Nationals

NFL's marquee teams find support all over

201211061325483044495-p2.jpeg

NFL's marquee teams find support all over

PITTSBURGH (AP) Casey Hampton can hear the chant. It never fails.

Regardless of the venue. Regardless of the weather. Regardless of the circumstances. Preseason or the Super Bowl. Heinz Field or Houston.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers are leading late in the fourth quarter, the sound of ``Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go!'' while thousands of Terrible Towels twirl will reverberate inside the veteran nose tackle's helmet.

``Our fans are going to stay until the end,'' said Hampton, who has watched the phenomenon since his rookie year in 2001. ``They're going to ride with us. A lot of times, especially when you're winning at the end, when the home fans clear out they'll still be there doing their thing.''

It happened Sunday in New York during Pittsburgh's 24-20 victory over the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants. At a stadium typically swathed in blue, the roar for the Steelers grew so loud at one point quarterback Ben Roethlisberger actually had to put his hands up to ask for quiet.

Coach Mike Tomlin wasn't joking when he said recently the self-appointed ``Steeler Nation'' is everywhere.

Whether it's folks traveling from Pittsburgh to watch the black-and-gold or western Pennsylvania transplants who fill their nearest NFL stadium when the black-and-gold visit is unclear.

What is clear is the backing the Steelers and other marquee NFL teams receive when they don their visiting uniforms is growing.

The explosion in the secondary ticket market combined with the league's ever expanding popularity and just plain old family ties means for teams like the Steelers, Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, home-field advantage isn't limited to game days where the players wake up in their own beds.

The ubiquitous Terrible Towels mean the support that greets the Steelers on the road is a little more visible than most, but Pittsburgh isn't the hardest road ticket in the league according to brokerage site Stubhub.

Even with the Cowboys stumbling to a 3-5 start, watching them on the road will cost about $196 a ticket if you go through Stubhub according to spokesperson Joellen Ferrer. The Steelers are the second-most expensive at $190.

It's simple supply and demand. The brighter the name, the more difficult the get. The Giants, Cowboys, Packers, Steelers and Bears are the five toughest road tickets in the NFL for Stubhub customers.

All five have a proud history littered with championships - 20 Super Bowls and counting - and dozens of Hall-of-Fame players, teams whose fandom is handed down generation to generation or in the case of Brad Stoller, from wife to husband.

The 48-year-old Stoller grew up in Indiana rooting for the Cowboys long before the Colts fled Baltimore for the Midwest. Dallas was at its ``America's Team'' zenith at the time, the franchise's mix of on field success and steady stream of national television appearances making the Cowboys pretty easy to keep up with in a time when fans outside NFL markets were at the mercy of the local TV station to see what game would get beamed into their living rooms on a given week.

The combination of Jerry Jones' arrogance and his wife Amy's lifelong devotion to the Steelers led Stoller to switch allegiances. Now he runs a Steelers Fan Facebook page that features more than 98,000 likes from all over the globe.

There are over 1,500 Pittsburgh Steelers bars scattered across the country, with high concentrations in retirement destinations like Florida, Arizona and Southern California, as the fans who watched the Super Steelers win four Super Bowls in the 1970s gather to enjoy the latest renaissance that's seen two more Lombardi Trophies added in the last seven seasons thrust in by satellite.

``What I've found, there's a tremendous number of people, maybe they grew up in Pittsburgh, but somewhere there's a connection with Pittsburgh,'' Stoller said. ``They may live in Florida today, but when their Steelers are around, they try to make it to the game.''

Stoller tries to make a handful of games every fall. Tickets are easy to come by if he's willing to pay the premium. The three-hour ride from Lafayette, Ind., to Cincinnati has become an annual pilgrimage for both Stoller and Steelers fans from Western Pennsylvania and Ohio who can't get into the perennially sold-out home games.

When Pittsburgh beat the Bengals last month, Stoller estimates 40 percent of Paul Brown Stadium came dressed in some variation of black-and-gold. The lack of steady home presence for one of the league's underachieving franchises - Cincinnati hasn't won a playoff game in 22 years- allows Steelers fans to overwhelm the market.

Every game in Cincinnati follows a similar pattern. The Bengals fans arrive chanting ``Who Dey.'' Then Cincinnati starts to falter.

