This was a day to celebrate all things ballistic and physical in an atmosphere that was about as exciting as a matinée at the Coliseum in Rome, I would think.
The sidelines buzzed with anticipation. Some big hitters dotted the sideline crowd such as "Big Red" Alan Faneca, Mel Blount, Clint Hurdle and Andrew McCutchen.
As Hurdle stood with "Cutch," preparing to participate in the pre-kickoff "Terrible Towel" wave, I sidled up to the Pirates skipper and said, "I don't want to put any pressure on you, Clint, but when I did this before a game with my son Kyle, before he left for Afghanistan, I twirled my towel 427 times consecutively."
Clint momentarily had a look of panic begin to cross his face before I started to bellow with laughter, as neither of us are cardio monsters. Good dude though, for sure.
* While I mulled that over on the sidelines, I heard people say that Ravens/Steelers wasn't what it used to be, that the players had changed – no Ed Reed or super arch-villain Ray Lewis – and the won-loss records weren't as good as in years gone by, that both teams were stocked with newbies who hadn't experienced a Steelers/Ravens bash and therefore the animosity wasn't hanging like tangible ether above the dirt surface of Heinz Field.
Nonsense I thought. Animosity can be handed down generationally. Anybody hear of the Hatfields and McCoys? Handed down angst and animosity from generation to generation seemed to work out OK for them.
* Faneca, Tunch Ilkin and I had a chance to catch up while loafing on the sidelines. Alan obviously got the post-career weight loss memo from Tunch that I somehow seemed to have missed.
* A tribute to the late, great L.C. Greenwood flashed across the Heinz Field Jumbotron and I was immediately time-warped to another moment in the past, another place when L.C. taught me the meaning of being a true pro.
It was in the early '80s, and on the last play of the last practice before the Sunday playoff game against the San Diego Chargers, I broke my thumb. I sat at my locker in the Three Rivers Stadium with an ice pack on my thumb, wondering how I was going to manage playing in less than 48 hours, against a guy named Gary "Big Hands" Johnson. Big Hands was a terror on the pass rush and had racked up 17.5 sacks the year before, a serious opponent to have to play one-handed. Across the locker room floated the deep, booming voice of L.C., now chuckling at my plight. When I asked what was so funny about a broken thumb, he quipped, "Now we'll see what kind of player you are. Anybody can play this game healthy." He was right.
* When the Steelers lined up for their first play from scrimmage, whoa…there's Mike Adams lining up at TE. What great thinking. If I had a guy like Mike, who was a struggling OL and I needed to set him down for a week or so and then get him ramped up to speed, there's no better way than by playing him at TE.
Look, Mike's a young buck, but he's got the basic goods – athletic feet, long arms. Mike run-blocks well. All of those things that an aspiring OT needs are already there. What he lacks now is confidence in sticking with technique when things get gnarly and tight. When you employ Mike as a TE, you keep him in the game plan, give him a chance to regain confidence by excelling at the things he does well, and keep him working at getting his pass-pro up to snuff.
* Le'Veon Bell just danced his way to a first down. This is what I've been waiting to see. The vision, the confidence to let the line blow a hole in the defense and then Bell trusts his God-given instincts to find a hole and hit the accelerator button to jump to warp speed. Over and over I kept thinking of my old teammate Franco Harris, and how he would glide, slide and wait for the trap block to develop. Ol' three-two his own self, as we used to say in my neighborhood, would then hit the hole with acceleration on two steps. Can't coach that stuff, you either wake up in the morning with it or you just ain't got it.
* In the first quarter, first and ten, the Ravens try to run a pick (officially known as a rub route because a pick is illegal) with WR Marlon Brown on Steelers rookie safety Shamarko Thomas. Shamarko plays through the rub and hits Brown with a clean hard-charging tackle that drops Brown like a bad habit after a 3-yard gain. Not surprising. After all, Shamarko is a Syracuse man.
* In my ear I hear the "Turk up in the booth" say "wildcat." I just about jumped out of my socks when I heard that. I'm standing on the sidelines and staring at something wrong out on the field but not trusting what I'm seeing. Yup, sure enough that was Bell displaying the high school quarterback skills he mustá had when he handed off the ball to Antonio Brown on Jet motion. Get outtá town Todd Haley, this is terrific stuff. Todd put together one of the most impressive, imaginative drives I have ever personally witnessed in my whole life with the wildcat and Big Ben playing the x, y or z guy, finishing off with Heath Miller taking a shovel pass to follow the Big Ragu into the six-point promised land.
* I saw Steelers WR coach Richard Mann at halftime. I told him he needed to get Big Ben included in his stalk-blocking drills during practice where the WR's block the DB's. I'm not saying, I'm just saying…
* Miller fumbles. Gadzooks, I look about the sidelines and nobody can seem to believe what we just saw. It's obviously time for some serious mojo boosting action. I quickly pull out a bag of Jolly Ranchers and share some with my sideline compadres. Remember, it's only weird if it doesn't work.
* At the end of the third quarter, on a second and nine from the Steelers' 27-yard line, Flacco passed to Brown for a 9-yard gain. Cortez Allen took Brown out of bounds. The chains move, first down etc. suddenly Mike T red flags the whole operation saying he wants the spot of the ball checked. So ref Bill Leavy goes under the hood. While Leavy is replaying the sequence of events, Mike is on the sidelines standing directly in line with the replay booth. Mike keeps repeating "I want my third down back again" over and over like a mantra. He got it.
* Early in the fourth quarter, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker tried to bunt/drag the kickoff for an attempted onside kick. Stevenson Sylvester had an incredible "see-do" moment with ninja-like reflexes. As Tucker bunted the kickoff, "Sly" reacted instantaneously and lit up Tucker with a crushing hit that allowed fellow linebacker Vince Williams to pounce on the ball. If Sly doesn't have a Jedi moment, Williams doesn't get to the ball. Mudville was hopping at this point.
* The Kicking Canuck slapped some Canadian bacon on the Heinz Field board with the game-winner that felt as good as any game of importance around the North Shore since the Pirates finished dazzling the city. Poor Shaun got mauled by his teammates, and when the "Big Ragu," Ramon Foster, mugged him, I wasn't sure the Canuck would be able to get up.
* After the game I interviewed Steelers guard David DeCastro for the Steelers Radio Network on the field. What I like about David is that as he's progressing in his career, the young man has retained a humble demeanor, including exhibiting respect for an opponent. While we were waiting for the go from the booth, I remarked to David that nobody seemed to recall hearing Ravens all-world DT Haloti Ngata's name being called all game. David looked at me with raised eyebrows and said emphatically, "He's good!"