Rossi: Getting closer one year in

He likes cookies. I'm into ice cream. But we have some stuff in common.  (Photo: Chaz Pall/Trib Total Media)

He likes cookies. I’m into ice cream. But we have some stuff in common.
(Photo: Chaz Pall/Trib Total Media)

Here at the Trib, a lot of our lives changed last Fourth of July.

As our country celebrated its Independence Day, my company mourned the death of the man who seemed to cherish most the necessity of an independent press. But my thoughts now have not changed from the ones that came to me when Richard Mellon Scaife died. And a year later, I can add only that I miss him less than my Tribune-Review colleagues who knew him much better, probably because I’ve always known Mr. Scaife more as a presence than a person – and his presence, I’m relieved to say, did not leave us when he passed.

I was high when the news about Mr. Scaife broke. A few days prior, I’d undergone surgery to repair a hernia. Maybe Oxycodone works differently on everyone. The drug didn’t take away my pain, but rather it left feeling me something akin to numb for a few hours. The drug didn’t put me to sleep, but rather it kept me awake in a state of foggy detachment. I could see and hear and smell and taste. I just couldn’t feel. It was like I was present and detached at the same time.

And it was all too familiar.

Present and detached is how I’ve spent the past couple of decades. It probably is no coincidence that those have been my years as a working journalist.

What worked as a journalist isn’t working for me anymore, and it probably is no coincidence I reached this conclusion about a year into my tenure as a columnist.

Funny how life works: You get the job you never wanted and it ends up being exactly what you needed. Turns out those most loathsome of words (“I” and “me”) are the ones pulling me closer when I’m present. My colleague, Jason Mackey, refers to this as me “being human,” but I don’t want to give him too much credit since he just produced a better first year covering the Penguins than I had way back when.

But he’s probably bang on.

So I’m working some things out, moving in closer if you will. Maybe you’ve noticed. Or maybe you don’t care. But our relationship has changed in the past year, that’s what I have noticed. Since switching from the Penguins beat to this columnist gig, things have turned personal between us. Feels that way, anyway. Feels like a lot of you are forming an opinion about me based on the opinions I write. And how could you not? That is my face above words that are mine. It’s not only a fair connection to draw. What I write is what I think, and what I think is who I am to many of you.

But, that’s not really true.

Take this column. I hated having to write every word. I knew what the fallout would be – for him and for me – while the paragraphs were being formed. But it was my call to write the words, and I said that to Jim Rutherford when we met for lunch a few weeks ago. And I never apologized for writing the column. I did apologize for never letting up, for only writing about his mistakes, and for not having this conversation earlier. He said some things I needed to hear, too.

I awoke Friday to a message on Facebook from a reader named Christopher Zivkovic, who offered some constructive criticism (take note, everybody), and ultimately urged me to become more of a “good guy” as a columnist.

Well, like I said to Rutherford, I don’t know what kind of guy I’m going to become as a columnist. The real-life guy who I am reached out to Rutherford, and I think that was a very big step for whatever guy I’ll become in this role.

It hadn’t occurred to me while we talked how similar the past year was for Rutherford and me. He no more expected to be running the Penguins than did I expect to be writing columns. Carolina was his home, and I was at home on the Penguins beat. A longtime friend burned both of us. We each watched somebody else do our old jobs. Our mistakes drew deserved criticism. Conducting business would have been easier had Evgeni Malkin called us back more frequently. (No, no, Rossi, what?)

So maybe you think columns like that one or this are my way of repairing a relationship with Rutherford, but they’re not. But you’d be right to think I’m looking at him – and everybody, everything – from a different view.

I think, maybe, Rutherford and I are two guys that had a hard year. And, hopefully, we’ve come out better for it. If not, maybe we’re each getting close.

That’s all I’m trying to do.

Be EXCELLENT to each other. (Been a while, huh?)


A look at my 2015 NHL Awards ballot

Some voters refuse to put a goalie on their MVP ballot. Not me... though, the MVP was not my No. 1 choice. (Photo credit: Montreal Times)

Some voters refuse to put a goalie on their MVP ballot. Not me… though, the MVP was not my No. 1 choice.
(Photo credit: Montreal Times)

Every April dating to 2005, I’ve filled out an NHL Awards ballot.

