WORLD CUP? NO THANKS

It’s World Cup soccer time again.

Yep, every four years the planet Earth has a party, and I’m not invited. Well, actually, that’s wrong.

Everybody’s invited, I just have no interest in going. I’ve tried and I just can’t get into soccer.

Is it because I’m old?

There’s a good chance. I was a kid in the 1950s and 1960s. Do you know how many kids I knew who played soccer?

None.

I did not know one kid who played the game and was never asked to play. There was a mysterious organization near where I grew up called the Beadling Soccer Club. But I didn’t know anybody who belonged to it, and it was probably considered a subversive organization by the adults in my life.

Of course, I didn’t know one kid who played hockey, either, and I didn’t learn to skate until I was in my mid-30s, but I love hockey.

Maybe it’s no more complicated than the fact that I don’t have any interest in seeing humans play with a ball without using their hands. I’d probably like the sport a lot more if it was OK to pick up the ball and run with it.

I never played rugby, but I enjoy watching it every once in a while.

The best description I’ve come across for soccer was in a piece written in 2009 by Wabash College philosophy professor Stephen H. Webb, who wrote, “Think of two posses pursuing their prey in opposite directions without bullets in their guns.”

Webb also struck a chord with me when he compared soccer to baseball. He feels, as do I, that soccer is taking the place of baseball for lots of kids because it’s so much easier to join a group of kids and chase a ball around than it is to learn how to catch, throw and hit a baseball. Then there is the unavoidable individual attention that comes with each at-bat.

“The spectacle of your failure was so public that it was like having all of your friends over to your home to watch your dad force you to eat your vegetables,” Webb wrote about baseball.

North American sports such as baseball, football, basketball and hockey seem to do a better job of toughening kids up with a lot less writhing.

I still don’t get the writhing.

There’s no right or wrong here. I hope not liking soccer doesn’t make me a bad person. It’s a matter of taste. And maybe I’ll try again in four years. Meanwhile, you and the three billion other people will have to try to enjoy the party without me.

• There is no better example of the stupid and corrupt things that government will do with other people’s money than when politicians partner with teams and/or sports promoters. The waste and corruption associated with the World Cup being in Brazil is of epic proportions and will probably only be surpassed by the Olympics going there in 2016.

• In almost every case of government waste and corruption associated with the awarding of major international sporting events, it was only made possible by massive media cheerleading.

The American media, however, seems a lot more willing to expose the corruption associated with the major international events than it has been with the corruption and waste associated with the use of taxpayer funding for stadiums and arenas in cities here.

Billions have been given to major professional sports teams over the last 25 or 30 years and that has been no less wasteful or corrupt. It just happened in smaller increments. You know, only $300 or $400 million at a time.

• Am I the only person in Western Pennsylvania who doesn’t think Le’Veon Bell should be anointed the Steelers’ No. 1 running back for this season? The Steelers signed well-traveled back LeGarrette Blount as a free agent and the consensus seems to be that he will make a nice supplemental/short yardage back.

The Steelers will be Blount’s fourth team in four years and that raises a boatload of questions, but nothing in his career suggests that he should be limited to a few carries a game.

In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The more carries he gets, the better he is. Blount has carried the ball 15 times or more in 15 games. In those games, he averaged 4.95 yards a carry. He averaged more than five yards a carry eight times and more than seven yards per carry three times. He averaged less than four yards a carry only three times in those 15 games.

Bell never averaged five yards a carry in a game last season. He carried the ball 15 times or more in 12 games. In four of those, he averaged less than three yards per carry.

None of this is to say Bell stinks or even that he shouldn’t be considered the No. 1 back going into training camp. It’s just that Blount’s numbers and his highlight reel say that it should be an open competition.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

PEYTON MANNING OR TERRY BRADSHAW

Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk fell into the same trap that way too many writers fall into when comparing Terry Bradshaw to superstar and/or Hall of Fame quarterbacks who have come after him.

They compare his stats (apples) to theirs (oranges) without taking the differences in the eras into account. Smith found lots of ugly stats from some of Bradshaw’s post season games and he makes the mistake of saying that Bradshaw had little to do with the Steelers’ first two Super Bowl wins.

Johnny Unitas had 7 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in the post season and put up a 68 passer rating. Quarterbacks took all their snaps from under center in those days. They had two running backs lined up behind them and rarely had more than two wide receivers in the formation.   And their offensive lineman had to keep their hands off of pass rushers. There was a penalty called illegal use of the hands. And defenders  could knock receivers on their asses whenever they felt like it as long as the ball wasn’t in the air.

When those rules were changed to the ones that Manning plays under now Bradshaw put up great numbers. It’s scary to think what  Bradshaw, who did EVERYTHING better than Manning would do in today’s flag football offenses.

