the Trib's Jerry DiPaola tells us why...

In Conner, Steelers Nation can trust

Pitt's James Conner is a Pittsburgh Steeler. So we asked a Pittsburgher who knows a lot about the football programs that occupy the Rooney Sports Complex for his thoughts on the feel-great story of the 2017 NFL Draft.

James and the Steelers as only the Tribune-Review's Jerry DiPaola can tell it.

Injured and ill, James Conner joins Pitt teammates on the field prior to a bowl game in 2015. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)

I'm sorry. I can't think of James Conner without seeing the sun set over Lake Erie.

People who live in or near Erie — and James proudly numbers himself among them — will tell you it's the most beautiful sight on earth.

Yeah, there's a story.

Before he came to Pitt and turned into an All-American running back as a sophomore and, Friday night, a Steeler, James was just another football player at Erie McDowell High School. Making friends, trying to make an impact, looking out for others.

His best friend and quarterback since sixth grade, Sean Gallagher, has a sister, Meghan, who five years ago was in a hospital room at UPMC Hamot, getting treatment for a kidney ailment. The room had no view of the lake.

James thought that was just plain wrong.

So, he picked Meghan out of her bed, cradled her in his massive arms, carried her out of the room and set her down in front of a window.

"The sunset relaxed her mind," James told me.

That's part of what the Steelers are getting, and he couldn't have come around at a better time for a franchise recently beset by too much bad news, up to and including the death of Dan Rooney.

That's a part of this story, too.

The late Dan Rooney after the AFC Championship game in 2009. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)

James was in Dan's company many times at the South Side practice facility Pitt shares with the Steelers. But never as boss and employee. And were Dan alive, he and James still wouldn't have had the boss-employee relationship many people know in their companies.

Indeed, James and Dan would have shared a great, long-term relationship. Both men would have made sure of it.

Which brings me, finally, to the reason I'm writing these words the morning after James was drafted by the team that Dan helped build into the Super Bowl era's flagship football franchise.

These words are about James. They are also about the Steelers. I want everybody reading these words to realize what drafting James means for the Steelers.

James did beat cancer. He was an inspiration while battling the disease, and that fight reflected who he is and how he lives. But that fight was only a chapter of James' story.

Just. One. Chapter.

Through his wonderfully crafted Players Tribune essay, James spoke of the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a goal. He told me years ago, "The NFL is on my mind every day."

Nice to hear from a college star, but James should know that much more relevant stuff needs to happen for him to run into the most famous building in Canton, Ohio.

The easy (if fortuitous) part was getting drafted by the Steelers on Friday night. It happened three picks from the end of the third round. The Steelers selected him with a pick provided by the NFL for former players who had left Pittsburgh as free agents.

If not for that bit of largesse by the league seeking to level the playing field, James would have been on a plane to somewhere else Saturday morning, not sitting across from coach Mike Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert and team president Art Rooney II. (James actually did have a 10 a.m. appointment at Steelers headquarters.)

With that appointment, James was in a spot similar to one by another college star upon whom the Steelers used a compensation pick at the end of a third-round. You might remember that guy.

He is Hines Ward. And without their drafting of Hines in 1998, the Steelers may not have written the great chapter that was their first decade of this century.

You might think James would sign in blood for a career similar to Hines' Hall-of-Fame caliber tenure.


James will gladly work to make his own mark, thank you.

On the field, James will provide the Steelers a nice complement to Pro Bowl running back Le'Veon Bell, a way to extend that possible Hall-of-Fame career by having someone else share all those carries, absorb some of those hits. James won't make many long runs in the NFL, but he'll break the spirit of some defensive backs.

Duke's 180-pound cornerback Breon Borders found that out the hard way one day at Heinz Field. With one of the same arms that carried Meghan Gallagher toward that Lake Erie sunset, James viciously stiff-armed Breon out of bounds while trying to rally Pitt to a victory.

Through the years covering Pitt's football program, I enjoyed the one-on-one, sit-down interviews with James and grew to appreciate and understand why he addressed his elders as "Sir" and "Mister." Not all of college athletes take that approach.

It's something called respect.

With James, as it was with Dan Rooney, respect is earned because it is first given.

James affords the game of football that respect, too. He prepares to play on so many levels, from practices on the field, video work with coaches, lifting weights, bonding with teammates, even walking around the offices clutching a jug of water so he'll be properly hydrated.