``In the fourth quarter it gets real quiet before the Steelers start driving,'' Stoller said. ``Then we start chanting `We Dey.'''

The experience is worth the hit to the wallet, though Stoller allows there is one thing about going through Stubhub that bothers him.

``The unfortunate thing for people is that tickets are always three times higher priced for the Steelers, then as soon as they leave, you want a ticket to a Bengals game the following week and they can't give `em away,'' he said with a laugh.

It's hardly a phenomenon unique to Cincinnati. Jacksonville, Kansas City and the New York Jets - who have two combined Super Bowl titles among them - struggle to keep home fans interested when things go south.

Need proof? Tickets for the Bengals-Chiefs game on Nov. 18 start at $7.

Yes, $7. A decent meal at any stadium will cost you double that.

Compare that to the $26 minimum when Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos play in Kansas City the next week, a cost that is likely to go up if the AFC West-leading Broncos continue to roll.

``Most (Stubhub sellers) are season ticket holders who want to recoup some of their initial investment,'' Ferrer said. ``They want to retain their season seats and have that camaraderie but they realize they can also resell their tickets when the big team comes to town.''

All that selling can have a significant impact on the game.

When the Denver Broncos stormed past San Diego last month, the crowd at Qualcomm Stadium began roaring ``defense'' when the hometown Chargers tried to mount a late rally.

``It's impressive because there's a select few teams in the NFL that have that,'' Denver tight end Jacob Tamme said. ``And down in the lower level, you know? So, not only is it impressive but it's one of those things that you can feed off of on the road, so that's a pretty unique thing.''

Living on the other side of the coin can be a rude awakening.

Detroit Lions defensive tackle Corey Williams used to get a kick out of seeing foam Cheeseheads scattered through the stands wherever the Packers played during his four seasons with Green Bay from 2004-07.

``It was amazing to go into the stadium and the majority of the Packers (fans) were there and to hear them yell, `Go Pack Go!' louder than the home team fans was kind of fun,'' Williams said.

Now he sees the green-and-gold army invade Ford Field every winter and braces for a hostile environment in what's supposed to be friendly territory. Yet he's come to expect it. So has Hampton, who knows a sea of waving yellow hand towels await the Steelers when they travel to Cleveland in a few weeks.

``You know they're gonna be there,'' Hampton said. ``I can't explain it. It's just always been that way. And you know, we'll take it.''

---

AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner and Arnie Stapleton, AP national writer Nancy Armour and AP sports writer Larry Lage contributed to this report.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Joe Maddon's protest prompts Sean Doolittle to call his act 'tired'

doolittle-reg.jpg
USA Today Sports images

Joe Maddon's protest prompts Sean Doolittle to call his act 'tired'

WASHINGTON -- Sean Doolittle stood at his locker in the clubhouse still roiled by what occurred in the ninth inning Saturday. 

His clean inning for his eighth save was not on his mind. Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon was.

The Cubs appeared to enact a pre-planned grouse when they say Doolittle next. Chicago quality assurance coach Chris Denorfia was talking to the umpires as Doolittle warmed up in the 5-2 game. Following Doolittle's first pitch, Maddon popped out of the dugout to begin his banter, and eventual protest, of Doolittle's delivery.

At question was Doolittle's toe tap. With no runners on base, he raises his front leg, drops and holds it for a count, then grazes the dirt with is cleat before he fully comes to the plate. Doolittle started this almost a year ago during a late May series in Miami. No one had complained since -- until Maddon emerged from the Cubs' dugout.

If the umpires deem the move illegal, the outcome is a ball called with the bases empty or a balk called with runners on base. Saturday, home plate umpire Sam Holbrook told Doolittle he was doing nothing wrong. Which turned the postgame discussion around the event to Maddon's intentions. 

A starting point would be one of Maddon's relievers, Carl Edwards Jr., tried to add a similar move in spring training. But Edwards was putting his full foot on the ground and was told the move was illegal. 
Doolittle was more inclined to believe Maddon's primary motivation was to rattle him at the start of the save opportunity, and he calmly, but clearly, took digs at Maddon for the process. 

"After the first time Joe came out, the home plate umpire was like you're fine, just keep it moving," Doolittle said. "Don't start, stop and start again. Just keep it moving. I was like, that's what I do all the time anyway, so...in that moment, he's not trying to do anything other than rattle me and it was kind of tired. I don't know. Sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is and how much he pays attention to the game and stuff like that. He put his stamp on it for sure. 

