Snow has blanketed the city and as everyone knows, there’s no better way to spend a wintery Thursday than cuddling up with a warm cup of cocoa to read the third edition of the Pittsburgh Sports Power Rankings. Let’s get to this week’s list.
10. Le’Veon Bell
Dynamic. Explosive. Patient. It’s hard to pick just one word to describe Le’Veon Bell. It’s much easier to pick two words to describe Le’Veon Bell: frequently suspended.
In Bell’s four-year NFL career, he has twice sat due to suspension. Once for four games in 2015 after an arrest for DUI and marijuana possession during an unscheduled positional meeting in a parked car with then-teammate LeGarrette Blount, and again in 2016 for three games as punishment for missing a mandatory drug test. So Steelers fans – and undoubtedly team management, as well – are always concerned that Bell could slip up again and face a season-long ban next. And then this appeared on Bell’s Instagram over Super Bowl weekend.
People of Pittsburgh: it’s time to donate clean urine to Le’Veon Bell.
9. Pitt’s football schedule
Pitt’s claim to fame from the 2016 football season was being the only team to knock off national champion Clemson. Beating Penn State, a game that ultimately spoiled the Nittany Lions’ playoff shot, was a source of pride, too. But if beating good teams is Pitt’s thing, then they’re going to love their 2017 schedule.
ESPN rated the Panthers’ non-conference slate the toughest in college football thanks to back-to-back games in mid-September versus Penn State and Oklahoma State, two teams expected to open the season in the Top 10. If the Panthers can somehow manage to make it through their brutal non-conference slate at 4-0 or 3-1, they’ll have at least a shot to run the table against an ACC regular season slate that doesn’t include Clemson or Florida State. And who knows what could happen after that. At the very least, they could end the season with a key ring charm a little more prestigious than this one.
8. A Pittsburgh Super Bowl
Two years ago the Steelers submitted paperwork to the NFL expressing interest to host Super Bowl LVII in Pittsburgh. The official bid to host the 2023 game is not due until next year, but if the team goes through with it, you can guarantee they’ll mention that Pittsburgh had higher TV ratings for this year’s Super Bowl than in any other market in the country — including Boston and Atlanta.
There’s not a bigger football town than Pittsburgh, Pa. But is hosting a Super Bowl here a great idea? The economic benefit to the city is debatable. Plus, perhaps even worse, Ben Roethlisberger will definitely be retired in six years, meaning the Steelers will be in full rebuild mode and unlikely to play in the game.
Who wants to watch a 45-year old Tom Brady win another Super Bowl, only this time do it at Heinz Field?
7. Antonio Brown’s maturity
The apology business is boomin’ for Antonio Brown right now. The Steelers receiver told Bleacher Report that in the wake of his Facebook Live locker room broadcast that he thinks he has to change. “The big thing I learned is that I have some growing up to do, and I’m going to do it,” he said. “I learned a lot from it and will keep learning. I’m going to rebuild the trust with my teammates and my coaches. I promise you that.”
Well said. I think we all thought Brown had some learning to do when we saw his Facebook Live video. Most notably: learning to record videos horizontally instead of vertically. Come on, Antonio. You’re better than that.
6. DeAngelo Williams
It’s been a busy week for the Steelers backup running back. First he pointed out the absurdity of teammate Alejandro Villanueva — who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and earned a Bronze Star for valor — not winning the NFL’s “Salute to Service” award over the Falcons coach.
Then he antagonized Philadelphia Eagles fans on Twitter. And then he got a guest spot on an upcoming episode of Talking Dead. So why is he no higher than sixth in the rankings? He is still a Nickelback fan and we must have standards.
5. Chris Kunitz’s relevance
As the Penguins roster has been flooded with young forwards the last two years, many fans have been looking to push veteran winger Chris Kunitz out the door. But since Conor Sheary went down to injury, the 37-year old Kunitz has stepped up his play, tallying five points in his last five games. Kunitz also served as the team’s ambassador to the LGBTQ community on Tuesday night against Calgary.
“One of the big key points is that they want to have the respect for one and all,” Kunitz said of the You Can Play initiative. “There are communities that need people to be role models for them and stand up for a game that we love.” Hopefully Kunitz’s message got through. And, of less importance, hopefully people have realized that Kunitz can still play a little, too.
4. Marc Andre-Fleury’s Stadium Series helmet
As you may have heard, the Penguins and Flyers are playing some outdoor hockey at Heinz Field later this month. Marc-Andre Fleury will sport this mask during the game.
It’s a who’s who of Penguins players you mostly forgot were once on the team. Of course, there’s a decent chance Fleury gets traded before this game on February 25th and that Matt Murray would then wear this helmet, only with FLEURY added to the list. [Sad trombone.]
3. Steven Brault
In last week’s edition of the Pittsburgh Sports Power Rankings, Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams earned a spot for being a contender for the rotation — but moreso for being entertaining on Twitter. Well, clearly word got out among Pirates pitchers about the formula for making this prestigious list. Because Steven Brault, a 24-year old lefty who showed some promise in seven starts last year, has now earned his place here, too:
We all await the Pirates pitcher who writes something funny on Twitter next week. A spot will be held for you in the Power Rankings rotation.
2. Winning at basketball
The Duquesne men have lost seven games in a row. The Pitt women have lost four in a row. But the Pitt men? After eight consecutive losses, starting way back on January 7th, the Pitt men are victorious, thanks to an 83-72 defeat of Boston College on Wednesday night. (This totally makes up for the AFC title game, right?) The win puts the Panthers at 13-11 and in contention for winning the second CBI Championship in program history. Plan the parade route, Oakland.
1. Andrew McCutchen
The Pirates officially shuffled their outfield this week, moving Gregory Polanco from right to left, Starling Marte from left to center, and Andrew McCutchen from center to right. It was the right and obvious thing to do on paper, but paper doesn’t account for the egos of those involved. Don’t forget that the Yankees once acquired Alex Rodriguez — a far superior defensive shortstop to Derek Jeter in every way — and then forced him to play third base so as to not anger Jeter. But McCutchen handled his position change with grace.
Andrew McCutchen clearly has great #RE2PE2T for the game. Okay, now let’s never do that numbers-for-letters thing again.
DJ Gallo is the founder, editor and writer of the sports humor site SportsPickle.com. He has also written for, contributed to or appeared on ESPN.com, Saturday Night Live, The Onion, Comedy Central, Funny Or Die, SportsCenter, The Guardian, CBS Local, USA Today, AOL, ESPN The Magazine and The Cauldron. He was almost the ‘Harambe kid’ of the ’90s when his Bobby Bonilla hat fell into the polar bear pen at the Pittsburgh Zoo.