Who is at the center?


A recent article came out declaring that in a recent survey, 1 in 4 Americans didn’t know that the earth revolved around the sun.  Scientists and educators were dismayed!

It was quite hard for people to accept Copernicus’ notion that the earth was not the center of the universe.  That 75% of the population has finally figured it out is fairly impressive, at least as compared to the percentage that have comprehended an even more important truth about life. 

You see, I was actually surprised to hear that the percentage was that good, seeing as how nearly all of us live life as though the world revolves around us. Our need for other people, circumstances, and even God to keep in line with our desires shows a huge flaw in our understanding of life. 

Jesus made it very clear that nothing that has life, got that life apart from Him, the eternal Word of God.  In John 15 of the Bible, He gave us a picture of what that means.  He said that He is the vine and we are branches.  That wasn’t a put down.  Branches are where beautiful leaves and fruit get produced…when they realize that they aren’t the center of the universe…when they stay attached to the vine. 

Ever see a branch that gets detached?  Ever see one in that condition that produces pretty leaves and fruit?  Nope, me neither.  They die. 

That is what happens to people who forget that Christ is the center of it all.  That is what happens to branches that wander off from the vine.  They die.

Jesus goes on to say, “Therefore, remain in me.”  Notice, modern translations have yet to change that to “Therefore, if you start thinking you are the vine instead of me, then I’ll just cave and let you call the shots.”  Jesus only gives a plea that we stay in a position of life instead of choosing death.  He does not offer another path to life.

Now that I’m 2 months into my journey to recover my deep love for Christ that I have abandoned along the way, I’m realizing that the key to recovery is simply reconnecting to the vine…over and over, deeper and deeper- in prayer, in worship, in silence, etc.  Recovery doesn’t come from doing good things or not doing bad things.  I’ve tried a bit of that in January and February.  Still dry.  Only through reattachment to the vine and remaining there does the living water of God begin to resuscitate my spirit. 

My wandering has brought death…dried leaves and rotting fruit that have alerted me to a problem.  I guess I was hoping I could tote the vine around to where I wanted to go like a transportable IV bag stand and that my leading the way or my lack of interest in the vine wouldn’t have bad consequences because I could always plug in for a quick hit when I really needed it. 

In summary, here are the 2 positions:

Jesus’- I’m the vine.  Remain in me. 

Mine- I’m the branch.  Remain near me for when I need you.

I believe the subtle distinction is all that has been necessary to derail me.  But I have gained awareness of this and that is huge.  I’d appreciate your prayers as I try to shake off old patterns, busyness, and independence in order to reattach to and remain where I belong.  I want my life to revolve around the Son.

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Sports Smorgasbord


In honor of the Olympics starting today in my 2nd home country, I thought I’d check back in with my latest sports thoughts.  I know I’ve been out of touch.  That has been a reflection on my schedule of late.  But I can assure you that I’ve not let a little bump in the road for the Steelers this year jar me away from my passion for sports!


Hooray for the Seahawks!  What a dominant effort they gave on Sunday.  I like seeing new teams win if the Steelers can’t.  My only fear is that this team looks like they could be hard to handle for years to come.  Let’s hope that defense can be broken up a bit when they have to break the bank to try to keep them all.

As for Manning, it is hard for me to deny that he simply has not been a big game quarterback.  He has had amazing teams for years that come up dry in the postseason.  Probably the worst stat- 8 one and dones in the playoffs.  That is inexcusable.  He is a great player.  I think he is a great person.  But I can think of a good handful of quarterbacks I’d rather have when it really counts…and Big Ben is one of them. 

In Steeler news:

  • Love getting Munchak as our Offensive Line Coach.
  • Cut Woodley, keep Polamalu.
  • Get a deal done on Ben’s final NFL contract.
  • Go for a cornerback with the #1 pick. 


I’m trying to trust that the Pirates know what they are doing, but it sure seems like they are sliding backwards.  I’m disappointed that they haven’t at least added one big piece at first base and I think they should have offered A.J. Burnett that $14 million offer so that they could at least get good compensation if he signs elsewhere.  That said, the contracts being signed around the league are insane and baseball and the Pirates will never be fixed until MLB gets a salary cap in place. 


The Penguins are doing well but you get the feeling some deals need to be done to make them ready for Lord Stanley.  I am struggling to know whether to cheer loudest for the American hockey team with Blysma coaching and several Penguins playing, the Canadians and my main man Crosby, or the hometown favorite Malkin over here.


Last but not least, the Olympics.  First of all, Dejan Kovacevic wrote a great column today in the Pittsburgh Tribune that gave Russia a lot of kudos for their preparation, unlike most of what is being written.  I know there are problems but it seems like many are hoping that they will fail.  That isn’t fair.

As for the games, I love watching them but I read a great, thought-provoking article recently describing how the Olympics should cease to exist.  The writer reflected on the fact that when the Olympics were restarted by some French guy, it was supposed to be to promote world peace and focus on the thrill of competing, not winning.  This reporter then began to bemoan the fact that the threats of terror each year, the steroid infested competitions and the payoffs of judges all show that the games don’t nearly live up to the original dream.  Sad.

Well, there you have it.  I’m still alive over here in Russia and hoping that the next 2 weeks are filled with lots of exciting competition.  I hope you all get to enjoy a bit of Russian culture through those Bob Costas stories!  Think of me while you watch.



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Kim Walker-Smith- Walk With Me

This song helped usher me into God’s presence this week in a powerful way. I hope it helps you connect with Your Father, as well.
Side note- I think Kim’s voice and passion are amazing!

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A New Year’s Revolution


As my family huddled up yesterday afternoon to talk about our relationships with God and to pray for our new year, we got on the subject of new year’s resolutions.  Every time Katya went to talk about it, her tongue tied a bit and it kept coming out as New Year’s Revolution.  The first couple of times got chuckles, but as she kept repeating it, I found my heart beginning to shout out, “Yes!  That is what I really want!” 

I don’t know what the percentages are for how many people are able to keep their resolutions but I’m thinking it may compare to the playoff chances of the Steelers the last couple of weeks.  I know I am certainly to blame over the years for lowering the success rate.  By the time I’m over the sleep deprivation, cookie over-ingestation, and football intoxication of New Year’s Day, I realize that my resolutions are already on the clock and I’ve probably fallen behind further than I already was the night before when I made them!  By mid-January, my resolve has lost its way in the midst of new agendas and old habits. 

I hate that.  I’m tired of that.  I don’t want to do it again.

But is there anything weaker than my resolve?  I can’t seem to send it to the gym to get stronger or last longer. 

Yes, one more resolution this year doesn’t inspire much hope in me.  What I need is a revolution.  An overthrowing of some of the old ways of doing and being that are alive in me, by something, or should I say, Someone, who is stronger than my own resolve. 

I want the God of all creation to make things new in me this year. 

2013 was a big search for the idols that are still cluttering up my life.  I’ve written enough about that.  But as I ended the year, I felt like I still had only covered 50% of the “search and seizure” process.  Yep, I see the idols.  But, they seem to still be lounging around and frankly, I still seem to be offering them hospitality.  I feel like me standing up and resolving to kick them out the door this year would be greeted by their cackles.  Haunting laughs that tell me that they know me too well, and thus, aren’t terribly frightened by my threats.

Been there, done that.  Over and over.

But this past year, my mentor gave me some wise words that he heard from pastor Tim Keller.  Something about the words smelt different than the fragrances of my past approaches.He said,

The only way to overcome the power of one affection is by the expulsive power of another one.

Now you might say, “Hey, we are talking about things in our lives that we don’t like.  So what’s up with the word ‘affection’?”  Well, I think he is saying that everything we allow in our lives, from little innocent things to big not-so-innocent things, are only given a place in our lives due to an affection we have for them, or the result we hope that they will give us. 

You might say, “But I don’t have an affection for these extra pounds!”  No, but you might have an affection for the comfort you hope to receive from that pack of Oreos.  I know I do. 

The point is, there is a reason that all of these idols are in my life.  They each have a function, a purpose, that I’ve assigned to them.  I want them to do something for me.  I’ve placed my hope in them for something.  They’ve become for me what Keller describes as a “false gospel”.  The true gospel is “Christ alone.”  In Him should be all of my hope.  False gospels are our way of seeking out something we feel that we need that we don’t trust Jesus for. 