Unlike in college, Conner won't find many defensive backs reluctant to tackle him. I can tell him from having seen it with my own eyes, his own new teammates didn't shy from trying to tackle Jerome Bettis during his first training camp with the Steelers in 1996.

But when the collisions come for James this July, they won't be pretty. I hope James' new Steelers teammates heed my warning.

If they didn't see him doing it for Pitt at Heinz Field on Saturdays, the people of Steelers Nation will love seeing James Conner run over opposing defenders on Sundays. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

One final story.

During a spring practice session in 2014, former Pitt safety Terrish Webb, 80 pounds lighter than James, rushed up to try to tackling him. The noise of the crash drowned out any words that could be overheard, but I have always presumed Terrish said more than "Ouch."

Later, Pitt's running backs coach at the time, John Settle, told James, "Kids shouldn't play in traffic."

"It was an accident," James said, sheepishly.

Not it wasn't, James.

Nothing you do is accidental.

Jerry DiPaola has covered every level of Western PA football for the Tribune-Review

Follow tribLIVE for more coverage of Pitt football and the 2017 NFL Draft

Keep reading ... Show less
Round 2 Round Table

Pens-Caps: What's the word?

Everybody is talking about another Stanley Cup playoffs showdown between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. But not everybody can elevate the conversation.

We've assembled a group of hockey experts who can.

Joining us for a rink-side chat are: The Pens Blog's Jesse Marshall, Bill West of the Tribune-Review, Inside Hockey's Angie Carducci, Mike Asti of tribLIVE Radio and Pensburgh's Mike Darnay. Our sports editor Rob Rossi is moderating this mess of hockey hot takes, so let's get it on...

(Getty Images)

Where does everybody stand on the Penguins' defensive performance in Round 1, and is it really that much of an issue going forward?

CARDUCCI: When it comes to the Penguins, the best defense is a good offense, right?

ROSSI: Sure, why not?

CARDUCCI: That doesn't just mean scoring more goals than their opponent, which the numbers suggest they're going to do. They led the regular season in goals-for, and they're leading the playoffs so far. Their goals-against, though, is very middle of the pack, which is again consistent with the regular season.ASTI: No Kris Letang seemed like a big deal. While it's hard to be critical on easily unloading Columbus in five games, there is reason for concern. The Penguins were sloppy throughout the series. Columbus couldn't get out of its own way and then the Penguins' depth took over. Beyond Round 1, the Penguins won't be able to be as careless if they want to repeat, especially against the Capitals. Many of the shots Marc-Andre Fleury dealt with were as a result of the poor defense in front of him. There's still a lack of depth defensively and one-on-one battles against more skilled teams (and teams that can better utilize skill) could be a problem for Pittsburgh moving forward. With all that said, it was the offense that guided the Penguins towards a Stanley Cup last season.

ROSSI: It's THE Stanley Cup. There is only one. Moving on.

DARNAY: I'm gonna agree with Mike A. here. Especially in Games 3, 4, and 5, we didn't really see the net-front presence from the defensemen, who were very good at clearing pucks and making life easy for Fleury in Games 1 and 2.

WEST: I'm in agreement with the Mikes that there's limited upside to the Penguins' defensemen situation. Without Letang, it's simply not a dynamic blueline corps. Sound positioning on the back end becomes the name of the game. That might suffice if the Penguins continue to get consistent goaltending and the best goal production in the league. But it leaves a small margin for error.

ROSSI: And by "small," you mean "none."

WEST: I do think there's a fine line between being a source of uncertainty and one of concern, and the defensemen walked that line for most of the first round. None of the three pairings set itself apart as particularly poor or strong. Cole-Schultz, Dumoulin-Hainsey and Maatta-Daley each had games with encouraging performance metrics. Each also had games where almost nothing went well. And (coach) Mike Sullivan didn't change much strategically to suggest he grew more confident in one duo than another. Match-ups shifted a bit from night to night, and which forward lines the defensive pairs skated behind also remained fluid.

It's worth noting that the forwards probably can do more to help the blueline in the next round. When Sullivan harps on puck management and his other "Right Way to Play" points, I think he's mostly reminding his centers and wingers that the Penguins win through territory control rather than outstanding own-zone efforts. Sidney Crosby's line proved particularly inconsistent on the possession front in the first round. That's unusual, and it would seem unlikely to continue. But if it does, that's maybe a more troubling sign for the Penguins than anything that involves the blueline.

ROSSI: Uh, is Jesse still here?

(Getty Images)

DARNAY: To Bill's point, if the Penguins are spending a lot of time in their own zone, they're probably not winning. The more offensive-zone time they create, the harder they are to beat.Sullivan said he'd compensate for the loss of Letang by committee, and he wasn't kidding. The ice time has been very balanced among the six defensemen, with just a little more for the top guy. Justin Schultz averaged slightly over 21 minutes, but Ron Hainsey and Brian Dumoulin were each at 19:44.

That could serve them well down the road with no one carrying too much of the load, but I wouldn't mind seeing Schultz carry a little more. He's the most talented offensive defenseman they have right now, and he showed he was up to an increased workload earlier in the season when Letang was out. Even carried a Letang-like 30 minutes a time or two, though I wouldn't want to see that.

ROSSI: I tend to think Schultz might go in Round 2 as Jesse has for this question.

DARNAY: In the end, though, it has to be a whole-team effort. Play fast, play smart with and without the puck, don't make the high-risk play. If the Penguins give up the number and quality of chances to, say, Washington that they gave Columbus in those last couple games, it's not going to go well.

CARDUCCI: So, like Mike D. said, I'm looking for their offense to make the defensive lapses matter less. But the Penguins would like to have the defense jump-start the offense, getting pucks behind other teams so their skilled forwards can go to work. Letang is a key part of that, and he's irreplaceable. Because of the way the Penguins want to play, I genuinely think he's their most important player, and that's a big loss. But it's nothing they're not used to; he missed an even half of the regular-season games this year, and look where they finished.

ASTI: All this agreeing with me is going to freak Rob out. Haha.

ROSSI: Jesse, is that you?

OK, let's have a little bit of a break from the heavy stuff. What is your favorite Penguins playoff memory?

DARNAY: Paying off my debt of a bet made July 1, 2015, and taking Steve Dangle to Game 1 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, thanks to Phil Kessel.

MARSHALL: 2001 Eastern Conference semifinal, Game 6, and Mario Lemieux scored with 1:18 left and an empty net to tie the game keep the Penguins alive against the Sabres.

ROSSI: Realizing, just now, that Jesse is still part of this group. I'll never get over it.

WEST: The details are a little hazy because I was 5 or 6 at the time, but in 1991, I either fell asleep or had to go to bed before the Penguins won the Cup clincher. Either way, I was unhappy I was missing the game's end. So my dad grabbed some tin foil and this oddly shaped plastic trap thing from a bug collection kit and built a mini Stanley Cup in the middle of the night. That's what I woke up to see the next morning and hence how I learned they won.

ROSSI: Second-favorite memory was that time West used "hence."

ASTI: Experiencing the celebration of the Penguins' Stanley Cup win on East Carson Street in 2009. I was too young to fully enjoy the atmosphere of the early 1990s Cups...

ROSSI: One Cup. Just one. Get it right!

ASTI: ...and when Jordan Staal showed off Lord Stanley's Cup out of a window at top Mario's, it sent shockwaves of joy, that was even extra crazy for the South Side.

ROSSI: You're all disgustingly young. And I hate you all for it!

CARDUCCI: For me, it all comes back to family. Sharing the game experience — at any level of hockey — with your loved ones, and especially watching a little one fall in love with the game you love, takes it all to another level. As far as my opportunities to cover the sport, the 2008 Winter Classic and 2009 Stanley Cup in Detroit stand out as especially magical experiences for me.

ROSSI: Malkin hugged me last year on the ice in San Jose. My slacks had ripped and were taped together from the inside. It was... something.

(Getty Images)

What will we be talking about at the end of Round 2?

MARSHALL: Before I get to the answer, can we all acknowledge how inherently stupid it is for the NHL to put the top two teams from the conference together in the second round? I hate to beat a dead horse here, but there's absolutely no reason we should be seeing this series in Round 2 year after year.

ROSSI: Man, I miss when Jesse didn't respond.

CARDUCCI: The NHL's insistence on pushing divisional rivalries punishes its best division come playoff time. This year that's the Metro, which has three of the eight teams remaining, including this matchup. I'd love to see a return to straight one through eight conference seeding.

MARSHALL: Anyway, on to the question at hand. I'm going in a different direction. I think the stories that'll come out of this series after its over are the Capitals' inability to get over the second-round hump and Malkin's emergence as the clear-cut favorite for a second Conn Smythe Trophy. With 11 points coming into this series, the well-rested Geno is going to continue his reign of dominance in the second round. I think another performance like the one he put up against the Jackets will quell the heat of the Crosby vs. Ovechkin "rivalry."

