The Steelers set off via bus caravan to Gillette Stadium on game day with the usual police escort blocking off traffic. Minutes into the half-hour trip from Providence, a little fender bender broke out between one of the policemen and a non-yielding New Englander who had a little NASCAR rub going on with the cop.
Only a train wreck would've been more apropos, considering the game that was about to unfold.
* After I did my pre-game radio reports, I headed over to the chow line. Rumors were flying that the clam chowder was so good it would make you forget grandma's. They weren't kidding. And then there were the dad-gum cookies. When I walked past Tunch Ilkin on the sideline eating one of those cookies pre-game, he yelled, "Stop the madness!"
* As if going into the lion's den wasn't enough of a hill to climb, there was the ceremony for the World Champion Boston Red Sox, who were introduced to the crowd individually while a roar swept over the stadium. When one unknown Red Sox sprinted onto the field during his intro in a rather ungainly sprint, I could only think of former Philadelphia Phillies first baseman John Kruk, who famously said, "I'm not an athlete, man, I'm a baseball player."
* Prior to kickoff I was rallying with the boys in the holding cell (where the offensive line hangs out just before taking the field), and Mike Tomlin walked up to the fellas and leaned over to say something to the Big Ragu, Ramon Foster. Ramon started laughing and I'm guessing Ragu just passed his final ImPACT concussion test with the good Doctor Tomlin.
* Well, let's make that 36 straight games the Patriots have gotten at least one takeaway, the longest active streak in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger just fumbled and New England took over. That's one of those Belichick-ian type statistics that helps explain how the Pats have consistently won over the years. Say all you want, and I do so grudgingly, but you can't spy-gate your way into all of those fumble strips, sacks and recoveries.
* I watched Ben try to wipe his hands with a towel on the sideline, over and over again after the strip-sack fumble. I didn't know it then, but "word on the street," as Casey Hampton used to say, had it that some "Patriot Games" out on the field had somebody using some sort of grease on their jerseys to keep from being held.
* Gee, who would do something like that … ?
* I do recall I once had a slight accident while cooking an omelet before a game and over-sprayed the skillet with my game jersey just behind it. Go figure …
* Department of Good News, Bad News: After a terrific first-quarter goal-line stand, that included a lost challenge and a penalty on Troy Polamalu that gave the Patriots an extra whack at the end zone, the Steelers took over on their own 6-inch line. Marcus Gilbert then jumped offside. The good news was that the penalty only cost Marcus three inches.
* In my day, we used to have a fine system that cost a buck a yard in penalties. It would go into a kitty for an end-of-season, offensive line party. I wonder what three inches sets you back in today's money.
* First-quarter action and my eyes are glued to the Kelvin Beachum vs. Chandler Jones matchup. Jones is a slippery undersized 3-4 DE who can sack quarterbacks like Giant Eagle baggers sack groceries. It's a three-step drop by Ben, so you know the ball's coming out fast (or should be).
Kelvin kick-steps, freezes, and then launches at Jones. Jones, quickly up into the battle from the snap, senses something amiss and pulls up briefly, only to explode past the misfiring Beachum. I used to have a saying back in the day to help me remember the sequence on three-step drops. "Stare, stare, punch and cut."
* Kick-step back and hold your hands high, for one step, then two while locking into the eyes of your opponent. As your opponent moves up field in harmony with you, and he comes within punching range, fire your hands at his face (temporarily blinding him as he tries to swat your hands), and then cut through the legs of the man, not at the man. It gets them every time.
* Hey, I'm 6 feet 1. All of us were short back then but we used to be able to cut those 6-6, 6-7 timbers down like lumberjacks.
* In the second quarter the Steelers went for it on fourth down twice. The second time they didn't make it, as Dontá Hightower stepped into the B-gap and took on Will Johnson.
* Will started curling up five yards out from the point of impact, and it reminded me of Steelers all-time great Franco Harris, who was nicknamed "Sting Bee." Franco was awesome in all phases of the game except blocking. In that he was merely mortal.
