The Cleveland Browns may not invoke the same amount of angst and anger in the ramp up to the game amongst Steelers faithful as they once did, but once you see them out on the field, it doesn't take long to dislike them either. Hanford Dixon or Joe Haden, Frank Minnifield or Kaluka Maiava, it doesn't matter the era, only that they are from Cleveland, and there is a football on the field.
* Watching on from the sidelines during pre-game warm-ups was First Lieutenant Kyle Jacob Wolfley of the Punisher Platoon, 172nd Infantry. Kyle has just returned for a little R&R from Afghanistan, and was accompanied by his beautiful fiancée, Danessa Kinsey. I can't tell you with mere words the overwhelming joy of having your oldest son home from war. But I know every parent reading this who has a son or daughter serving our country in the Armed Forces knows those words immediately without reading so much as a vowel.
* As always, there are usually a few people of high interest on the sidelines and when I saw my favorite 21st century philosopher Larry the Cable Guy, I simply had to say hello, and of course "Git'r done!".
* The "Turk up in the booth" had charted the number of passes Colt McCoy had thrown over the last four games and when he declared with authority that rarely does Colt throw passes more than 10 yards, I knew with a silent chuckle that tonight would be different – just because of the way things happen in my head. It was bound to be a "Wouldn't ya know it?" moment. Sure enough, the Browns marched down the field and McCoy doinked the Steelers for completions of 33 yards to TE Evan Moore, and 25 yards to Josh Cribbs within moments of Tunch talking about the short passing game of McCoy.
* After the review which showed McCoy short of the Steelers' goal line, it's third-and-goal from the 5-inch line. Two blow-ups on the defensive line occurred simultaneously. First, "Big Snack" Casey Hampton had a Big Mac Attack and creamed, and I do mean creamed, Browns center Alex Mack. Folks, when you're pointing the opposite way after the play that you were when the play started, you got creamed.
* Secondly, James Harrison got underneath TE Alex Smith and drove him into the backfield like Smith was a steering wheel and James was Richard Petty. It was almost embarrassing to watch, so bad was the spanking. It reminded me of the time I shot my big yapper off to my mom as a 14-year old, without knowing that dad was in the house. Bad move, I tell ya.
* Because of that great penetration, Larry Foote and James Farrior combined to splat Peyton Hillis and reminded him that the south end zone of Heinz Field was not "Peyton's Place." (C'mon, I've been dying to use that one).
* I bumped into the NFL Network's Steve Mariucci down on the sidelines during a TV timeout. Steve was an assistant coach in Green Bay under Mike Holmgren when Tunch played his lone season for the Packers. The conversation went to Tunch, and Steve said that Tunch would always come out for practice, run to the sled and yell "This is the biggest day of my life!" Cracked Mooch up he did. It's one of those "Ya gotta be there" moments.
* Oh please, tell me Hines Ward didn't just fumble the bubble screen that came his way in the second quarter. Ward was stripped by Maiava and the Browns' Brown (Sheldon) recovered. Hines slowly made his way to the sidelines, not convinced that the ball came out before a knee touched. As he stood on the sidelines next to Mike Tomlin watching the Jumbotron for a replay, Mike mouthed something to the effect that it came out and it's a fumble. Hines looked crushed.
* Somewhere in the second quarter, I lock onto Cam Heyward to see what progress he's made. On a pass rush, Cam headed up field then launched a punch (a two-handed, open palm strike) at Browns OT Tony Pashos. With all his weight forward and coming to a point of power behind his hands, Cam was wildly off-balance for a bull rush. Pashos, a wise old vet, trapped or slapped Cam's hands down and Cam tumbled to the ground where Pashos could apply the finishing touch by "putting a little jelly," as we used to say back in the day, on Heyward. That's 300-plus pounds of jelly, folks. Heyward got slimed like Bill Murray in "Ghostbusters."
* After notching his second false start in as many quarters, OT Marcus Gilbert went to the sidelines and caught you-know-what from Boss Hogg Sean Kugler. Kugs lit up Marcus like a Christmas tree with that verbal dress-down.
