The only Canadian player in the NFL’s conference finals Sunday is embroiled in a bizarre controversy.
The reason? An opponent spit in his mouth during a game a month ago.
In his previous 13 NFL seasons, Mitch Berger of Kamloops, B.C., was more or less your typical punter and place-kicking holder – quiet, mostly unassuming and way, way out of the limelight. Near the end of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 13-9 triumph in Baltimore last month, however, the Ravens’ Frank Walker had what he subsequently called a “slobber moment” and spit at Berger.
Walker claimed it was accidental. Berger insisted it was deliberate. The NFL didn’t discipline Walker, explaining it couldn’t find visual evidence of the dastardly deed. Berger remains ticked. Oh, and the Ravens visit Pittsburgh for Sunday’s AFC final.
In the Dec. 14 game, Walker “dove and tried to take out a knee (of Steelers place-kicker Jeff Reed)," Berger said. "I went over there and then he got up and turned around and spit right in my mouth. I'm sure it was intentional, no matter what he says. He didn't even get a penalty. I can’t forget it. I’m not saying I’ll get him back, but. . .”
Walker told reporters he’s prepared for revenge tactics, but added: “It doesn’t even matter. I won’t be hiding.”
• Walker, incidentally, is ordinarily a special-teams player but would start at cornerback in Pittsburgh if veteran Samari Rolle (groin) can’t play.
Ravens defensive lineman Terrell Suggs (shoulder) might need to sit out, too. He’d be replaced by three players, including converted tight end Edgar Jones.
• Unruly behaviour in the stands Sunday will be monitored in unprecedented fashion in both Pittsburgh and Arizona (where the Cardinals entertain the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC final), thanks to a new security system.
Fans irked by their neighbours’ misconduct can simply text message their complaints, and action will promptly be taken.
“This feature allows spectators to report those around them, without directly confronting them or visibly reporting them to security personnel,” according to a news release from a spokesman for Ez Texting. “This anonymous reporting forum encourages those who feel threatened to come forward, providing a safe haven for fans to enjoy the game in peace – or at least without those who take the competitive spirit one step too far.”
• And, in case you missed it, Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl plans to change his name to Steelerstahl Sunday, prompting this reaction from U.S. football analyst Tony Kornheiser: “This is so blatantly stupid and patronizing that he should be removed from his office by nightfall.”
Marty York is Metro's national sports columnist as well as an
instructor at the College of Sports Media in Toronto. He can be heard
regularly on Vancouver radio station CKNW with Sportstalk host Dan
Russell. Contact Marty at firstname.lastname@example.org