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My Final Thoughts on “The Summer of Wallace”

Throughout the last 20 years, the world of sports and sports journalism has been literally over-saturated with the same type of grotesque elements that cover movie stars wlaking out of the restroom at the local nightclub and head coaches who have foot fetishes. It came as no surprise on Tuesday that when Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Wallace finally showed himself at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ facility the media was ready. Well, almost ready.

The lovely and talented ESPN reporter Josina Anderson was picked up by local TV stations chasing down Wallace in her lovely orange dress and bare feet. Wait, bare feet? Apparently she thought she had a moment to rest her tired pups and was caught off guard when number 17 arrived. Nevertheless, she pursued and so did choppers overhead, local journalists and twitter aficionados by the dozens.

It was hard not to think of the famous ‘slow-speed chase’ of OJ Simpson and his friend Al Cowlings in the white Ford Bronco while all this was going on but I think the better example was more like ‘Seinfeld’s Kramer driving a white Ford Bronco while helping his golfing buddy Genderson escape the police. There was certainly more humor in this particular situation.

Despite all that has gone on this off-season, Mike Wallace is once again back where he belongs, at least for now, in the black ‘n gold. I’ve written ad nauseum this year about Wallace and trying to look at both sides and then trying to predict when he finally would show up to play football. I wish that this would have been handled differently by Wallace and his agent Bus Cook, but what’s done is done. To be clear, I don’t harbor any ill-will towards Wallace at all which I don’t know that I could say back when I was younger.

With every single player around the league that went down with injury after injury during this pre-season I continued to tell myself that Wallace and Cook were playing this perfectly with just one exception; how they were playing it could have been different.

As is the case with most Americans, I work hard for a living and do this writing and podcasting gig simply because of my passion for the Steelers. Like most of you, when I see Wallace complaining about making a measly $2.7 contract I puke in mouth and would pretty much give my right arm for the opportunity but that was the younger me thinking. The older, wiser me understands that the NFL is a business above everything else we might want it to be.

Mike Wallace has one profession and that is as a football player. With the average career-span of most players in the 4-6 year range, I can understand why Wallace would want more money based off of his first three years in the league. It’s a small time frame and one that can end any minute. Just ask some of these guys who suffered injuries this past weekend and for their efforts were cut from the team.

Where Wallace and Cook misplayed the whole situation was not being vocal enough especially when reports that Wallace wanted ‘Larry Fitzgerald-type’ money. Wallace nor Cook has ever confirmed or denied those reports and I believe he could have saved face with a lot fans had he just come out made a statement. His silence spoke volumes and his behavior on twitter in the following days was childish at best.

Yet I understood… Mike Wallace has had very good seasons despite a pretty poor second half in 2011. He is more than just a guy that runs straight down the field too. His average yards per catch for his career is 18.7 which is almost ridiculous and he has over 3,000 receiving yards for his career so he has always had footing with which to demand a pay raise. Yet the fans have had points too.

Does he go after balls aggressively enough? Does he try to become the defender when a ball looks to be intercepted and when will he make a big-time catch in the clutch? You have to go back to his rookie season when his catch as time expired beat Green Bay for that. Yes, there have been big plays, but where are the clutch plays? This is where fans will hammer him if he falls off again in the second half of 2012.

Wallace being back in the line-up makes this team better and makes Antonio Brown better as well. There is no denying this fact. In the end, Wallace was right to holdout and not sign the tender if he knew all along he wasn’t going to get a larger deal. Playing careers are too short to take risks and as I have gotten older I’ve been able to understand better why athletes do this. I don’t like it and I don’t like the negative publicity it brings to my team, but I realize why was he doing what he did. Ask David Johnson or David DeCastro about his decision and I think you’ll hear them explain why Wallace was making the right choice.

Yes, I would have liked to have seen him sign early and then join his teammates for training camp just like you but I get it and you really should too. It wasn’t personal and it wasn’t aimed at the fans, it was business and after all, the NFL is a business. Mike Wallace was simply playing a businessman’s game and I don’t blame him.

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