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News » Spat over spit shows poor sportsmanship

Spat over spit shows poor sportsmanship

Spat over spit shows poor sportsmanship
The first thing Steelers punter Mitch Berger did after the big win in Baltimore Sunday was brush his teeth.

The second, third and fourth things, too.

"I think I kept spitting for 24 hours," Berger said yesterday. "To have another man spit in your mouth like that ..."

And you thought the Heinz Field boos were the toughest part of Berger's season?

They are nothing compared to taking a giant loogie right in the kisser.

It came deliberately from the Baltimore Ravens' Frank Walker after Berger tried to serve as a peacemaker during a brief scuffle between Walker and Steelers kicker Jeff Reed. At least that's Berger's story -- and Reed's. "It was gross," Berger said, contorting his face into a grimace. "Disgusting," Reed added. "Just classless."

Reed took exception to Walker rolling toward his left leg -- his plant leg -- after trying to block his extra point following the Steelers' winning touchdown with 43 seconds left. "I've had that happen to me before with effort plays," Reed said. "But I honestly think he tried to take me out."

Reed and Walker exchanged words and shoves. Berger, Reed's holder, tried to intervene.

That's when the spit hit the fan.

Walker admitted to the Baltimore Sun yesterday that he might have been a little loose with his spittle but said it was purely accidental.

Think Bill Cowher.

"It was just a slobber moment," Walker called it.

That's his story and he's sticking to it.

Berger isn't buying it.

"It wasn't something that happens by accident when you're talking sometimes," he said. "I had my mouth open and was about to say something when he spit right on me. There was the full noise. He made the full spitting noise. ...

"I have no reason to make something like that up."

Spitting in a player's face isn't something the image-conscious NFL takes lightly. There is nothing more detestable between men. It is the ultimate insult. When the late Sean Taylor of the Washington Redskins spit in the face of Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman in a playoff game after the 2005 season, the league fined Taylor $17,000.

But -- deliberate or not -- Walker is getting away with it. "There was no visual evidence," the league office said via e-mail yesterday.

So ends Spitgate.

"He knows it happened," Berger said.

I'm thinking Walker isn't feeling a lot of remorse.

"I don't care. I hate Pittsburgh," he told the Sun.

Walker might be feeling smug, especially now that he knows he's in the clear with the league office. But, as Berger was quick to point out, he and the Steelers had the last, best laugh.

"We got the win, that's all that matters."

There was that.

Really, the win trumped all on another bad day for Berger, this one caused by the Walker hawker.

These aren't the best of times for Berger even though the Steelers are 11-3 and he, at 36, in his 13th NFL season and with his seventh club, is thrilled to have a job. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has been the most maligned Steelers figure this season, but Berger is a close second. The only reason he's on the team is Daniel Sepulveda's knee injury. He won the punting job in training camp over Paul Ernster, lost it to Ernster after eight games because of bad hamstrings and worse punting, then won it again after Ernster was a mess for three games. After the Steelers brought Berger back before the New England game in late November, coach Mike Tomlin said, memorably: "When we made the decision to go to Paul, I characterized [the punting] as not up to snuff. Obviously, not up to snuff is relative."


You still hold your breath each time Berger punts, although he was better in Baltimore. His first punt went only 28 yards, but his next five were 46, 38, 49, 51 and 40 yards. The problem was that the Steelers' coverage team -- so strong all season -- allowed the Ravens' Jim Leonhard to have returns of 18, 46, 10, 10 and 6 yards. Berger's net average ended up a sickly 27.0.

If the Steelers ever get this punting thing straightened out, they really could be dangerous -- not just in Tennessee Sunday, but in the playoffs in January.

"I feel like I'm starting to get my swing back," Berger said. "I'm starting to get in a groove."

The man is aware of the boos from the home crowd. Walker will tell you Berger has a wild and crazy imagination, but there's nothing wrong with his hearing.

"You don't pay attention to it," Berger said. "Sometimes, people don't understand everything that's going on in a game. It's not going to be a big, beautiful kick every time. Sometimes, just getting it off is the key thing. ...

"But I'm not going to try to convince them. I just worry about doing my job. I feel healthy now. I've been doing this for a long time in this league. I'm confident I'll get the job done."

With that, Berger excused himself.

I'm only guessing, but I think he went to brush his teeth.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 18, 2008

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