"I actually have to thank him. After they came out the second, the [Kyle] Schwarber at-bat, I threw two fastballs and a slider and a fastball to [Kris] Bryant and those were probably the best ones I've thrown in a while. I don't do the tap when there's somebody on base so I can keep my pickoff move available if I need it. I've had a lot of traffic recently, so I've had practice doing it, so it wasn't like a huge adjustment to me. I don't know. In a way, I kind of need to thank him."
Doolittle wasn't finished. He was later asked if he thought Maddon was trying to get him to change his mechanics.

"Well, yeah, that's part of the mind game that he was trying to play and I get that," Doolittle said. "I guess I should take it as a compliment that he felt like he had to do that in order to try to throw me off my game in that situation. They're trying to get you to over-think it and change something in the middle of a save opportunity to give them a chance where you start making mistakes or are over-thinking it. 

"But once the home plate umpire tells me, he said, you're fine, just keep it moving, it's just a tap, at this point, I've been doing it for over a year. We're a month-and-a-half into the season, so I know their guy had to make an adjustment; I thought it was a thinly veiled attempt to kind of throw me off."

Members of the Nationals staff were also irked. Among their concerns was the chance for Doolittle to injure himself if he suddenly changed his delivery.
Maddon was adamant the situation was created by Edwards not being allowed to alter his delivery.

“It’s really simple," Maddon said. "That’s exactly what Carl (Edwards) was told he can’t do. And I was told it was an illegal pitch and he can’t do it. I went to Sam (Holbrook), and I told him that. And he said, ‘in our judgment.’ I said, ‘there’s no judgment. If he taps the ground, it’s an illegal pitch, period.’ There’s nothing to judge. You can judge whether he did or not. It’s obvious that he did. If you can’t tell that, then there’s something absolutely wrong. So that was my argument.

"I said if you guys don’t clean it up, I’m going to protest the game.  So we protested the game. For me, I don’t know how many he actually did make that were illegal pitches. I don’t know how they’re going to rule with this. It’s their rule. It’s not mine. I didn’t ask for it in the first place. They took it away from Carl. They took it away from (Cory) Gearrin. They’ve taken it away from a couple guys and they seem to be somewhat aware, but not aware of what had happened."

Wherever the truth resides, Saturday night became another installment in the oddities when Chicago and Washington play. The Cubs walked Bryce Harper 13 times in 19 plate appearances in 2016. The 2017 five-game National League Division Series which ended in Nationals Park included Stephen Strasburg's mystery illness and PR gaffe about who would pitch Game 4 in Chicago. Add Saturday night to the strangeness and buckle up for Sunday's series finale.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Strasburg dazzles as another quick start leads to a Nationals win

soto_dozier.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Strasburg dazzles as another quick start leads to a Nationals win

The Washington Nationals bounced back to beat the Chicago Cubs, 5-2, Saturday to improve to 19-26. Here are five observations from the game…

1. Davey Martinez can’t draw up a night on the mound much better than riding Stephen Strasburg long enough to get to one inning of Sean Doolittle.

Of course, that was only possible thanks to the brilliance of Strasburg, who tossed eight stellar innings Saturday. He was efficient throughout, throwing just 93 pitches and walking only one. Strasburg allowed four hits, two runs (only one earned), and struck out seven Cubs.

Strasburg “only” induced 15 swinging strikes, far from his best number this season, but still pretty good. It didn’t matter, especially with how quickly he was able to make work of the Cubs, getting ground ball after ground ball all night long.

NBC Sports Washington’s own Todd Dybas pointed out midway through the start how Strasburg was going back to his fastball after multiple starts in this recent successful stretch where he featured his curveball prominently. That pattern held throughout his eight innings, and tonight, nearly half (7) of Strasburg’s swinging strikes came on the four-seamer.

Strasburg’s success tonight continues a great recent stretch. He’s allowed just 10 earned runs in his last 42.1 innings, spanning six starts. He’s got 54 strikeouts and just six walks in those starts, a remarkable 9:1 ratio. 

