View From Sideline

Steelers sideline reporter Craig Wolfley recounts the highs and lows of a tough loss in the Super Bowl as only the great Wolfman can.

Sideline city at the Super Bowl is both privilege and pain. It's a pain to deal with all the national media egos and a privilege to be there in the first place. There's a distinct pecking order of big wigs, their gophers (as in go-fer that) and wannabees that buzz self-importantly around themselves all while the security scurry about to make sure they have the right credentials and the all-important number six on said credential (the number that either keeps you safe on the sideline or escorted out in a hurry).

It's actually rather hilarious if you kick back on the Steelers' bench and watch it for a while, like I was afforded the opportunity. The usual gamut of movie stars walked around with their entourages and one could strike up a conversation with the likes of an Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston or Adam Sandler (he is funny) if one were so inclined. But please, let's get to the game.

* As I checked out Jerry-World (the locals refer to it as the "Death Star" from Star Wars), I immediately was drawn to the monstrous "Monstro-Tron" hanging over the field. This giganticus overhead TV set had the viewing power of something like 40,000 plus TVs. I saw a football lodged into the catwalk. After a little detective work, Jeremy Kapinos admitted to me that he indeed was the one responsible for putting the pigskin in Jerry-Vision. Jeremy knocked it up there during one of his kicking sessions through the week that was held at the stadium.

According to those in the know, and those who have enough time on their hands to figure these sorts of things out, the stadium could house the Statue of Liberty with the roof closed, the Empire State Building could lay on its side lengthwise and be contained in the building, and just one of the two super-steel arches spanning the stadium out-arches the famed St. Louis Arch. It reminded me of the comment by famed Pittsburgh broadcaster Bob Prince when he remarked of the St. Louis Arch, "It cost 22 million dollars to build the arch. 1 million in steel, 21 million to bend it."

* Flaming intensity swept through the sidelines as kickoff approached. There was so much hype, so much talk, so much to anticipate. The sideline stiffened as Christine Aguilera sang the National Anthem and more than one eyebrow was raised as she botched one of the lines. As the final notes were drowned out by the roaring crowd I was immediately drawn to the paradox of faces like Antonio Brown looking calm, cool and collected contrasting with the fierce war-like face sported by Hines Ward. Maurkice Pouncey's face relayed the dejection he must have been feeling that the boys were ramping up without him. As I stood near the hog-pen (sidelines around the 35-yard line) where the boys gathered before the opening kickoff, the frenzied atmosphere reached a fever pitch. Chris Kemoeatu actually had goose bumps on his massive arms.

* Down 7-0, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass and tried to hit the human streak Mike Wallace. A hard bull rush by Packer DT Howard Green drove Kemoeatu back. Green hit Roethlisberger as he tried to throw the ball and Ben badly underthrew Wallace. Packers safety Nick Collins got a good read and pick-sixed-it to give Green Bay a 14-0 lead. Jonathan Scott, the left tackle, was uncovered as his man dropped off into coverage and could have helped out. To do this you have to keep pace and on the same level as the man next to you. First rule of pass-pro is to help out a bud when uncovered. Scott was too late to help inside.

* Manny Sanders had a look of disgust on his face as Steelers orthopedic Dr. Jim Bradley checked out his foot in the second quarter. Manny was feeling some pain and I knew the golf cart ride into the locker room was not going to bode well for him.

* Ice cups exploded as they were thrown down on the sidelines as Packers WR Greg Jennings scored in the second quarter. Casey Hampton angrily stomped towards the bench spewing angry words that reached angry ears. Frustration was percolating big time and it started to pour out on the extra point when Brett Keisel got into a little set-to with Packer TJ Lang.

* The only thing I'll say about the halftime show was the chuckle I got when Usher came down from the Jerry-Vision scoreboard on a device that lowered him to the stage. There was a strap Usher held on to like a trapeze artist so he didn't fall off. The man had a death-grip on that strap and actually had a little problem getting the strap off when he reached the stage.

* The Steelers' defense got the crowd going by turning up the heat on the Packers after kicking off in the second half. Cowboys Stadium came alive in Terrible Towels as "The Beard" began calling for the fans to make some noise. Brett Keisel kept pumping the fans for more volume to their cheering. Noise came aplenty as Rodgers seemed to have some difficulty barking out the signals so his compadres could hear.

* Rashard Mendenhall got behind Big Juicy to score on an 8-yard run that popped open because Kemoeatu gave a 300-plus pound ballistic enema to a Steelers teammate. Mudville erupted in joy as Rashard rolled over on the ground and trotted towards the sidelines. You could feel the surge on the sidelines and I began popping Jolly Ranchers into my mouth like peanuts so intense was the action.

* The kicking Canuck shanked a 52-yarder that was well within his reach. In warm-ups, Shaun Suisham crushed the ball, and you could see the power in his leg on kickoffs and I really thought he was going to bang this one through. It was a no-go, but on the sidelines you couldn't tell because everybody in the bench area was totally absorbed in the comeback. This was only a minor setback. They believed they would catch the Pack; they felt it coming. In the minds of the players, it was only a matter of time until they caught and then crested mount Green Bay.

* When the third quarter ended, "Old Yeller" Hines Ward led his Steelers teammates to the other end of the field clapping his hands and pumping his fists encouraging them to hustle down and join him. Hines stood there at the 32-yard line giving his teammates an earful of determination as they trotted down to huddle up. Hines is an unbelievable leader. Period.

* Troy Polamalu walked past me after Greg Jennings beat him cleanly in the back of the end zone to make the score 28-17. Troy had a look on his face that I can't seem to put on paper (or virtual paper). It was somewhere between quizzical/somber, with a touch of resignation. Yet there was something else there that I just can't seem to grasp. And it is really bugging me.

* Before the ball hit the ground on fourth down, I'd never seen a sidelines go limp before. But I did this night. All the hard work from the entire off-season, training camp, the regular season, and the playoff run coalesced into a single down. And then it was over. Shock is the only word that adequately describes what I saw on the players' faces. These Steelers to a man believed they would win. They expected to win. And when Green Bay took a knee, it was a group of men that looked like they had taken a trip "Into the Twilight Zone" and come back speechless.

* The most vacant, expressionless eyes I've ever seen on a football field met mine as I walked off the field with James Farrior. Potsie couldn't find words, and for that matter neither could I at this point. I was supposed to get some guys for post-game, on-the-field interviews. Bill Cowher's press conference gaffe of responding to a question as a "mute point" took on a new meaning right then and there. How do you interview somebody when they are speechless, when you, the interviewer can't even find words?

* Even as I finish this, I'm lacking in words to end it right. Other than to say thank you to any and all Steelers fans that took the time to read my column, I am grateful and appreciate you. Thanks, Wex, I appreciate you too, brother.


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