* Late in the first half, Ben Roethlisberger had his ankle rolled over by former Steeler Scott Paxson. There was a scurrying and flurrying of activity as trainer John Norwig and a stable of doctors, teammates and rubber-neckers looked on from the sidelines and stands. When Ben stood up, supported by assistant trainer Ryan Grove and Byron Leftwich, he walked by me and I could see him grimace with every step. My first reaction was he's done. I hate when I underestimate a dude.
* As I took up my position on the sidelines for the second half, there he was, No. 7, taking snaps from Doug Legursky. First of all, I realize that Maurkice Pouncey is not there and second that Ben is. How Ben was able to cowboy up and get it done in the second half was amazing. He is one tough hombre.
* In the third quarter, the Browns, backed up in the shadow of their own goal posts, jump offsides, plain as the nose on my face. TE Alex Smith jumped, Brett Keisel came across the line of scrimmage, it was a no-brainer – until the refs huddle up. Then they did so while a bunch of Brownies were hanging around them, obviously pleading their case. As the delay went on, I felt that somebody was going to boot this call and sure enough, they did and it's first-and-5.
* Big Juicy (Chris Kemoeatu) had a bad day at the office. After his second holding call it was second-and-20 and I knew the feeling. You feel as if the zebras are only looking at you. It's an obvious passing down and you're 335 pounds of meat-on-the-hoof snorting in the form of Phil Taylor staring you down from across the line of scrimmage. There's a lot of pressure in this moment. You have to stay composed and focused on the snap, while trying to correct what went wrong just a play before so the ref doesn't single you out again. It takes a lot of, well, inner strength let's say, to man-up and lock'n load for the next whirlwind encounter that's about to happen in a heartbeat or two.
* Knowing this, having lived this, I found myself totally mesmerized for the battle that was about to come. Without thinking, I was mirroring Chris and started grinding my teeth, tensing reflectively and honing in on the explosive start by holding my breath as I used to just before the bomb went off at the snap.
Taylor explodes out of his stance. Juicy quickly snaps to out of a two-point. Two behemoths momentarily playing a child's game of mirror dodge suddenly collide so violently that in a car airbags would have deployed. Taylor tried to get the edge on Chris. In a collision I could almost feel on the sidelines a good 25-35 yards away, I found myself moving my hands like on a punch, leading with my hip as Kemoeatu drove Taylor to the ground in a cloud of sod. No flags.
* I am unprofessional I know, but I was ecstatic for Kemoeatu. I realize too, that I am nuts. But it's the "Game within the game." I am aware yet again of how much I love this game, this moment of triumph and agony and the constant challenge of meeting the challenge that is always before you in the form of another human being. And for this moment, Chris has slain the Taylor dragon and held his ground in one of the most difficult situations you can find yourself in as an offensive lineman.
* They are under the hood and reviewing Mike Wallace and his TD catch and run. If it's overturned then a mulligan shall be issued for the lowest-flying butt bump ever seen in the history of touchdown celebrations at Heinz Field. Willie Colon came off the bench and attempted to "sky" with Ramon Foster. If you could wedge three typewriter thin sheets of paper under any of their feet, it would have been too many.
* Mulligan has been issued.
* Electrifying is the catch and run playing out in front of me in real-time as Antonio Brown continues to prove that he is the equal to Wallace in handing out heart attacks to defensive backs. The young man's smile was bigger than his catch when he hit the sidelines. It's funny how Coach Mike, ecstatic as Antonio flashes down the sidelines, is well composed by the time Antonio sees him. Let him know well done, just not how well done it was.
* I was outside the Steelers' locker room after the game and quite frankly I can't do justice to the ragging Tomlin just gave James Farrior for not trying to sell the almost interception of a McCoy pass that wasn't near to being almost. Mike wasn't giving James the business (in a very funny way) for not coming up with the ball, but for not "trying to sell" the interception. James didn't have much of an answer.