Tommy Maddox stares at his shoes in disbelief. Crouched over center, calling the signals on a third-and-forever play deep in his own territory, Maddox watches as his shoelaces untie themselves. The former XFL standout freezes just long enough to confuse Steelers center Kevin Mawae, who finally snaps the ball right past the confused quarterback. That's all the invitation Gerard Warren needs. He crashes over Hartings and Maddox like a tide, rolling both men back 10 yards before landing on the ball in the Steelers' end zone.
Five minutes into the second quarter and the game is already over. Bill Cowher has stopped coaching, resorting to jutting out his chin and spitting at players. He's seen what Maddox, and Plaxico Burress, and the rest of the team has seen. Shoes that untie themselves. Balls that change direction in mid-air. First down chains that grow a couple of links on close 4th-and-nuthin' measurements for the Steelers.
And then there are the things Cowher and the Steelers can't explain. Like how Corey Fuller can be hobbled with a hamstring injury on Saturday, but then run like the wind on Sunday. He's covering receivers like Deion Sanders in fast forward. In the first quarter alone, Fuller intercepts Maddox seven times. Just as strange, Quincy Morgan is going nuts, making fingertip catches and circus grabs in the back of the end zone.
But even more inexplicable is Courtney Brown--he of the zero sacks--literally playing like a man possessed. In the locker room before the game, fellow defensive linemen Warren and Kenard Lang nod their approval as Brown curses lustily, speaks in tongues, and spits up green goo. Browns' first sack, over a thoroughly freaked out Wayne Gandy, occurs after the defensive end spins his head completely around prior to the snap. Stunned, Gandy just stands there as Brown lays a haymaker on Maddox that jars loose the ball and gives Darren Hambrick a quick fumble recovery for a touchdown.
By the time the half mercifully arrives, the Steelers are down by 300 points. Maddox has completed 12 passes--all of them to the Browns defense--before being knocked out of the game on a vicious sack by
But when the team arrives in the locker room at halftime, they've seen enough. The room is ice cold, the windows covered in frost and the Gatorade frozen in its cups. Funny thing though. The blood coming out of the faucets and shower heads is flowing very nicely. Maddox takes one look at the gothic horror unfolding in front of him and retires on the spot. "Now I can say I've seen it all," are his last words as an NFL QB.
Maddox isn't gone five seconds when the entire Steelers' squad hears a voice, guttural and feral, snarl in their ears. "Get out of this house!"
That'll do it. The crowd cheers as the Browns take the field for the second half, but the Steelers are nowhere to be seen. It takes ten minutes for league officials to discover that the team is already in the air, flying back to
The Steelers may be terrified and the league may be confused, but Browns fans know exactly what is going on. The team stands silent at midfield, and 85,000 faithful Browns fans stand with them. All eyes are fixed on the east end zone, where the red and gold banner of the United States Marine Corps ripples languidly above the stadium.
A sound--almost imperceptible at firs