It is an honor. It is also humbling, especially when the Award winners are announced. Often, my finalists have differed from fellow voting members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. This year proved no different. This year also proved a great challenge, because for the first time I was not watching hockey every night as part of my job. As a columnist, I probably watched more NHL games than my many years as a Penguins beat reporter. But as a columnist who voted on the Awards, I probably doubted my qualifications more than any of my years as a Penguins beat reporter. Anyway, the Award winners can be found here. My ballot, submitted for your disapproval:


1 – Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

2 – Carey Price, Canadiens

3 – John Tavares, Islanders

4 – Jiri Hudler, Flames

5 – Devan Dubnyk, Wild

Don't slay me, Penguins fans. At least not over my Hart vote. (Photo: Patrick McDermott)

Don’t slay me, Penguins fans. At least not over my Hart vote.
(Photo: Patrick McDermott)


1 – Shea Weber, Predators

2 – Drew Doughty, Kings

3 – Erik Karlsson, Senators

4 – Kris Letang, Penguins

5 – Dennis Wideman, Flames


1 – Filip Forsberg, Predators

2 – Aaron Ekblad, Panthers

3 – Johnny Gardeau, Flames

4 – Mark Stone, Senators

5 – Jake Allen, Blues


1 – Daniel Sedin, Canucks

2 – Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings

3 – Tyler Seguin, Stars

4 – Jiri Hudler, Flames

5 – Patrick Kane, Blackhawks


1 – Sidney Crosby, Penguins

2 – Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks

3 – Patrice Bergeron, Bruins

4 – Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings

5 – John Tavares, Islanders

You could argue, as many in the Penguins' front office did, that the world's best player was at his two-way best this season.  (Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media)

You could argue, as many in the Penguins’ front office did, that the world’s best player was at his two-way best this season.
(Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media)



1 – John Tavares, Islanders

2 – Tyler Seguin, Stars

3 – Sidney Crosby, Penguins


1 – Jiri Hudler, Flames

2 – Jakub Voracek, Flyers

3 – Vladimir Tarasenki, Blues


1 – Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

2 – Jaime Benn, Stars

3 – Nick Foligno, Blue Jackets


1 – Shea Weber, Predators

2 – Drew Doughty, Kings

3 – Erik Karlsson, Senators

4 – Kris Letang, Penguins

5 – Dennis Wideman, Flames

6 – P.K. Subban, Canadiens


1 – Carey Price, Canadiens

2 – Pekka Rinne, Predators

3 – Devan Dubnyk, Wild



1 – Filip Forsberg, Predators

2 – Johnny Gardeau, Flames

3 – Mark Stone, Senators


1 – Aaron Ekblad, Panthers

2 – John Klingman, Stars


1 – Jake Allen, Blues

If he can stay healthy, count on the guy in white to make a run at his first Norris Trophy next season.  This one was going that way until his concussion. (Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media)

If he can stay healthy, count on the guy in white to make a run at his first Norris Trophy next season. This one was going that way until his concussion.
(Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media)



Rossi (audio): Comeuppance for Penguins

Has years of perceived jawing with officials caught up with the Penguins? (AP photo)

Has years of perceived jawing with officials caught up with the Penguins?
(AP photo)


Greetings from Dayton.

I’m on site for Colonial Madness (ooooh yeah!). The Wednesday column asked why Pittsburgh keeps producing successful college basketball coaches? Dude!

Though I’m away from home, ROSSI RADIO travels the magical webways and finds the the freaky and sublime across all lovely lands. Topics this week included the NCAA tourney, the future of some of those locals who coach, and a pointed take on the Penguins that you might not love, but won’t want to miss.

Enjoy, and thanks for listening.


Be EXCELLENT to each other,




Rossi (Radio): Strange stories to which we awake

Maybe the last time? (Credit: Dave's Music Database)

Maybe the last time?
(Credit: Dave’s Music Database)

How many of us have awoken to a new day, and word that can only be considered completely unexpected?

Right, those are a lot of hands being raised.

So, I was not alone Wednesday morning to shake my head a few times upon reading Mark Kaboly’s report that Jason Worilds had retired from the NFL. And I was probably not alone in thinking, “Hey, doesn’t this read familiar?”

Worilds’ decision did not shock TribLive Radio’s Ken Laird. To hear his thoughts, along with those of Josh Taylor, please listen to the latest edition of ROSSI RADIO. Topics include the biggest sports surprises in our lifetimes, the concert for which I’ve been waiting a decade, and the city’s best coaching performance.




Rossi: It’s a Bird, it’s a Bat, it’s Our man

(Photo: Reuters) It's Showtime!

(Photo: Reuters)
It’s Showtime!

He threw high and tight.

And then Batman threw out the first pitch.

It was my first (and only) home opener as the Pirates beat reporter for the Tribune-Review, and it made for the most awe-inspiring moment of a fairly unforgettable 2006. After all, that was the year during which I twice turned tongue tied while meeting Mick Jagger, shared a bit too much information with Alyssa Milano and tried to jump onto a moving SUV transporting Mario Lemieux – and each of those occurrences happened while I was working. But nothing topped the Pirates’ home opener at PNC Park, and my rock god, teenage fantasy and childhood hockey hero ended up having nothing on Michael Keaton.

They still don’t, especially not after Keaton’s Golden Globes moment on Sunday night.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

It was a seemingly perfect pairing.

The Pirates had invited Keaton to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The franchise was starting a new era with a new manager, but it lacked buzz compared to Pittsburgh’s other pro teams. Ben Roethlisberger had just led the Steelers to their long-awaited “one for the thumb.” Sidney Crosby was several months into turning citizens back onto the Penguins. The Pirates had been losers since 1993, and their biggest draw (Jason Bay) was likeable, but hardly a marquee attraction.

Neither was Keaton at that point. At least, he certainly was not on Hollywood’s A List. He had been Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice and Batman, but he upon arriving at the ballpark on that sunny day, Keaton was mostly talked about as a Pittsburgh who had made it big.

He was a Pittsburgher, though. And he made that clear, much to the horror of many within the Pirates organization.

Sitting at a table in a room reserved for interviews, Keaton happily took questions from members of the local media. Near the back rows sat Pirates employees. Their smiles were wide and unmistakable at the beginning. I remember looking at Joe Rutter, from whom I had inherited the beat, and rolling my eyes. A Keaton fan, because I’m a Pittsburgher and because I’m a proper thinking American, I was pleased to take in the moment – but it surely felt like a waste of my time on a busy day.

Then, in response to a question that I honestly cannot remember, Keaton pretty much ended what would become a gruesome Pirates season.

“I fear they will take advantage of the good will of the people who continue to show up,” Keaton said of Pirates ownership. “For my money, that’s disrespectful. At some point, you have to write the check.”

(Photo:, subject to copyright) Say his name three times. Especially if you're in a jam.

(Photo:, subject to copyright)
Say his name three times. Especially if you’re in a jam.

Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!

Nope, that was still Keaton sitting at that table.

Joe could not keep from offering a throat-clearing “Wow.” I buried my face in my right hand to hide my laughter. Joe Starkey, then a full-time Trib columnist, alerted both of us to the back rows, where Pirates employees’ smiles had turned to sneers. The room actually felt cooler than it had when the news conference started.

♦ ♦ ♦

There were too many.

However, of the many maddening moments from the Pirates’ 20 consecutive losing seasons, Keaton – inarguably their most famous fan – laying waste to their way of doing business before throwing out the first pitch at the home opener ranks as the most unforgettable. And I think I know why.

He was speaking for Pittsburghers. That’s what it felt like.

Keaton seemed sick of the losing, sick of the small-market excuses, sick of everything. He was back where he belonged, back home, and it was as though he simply could not let down fans that felt their voices were never heard by ownership. He was the fan with the loudest voice, and he used it to drop a cannon ball on the captain’s quarters of the Good Ship Jolly Roger that had docked on the banks of the Allegheny River.

That season (and six more) would pass before the Pirates became winners again. When they did, Keaton made sure everybody knew just how big of a deal his Pirates were to Pittsburghers around the world.

(Photo: AP) You wanna get nuts? Let's get nuts!

(Photo: AP)
You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts!

On Sunday night, an emotional Keaton was honored at the Golden Globe Awards for his virtuoso performance in “Birdman.” It is the role of a lifetime for the first silver screen Batman, and I hope it delivers him more awards, including an Oscar.

And, yes, I’m rooting for Keaton to clean up during the Hollywood awards season because he is a Pittsburgh, and right now he is a Pittsburgher who is making it big again.

The Pirates should bring him back for the first pitch to their upcoming home opener. He might be their best fan because of what he said seven years ago. Plus, coming off two consecutive postseason appearances and an offseason that featured spending by ownership, the Pirates are undeniably back.

Just like Michael John Douglas from Forest Grove.

Or Batman.

Because, with all due respect to Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, Ben Affleck (and A.J. Burnett), Michael Keaton is Batman.

(Photo:, subject to copyright) Everybody else is just wearing his cowl.

(Photo:, subject to copyright)
Everybody else is just wearing his cowl.



Rossi: Steelers’ loss doesn’t mean Pittsburgh isn’t a winner

(Photo: Christopher Horner, Trib Total Media) Saturday night wasn't all right for a Steelers' win, but it was another big show for our popular city.

(Photo: Christopher Horner, Trib Total Media)
Saturday night wasn’t all right for a Steelers’ win, but it was another big show for our popular city.

Evening playoff games are the dread of all newspaper reporters, especially columnists.

It’s not that we have to file a story as soon as the game ends. It’s that we often try to file before the game ends. This helps our night desk get out the print product. This helps the readers  in some parts of Western Pennsylvania get a print product.

My job on Saturday was to write a lot. And, candidly, I gave up on writing a lot well. Deadline writing requires the setting aside of ego, if not the complete ignoring of it. You pick an angle and hope it goes your way. And when it doesn’t, such as the Steelers pulling close at one point in the fourth quarter of what was a blowout loss to the Ravens, you start sweating.

This is the column I ended up writing. I filed it with about three minutes remaining in the AFC wild card game. Before filing it, I had written about 350 words – roughly half of a column – about a Steelers’ victory. I had written those words in about 10 minutes. They weren’t very good. I’m quite glad nobody had to read them.

I also wrote a news story based off interviews conducted in the Steelers’ dressing room. Didn’t have to do that, but offered because I didn’t feel my column required quotes, and because I felt our readers deserved to hear from Steelers greats who might not return next season. This story appeared only our web site. Free candy, or at least my version of it.

Some Trib readers might have found a completely different column in their print version. It was one I wrote before the game. We call it an “early column” here in Newspaper Land. It has nothing to do with the game because, obviously, it was filed before the game. Not knowing if the Steelers would win or lose, I agonized over a topic that could hold up. The topic I chose blended a personal experience with an interview I did with the city’s mayor, a diehard sports fan whose beloved Pittsburgh has had quite a star turn early in his tenure.

No reporter wants his work to go to waste. More than that, though, I’m including that “early column” in this blog because, as a Pittsburgher, I am aware how lousy the days after a season-ending loss by one of the local teams can be – and I, again as a Pittsburgher, wanted my readers to have something that might bring a bit of cheer.

Here it is:

Used to be that we needed nights like Saturday.

They would serve as a seeming affirmation of something that we loved about ourselves as Pittsburghers. And even if we’re not within city limits, we’re all Pittsburghers around here when the local teams bring the big games to our North Shore and Uptown. We’re all impacted, whether we like it or not.

I’m the guy who goes to Smokin’ Joe’s Saloon on the South Side and rolls his eyes when somebody starts talking about Pittsburgh being a great sports town. Maybe that’s true, but maybe it’s just as well time to eliminate the words “sports” from that conversation.

Yeah, try making that argument during the week leading up to a Steelers-Ravens playoff game.

The brilliant revival of our East End still will be around to enjoy Sunday. The Steelers, I was reminded, might be done playing Saturday night. So why wouldn’t I just try to enjoy something that hasn’t happened in a while.

(Photo: Guy Wathen, Trib Total Media) Mayor Bill Peduto oversees a city that's finally matching the success of its pro teams.

(Photo: Guy Wathen, Trib Total Media)
Mayor Bill Peduto oversees a city that’s finally matching the success of its pro teams.

Good point. In fact, it made me think about what Saturday night was for our city: history.

Heinz Field was the third Pittsburgh facility that played host to a professional playoff game in a span of nine months. That had never happened.

The last time each of Pittsburgh’s three pro clubs brought their leagues’ playoffs here was January-October 1992. Losses by the Steelers (to Buffalo) and Pirates (to Atlanta) were sandwiched by a Stanley Cup defense by the Penguins.

That was a really cool year to be a Pittsburgher.

But nobody really talks about 1992. Maybe because the places where those games were played, Three Rivers Stadium and Civic Arena, are long gone. Probably, though, we have wiped 1992 from our memories because it still wasn’t a great time for a lot of us.

Population was in decline. The jobs that had emerged didn’t look like the ones that had been lost. A strike halted daily production of the city’s two major newspapers, leading to the introduction of a Pittsburgh edition of the Tribune-Review.

There was some stuff going on, to say the least. We looked to our teams to distract us from a lot of it.

