The trip to Arizona was all business, for the players that is. For yours truly it brought an opportunity to spend some time with my brother Ron, who was a four-time Pro Bowl Special Teamer for the Cardinals and is the "Tunch of Arizona." Meaning that Ron does the color for the Cardinals Radio Network and is a sports-talk show host M-F during the afternoon drives in Phoenix. Not only that, but he is just an outstanding dude.
* Pre-game I jumped on Ron's show and we did our thing. The interesting part occurred when I got to meet Walter Ellis, a real-life American Hero who served in Vietnam. Walter was the on-site engineer for Ron's show and a chopper pilot who risked his life many times to Medivac wounded soldiers from hot zones. He once suffered a bullet wound to the head but managed to keep flying with blood pouring down his face and he safely evacuated our guys. When you shake a man's hand that's done stuff like that, you suddenly feel that everything you've ever accomplished in life pales by comparison. And you know immediately that you are privileged to be in the presence of a better man than yourself.
* As I got down to the sidelines I bumped into Cardinals special teams coach Kevin Spencer, absolutely a great guy. Then I shook hands with Ray Horton, Deshea Townsend, Ken Whisenhunt, Nick Eason, Clark Haggans, and a number of other former Pittsburghers. It truly was, as a sign held up by a fan outside the "Easy Bake Oven," as my brother refers to the University of Phoenix Stadium, Heinz Field West.
* I have learned the secret to Larry Fitzgerald's mastery of catching the football. Yes, while warming up during the pre-game stretch, when guys are in rows stretching out on the field, Fitzgerald was engaged in groin and hamstring stretches while a Cardinals assistant intermittently fired the ball at him. "Stretching and Catching" is a little bit of Ninja training if you ask me. It sure seems to work for Larry, I wonder if it'll catch on. No pun intended.
* Early in the first quarter, Hines Ward came in motion and at the snap he settled into the "bunch" position to pick up a block on whoever might appear on a Rashard Mendenhall run. Timing his blitz from afar came Adrian Wilson, who was at top speed at the snap as poor Hines hardly had a chance to prepare. Wilson blew up Hines and made the tackle on Rashard, throwing him to the ground like a piece of meat. Wilson timed his blitz like Troy does, but Wilson came from off the ball, as much as 15-20 yards deep. Obviously, it's difficult to prepare for a guy who can do that.
* Where's Lawrence Timmons been lately? He's finding his groove while manning James Harrison's post. Timmons found himself untouched coming off the slot and was a veritable blur as he closed on Kevin Kolb. The Cardinals' QB unloaded the ball a little early to TE Rob Hauser, who at first glance after posting up outside of James Farrior appeared to duck his head as the ball ker-plunked off his helmet and fell into the outstretched arms of Ryan Clark. The reaction of the fellas on the sidelines was instantaneous. Takeaways have been harder to find than a Wall Street sympathizer these days and the bench area was electrified at the opportunity to jump on the Cards early.
* One of the more humorous sights found in the Easy Bake Oven on this day was Farrior cramping on the field in the second quarter. After a play, James was on his back writhing from the cramps with Larry Foote over him holding his leg in the air and pulling his toes back to de-cramp. In my mind it conjured up images of Ric Flair wrestling in the old days and applying a classic step-over toe-hold to Killer Kowalski and shouting to the ref "Ask him, ref, ask him!" (Whether or not Kowalski would submit to the toe-hold).
* Beanie Wells ran the ball straight up the middle. Positioned as I was on the sideline parallel to the linebackers of the Steelers, I had the same view as a rodent when a screaming eagle swoops down and creams a fellow rodent. Ryan Clark closed with such ferocity at groundhog level and delivered such a shot that I was surprised when Beanie got up.
* During the two-minute drill in the first half, Calais Campbell threw a swim move on Chris Kemoeatu. Campbell was home free save for the death grip Big Juicy had on him up around neck level. It was one of those things you have to do as a card-carrying hog trying to keep your QB safe. You know there's going to be a flag, and you're waiting for the flag to drop even as the other guy is cussing you out. But you had no choice.
* Well what do ya know? There was no flag, because the umpire lined up at the linebacker level during the last two minutes of each half. Outside of the two minutes of each half, that's a slam dunk hold. I like that part of the rule.
* After halftime, when the Steelers returned to their bench, a fan yelled to Brett Keisel, "Keep growing your beard! Your strength is in your beard!" The Diesel had to chuckle.
* Antonio Brown's one-handed circus catch in the third quarter brought Clark, seated on his helmet to catch a breather with the offense was on the field, came up running. Ryan was so fired up he ran out onto the field to whoop it up over the spectacular catch. When a veteran jumps up like that, you know it's a special play.
* Cardinals rookie CB Patrick Peterson jumped offside on a FG attempt by Shaun Suisham. He was so far over the line of scrimmage there was no way he could get back. So suddenly the quick-thinking (albeit misguided) rookie whipped around and tried to call timeout. Even Mike Tomlin was smiling over that one.
* Any man that has to make his living guarding Larry Fitz all day is in for a tough day. Going into the game Ike Taylor knew it would be a challenge, it was going to be a battle, and the outcome of that battle had a lot to do with whether or not his team would be successful. So there was gonna be some serious pressure. And Ike was ready for all of it. Though a couple of flags came his way, the great Larry Fitzgerald was targeted 10 times and caught just four passes. And when a man climbs a mountain like that successfully, at the end of the day all you want to do is get a shower, rest and not think about anything for a day or so.
* As a weary looking Taylor made his way to the locker room after the game, Tomlin spotted the slow-moving CB a little ways off as he greeted each of the players coming off the field. Coach Mike bellowed "IKE T! Wes Welker. SEE YOU AT WORK TOMORROW!"