What a long, strange trip it was.
After five-plus hours in the air, including a re-running of the movie "Jumpers" that we saw on a flight to somewhere else last year, and with the only back-up movie available being a "chick flick," we finally landed at the San Jose airport and arrived at the hotel.
Tunch Ilkin told me that with the pony tail I've been sporting lately I look like martial arts actor Steven Seagal. "Of course," Tunch dryly noted, "That would be the fat Steven Seagal."
Yeah, but could Steven Seagal knock down three lamb chops and a 32-ounce prime rib in one sitting? I did that Saturday night, and I doubt if even fat Steven Seagal could.
* Anyway, the malevolent ambiance of the "Black Hole" and the specter of Al Davis was fed by a pre-game ceremony with Raider legend Marcus Allen lighting a torch to honor Al. A Steelers fan who made the trip said later that a trip to Heinz Field and experiencing Steelers Nation is an encounter with passionate, crazy fans, but that the feeling of the Black Hole was that of a "mob."
* The legendary funk group War sang the national anthem. We then had an Oakland equivalent of a flyover consisting of three pigeons streaking across the stadium.
* While I watched the grounds crew hosing down the baseball infield (Oakland is the last of such baseball/football stadiums in the NFL), I mused about the problems of footing for the players. The baseball infield is a prominent part of the middle of the football field and the combined dirt/clay surface could be tricky. Many of today's players wear the molded cleat bottoms rather than the seven-point cleats of my generation. It sure didn't take long to find out if the "gription" factor would come into play when Ryan Clark intercepted Carson Palmer on the first play after his receiver fell down.
* One of the many battles that I wanted to strategically place myself in good viewing position was for the Willie Colon/Richard Seymour meat-eaters match-up. When the Raiders were in town a couple of years ago, and Seymour whacked Ben in the mush, Willie was on the sidelines in civvies and almost had a hemorrhage wanting to get at Seymour. Willie, like all good O-linemen, has a deep sense of being the protector of the franchise and I sensed this was going to be a good one.
* I didn't have to wait long to see some real action, though Seymour wasn't involved. On a pass in the first quarter Oakland ran a three-man pass rush game with Seymour driving inside where Colon passed him off to Maurkice Pouncey. Around the corner came DE Lamarr Houston, and Willie stuffed him in the hole. Houston tried to grind out a bull-rush, churning away with his legs like he's trying to turn the Oakland dirt into butter. It was a titanic battle between two T-Rexes and Willie bended Houston over until Houston's knees buckled under the strain. After crumpling Houston to the ground, like any good bullfighter, Willie applied the coup de gras, and dove on Houston and gored him into submission. Viva la Colon!
* After Darren McFadden dropped the 64-yard TD run on the Steelers, Casey Hampton had a fit. I say this because in the 12 years I've watched Casey play, I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen him this upset. Of course, when somebody takes your defense to the woodshed with a 64-yarder, that does tend to make one upset.
* Still in the first quarter, Palmer tried a screen pass to McFadden, which was sniffed out by "Da Beard," Brett Keisel. Brett did a nice job of smelling out the screen, mirroring McFadden out toward the numbers on the field and then setting the edge while turning McFadden back inside where he was eaten up by Ryan Clark and Hampton. It's fun to watch a Dick LeBeau defense perform as it should, when it should.
* I was standing on the sidelines, minding my own business as usual, when Antonio Brown roared past me in the second quarter on a punt return. Rookie Robert Golden was the convoy leader as Brown and company headed up the sideline and the only Raider left to defend the goal line was P Shane Lechler. I almost busted a gut laughing when Golden deked Lechler like he was going to pile-drive him, and Lechler just simply fainted. Yeah, Lechler fell down like somebody dropped the strings to a Marionette puppet so Golden didn't have to waste a bullet on him. Unfortunately, this gem of a return came back because of holding. I remember thinking, "C'mon guys, leave the holding to the real pros, us offensive linemen."
* There have been several skirmishes between Colon and Seymour thus far. I realize for most people that watching collisions that could trigger the San Andreas fault line between these giants might be a little mundane but I am having a ball. It sure is fun to sit ringside and watch the two behemoths have at it and not be a part of it in any way, shape or form.
* After Shaun Suisham kicked a 33-yard FG to end the first half, Mike Tomlin and Amos Jones went bonkers on the officials. So I naturally was curious and asked Amos about it later and he explained that one of the Raiders "leveraged," or used a teammate to launch himself to try to block the kick, which of course is illegal.
* An unfolding drama occurred as the teams took to the field for the second half. I was told that Marcus Gilbert had injured himself and rookie OT/OG Kelvin Beachum was up. So I took a gander at "Beach" as he prepped to take to the field for the second half for his first real NFL action. He looked nervous, which is normal, and after he twitched on his first play, I thought he might struggle. But in the several plays that he covered for Gilbert, he seemed to hold his own. He does however have to learn to block to the whistle, as when he let one of the Raiders dive on Ben's leg. Take a page from Colon young buck: finish them off on the ground so they can't crab-crawl to your QB and do damage. By the way, why wasn't that a penalty?
* On the first play of the fourth quarter, on a second-and-9 from the Steelers' 33-yard line, Palmer sent Denarius Moore on a go route deep left. Ike Taylor was all by his lonesome, and Moore is a speedster. Ike positioned himself inside and slightly in front of Moore, which then became a game of "butt-ball" in which Ike could slow the progress of Moore and still retain visual contact with the ball. Ike could see the ball and feel Moore with his backside, which sounds a little uncomfortable as I write this but is standard operating procedure for D-backs, I assure you. Great play by Ike.
* The Raiders were facing second-and-10 and I was standing near the coaches when they send out the "Big Nickel" – four down linemen with LaMarr Woodley coming off the field. Wood walked by me and I could see frustration in his face. I busted him later on the flight home about what I saw and he's obviously not too thrilled with being pulled off the field.
* Ryan Mundy lit up Darrius Heyward-Bey in the end zone with what looked to be a clean hit that resulted from Palmer leading Heyward-Bey too far to the middle of the field. (I'll say it like I feel it: QB's have some skin in this by their throwing options as well.) A hush settled in over the crowd. All of the players stood around with concern etched on their faces. This is always a hard moment for all concerned. For as much as we all love to whack each other, nobody wants to see anybody get maimed. Then the competitive fog lifts for a minute and the realization that, "There but for the grace of God go I." Everyone has family that they want to get home to after it's all said and done.
* What can get lost in the waiting is the players losing focus. After a situation like this occurs, there will be a whistle and play will resume. You have to keep your head in the game and not floating around to other thoughts.
* The "mob" in the end zone appears to be getting restless while they boo the Steelers. Security moved into the stands when a Steelers fan seemed to be arguing with a Raiders fan (big surprise there), and then police came out into the back of the end zone to quell a surging forward of the fans toward the playing field. The longer the delay on the field, the more honked off the crowd.
* After Sebastian Janikowski banged one through, both teams came off the field. I've been through a few losses in my day and I've watched Tomlin handle other losses, but Mike was as tight-lipped as I've ever seen him after a game when he stood outside the locker room greeting players as they came up the tunnel.
* After watching the players file into the locker room, my next thought was: "Great, all we have left is a five-hour flight, and probably a chick flick."