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Kevin Gorman's Take 5: Five thoughts on today's sports news

| Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, 11:18 a.m.
New England Patriots linebacker James Harrison runs through a drill during an NFL football team practice Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots signed the 39-year-old, five-time Pro Bowl linebacker after he was released Saturday by the Pittsburgh Steelers. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)
New England Patriots linebacker James Harrison runs through a drill during an NFL football team practice Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots signed the 39-year-old, five-time Pro Bowl linebacker after he was released Saturday by the Pittsburgh Steelers. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)

1. The Steelers announced their team MVP on Wednesday, and he wasn't around to accept the award.

Antonio Brown won most valuable player for the fourth time since 2011 – interestingly, all in odd years – but is out for the second straight game with a calf injury.

By reading social media, however, you would have thought the Steelers' most valuable player had signed with the New England Patriots this week.

Instead, it was their No. 5 outside linebacker, one who had played 40 snaps all season. But James Harrison is the Steelers' all-time sacks leader, and his surprise release and subsequent signing with their arch-nemesis left the fan base torn.

That tone changed dramatically.

2. After taking the high road on Harrison following Monday's victory over the Houston Texans and even early Wednesday morning, the Steelers spoke up about how Harrison forced his way out.

Maurkice Pouncey was one of the most outspoken Steelers, saying that Harrison “erased his own legacy” with his exit. Players were tired of the team taking the rap for a player who wanted out, even if he ranks among their legendary linebackers.

No wonder Pouncey is highly regarded as a leader in the locker room, and why he received MVP votes from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the starting offensive line.

Trib columnist Tim Benz writes that Steelers players are right to side with the club over Harrison , especially when word spread of his skipping practices to lift weights, sleeping through position meetings and leaving games when he was inactive.

3. No wonder most of the Steelers players aren't worried about Harrison spilling team secrets to the Patriots (even if Ben Roethlisberger's wife is).

Then again, Patriots coach Bill Belichick didn't make a big deal of it , either.

The shame of the story is that Harrison, who did little for the Steelers this season, overshadowed a day that should have belonged to Brown, who has been their most clutch performer.

4. The Harrison storyline so dominated the news cycle that another story was largely ignored, probably to the Pirates' delight.

Rob Biertempfel reports that All-Star Josh Harrison is drawing trade interest , maybe even more so than Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.

Harrison's versatility is attractive, given that he can play second or third base and the corner outfield positions, as his $10.25 million salary for 2018. Harrison has been mentioned in reports as part of a package with Cole in trade talks with the Yankees.

One problem: If the Pirates trade Harrison, who plays third base? The Pirates could play Adam Frazier at second base, but still have a hole at the hot corner. General manager Neal Huntington has acknowledged that David Freese is no longer an everyday player and the club (finally) is no longer counting on Jung Ho Kang.

I understand why the Pirates, after 78- and 75-win seasons, might believe their playoff window is closing and would want to deal their assets for prospects. But the front office has to take some of the blame for the shortcomings of those seasons, given their unwillingness to add payroll the past two years, especially after the Kang visa fiasco and the Starling Marte suspension.

I'm in favor of the Pirates keeping this team intact until July, seeing whether they are contenders or pretenders, and making moves at the trade deadline – unless someone blows them away with an offer they can't refuse.

Just don't go looking under the sheets for a horse head.

5. The Penguins did what the Steelers couldn't, and got what Patric Hornqvist called their “best” win of the season .

Despite having Sidney Crosby's game-winner reversed by video replay in overtime, the Penguins rallied to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in a shootout.

That they survived after another call went against them – a high-sticking penalty by Jake Guentzel that gave the Blue Jackets a 4-on-3 for two minutes – was a reassuring sign.

That the Penguins beat the Blue Jackets in a shootout, for the second time in a week, is a championship response. Then again, the Penguins are two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, so it's what you would expect from them.

It's what the Steelers didn't do when given two more plays against the Patriots. They didn't put the bad call behind them and finish the job, and you have to hope that it was a lesson learned.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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