View From The Sideline

Steelers Radio Network sideline reporter Craig Wolfley takes you inside a classic football game, from the pre-game salute to the post-game gloom.

There is nothing quite like heading to Heinz Field, going down to the sidelines and getting ready to sit ringside at a championship caliber brawl. Two known antagonists, well acquainted with each other, warmed up at opposite ends of the field as if they were self-generating conductors of electricity. The hairs on the back of my neck were tingling, reminding me of my father's story of him getting knocked off his feet by a bolt of lightning as a teenager. Thankfully (for me) my father's story had a happier ending than this one did.

* During pre-game ceremonies, saluting our military in preparation for Veteran's Day, I was privileged to meet with local "Real American Heroes," men and women of our Armed Forces who served our great country in combat. From Pearl Harbor to present day Afghanistan, they told their tales of heroism and bravery to the cheering throng at Heinz as I listened in awe. If you didn't have a lump in your throat you couldn't possibly have had a pulse.

* The lump got thicker when the Jumbotron flashed pictures of warriors in the service of our country with their Terrible Towels and smiling faces in far off places. The first one was of First Lieutenant Kyle Jacob Wolfley of the 172nd Infantry serving in Afghanistan. Kyle, holding his Terrible Towel while sitting with a couple of Afghan children, faces all aglow, brought a flood of memories of when he was as young as the kids posing with him, holding his first Terrible Towel. I had no idea ahead of time that my son's picture would be included in this display and I was absolutely stunned. Words fail you in moments such as these. As his picture faded, so did I.

* I snapped back to reality quickly as Ryan Clark came by me with a searing look of white-hot smoking intensity that captured the electricity humming throughout the sidelines. The defense was up first and I know that look Ryan had on his mug. From players to ball boys to guys on the chain gang, there was an unmistakable intensity of anticipation that combined with the military theme in warm-ups and the opponent on the far sidelines evoked an "Apocalypse Now" type of feeling.

* The anticipation of the ensuing clash kept building and reached fever heights right up until Ray Rice took the opening handoff from scrimmage and raced to the end zone untouched. I whipped my head around to get a gander at the sidelines to see a stunning paradox of all the pre-game hype and vibe cascading to a sudden crash as if someone had pulled the plug on the entire city of Pittsburgh. All the hormones jumping in my body crashed into the pit of my stomach in a free for all. Even when I noticed the flags and it all came back there was a sick feeling that all was not well.

* "There it is!" I screamed to no one in particular as roughly somewhere between 5 to 7 run plays brought out the first chop/cut block by the right guard of the Ravens, Marshall Yanda. Yanda launched himself like a heat seeking missile right at the knee caps of Casey Hampton, who managed to stay on his feet and play through it. People started giving me a wider berth as they moved around me. Sometimes I forget myself in the headset world of radio I live in.

* Right before the Ravens kicked off to the Steelers after taking a 3-0 lead, Ben Roethlisberger walked down to the hogs as they were grouping around the 35-yard line. With throbbing music playing over the PA system in the background, "Keep your emotions in check" he warned the Big Shaggies.

* After Hines Ward got doinked by Ray Lewis, I saw what I always hate to see: After 12 years as a player, 10 as a sidelines non-combatant, and 20 years in a boxing gym, as Hines lay on the ground and the medical staff hit the field, crowding around the prone Ward, I watched the unmistakable signs of a player checking out and then back in to his gourd.

* Yet, even as Hines got to his feet and unsteadily began to make his way back to the sidelines, the ever prideful Hines wouldn't let Ray Lewis have the last laugh. Rather than be helped, Hines, still shaky, took a few steps, realized he wasn't all there and stopped, bent over and reached for his ankle as if to say "Hey, it's not a concussion. I gotta check on my ankle. I had a hurt ankle coming into the game." I am a huge Hines Ward fan. He lives the old-timer's credo of "walk it off."

* I watched specifically for a certain matchup in this game, the self-proclaimed "Steelers slayer," Terrell Suggs, versus Max Starks. I wanted to chart pass rush's only, no help from anybody else, just mano-y-mano dudes having at it. Right now I got Max up 6-0.

* Toward the end of the second quarter, after Anquan Boldin's catch was challenged by the booth officials, I headed over to the turbine heater. No mishaps here. But while standing there next to Stevenson Sylvester, we both turned to the replay booth along the sideline. An overly vociferous Steelers fan was making his feelings known as best as he could from the front row to the officials gathered around the guy under the hood. Stevenson turned towards me, cocked an eyebrow and smiled. I answered his smile with, "There's nobody like Steelers Nation."

* Mike Wallace ran an out pattern in the third quarter while being covered by Lardarius Webb, the same Lardarius Webb who had made the statement earlier in the week that Antonio Brown was a better receiver than was Mike. Though they were on the far sidelines, I have to believe that the face-to-face, in-your-grill confrontation following Mike's reception was all about what Webb had said.

* After Ike Taylor was called for pass interference in the south end zone in the third quarter, during the TV timeout following the Ravens score, Mike Tomlin had a confab with the officials. Though I wasn't privy to the conversation, gestures and body language told me that Mike T wasn't happy with the call. Not only that, but I believe Mike was referencing the Webb "Waist-lock" around the hips of Brown earlier in the game on a post pattern that somehow the officials failed to see. And there was one more call Mike was hot about, but about that one I have no idea.

* Incredible! What a throw by Big Ben as he rolled toward the sidelines and threw a frozen rope to Wallace in the end zone. These are one of the moments I wish everybody who is so kind to read this column could view for themselves, from my perspective. I had to be only 10-20 yards away from the release point on the field, and though I've been doing this a long time it still amazes me to watch the athleticism displayed and the big plays unfold in real time, bang-bang style. It would take a Hemingway to adequately put into words my view from groundhog level.

* Keeping with my theme of watching Starks having a go with Suggs in pass-rush situations, at this point into the fourth quarter, I had Max pitching a shutout at 14-0. The only questionable count was a cut block that didn't get Suggs to the ground. But Suggs didn't get to Roethlisberger, either.

* After the Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith touchdown pass had been properly digested by the fans and all the players on the sidelines, there was an incredible whooshing of air, emotion and energy that overtook all. I say properly digested because there were a couple of moments of confusion over whether the catch had been made, if it was in-bounds, and what were the flags all about.

* Truly a class professional, Rashard Mendenhall stood unbowed by the loss and did a great job fielding my half-lucid questions in my post-game interview on the field for the Steelers Radio Network. I give a tip of the hat to Rashard here; not all of the fellas have the same ability and steel to handle a very difficult situation.

* It was a very silent walk up the stairs to encounter the withering glare of Tomlin standing at his post outside the Steelers locker room as he awaited each player coming off the field. I know the mental, physical, and emotional wear and tear that goes into the work week. I appreciate the effort and price that is paid during the course of a game when a player fully expends himself only to come up short. I'm figuring the generally accepted 24-hour rule in mulling over a win or loss might be expanded to 48 hours for this one. Judging by the faces in the post-game locker room, this one really hurt.

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