Even that came with a price to pay: a psychological one.

Nobody really heard the term “small market” before the early 1990s, but by 1992 it was burned into the brains of Pittsburghers. The Pirates were losing their best players because of this small market we called home. Could the Penguins keep theirs? Would the Steelers be able to give it a go in NFL free agency?

Nobody knew.

In 1992, a young man named Bill Peduto left his beloved region to work in the nation’s capital. A sports nut with a hockey leaning, Peduto felt an odd mix of euphoria and disappointment a year before while watching from Washington while the Penguins lifted the Stanley Cup in May 1991.

“I decided I was coming back home,” Peduto said. “They weren’t going to win it again without me back in Pittsburgh.”

The Penguins’ Cup win in 1992 marked the last championship for one of Pittsburgh’s teams until the Steelers’ long-awaited fifth Super Bowl victory during the 2005 season. Saturday night marked the 61st NHL, NFL or MLB playoff game in Pittsburgh since “One for the Thumb.”

Peduto is now Pittsburgh’s mayor. He didn’t even know about the Penguins’ latest trade until after our conversation Friday, and he’s a season-ticket holder. He attended two Steelers and two Pirates games in 2014. He tries to stay up to date on the local teams by checking Twitter on his cell phone. He tries.

He was 11 in 1975. He remembers listening on the radio as the Penguins blew a 3-0 series lead to the New York Islanders. He recalls watching the start of the Steelers dynasty. He had seen the Pirates win the 1971 World Series and was sure he’d see them do it again soon.

“It seemed like the entire city was on top of the world,” Peduto said.

It wasn’t. And it wasn’t in the 1990s, either.

Pittsburgh has been the home to some great teams but never when Pittsburgh was also doing great.

“You’d be hard pressed to look back at the 1970s or the early 1990s and say those weren’t high points in some way,” Peduto said. “Now we’re having another one. What’s interesting is that all three of those periods have come when the city was at vastly different stages.”

On the last day of 2014, the city was given another of many recent endorsements. Conde Nast ranked Pittsburgh third among worldwide cities to visit in 2015. So this city of ours has been deemed hot, livable, worthy of tourism dollars and great for breakfast.

“We’re in a different place now,” Peduto said.

This isn’t just “Steelers Country.” Pittsburgh is having itself a moment and not just because the teams are winning.

But there’s that, too.

Give all of the Trib’s Steelers coverage a read, please.

Be EXCELLENT to each other (and Happy New Year),



Rossi: Seam seems ugly for Steelers

(Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media) Guys, I'm open. Really. All day.

(Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media)
Guys, I’m open. Really. All day.

Go deep, and go often.

That would be my advice for how the Atlanta Falcons should attack the Steelers. Though improving in some areas, pass coverage – especially on deep seam routes – is not a strength for this particular defense.

I discussed this and more with Ralph Paulk and Ken Laird on TribLive Radio’s “Steelers Roundtable.” Listen if you’d like:


Also, I speak for everybody in Trib Total Media in offering thoughts and prayers to Mark Kaboly, whose father died Tuesday. I will never forget what I witnessed from Mark on Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati. He learned of his dad’s worsening condition after the Steelers-Bengals game. Still, he insisted on completing his immediate duties before hitting the road to spend precious final hours with his dad. Mark fought back tears in that Cincinnati press box while trying to compose a game story, notes, etc. I marveled at his strength. I also wondered how he was able to concentrate. Upon reading this obituary, I now understand. Mark did what his dad would have wanted: finished his shift.

Our love to Mark and the Kaboly family.

Be EXCELLENT to each other,



Rossi: How culture influences reporting

(Photo credit: Chaz Palla, Trib Total Media) Evgeni Malkin knows us a lot better than we know him.

(Photo credit: Chaz Palla, Trib Total Media)
Evgeni Malkin knows us a lot better than we know him.

Writing about Evgeni Malkin is maybe what I do best.

Certainly it is what I enjoy most. Perhaps that is mostly because I always start thinking about something that seems bigger after writing about Malkin. That was the case after this column, and it sparked a conversation I had on Wednesday afternoon.

The latest podcast version of “Rossi Radio” is available for your listening pleasure. I was joined by Ken Laird, John Steigerwald and Josh Taylor, and we had a very interesting (and challenging) discussion about how cultural differences impact the way we have reported on athletes. Also, we disused what NHL hockey might look like within the next decade.

Have a go at what we said:


Be EXCELLENT to each other,