Steelers need to look at their entire year

PITTSBURGH – Back when baseball teams still played doubleheaders, a player named Ron Swoboda had a wise observation about playing two games in one day.

If a team was destined to split, he said it was always better to win the second game. His theory was that team ended the day feeling it had accomplished something while the first-game winner left the park with regrets even though both teams were 1-1.

That theory came to mind when Steelers president Art Rooney II offered a mostly upbeat assessment of his team’s just-concluded 8-8 season.

He liked the way the team reversed its 2-6 start, and the way Mike Tomlin was able to hold things together.

But the Steelers were still 8-8, the same as they were in 2012. The journey was different, but the destination remained the same.

They ended the season beating a woeful Browns team that would fire its coach before the buses got back to Cleveland. Did that somehow offset losing a key home game to the warm-weather Dolphins in a snowstorm? That flop became even more egregious when the Dolphins used the game as a springboard to a collapse that also left them outside the playoff field.

The Steelers season wasn’t a disaster. It wasn’t a success, either. It was 8-8.

The most important takeaway from the season is it reinforced the need to rebuild a defense that is a shadow of what it used to be. Rooney II acknowledged that, but there was no overriding sense that he understands the urgency, or how big the task really is.

These end of the season State of The Steelers addresses from ownership are a new wrinkle. They’re interesting, only because they offer a hint that ownership often doesn’t seem to have a better idea than some of the cranky people who call talk shows.

The difference is that ownership has the hammer to implement its ideas, like firing the offensive coordinator, then dishonestly spinning the move as his “retirement.”

But that’s the way it goes. You just wish ownership had a stronger handle on things and recognized that alarming early-season losses to awful teams like Minnesota and Oakland matter just as much as what happens at the end.

After all, 8-8 is 8-8, no matter how you get there.

Remembering Dirt

Chris Speier was a rookie shortstop with the San Francisco Giants in 1971 when he approached the Three Rivers Stadium groundskeeper to tell him about a rough patch in the infield dirt.

If Speier expected the guy to grab a rake and fix it, he was surprised.

Instead, the grounds crew guy looked at Speier and said, “Don’t worry about it. I hear you’re going back to Triple A anyway.”

That was Steve “Dirt” DiNardo, who became a minor celebrity when the Steelers rose to Super Bowl fame in the 1970s. He carried that nickname even though the carpeted Three Rivers had less dirt than most fields.

The Steelers were so big that fans even knew the groundskeeper.

When DiNardo died last week at 82, we lost another of those chops-busting only-in-Pittsburgh characters from a different generation.

By the way, he fixed the infield – but not until he savored the shocked look on Speier’s face.

Mehno can be reached at