So, I’ve got these affections for idols.  What a miserable confession.  What do I do about it?  Well, not sure that is the best question.  I need a greater affection to come and blow them out of the water.  An affection for God. 

There is a verse in the Bible, Revelation 2:4, where some believers are told that they lost their “first love” for Christ.  I think perhaps that is where I’m at.  I need that first love that I had for Christ to be rekindled.  I believe that is my only hope. 

So, my New Year’s revolution is this- that my evil affections would be expelled by the powerful force of a new affection for Jesus.

How is that going to happen?  I think I do have a part to play.  I must:

  1. Spend time repenting of my sin. 
  2. Asking God for this resurrected affection.  I can’t just drum it up.  It is a gift.
  3. Put myself in position to receive the gift when it comes.  Spiritual disciplines that followers of Jesus do aren’t just magic formulas.  People who treat them as such (I have at times) don’t receive from that what God wants to give through them.  But things like prayer, meditating on God’s Word, fasting, worship, etc. are activities we can do to position ourselves in a place where God can then deliver to us His gifts.  In other words, if my attitude is- “I’m gonna read the Bible more so God will be happy and then change me.”, I will miss the boat.  If my attitude is, “He loves me so much and wants to change me if I offer Him my life and trust.  I will demonstrate my desire for Him and His rule in my life by putting down the sports page for awhile and just worshiping Him.”, He will move and I will be changed.

A return to my first love of Christ.  That is what is on my list this year.  When you think of me, pray for that.

Thanks.  And Happy New Year, everybody!



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My Last Take On It


Merriam-Webster defines the term “suck-up” like this- a person who tries to get the approval of someone in authority by saying and doing helpful and friendly things that are not sincere.  Kicker Ryan Succop obviously applied his “helpful and friendly things” to the Chargers’ account and not the Steelers’, and thus, at 4:42 a.m. St Petersburg, Russia time, the Steelers season ended. 

Was it better this way or would it have been better if the Steelers just continued the appalling season they began?  The last second hoping led to lots of last second hurting!  They entered the next to last game of the season with a 1% chance of making the playoffs according to computers.  Beating all the odds, they were one easy kick away from realizing the impossible dream when it was all dashed by a guy whose entire career consists of swinging his leg back and then swinging it forward.  I couldn’t believe it. 

The black and gold victory and the joy that unfolded as each game result came back positive was thrilling.  I had 3 games playing at once on my computer and at any given moment you could choose between “Jets, Jets, Jets!”, “Here We Go Steelers” or “Let’s go Bengals!”.  It was a beautiful scene.  And then the backups of the Chiefs came roaring out and the perfect storm indeed seem to be blowing in!  But, alas, the perfect storm was to include a little of everything EXCEPT lightning.  But the Chargers, with those lightning bolts flashing on their helmets, came to life with the bad kick and the bad non-call the refs made that would have given Succop a chance to correct his ways…and the Steelers were struck down.

As the Steelers enter the offseason, here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Contrary to what I said early in the season, I now believe that the offense has come around and that Offensive Coordinator Haley should stay…for now.  I think his humility expressed in giving Ben control more through the no-huddle is admirable. 
  • The offensive line, Bell’s running, Brown’s super-stardom, and Ben’s leadership give us a lot more hope offensively going into next year than I had reason to hope after the first month of the season.
  • The team needs to find a way to ditch Woodley, sign Worilds, move Ike to safety, get Keisel and Polamalu to return with pay cuts, and convince LeBeau to take on an assistant head coach type of role (as suggested by writer Kovacevic of the Pitt Trib) so that Butler can move up into the Defensive Coordinator role before we lose him to another team. 
  • Thanks, Ryan Clark, for your great play.  But it is time for you to move on.
  • Ziggy Hood, I always liked your name more than your play.  See ya.
  • Mike Tomlin, please hire someone to help you with time management.  You once again were awful at the end of the first half against the Browns.  With under 2 minutes to go, the Browns had to punt and were about to take a delay of game penalty when the Steelers called a timeout with 2 seconds on the play clock.  Then, our offense only used one of the timeouts as they drove into Brown territory, allowing many seconds to run off after one play.  They ran out of time to get in field goal position WITH ONE TIMEOUT LEFT UNTAKEN!  If this one day costs us a playoff game or Super Bowl, it will really hurt.
  • Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas- I believe you both have tremendous talent.  The Steelers defense needs it to show in your sophomore seasons.