You know how many touchdown passes Joe Namath threw in that famous Super Bowl win over the Colts? None. You know what his completion percentage was the week before in the AFC  championship game? 38%. The Jets won the game. His career post season completion percentage was 42%. Namath, like Bradshaw, threw the ball downfield. There was no dinking and dunking.

In 1972, on the way to winning the Super Bowl, Roger Staubach, who also did EVERYTHING better than Manning, threw for 99, 103, 119 yards and had a total of three touchdown passes in three games. In 1978, the first season under the new rules, Staubach was 7-17 and 13-25 in the two playoff games before losing to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII.

You just can’t compare Bradshaw to modern quarterbacks with stats alone. The guys today are playing a completely different game. Compare Bradshaw to his contemporaries and he looks just fine.

BAN TOBACCO?

Tony Gwynn died on Monday from cancer. He was 54 and he died believing that his cancer was caused by over 30 years of chewing tobacco. This has caused more discussion about Major League Baseball banning tobacco. It sends a bad message to the kiddies. Quick question: What causes more disease and death, chewing tobacco or alcohol? Maybe MLB should stop taking all that advertising money from the beer companies. And maybe teams should consider eliminating beer sales at the ball park.  Fat chance.

Chuck Noll, R.I.P.

When Chuck Noll died on June 13, 2014, I wrote this obit for my weekly sports column:

They say Pittsburgh is a football town. If it is, you can thank Chuck Noll, who died Friday night at the age of 82. When he showed up to coach the Steelers in  January of 1969, Pittsburgh was anything but a football town. The Steelers were not just the laughingstock of pro football. They were the laughingstock of American sports.

In Western Pennsylvania, the Steelers were something to do during Pirates seasons and they may not have been as popular as Pitt football, which stunk every bit as much if not more in the 1960s. In order to appreciate the job that Noll did, you have to understand just how bad the Steelers were before he changed them forever.

The Steelers had never won a a championship and were 45-72-6 in the 1960s with two winning seasons. They had two winning seasons in the ’50s and three in the ’40s. That’s seven winning seasons in 29 years. And their record didn’t do them justice.

They were worse.

A month before Noll took the job, the Steelers had played in front of a “crowd” of 22,682 at Pitt Stadium. They lost of course.

Fans were rooting for them to lose so that they could take O.J. Simpson with the first pick in the draft.

When they messed that up by going 2-0-1 in weeks 7,8 and 9, the plan was to do what they almost always did on the rare occasions when they hadn’t traded their top draft picks for more bad players.

They planned to draft the best available local guy who could help them sell tickets. That’s what they did when they drafted Pitt’s Paul Martha in 1964 and West Virginia’s Dick Leftridge in 1966.

Terry Hanratty was from Butler and was the quarterback at Notre Dame. Slam dunk choice. Chuck Noll said no and picked Joe Greene.

That was the first move in what may have been the best coaching job in the history of American sports.

Every Steelers fan knows what happened in the ‘70s. The Steelers went from being the worst major professional sports team in American history to the almost universally acclaimed best pro football team in the history of the planet.

Noll undid 40 years of ineptitude and embarrassment in five years.

Drafting Joe Greene was the first sign that the team was going to be built differently.

Noll won the first game that he coached and then lost the next 13 in 1969. What did he do to shake up the team in his second training camp? He got rid of the Steelers’ best player. Roy Jefferson was a wide receiver and the Steelers’ only star. He was coming off back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, something no other Steelers receiver would do until Hines Ward in 2001 and 2002.

Jefferson wasn’t going along with the program, so Noll traded him to Baltimore for a mediocre receiver named Willie Richardson. Keep in mind that Noll traded his only star player and one of the best wide receivers in the league after he had taken a quarterback named Terry Bradshaw with the first pick in the draft a few months earlier.

And the plan was to start Bradshaw in Week 1.

Bradshaw threw six touchdown passes and 24 interceptions his rookie year. He could have used Jefferson.

The NFL awards the Lombardi Trophy to its champion every year. The Chuck Noll Trophy might make more sense. Noll won more Super Bowls than any other coach and no NFL coach has ever done a better job than Noll did from 1969 to 1979.

Not Lombardi.

Not Shula.

Not Walsh.

All great coaches, but the teams they inherited were better than the one that Noll inherited and Noll won more Super Bowls than all of them. And he did it after his defenses had forced the NFL to change the rules to make it easier to complete a pass.

They took away his ability to totally dominate with defense, so he turned his quarterback loose and beat them with offense. And if there is another coach in a major sport who has won back-to-back championships with only players that he drafted or signed as free agents, as Noll did in 1978 and 1979, I don’t know who it is.

It would be nice if you could say that Chuck Noll’s numbers speak for themselves, but they don’t. They apparently don’t speak loud enough for him to be mentioned very often in discussions about the greatest NFL coaches.