* After Ryan Clark was noggin-ized, I cruised over to check out the injury on the NFL mandated "injury cam" that both sidelines have. This really helps the docs and trainers know what they're up against when they treat a player. I peered from a distance over the shoulders of Steelers trainer John Norwig, Doc Yates, and the noggin-ologist of distinction, Doc Maroon. One thing was for certain: Ryan was in the best of hands with these guys.
* The Patriots just went up 17-3 and the "Colonialists," who are Patriots mascots of some sort, or part band … or, who knows … whatever, were dressed up in real colonial-type clothing and they fired their muskets after the FG. Those muskets thundered like canons without wheels. No wonder they had no snipers back in the Revolutionary War. No chance of sneaking up on anybody with those bad boys.
* Tomlin Sideline Talk 1: After Aaron Dobson pushed off on an out route on William Gay in the second quarter, Tomlin shouted at the side judge, "One-Seven's pushing off!" Mike actively engages the officials. He prudently works them, knowing when to pull back, and other times when to get one a little chapped, as is the privilege of any good head coach. Some are better than others; Mike is one of the better ones for sure.
* Tomlin Sideline Talk 2: A play later, Tom Brady huddled up the Pats, then broke the huddle and walked toward the line of scrimmage. Mike yelled to his safeties Ryan Clark and Polamalu, "Don't show the look! Don't show the look!" Mike wanted Ryan and Troy to move late to their assignments in an attempt to disguise the coverage.
I've been told by quarterbacks that the "7-yard walk" from the huddle to the line of scrimmage is the most important info-gathering period prior to each play. Mucho skullduggery is afoot during those seven or so steps.
* On the third-quarter sidelines after Ben threw to Jerricho Cotchery from 20-yards out, then 8-yards to draw even with the Pats at 24-24, slapping fives, smiles broke out enfuego on a previously frowned-up sideline that watched while the Patriots pulled away to a halftime 24-10 lead. Todd Haley, Big Ben, J-Co, and several others were sporting big smiles that were about to disappear.
* Whack for whack. After Beachum got into a little bit of a scrum -- when he took umbrage with a Patriot giving Ben the business after a pass, and the Big Ragu, the new enforcer, also got into the act -- calmer heads prevailed. When they got to the sidelines, Haley gave a whack to the chest of Kelvin as a way of saying "Good job, way to protect your quarterback." Kelvin then gave Todd a whack right back. Say what you want about Todd, but I seriously respect him and I love the fact that he's in the fight with his guys.
* He's not on fire, but he's heating up. LeVeon Bell runs a draw for an 8-yard gain. It's not the yardage, but the way Lev runs it. He takes the handoff, glides, slides, then pops like Orville Redenbacher's best. Give him time. Bell's gonna be good.
* Yikes … Vince Williams was involved in a three-way pileup on the field and he's doing the "John Wayne walk," as the Turk-up-in-the-booth likes to say. Vince walked right by me and definitely needed to be held firmly under the arms by Steelers staff members.
* In the fourth quarter, Ben tried to dump a screen pass over the Patriots' newest addition, 6'2"defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga. Roethlisberger didn't get enough air on the toss, and Sopoaga couldn't get his legs under him well enough to really jump, but just enough to get a paw on the ball and knock it down.
* Watching Sopoaga got me chuckling as he reminded me of the commercial with the burly guy standing in the middle of a river, swatting leaping salmon to the Old Spice theme.
Sorry folks, but that's how my mind works.
* I don't know that I've seen a more beat-up locker room. This was a room dominated by downcast eyes and confusion written all over people's faces. Sour looks, grim looks, looks that could kill were everywhere. The gloomy nature of the room stuck with me like a foggy San Francisco morning.
* This I do know: I was glad I didn't have to show up the next day to watch film. After seeing the game live, doing it over in slow-motion and reverse might be more than I could handle.