CARDUCCI: Couldn't agree with you more about Malkin, Jesse. He's leading the playoff scoring so quietly that I've actually heard broadcasters and a few fans comment that he needs to step it up. Another Conn Smythe would be a pretty fun way to assert his standing in the NHL's Top 101.

(Getty Images)

ASTI: Honestly, what Angie and Jesse touched on is likely what the series should focus on. Malkin should be the discussion entering this series, and if he continues on this pace, he should be the talk after it. That doesn't mean he will be, though. Playing next to Crosby and being from the same nation as Ovechkin has made him often overlooked (beyond smart hockey minds) in his career. I fear it will likely happen again.

ROSSI: There will be no living with me if he wins another Smyth. For starters, I'll stop wearing pants.


Regardless of which way the series go, it'll either be Crosby or Ovechkin as the lightning rod, yet again. Can Ovechkin push his team over the hump past the second round? Will Crosby pass the baton to Ovechkin? It feels like it could be the ultimate coin-flip of a series, but the two big guys wearing the "C" will be the talking point no matter which way this one goes.

WEST: My guess: Crosby, Ovechkin, something, something, what a series by Conor Sheary.

Keep reading ... Show less
The sammich Pittsburghers deserve

What the world needs now...

OK, so we admit to having cringed when seeing some of the Round 3 pairings in our Burgh Bracket.

Picking between Mister Rogers and Pittsburgh Dad seems easy. Choosing sides in a battle of Mario Lemieux and The Immaculate Reception seems unfair.

Going against Primanti's or Kennywood Park... well, uh, what kind of hell is this?


But, from this dark time might emerge the long wondered about No. 1 seller: a Primanti Bros sammich with Potato Patch fries!

Let's do this, yinz.

We'll make America great again by giving Americans the sandwich they need, and the one Pittsburghers deserve.

And if our friend at Primanti's and Kennywood need a little nudge to get the oil frying... well, here's an offer: make it, and we'll get it into the hands of mouths of all the famous folks we know. That's a promise.

Don't forget to vote in the #BurghBracket ... Sweet 16 is going sour for some

The Winner

Edgar Snyder is the most Pittsburgh thing out there

Who would have believed it: Edgar Snyder is the most Pittsburgh thing ever.

Well, at least for this year.

upgruv's first #BurghBracket started with 64 things, people, foods, etc. — and it all ends with a lawyer.

In the championship round, Snyder took out The Terrible Towel.

It was an interesting situation because of our two-prong voting approach. The Terrible Towel claimed the Twitter crowd by a 65-29 margin. But it just wasn't enough to halt Snyder's overwhelming victory in the PlayBuzz poll (below), which gave Snyder a 179-71 win.

Adding the two together, Snyder was just too strong.

Snyder has been the best sport about the whole thing, showing great reverence for his opponents.

We can't thank you enough, Pittsburgh. We challenged you, and you delivered.

Rest assured, we'll be back next year with another round of 64. Can Snyder reclaim his crown? Or will another Pittsburgh "thing" step forward?

View and download the finale 2017 bracket here.

For more bracket action, check out, where you can take part in their 2017 bracket — #ThingsThatTurnPeopleIntoJagoffs.

upvue ep v: cool runnings

Scott Harbaugh eyes a storm

He's golfed with Arnold Palmer's brother, covered Mario Lemieux's hockey team and lived in Pittsburgh long enough to know that predicting weather in March is a fool's game. But WPXI meteorologist Scott Harbaugh is no fool. As for sports editor Rob Rossi and wrestling guru Justin LaBar, well...

Your view. Our view.

upvue ep v: cool runnings

upvue is a joint production with Point Park University's Center for Media Innovation


💰 Mario vs. Clemente? Mister Rodgers vs. Batman? Make your picks


Spring is here ... at least for the Pirates

The Pirates are reporting for spring training in Bradenton, Fla. And at the very least, some of them are in a playful mood. Check out this shot of pitcher Ivan Nova using the equipment that belongs to Tribune-Review sports photographer Christopher Horner...

Ivan Nova trying his hand at a second career. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)

As for what we should be paying attention to in terms of possible Pirates drama, our sports editor Rob Rossi chimed in on that topic on The Flip Side: