There couldn't be a full accounting of events in Kansas City unless there was total disclosure starting with the night before the game with the Chefs. Chefs? Great googaly moogaly, I mean Chiefs.
The Steelers travel with an accompaniment of sponsors. Tunch Ilkin and I usually go to dinner with the sponsors and Steelers personnel to some of the best grub-ation available in each NFL city. Gritty work, I know, but someone's got to grind it out and take one for the team.
And in Kansas City we hit nirvana in the form of Jack Stack Barbecue, simply the best ribs, steaks and meat-eatery that Kansas City has to offer. (I love to grill up and eat anything that at one time had parents and a face). What took place that Saturday night was the equivalent of Thanksgiving, round two. Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest commented that it looked like I attempted "Bovicide."
Shifting to Arrowhead stadium Sunday night, It became apparent early on that the Kansas City Chiefs were not simply going to roll over and wave the white flag of surrender. Though they were missing their top three players in Jamaal Charles, Matt Cassell and Eric Berry, this was a team that would not "Go gently into that good night." This was a honked off, inspired group of guys that still believed they had a legit shot at the AFC West title and with their NFL peers looking on, as well as "Football Night in America," they were froggy and spoiling for a fight.
* Pre-game I happened to be hanging out on the sidelines with the Kicking Canuck, Shaun Suisham, the man with the view from down under, Greg Warren, and Jeremy Kapinos. As we chatted, two Kansas City DBs cruised by the Steelers' sideline right by us, even though we were 8-10 yards from the field. The NFL has designated warm-up spots for pre-game and I guess some of the Chiefs were chapped when they came out for warm-ups and found some Steelers in their territory.
As some light-hearted posturing was going on, an erstwhile renegade (it was pretty cold that night) Peanut M&M got fumbled and, while executing the famous Wolfley 30-second to 30-minute rule, loud voices raised my antennae and I stood back up to see Mike Wallace and Sabby Piscitelli grill-to-grill and exchanging rather heated vocabulary just about five yards away. I reflexively reached to buckle my non-existent chin-strap out of habit whenever situations arose such as this, and quickly realized that it was attached to my non-existent helmet. The kid would sit this one out.
All of a sudden a word became a shove followed by a flurry of bodies that included the save of the night as Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert dashed into what was now a small mob of Steelers and Chiefs and pulled Antonio Brown out of what was to be a certain faux pas for the night. Kudos to Colbert and the rest of the staffs of both teams for avoiding what could have been an ugly situation.
* Troy Polamalu got, in the immortal words of former Steelers DE and teammate Keith Willis, "Ginny-goo-gooed."I can't tell you by word what that means, but I know it when I see it. Troy torpedoed the mammoth Steve Maneri, an offensive lineman who had lined up in split backs in the Chiefs' backfield and caught a pass. Troy stayed face down on the turf after the collision having given a 100-lb or so deficit to the big guy. Steelers trainer John Norwig and crew were like a NASCAR pit crew racing out there to give Troy the once over.
* With all the concerns over noggins in the NFL, as there should be, it's also obvious that teams want the privacy to check their man out without having "Big Brother" looking over the shoulder for a ‘Gotcha" moment. That was evidenced by the teammates of Troy gathering around him to shield him from the ever-lurking Michelle Tafoya, sideline reporter for the Sunday Night crew, and the see-all eyes of the cameras.
* Rashard Mendenhall trotted off the field with a look of "Who Me?" on his face. The Steelers had just been called for the first of two 12-men-in-the-huddle penalties. Rashard stood by quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner, who turned toward Rashard and flashed a hand sign that called for the personnel package that I'm guessing Rashard missed. There was some discussion following the back and forth hand-signing. At this point Mike Tomlin walked over and flashed his own hand signs to Rashard that said chill out.
* Marcus Gilbert got away with one, but Mewelde Moore didn't. First and goal from the KC 8-yard line, Chiefs DE Tamba Hali faked an inside move on Marcus Gilbert which caused a twitch that I'm guessing I'm the only one who saw it. Hali then sprinted at the snap of the ball upfield, perfectly taking himself out of the sprint draw by Moore right at him. Mewelde had a great run going, but Tamba did the "La Bamba" by strip-tackling Mewelde from behind. A great effort play from a great player who was not willing to go gently on this night, I tell you. It was a searing Tomlin-esque glare that met Mewelde on the sidelines.
* Leaving the field rather abruptly was Maurkice Pouncey. He passed me by looking like it was 90 degrees out instead of the wind-aided 20-something that was in town that night. Pouncey looked overly gassed, even though it was early in the game, and sweating like there was no tomorrow. Steelers internist Doc Yates was at his side and I would later find out that Pounce had a nasty stomach flu.
* Though it was only a 2-yard gain to open the second half, I liked David Johnson (who lined up as the FB) leading on a straight dive by Mendenhall. David fired out of his stance and blew up a hurtling Chiefs linebacker, and did it without "gathering" himself. By that I mean slowing to a stop and then launching like a guy going up for a rebound in a game of basketball. Johnson was smooth in gathering as he ran and maintained forward momentum while whacking the linebacker.
* Chiefs RB Dexter McCluster took the handoff and came toward where I was standing on the sidelines, led by FB LeRon McClain. Obviously a Cover-2 situation, with Ike Taylor playing corner force, he came up hard to set the edge. Taylor dropped his shoulder low to the hard charging McClain, who leaped like a big mountain cat pouncing on an evening's hunt. It was a tremendous "El-Kabong" that I heard through my dialed-up and already-loud headset I wear on the sidelines. Advantage Ike as the McCluster got clustered. Colossal hits like this make me wonder if I ever really played the game or that I'm just naturally disoriented all the time.
* In the fourth quarter with the Chiefs driving, they came out in a two-WR set to my side. At the snap William Gay smelled out the bubble screen to the WR and flashed forward so fast I could feel the whoosh as he went past me. Wham! Will dropped the wide-out like a bad habit and Mike Tomlin was so pumped he went out onto the field to congratulate the guys, almost to the numbers did he get.
* On the field setting up to do the post-game interview, I was chasing a gigantic smile all over the field as he slapped hands and hugs with different guys. It was Keenan Lewis, with the ball he had plucked out of the air to seal the deal and the fate of the Chiefs with his first career INT. It was a big moment for Keenan and I could see in his eyes that his long road from Denver of last year and the disappearing act that followed had become a distant memory. One of the benefits of this job is to watch the unfolding triumphs and travails of young men as they travel the journey that is the NFL experience. There's a special feeling that comes from following a man's road to redemption after a downturn. Good for you Keenan. Good for you.