Well, the Steelers now have time to focus on an important draft and on fixing some of their financial problems.  Other teams play on.  This next weekend, I expect the Chargers to go quietly against the Bengals, the Chiefs to tame the Colts, the Saints to go marching all over the Eagles, and the 49ers to send the Packers packing.  After that, I’m not so sure.  I think the Seahawks will rise to the top in the NFC but I’m having a hard time figuring out the AFC.  Hard to bet against Manning and the Broncos except for the fact that for all of his greatness, Manning comes up boyish in the post-season.  Despite the pain they have caused me, I’m gonna predict and cheer for the Chiefs to ride all the way to the big game. 

And most of all, I want a huge snow storm in NY for the Super Bowl!


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What Might Have Been

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) appears to step out of bounds as he gets past Miami Dolphins strong safety Chris Clemons (30) on the final play of the of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. Brown made it into the end zone on the play, but it was ruled he stepped out of bounds. Miami won 34-28. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

The Steelers’ season is “hanging on by a cat’s claw”, as my Great Grandma used to say, due to a fair amount of “below the standard” play, as Coach Tomlin likes to say.  I’d be thrilled if they can somehow maneuver the maze of playoff scenarios on Sunday in order to punch a ticket to the post-season.  Anything can happen there and you might say that the Steelers are getting hot, or at least slightly warm, at the right time of year.

But before it is all decided in 2 days, I thought I’d remind us all of how, even in a season that has been miserable by Steeler standards, it could have been considered a great success by the changing of just a few plays this year.  Looking at it this way, one might either become increasingly excited by how close they were to a good record team or increasingly depressed.  I’ll let you decide.  But this is another opportunity for us all to gain awareness of just how true the phrase is in the NFL…”On any given Sunday…”

Week 1- If Redman doesn’t fumble here, I have no doubt the Steelers win this game, which they ended up losing by a touchdown.


Week 2- The Steelers were hot early and may have gone up 10-0 on the Bengals if not for this fumble, which was quickly turned into a touchdown for Cincy.


Week 8- Suisham has been great all year but his 2 misses (34 and 32 yarders) this year were brutal.  They both occurred in this game with the Raiders and were the difference in a 3 point loss.  I’ll spare you the video highlights!

Week 13- An early missed field goal attempt that Suisham didn’t even get a chance to kick and this final missed 2 point conversion that Sanders dropped were the difference in a 2 point loss.


Week 14- The grand finale- this heartbreaking play versus the Dolphins.


So, I ask you, how would a 12-3 record sound right now??  That would tie them with the Broncos for the best record in the AFC.  I’m not suggesting they deserved to win these games, only that they very easily could have won all of them and perhaps should have won most of them.  The biggest shock to me is that they could have pulled off 12-3 being basically the same “mediocre at best” team that they are today at 7-8.  What a crazy sport!  That is why I love it.  That is also why I’m graying just a tad early!

Well, let’s hope for the best on Sunday!  And if it doesn’t work out, let’s not try to think about what might have been.  Let’s just move on to the first place Penguins!!

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Where there’s smoke, there is fire!


While visions of sugarplums danced in our heads, smoke began to envelope our apartment in the early hours of our Christmas day.  Blythe had gotten up at 6ish to light the oven so it would warm up for her breakfast dish and then she returned to bed for a few more winks.  We awoke in a panic a half hour later, not knowing where the smoke was coming from but knowing one alarming fact- where there’s smoke, there is fire!

After checking that Santa hadn’t gotten stuck in the chimney and that our lit Christmas tree hadn’t overheated in the night, we raced to the kitchen to find a very unsuspected culprit.  Somehow, an oven-mitt had gotten placed in the oven and it was a burning heap.  (Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Levi!!)  Anyhow, it made for a chilly morning as we aired out our apartment.  But we were thankful for a safe ending to the story…AND clued into the reality that our apartment doesn’t have smoke alarms!