It all adds up to one of the best stretches of Strasburg’s career, as he continues to cement himself as one of three true aces on the current Washington staff. And tonight may have been the most impressive outing yet, considering how deep he went into the game and how hot the opponent’s bats had been.

2. The Nationals are hoping their lineup sees an uptick in performance with guys like Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, and Trea Turner getting back in the swing of things after time on the IL. Those three combined for five hits, three RBI and three runs Saturday.

But it would go a long way for the offense if Brian Dozier finds his stroke as well.

The powerful second baseman is a notoriously slow starter, but when he gets on a hot streak, he can carry a team. It’s only two games, but this may be the start of one of his patented “in the zone” streaks at the plate.

Dozier has gone 3-for-4 and 2-for-4 in back to back games, including a stretch where he reach base six straight times. That includes tonight’s home run to start the scoring for the Nats.

It’s been hard to fault Davey Martinez for his daily lineup construction with all the injuries. Now that his team is getting healthy, it will be interesting to see where Dozier fits in. The top of the order seems well set with Turner, Rendon, and Soto sandwiching one or two of Howie Kendrick, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton. 

Where does that leave Dozier? Probably in the 6-7 range. But if he keeps swinging the bat like he has against the Cubs, that could change. In a week, Martinez has gone from not having enough viable options to potentially having too many. I’m sure he’s happier with the latter.

3. A pattern has emerged in recent wins for the Nationals. When they get off to a quick start, they win. When they don’t, they lose.

In four of their last five victories, the Nats have scored first, including early-inning leads of at least three runs in each game.

In the four losses during the same stretch, the opposing team scored first each time, including three times in the first inning. In those losses, the Nationals were ultimately outscored by a combined 31-8.

In other words, quick starts have been crucial to the team’s success. It’s a narrative that would make sense even if the numbers didn’t back it up. With the way the team has struggled so consistently this season, it would be natural to feel deflated after an early deficit. That feeling is magnified with the lack of faith in the bullpen's ability to keep games within reach.

Saturday night against the Cubs kept this pattern going, with the Nats jumping on the board first with a Brian Dozier home run in the second inning, followed by the three-run fourth inning. That would prove to be all the support Strasburg needed, and once again Washington was able to ride early momentum to a relatively easy win.

4. The team as a whole was looking to bounce back Saturday night, but so was their best reliever.

Doolittle has been, far and away, the most reliable, valuable member of the Nationals bullpen in 2019, but against the Mets Thursday, he wasn’t himself. The lefty allowed four hits and two earned runs in his inning of work, walking one and striking out two on 31 pitches.

Coming off his worst inning of the season, Doolittle was back to his usual self against the Cubs.  He only needed seven pitches (six strikes) to make quick work of Chicago in the top of the ninth inning and earn his eighth save, even with some funny business.

Joe Maddon came out to protest with the umpires about Doolittle tapping his toe on the mound after beginning his windup. It’s a move the Cubs’ own Carl Edwards Jr. had been banned from doing, so his manager was obviously upset to see the Nats’ star closer getting away with something similar.

It’s unclear if anything else will come from the points Maddon brought up, but on Saturday at least, Doolittle was unfazed even after getting “iced” by the opposing manager.

5. For all the struggles the Nats have faced this season, they might be in the midst of a turning point.

It may not feel like it to frustrated fans who just want to see the team reel off several straight wins, but the Nationals have put themselves in position to potentially "win" their third straight series against a quality opponent. Yes, technically the Los Angeles series was a 2-2 split, but considering the Dodgers had only lost four games at home all season prior to the Nats’ trip, we’ll count the split as a win.

They followed that up taking two of three from the Mets, who have faltered of late but are still talented enough to be heard from in the National League East this season.

And now, after bouncing back from last night’s tough 14-6 loss, the Nats have earned an opportunity to grab another series win Sunday night. Of course, they’ll need a strong start from Jeremy Hellickson, which is less likely than it was Friday with Scherzer or Saturday with Strasburg.

Eventually, if the Nationals want to make any real noise, they will need an elongated winning streak. They’ve yet to win more than two consecutive games at any point this season, and have already experienced three losing streaks longer than that.

The talent is there, especially as much of the team gets healthy, and the schedule is finally lightening up. Nats fans are tired of hearing it, but this may finally be the successful stretch they’ve been waiting for. At the very least, the opportunity is there.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: