DALLAS -- Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison plays angry to begin with, but getting fined more than $100,000 by the NFL for helmet-to-helmet hits have him more ornery than usual.
He attracted a lot of attention, and criticism, this week for taking shots at the NFL for its emphasis on player safety, which the league had made a major point of emphasis. Harrison said he is sensitive to players getting hurt, but added you can't legislate violence out of the game.
"If you want to get [violence] totally out of the game, put flags on us,'' Harrison said. "And we'll pull flags off each other and see how popular your game is then and how many are watching.''
He also made a sarcastic remark about how a pillow could be used to soften the blows he delivers on players and said the NFL's push for an 18-game regular season is more interested in maximizing revenue than the health of its players.
It's understandable the NFL wants to try and do more to protect its players, but Harrison and others may have a point that extending the season two more games contradicts the league's mission.
DALLAS -- Tampa Bay wide receiver and Buffalo native Mike Williams was in town for the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year announcement. He was one of five finalists for the award, which went to Detroit defensive tackle Ndomukong Suh.
Williams was one of several Western New Yorkers who enjoyed good rookie seasons in the NFL. One of them will be playing in Super Bowl XLV -- Niagara Falls' James Starks, a running back for the Green Bay Packers.
"That’s why I’m cheering for Green Bay,'' said Williams, who indicated that he and Starks are long-time friends. "We played basketball against each other in high school and played AAU ball together.''
Williams helped the Buccaneers to a 10-6 record this season. They failed to make the playoffs, but he expects that to change in 2011.
"We’re a young team, but we’re guaranteeing the playoffs,'' he said. "If we get to the playoffs, we know we can do some damage.''
Green Bay boasts what arguably is the deepest receiving corps in the NFL. Its catch numbers: Greg Jennings (76), Donald Driver (51), James Jones (50) and Jordy Nelson (45). The Pack's top three WRs combined for the second most yards (2,509) and the most touchdowns (21) of any group in the NFL.
Cornerback is not a huge strength of the Pittsburgh defense. Cornerback Bryant McFadden gave up 77 catches for 870 yards and five TDs this year. Those numbers are high in part because teams were so reluctant to even try to run on the Pittsburgh defense.
DALLAS -- Sean Kugler was not retained as the Bills' offensive line coach when head coach Chan Gailey was hired, but Kugler found a nice landing spot with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So the Lockport native goes from a team mired in a losing culture to one that is synomous with winning championships. Kugler's work with the Steelers' banged-up offensive line has been integral in the team reaching the Super Bowl.
Injuries have forced Kugler to use multiple starters on the line, but it's something he was used to after using seven different starting combinations with the Bills last season.
"Koogs is pretty good at dealing with misery," joked Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
There is nothing miserable about working for a team going for its seventh Super Bowl title. Kugler has been joined by former Bill Jonathan Scott, who has started 11 games at left tackle.
He didn't look too good in a Bills uniform, but he has played well enough to help running back Rashard Mendenhall rush for over 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns while keeping Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger upright.
"Playing for the Steelers is special,'' Scott said. "The thing I like about it the most is every offensive lineman on this team is a joy to work with. Everybody has a desire to win and bust their butts to be better. This is a very good team. I’ve never seen this much talent on a single team since my college days [at Texas].''
As for Kugler, he was glad to have a chance coach with the Bills. But there is no denying that he's in a much better situation with the Steelers.
"I enjoyed every minute in Buffalo and I respect everybody in that organization," Kugler said. "But to have a chance to work for the Pittsburgh Steelers organization is a great opportunity. It’s been a fun year and a challenging year. Hopefully we can put the work in and get one more done."
DALLAS -- It should come as no surprise to see what James Starks has accomplished this postseason for the Green Bay Packers. The Niagara Falls native comes from very good stock.
James Starks’ father, James Sr., was a multi-sport star at Trott Vocational. His older brother, Sanquin, starred in basketball at Niagara Falls High and D'Youville College and younger brother, Falls all-purpose football standout Dale Stewart, signed with UB Wednesday.
James Starks’ cousin, former Falls and Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn, was a 2009 first-round draft pick of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.
Also, uncles Frank and Mike Starks were starting guards on Pat Monti’s 27-0 LaSalle team that won the state Class B public school and Federation championships. Frank hit the three-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime in the Explorers’ state public semifinals against Gloversville and Mike made the winning basket in the final seconds of OT to beat Nottingham in state public final.
"We just birth athletes," said Starks, who played with Flynn on the Falls’ 2004-05 Class A state championship basketball team. "It just runs in the family, so I guess it’s in the blood."
In a interesting piece of irony, Mike Starks' game-winner was set up by a missed free throw at the end of regulation by Nottingham player Dorsey Levens, who was the Packers' star running back the last time they reached the Super Bowl.
DALLAS -- The NFL held a briefing on labor talks on Wednesday, the sum and substance of which was: There's a month to go in labor talks between the league and the players union and it's time to get serious.
The league's negotiating team and the NFL Players Association will meet Saturday. It will be the first formal negotiating session between the sides since Novebmer. Jeff Pash, NFL executive vice president and general counsel, gave a briefing Wednesday. All most fans likely care to know is the two sides still are no closer to deciding how to divide up $9 billion in revenue per year.
Pash said he sees plenty of opportunity for the league to grow the game, increase revenue and make even more money for players - once they settle on how to divide the revenue. Those opportunities, Pash said, include (in no particular order): A stadium in Los Angeles, new stadia in San Francisco, Atlanta and Minnesota, a franchise in London, bigger rosters. "There's a lot of opportunity out there," Pash said.
Pash said expanding to an 18 game schedule "could be" a big part of the new business model. Expect it to happen because it's a sure way to increase revenue. "Fans have little use for four preseason games," he said.
Here's Packers coach Mike McCarthy on University at Buffalo running back James Starks: "He had a hamstring injury throughout the spring. We thought that we had it under control going into training camp, but that was not the case. He missed all of training camp so he was placed on PUP and just missed a lot of padded work, all the fundamental work, foundation work that you need as a young player. The development has been consistent since his opportunity to come onto the 53. I think it is clearly evident to everybody to see the player that he can be. What is exciting about him is that his best football is in front of him. He has all of the tools, the work ethic, the intelligene and the instincts to be an every-down player. Everything is in front of him. Running the football will definitely be a factor in this game and James will be a part of it."
Starks has rushed for 263 yards in the playoffs so far. The Packers team playoff record is 316 yards by Dorsey Levens in 1997. The NFL record for a rookie in the playoffs is 342 yards by Washington's TIm Smith in 1987. So Starks needs 79 yards to set the league rookie playoff record.
Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson signed with the Pack in 2006 after spending his first eight seasons in Oakland. Woodson has 47 career interceptions. He has 30 in 78 games with the Pack and had 17 in 106 games with Oakland.
In Oakland, he was on "Woodson Island." In Green Bay, all of his talents have been made to better use. Woodson's great ability to cover, support the run and blitz has given Pack defensive coordinator Dom Capers a lot of options this season.
Here's Woodson talking about the turn his career took, going from Oakland to Green Bay:
DALLAS -- Dallas was hit with an ice storm overnight that put an inch or two of slick coating on top of the roads. It forced the closing of North Texas schools and all commuter rail service was shut down. It might not have caused the closing of schools in Western New York, given the region's greater ability to put salt down on roads. Dallas-Fort Worth airport was closed for a couple hours this morning. Media buses got a police escort down mostly empty Interstate 30 en route to Cowboys Stadium. Forecasts call for high temperatures of 14 degrees Wednesday, 28 Thursday and the low 50s by the weekend.