As I hid under the covers waiting for the smoke to clear and the kids to wake, I thought about Christmas.  I, like most people, prefer to think of the Silent Night, peaceful kind of Christmas image.  But in light of our early morning crisis, another image flooded my mind:  Christmas as an alarm, blaring out the news of impending danger.  A smoke signal that lets me know that Rome is burning!

You see, God came down because things were not right here.  The reason we have such tender feelings about this thunderous alarm is because God didn’t come down with a “sheriff’s back in town” kind of entrance.  Instead, He came down as a baby.  Very disarming.  Very endearing.  Very much showing His loving heart for us. 

But make no mistake about it.  When the Father sent His One and Only, He wasn’t thinking only of the “Away in a Manger” part.  He had Good Friday on His mind.  If Christmas is the smoke, Good Friday is the fire.  Sin was demanding payment and the world stood penniless but knew it not.  But the world had a rich and generous Dad.  And He invented Christmas…and Good Friday, to set things right again.  The Father knew that the unfair “feed trough for a crib” treatment would be nothing compared to the Golgotha party the world and Satan would plan for this babe 30-some years later. But somehow, those evil plans would align perfectly with His plan to pay our tab and extinguish the flames forever.  

I think we should spend time each Christmas enjoying the way Jesus made His way into the world.  But I think it is also good to think forward a bit, recollecting how it is that He would make His way out of the world, also.  And remember, the second event didn’t just happen by chance years after the first event.  It was already established to happen before the Bethlehem birth ever took place.  God sounded the alarm and responded to it, all for us. 

My response?  Well, in the midst of stuffing my face and enjoying my presents, I should probably take time to worship Him. 

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My Take On It


Yesterday, the other games played out perfectly for the Steelers with the Ravens getting their wings thoroughly clipped by the Patriots, the Dolphins getting buffaloed by the Bills and the WVU alumnus, Geno Smith, soaring the Jets over the Browns.  That gave the Steelers’ Super Bowl rematch with the Packers meaning, and boy was it an enjoyable game to watch- that is, if you like tremendous heights, agonizing mistakes, highway robbery and coaching calls that alternated between genius and stupidity.  It wasn’t perfect from an execution perspective, but it was perfection in terms of the fight and passion the black and gold showed and they brought home a big W.  For one more week, unthinkably, they remain playoff eligible. 

Something to Cheer

  • I’m not sure how it happened but this offensive line, made up of more backups than my sister’s parallel parking exam, has somehow become a fortress for Big Ben.  The O-line coach is one guy who should be feeling some job security.
  • Bell got a ringing endorsement from Coach Tomlin this week and he went out and played a whale of a game, minus his fumble.
  • Great fake punt call, great fake punt execution.  McBriar showed more skill on that one pass play than he has with his leg all season.  The special teams turned in their best game of the year with lots of great returns, this fake, and a blocked kick.  It is a shame they reminded us of their usual results on that last kickoff return that almost tied the game. 
  • Nice to see Keisel have some big plays as he finishes out his Steeler career. 
  • Snowy football.  I love it.  I hope the Super Bowl looks like that in NY in February.

Things to Jeer

  • Tomlin still has trouble managing clocks.  At the end of the game, he probably should have run out the clock and kicked a field goal instead of going for a touchdown and then giving the Packers the ball back with some time on the ticker.  At the very least he could have taken a knee once, run off time and then taken a shot at the endzone before going for 3 if it didn’t work.  He got lucky that Green Bay couldn’t get 7 on the last play of the game.
  • It was mind-boggling that the Steelers could block a kick, gain possession, and then get called for a penalty that gave the Packers the ball back.  Instant replay obviously has flaws if this can happen.  It was obvious that the refs didn’t know what happened.  Seems to me they should have said, “Hey, we aren’t sure what happened so we are going to look at replay.”  Instead, they made a pathetic call that couldn’t get challenged.  If that had led to a Steeler loss and elimination from the playoff picture, it would have been awfully hard to swallow.
  • The Steelers defense against the run. 
  • The Packers’ helmets.  How dull.

It didn’t quite make up for the Super Bowl loss a few years ago… I get tears as I type it… but it was a satisfying victory.  The uphill battle for the playoffs continues, with losses by the Chargers, Ravens and Dolphins needed along with wins by the Steelers and Jets next week.  I think the Steelers will crush the Browns, the Jets will play hard for their crazy coach and beat the suddenly drowning Dolphins, and the Ravens will go lifelessly into the night in Cincinnati.  But all will be for naught if the Chargers do what I think they will do- scalp the weakening Chiefs.  We shall see.  It should be a fun couple of hours watching it unfold next Sunday.



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Blythe and I took our two oldest kids out to the mall today on their first day of Christmas break.  As we were leaving, Isaiah said, “This is going to be a great day.  Without having to care for Levi, we can just walk around namelessly all day.”  Of course, he meant to say aimlessly.  As I got done laughing over his little blunder, it occurred to me that this is a good description of our world.  Sure, millions are celebrating a holiday this coming week, but a sad throng of them have forgotten or have never come to know the significance of Christmas.  They walk around nameless.

What do I mean by that?

Well, Jesus came to inhabit the earth in order that we all could inhabit a different identity.  In other words, he wanted to give us some new names.  He didn’t care much for some of the names we were toting around- enemies of God, fools, rebellious, etc.

Check out some of the new names Jesus wants to bestow upon all of us:

Cleansed, His beloved, forgiven, adopted children of God, chosen, free, blessed, saved, a new creation, and the list goes on and on.

When a person truly receives Christ Jesus as his/her Savior, they receive all of these identities in an instant, as a gracious gift from God the Father through His Son.  If a person continues through life, maybe celebrating Christmas but never opening for themselves the gift that was sent on that first night in Bethlehem, they wander around namelessly.  And when a person lives life without inhabiting these new names, they really do wander around aimlessly, as well.

So as you celebrate this coming week, shut yourself away for a little bit and think about some of the new names God has given you.  Praise Him for it.  Remember what Christmas is supposed to be about.

If you know that those names up above have remained an unopened gift for you, shut yourself away for a little bit and tell God you are ready to truly experience the full reality of Christmas for the first time.  Tell Him you want to choose to receive His Son this Christmas and all the new names He has for you.  Do what all wise men everywhere have always done…worship Him.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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My Take On It


Sorry this “My Take On It” is a little late this week.  But that seems quite fitting on a week when the Steelers were more than a little late in putting forth a solid effort.  Though it was nice to see them play well, it only left the “if onlys” of this season more painful to deal with.  As we head into the last 2 weeks, it takes a brain surgeon to figure out how the Steelers are still mathematically not eliminated from playoff contention.  The basics are this: cheer against the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers and cheer for the Jets.  Oh, and maybe the most challenging piece of all- the Steelers have to win both of their games!

Something to Cheer

  • Our crippled offensive line has been amazing the past 5 games at keeping Ben upright.  If this can carry over into next season, the Steelers future may be brighter than it appeared while our qb was getting pancaked early in the season.
  • Bell hasn’t achieved big numbers yet on the ground, but he is looking pretty sweet catching the ball and running.
  • Todd Haley letting Ben go with the no-huddle.  It may just save his job.  The offense’s output improvement is very encouraging.
  • Antonio Brown may just be the most dynamic Steeler on offense in more than 3 decades.  They say a lot of it is due to being the hardest worker on the team.  I like the sound of that…especially when a player does it AFTER he gets the big contract.  (Yes, I’m digging on you Woodley!)

Something to Jeer

  • I don’t know how they are going to do it without losing too much money on his contract, but LaMarr Woodley needs to go.  His play has been abysmal and his muscle tissues appear weaker than generic brand kleenex.
  • Get Sanders to the bench and let Wheaton and Moye play more the last few weeks.
  • Boo to the ticket holders for not showing up or finding someone else to.  The smallest crowd ever at Heinz field. 
  • And, to give a few other teams besides the Steelers a hard time…The Bengals always find a way to blow a good thing; I wouldn’t give 100 bucks to get Romo on my team…and that goes for his coach and owner, also; nice eggs laid by the Eagles and Patriots; and lastly, what a horrid mess the Redskins have become, just when I was starting to like them again. 

As the Steelers head to Green Bay, it would be nice to get a little payback for that gut-wrenching Super Bowl loss a few years back.  It would also be kind of fun for them to stay in contention for one more week.  If everything breaks right this week, you just never know what will happen on the final weekend of the season.  Uh oh, there I am being hopeful again.  Just slap me, will ya?

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