Tomlin knows what battles to fight

PITTSBURGH — You know how angry you get when the Pittsburgh Steelers have those silly pre-planned touchdown celebrations?

Turns out Mike Tomlin shares your feelings.

That must have come as a shock to those who figured that Tomlin was on board with the high-stepping, preening and booty shaking.

“I don’t like it,” Tomlin said recently.

So why does it persist?

One reason is coaches need to pick their battles. It’s possible to get sidetracked by obsessing over things like facial hair, backwards caps and other trivial matters that ultimately only alienate players. A football team isn’t the military.

The other reason is coaches realize it’s a delicate balance between keeping order and being a martinet who will become a target for mutiny. “My way or the highway” doesn’t play the way it did 50 years ago.

Coaches need players. If someone is a good enough player, there will be plenty of rope. Nobody embarrassed the team more than Ben Roethlisberger did with his two off-field incidents, yet he will likely play for the Steelers as long as he wants to.

Cedric Wilson was released by the Steelers after he was linked to a couple of domestic abuse allegations. His biggest mistake was being eminently replaceable.

Is Tomlin prepared to bench Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell because they participate in a goofy touchdown dance? No coach in his right mind would do that.

You may not like the celebrations, but you accept them. Tomlin has.

Early returns

It’s too early to tell anything definitive about the Pirates, but there are some things to like as the season enters its second full week:

n Plate discipline. Josh Harrison had as many walks in seven games as he did in all of last April. Gregory Polanco was laying off those bad pitches he tended to chase before.

n Josh Bell. He had some peaks and valleys last season, which were to be expected. He isn’t intimidated by the cleanup spot. The Pirates should be talking to him about a multi-year contract before it’s too late.

n Colin Moran. The hole Jung Ho Kang left at third base was large and went unfilled last year. Moran has a chance to be the solution.

Johnny V.

Like a lot of Pittsburgh kids in the 1960s, Tom Sullivan grew up idolizing wrestling champion Bruno Sammartino.

Sullivan met Sammartino as a teenager, then sought to emulate him. Pro wrestling then was a closed business and someone who aspired to join the secret club needed an inside connection.

Sammartino sent Sullivan to Detroit to train and perform menial tasks like setting up the ring, refereeing matches and losing TV mismatches against stars.

He came home working under the name John L. Sullivan. Dyed blonde hair was his only concession to his new identity.

John L. Sullivan was a benign good guy whose career wasn’t advancing beyond preliminary matches. In 1973, he had the idea to turn himself into a bad guy, and things took off from there. He had a quick wit and insulted opponents and fans to build heat, an approach that works well in wrestling and politics.

He wound up teamed with established star Handsome Jimmy Valiant and became his faux brother, Luscious Johnny Valiant. That set Tom Sullivan on a long run in the business as a wrestler, manager and TV commentator.

When it ended, he pursued acting jobs and developed a stand-up comedy routine. The off-the-wall verbal style that served him well as a wrestling villain translated to the stage.

He was still chasing acting jobs when he died last week at 71 after being hit by a truck while crossing busy McKnight Road.

He was just a short distance from his boyhood home, but a million miles from the days when Tom Sullivan had a Bruno Sammartino picture on his bedroom wall.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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