happening in Harrisburg during the two-day inaugural celebration. I’ll let you know who’s out here and what they are saying. Our coverage starts Monday on Channel 4 Action News at 5 … and here at WTAE.com

2010: A Year of Incredible Young People
January 1, 2011

We knew it was going to be hard for Pittsburgh to top 2009 when it came to news, It was a year of extreme highs ( Super Bowl and Stanley Cup Championships) to excruciating lows (  the deaths of 3 city police officers and the shooting of 3 women at a locla fitness center ). We even became a player on the world stage by hosting the G-20 Summit.

All these events were defined by the men who played key roles … be they heroes or villains. They were men who made the impact on the year’s biggest stories. In 2010, we didn’t make such grand headlines as a region ( unless you count “snowmaggeddon” ) but we did move the world with individual stories. In particular, the stories of  three young women.

Those were the stories that moved me because it was more than just their stories, it was them. There were young women I got to know as newsmakers and people, because I was allowed into their homes and got to know them behind-the-scenes.

The first young women to impress the world were sisters from Ben Avon, Jamie and Ali McMutrie. Both in their 20’s, they had dedicated themselves and their lives to helping orphans in Haiti. Its volunteer work that might have gone unnoticed if not for a deadly earthquake which rocked the country .. and turned these young girls into young heroes.

With Ali McMutrie and her adopted brother Jamie months after the earthquake ordeal in Haiti.

They were suddenly charged with 150 orphaned children with no place to house them, no place to shelter them and very little to feed them. It was their bravery and refusal to leave Haiti without the children that forced the hand of political leaders in this country. They became national celebrities, but when I visited Jamie and Ali at home with their family, there was nothing to indicate that they were super-human. Other than the presence of their adopted brother Fredo, there was no indication of their commitment to Haiti — a commitment that  continues with the effort to build their own orphanage in Haiti.

The other young woman the world got to know so well was introduced to me in 2009.

I met Jackie Evancho while serving as emcee at a fund-raising event in November of that year. I introduced the then 9-year-old, expecting her to sing like someone her age. Then she began to sing … and I was in awe. She has the look of a child but the voice of someone well beyond her years. I introduced her to Pittsburgh in a story that ran Christmas eve of 2009.

Who could have imagined the ride Jackie would take in 2010. She got on a national television show … and almost won a competition to get her own show on the Las Vegas strip. She didn’t get Vegas, but does anybody remember the last time you saw the winner of that show perform on stage?

Introducing Jackie Evancho at Variety Childrens Gala in November 2009. Who could have known that night how her star would rise well beyond the borders of Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, Jackie’s star has risen. A new holiday album. A new CD on the way. Performances in Rockerfeller Center and for the President at the White House. Saturday, 65,000 will fill her hometown stadium to watch her belt out the national anthem before the Winter Classic.

All the while, I have spent time with Jackie and her family and she could not be anymore down to earth and childlike. She is one of four children and, in my visits with her, she is treated and acts like any other child in her family. Sure, she is talented and destined for great things, but her parents have always stressed in our interviews the desire to keep her life normal.

Jamie and Ali McMutrie … and Jackie Evancho. This was their year. They showed the world that ordinary people can do extraordinary things with both talent and tenacity. Its been a pleasure getting to know these amazing females … and will be even more enjoyable to see what the future holds for this trio.

Happy New Year!