The Steelers' entourage landed in Baltimore on Saturday and I was blessed to be invited to travel along with a group of Steelers going to the Bethesda Naval Hospital to visit our courageous men and women who come off the battlefield with catastrophic injuries. It was a sobering visit to say the least. I was encouraged by the fact that the players themselves were so eager on the eve of this showdown in Baltimore to go and give of themselves to those who have given all they could. I am humbled to have been there. The courage and strength these wounded warriors displayed under trying circumstances defies my ability to adequately communicate that experience. I am in awe of what I witnessed by these most courageous soldiers. God bless our men and woman of the Armed Forces!
* Along the sideline prior to kickoff, I ran into the legendary Mel Blount. Mel, who, like James Harrison, encountered extreme scrutiny in his playing days and became the catalyst for changing the bump-and-run rules, shared his feelings on the subject with me. And the one thing I walked away with is that when you are under the microscope it's a difficult place to be and still perform at your best.
* The Ravens' fan base got their version of a towel through a free giveaway at the stadium. In a word: pathetic. The Ravens fans are not experienced towel twirlers and it was obvious that they lacked the syncopation and rhythmic grace of the pros from Pittsburgh. The Ravens should stop immediately. And never do it again. Ever.
* On a 4-yard Rashard Mendenhall run on the first series, Ramon Foster and Flozell Adams combined on a double-team block to pulverize Haloti Ngata. Rarely will you see Ngata get knocked off his feet so violently as on this play. They can better it up though, because Flo didn't see Ray Lewis scrape into the hole and make the tackle. But job No. 1 (move the "Whole lotta noggin") was accomplished, and set a tone for the trench battles to come.
* Speaking of the giant, the 350-pound Ngata, how in the bambingo (bam-Ben gets hit, bingo-broken nose) does Haloti get away with the forearm smash to Ben Roethlisberger's schnozola and not get a flag? Ben's nose was more crooked than a politician. The docs had to work on Ben the way I used to work the corner of my fighters at boxing matches. I knew it was broken, and after the game in the locker room I told Ben, "Hey, you should've called me over, I can fix those." Ben looked at me and said, "I feel like I just did 12 rounds with Manny Pacquiao." The schnoz looked painful. I don't wanna hear anymore drama queen talk. He's a tough guy in my book.
* I was in a favorable position to watch James Harrison rush Joe Flacco's "Blind Side," where literary legend Ravens OT Mike Oher plied his trade. I watched three rushes in the first quarter. Two were blatant holds by Oher; the lesser of the two actually drew a flag. The more egregious (I like that word) occurred before the flagged call. And during that rush Oher tackled – tackled -- Harrison.
* After Daniel Sepulveda's cleat stuck in the turf, he came over to the sidelines and went to the ground while the doc checked him out. My heart broke for the young man. He's an excellent person, such a bright light in the sometimes dark world of professional sports, and after having suffered two ACL injuries already I know the third is going to be a real bummer.
* The emerging story then became if the Canuck, Shaun Suisham, could handle punting duties. The warming-up pattern on the sidelines for Suisham went like this: When the Steelers were on their own side of the field, Shaun would punt into the net; when the Steelers crossed over the 50-yard line, he would place-kick. Antwaan Randle El came over to practice holding for Shaun, and then attempted to punt the ball into the net. Antwaan proved he's no human Swiss Army knife.
* In the second half, the field-goal team came onto the field only to call timeout because they were missing a man. Mike Tomlin stood on the sidelines, eyes searching out on the field to see who was missing. That's when I noticed David Johnson creeping up to the shoulder of Coach Mike. After a moment, Mike turned, spotted DJ and DJ pointed to himself as if to say "I'm the culprit." A frown came across Mike's face, and then he slapped DJ on the shoulder as if to say, "We'll talk later."
* After Isaac Redman went Red Zone for the game-winning touchdown, Nick Eason got so fired up on the sidelines that he went Rocky Balboa and threw a flurry of punches right into the gullet of Casey Hampton. It was like Rocky in the meat locker with a side of beef. Boom, boom, boom! Lefts and rights like a jackhammer. Yet, I'm not sure Hamp even noticed.
* Ben was thrown down late in the fourth quarter after an incomplete pass, and he got up with a rather disgusted look on his face. Ben walked over to the line judge standing near me, started to say something, then simply rolled his eyes as if to say "What's the point?" and walked away. At that moment, Tomlin came down the sidelines to have a word with the line judge, too. I don't think the line judge was very sympathetic.
* Tomlin was extremely upset that after the following kickoff only one second ticked off the clock at M&T Bank Stadium. And he let the officials know it, too. As of this writing, I'm not sure if anybody did anything to correct it.
* Emmanuel Sanders is as tough as he is skilled. That tackle on the kickoff following Redman's TD was a banzai affair and showed me all the heart in the world in getting the job done. Whether it's catching a pass or smoking the lanes on kickoff cover, this kid goes "cowabunga" with the best of them.
* When Flacco one-hopped the ball out to the flats on fourth down, the Steelers' sideline exploded in energy I haven't seen in awhile. It was a reminder of how much this Steelers team desperately wanted to even the score with the Ravens. I thought linebacker coach Keith Butler was about to be yanked apart at the seams by a couple of his boys celebrating, which, unfortunately for him, included Keith trapped in the middle.
* I interviewed Redman on the field after the game for the Steelers Radio Network. He seemed almost stunned that he was the object of everybody's attention. TV, radio and what have you were clamoring for his time. The young man handled himself quite well.
* Tomlin greets all players coming off the field at the door of the locker room after the game ends. It can be a very funny time after the Steelers bag a win. Everybody was in the locker room but two. Harrison was getting hammered for interviews, and Redman was out on the field also. When Coach Mike saw Isaac walking up the tunnel ahead of James, he yelled "C'mon Isaac! You gotta make more plays than that if you're going to stay out on the field with Deebo!"
* In the overflowing post-game locker room, Dick LeBeau was asked what blitz he called that brought about the game winner with Troy Polamalu stripping the ball from Flacco. Said LeBeau, "I called ‘Troy go get him!'"
* I sat with Kevin Colbert on the bus from the stadium to the airport. With all the injuries the Steelers suffered, I couldn't help but notice that Kevin was very busy working the phone and texting. I kept thinking that he was going to have a long night.
* It's funny. I thought this might be a statement game for the NFL over the hitting issue. I really thought we might have to suffer through an avalanche of flags before the night was over. In the end, it was the non-calls that really stood out. Almost as if someone made a decision at Park Avenue Headquarters and said, "Let'em play."
We shall see.