As it sometimes does, a moment on the sidelines will kick up a childhood memory. The rain coming down prompted the words of a song from a skit my dad loved to watch years ago on a redneck show called Hee-Haw. The song rang in my ears as I stood my post on the sidelines of a blustery, rain-soaked Heinz Field. If I'm repeating myself here with this story, please forgive me but what else is football but repetition?
"Gloom, despair, and agony on me…deep dark depression, excessive misery…if it weren't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all…gloom, despair and agony on me." Of course, as if on cue, I noticed that my plastic poncho curled up and shrunk to the size of a lobster bib. I looked like an idiot. Guess I got a little too close to the heaters.
* LaMarr Woodley had the repentant look of an off-sider after being flagged, and Cincinnati capitalized on it to go ahead 7-0. Times like this call for redemption, and from Mike Tomlin's post-game presser, I took it that Mike let LaMarr know he owed one to the team. LaMarr was up to the task.
Shortly after that, Woodley got a great push on a rush against Bengals OT Dennis Roland. Lamar turned the corner to back door Roland and get to Palmer. From my vantage point I could see the infamous inside grab hand on LaMarr's shoulder pad right on the front neck area. It made me think Woodley was getting close. It would be just a matter of time before LaMarr sealed the deal with a sack and down payment of the debt he owed.
* Cincinnati OC Bob Bratkowski came out using back-up linemen to play tight end and overload one side of the ball. On a Cedric Benson 8-yard gain, they used one of the big tackles in the backfield at fullback position, and then shifted to the end of the line as a tight end. From my vantage point I could see that James Harrison and Brett Keisel were not on the same page from the looks on their faces. They were confused, they both knew it, and the gain on the stretch play proved they were right.
* Matt Spaeth was a little rusty in his pass-catching skills. Hooking up underneath the linebackers, Ben Roethlisberger threw a short pass that Matt couldn't corral, while two Bengals backers popped him for the effort. Matt's problem was a simple one. He took his eyes off the ball to look up field. Fundamentals of the game exist at all levels. From the sidelines I could see Matt twitching those eyeballs before he locked the ball in.
* Troy Polamalu made like Superman and swooped in to intercept his former college roommate yet again. The hair was flat-lined as Troy flew over the goal line to score. What really concerned me was watching Troy gimp over to the bench where not only Steelers trainer John Norwig started checking his ankle, but there were plenty of other concerned faces surrounding Troy like Casey Hampton, Ike Taylor and half a dozen other guys. You can always tell a guy's star power by the company that surrounds him when he's hurting.
* Ben started the game wearing a shield on his helmet and when he came out for the second half, the shield was gone. Drat. It looks like I brought a squeegee down to the sidelines for nothing.
* One of the many good things to happen from this game was the re-mojination of "Renegade." Coupla games ago, Renegade was fired a little too early and the defense wasn't getting it done. When the first few strains of the song were played that day, the dissatisfaction of the crowd was noticeable. Most of the crowd sat through the entire song. Then at the next home game, they didn't even play Renegade. That's how you re-mojo up something that has lost its magic. Give it a break, then bring it back at a crucial time during the game and let its powers shine. With the score 13-7, Renegade made its appearance, the defense did its part, and voila!
* Johnathan Scott was called for throwing down Michael Johnson on a pass rush. Johnson got over extended, head down and J-Scott threw him on the ground. No hold, simple as that. When a rush end gets his head down below the chest level of the pass blocker, every offensive lineman goes for the kill by pushing the man down on his face and retreating quickly for a couple of steps. Perfectly legal, but the refs saw it differently.
* Watching Roethlisberger take yet another flaggable, possibly fineable, hit has turned me into a Reynolds-wrapping-duct-tape-shooter-on-the grassy-knoll-card-carrying-Jesse Ventura conspiracist.
* In the second half, Mike Wallace got tangled up with Roy Williams on the Steelers' sideline. Wallace's jersey was pulled off his shoulder pads. One of the sidelines guys with the Steelers quickly moved to put Mike's jersey back in place. The sideline guy was about 6'5." All of a sudden Williams took offense to something Wallace had barked at him. But the sideline dude kept in between Williams and Wallace, who were looking like they were serious, apparently fixing and re-adjusting the jersey while never even looking at Williams until the refs took over and pulled Williams away.
* Woodley buzzed the flat (took a rush jab step, then flew out to the flat in underneath coverage) and got lost in Carson Palmer's sight lines to Chad Ochocinco. People wonder how Carson couldn't see LaMarr. But from Carson's perspective, with the 6'8" tackles Cincy has, LaMarr could easily disappear for that one heartbeat of decision making that is an NFL QB's life in the pocket. Woodley caught the ball and scored. I talked to LaMarr after the game and he said that James Farrior's mom had said that LaMarr was as slow as James's Grannie (who happens to be 92 years old) when LaMarr returned a fumble in Baltimore. LaMarr said he had to score.
* With a Grannie kicking it strong like that, genetics would appear to be on Farrior's side. Maybe that explains the great year he's having!
* Speaking of Potsie Farrior, one of his greatest gifts is that he thinks and speaks like a coach. Around the 5-minute mark in the fourth quarter, Potsie was hanging out in front of the turbine heaters (me and my lobster bib poncho kept a safe distance) on the sideline with a number of other guys from the defense before they had to take the field. Potsie told them to get ready for the 2-minute offense and checking specific calls. Forward thinking is to get the calls in the noggin before the situation comes down, not during or after the fact. Farrior was dotting is I's and crossing his t's before the fact. You gotta love that.
* The look on Troy's face as he had a close conversation with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau on the sidelines is all the penance he needed after his foolish lateral attempt to Bryant Mcfadden. Troy later apologized but I think the knowledge that Troy disappointed "Coach Dad" drove home the point far more than any tongue-lashing LeBeau might have dished out.
* After the game, I stood on the sideline with LaMarr "Pharaoh" Woodley waiting for the cue for the post-game interview I would do for the Steelers Broadcasting Network. A skirmish broke out on the field. It was quickly stuffed after Brandon Johnson took a shot at Ryan Mundy. We couldn't tell what the hub-bub was over, but upon noticing the helmet in LaMarr's hand my instincts took over and I told him to "Get your lid on and buckle up. If not, give it to me." I wasn't about to search for trouble, but rule No. 1 in NFL life is when there's a fight, make sure your chin strap is buckled.