The great thing about Noll is that he did let his accomplishments speak for themselves. He was not a self-promoter. He had no interest in having his own TV show or doing car commercials. When he retired, networks weren’t lined up to hire him as an analyst because he made it clear that he wasn’t interested.

So, Chuck Noll will probably never get the recognition that a guy with his accomplishments deserves.

And, you know what? He couldn’t care less.

What a great man.

LANCE ARMSTRONG A DOPER?

I’ve gotten in trouble for stating my attitude about athletes and steroids. After hearing so many debunked indignant,tearful deniaplayers athletes who turned out to be guilty, I decided to take a guilty until proven innocent when any credible evidence is presented.

Dr. Charles Yesalis, one of the foremost experts on steroid use in sports,said that that he doesn’t see how any human could win the Tour de France without drugs.

For the foresable future,  when it comes to Lance Armstrong, I’m going with guilty.

****

Lance Armstrong faces fresh doping charges from USADA

By Wednesday, June 13, 2:56 PM

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency brought formal doping charges against former cyclist Lance Armstrong in an action that could cost him his seven Tour de France titles, according to a letter sent to Armstrong and several others Tuesday.

As a result of the charges, Armstrong has been immediately banned from competition in triathlons, a sport he took up after his retirement from cycling in 2011.

In the 15-page charging letter obtained by The Post, USADA made previously unpublicized allegations against Armstrong, alleging it collected blood samples from Armstrong in 2009 and 2010 that were “fully consistent with blood ma­nipu­la­tion including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.” Armstrong has never tested positive.

In February, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles ended a nearly two-year investigation into doping allegations involving Armstrong without bringing criminal charges. Armstrong’s former teammates Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton cooperated with federal agents in that investigation and publicly accused Armstrong of doping.

USADA is the quasi-government agency that oversees anti-doping in Olympic sports in the United States. It is empowered to bring charges that could lead to suspension from competition and the rescinding of awards. It does not have authority to bring criminal charges.

“I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one,” Armstrong said in a statement released by his publicist. “That USADA ignores this fundamental distinction and charges me instead of the admitted dopers says far more about USADA, its lack of fairness and this vendetta than it does about my guilt or innocence. Any fair consideration of these allegations has and will continue to vindicate me.”

USADA’s letter, dated June 12, alleges that Armstrong and five former cycling team associates — three doctors including Italian physician Michele Ferrari, one trainer and team manager Johan Bruyneel— engaged in a massive doping conspiracy from 1998 to 2011, and that “the witnesses to the conduct described in this letter include more than ten (10) cyclists . . .”

All of the six, including trainer Jose Pepi Marti of Switzerland and doctors Pedro Celaya of Luxembourg and Luis Garcia del Moral of Spain, face competition bans. USADA put all of the alleged violations in one letter, it stated, because it considers the six defendents part of a “long running doping conspiracy.”

The letter specifically alleges that “multiple riders with firsthand knowledge” will testify that Armstrong used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and masking agents, and that he distributed and administered drugs to other cyclists from 1998 to 2005. The letter alleges that numerous witnesses will testify that Armstrong also used human growth hormone before 1996.

“These charges are a product of malice and spite and not evidence,” Robert D. Luskin, Armstrong’s Washington-based attorney, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Nothing else explains the fact . . . they allege an overarching doping conspiracy among four teams over 14 years and Lance is the only rider that gets charged.”

Armstrong competed for the U.S. Postal Service team and later the Discovery Channel team from 1998 to 2005. In 2009, he rode for the Astana Cycling Team and on RadioShack’s team in 2010-11.

The letter further claims that Martial Saugy, the director of an anti-doping lab in Switzerland, stated that Armstrong’s urine sample results from the 2001 Tour of Switzerland indicated EPO use.

Saugy told The Post last year that Armstrong’s sample was merely “suspicious,” a designation that meant it could not be called positive. Further analysis with modern methods might bring clarity, Saugy said, but the sample no longer exists.

“We did not do the additional analysis. It will never be sufficient to say, in fact, it was positive,” Saugy said in an interview with The Post. “I will never go in front of a court with that type of thing.”

Luskin said USADA sent Armstrong a letter last week asking him to meet with anti-doping officials. Armstrong declined, believing USADA was not interested in his testimony but rather a confession, Luskin said. In its letter, USADA said “with the exception of Mr. Armstrong, every other U.S. rider contacted by USADA regarding doping in cycling agreed to meet with USADA . . .”

USADA Chief Executive Officer Travis Tygart could not be immediately reached to comment.

Though the World Anti-Doping Agency places an eight-year statute of limitations on doping allegations, USADA argues in its letter that evidence of banned acts outside of the eight-year limit can be losed to corroborate evidence within the limit, and the statute of limitations can be waived when the alleged violations were fraudulently concealed.