Normally I start this column with the events of game day, but if the readers would be so kind and indulge me for just a bit, please permit me to take you into one of the most extraordinary moments of my life.
On Saturday, the day before the Bills game, I was given the tremendous honor of speaking to a group of war veterans at the veterans appreciation day held at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. As I waited to be introduced, I heard the MC say, "We have a special guest," and I thought, great they've invited another football player to speak. And then the MC continued, "Please welcome Captain Kyle Jacob Wolfley" and I LOST my mind. Really, I mean it. I haven't seen my wife Faith's and my oldest son in the flesh for about six months (and my wife Faith orchestrated this whole thing with help) while he has been in captain school, and to see him on a weekend where we honor and thank our Armed Forces men and women was out of this world.
As they announced him, Kyle walked through the double doors in his dress uniform complete with his medals on his chest and wearing his "Jump Boots" that are the signature of the 82nd Airborne. I hugged him until he had to tap out and say "OK, that's good Dad, you're good, let's not make everybody uncomfortable." I know I went on to speak to the veteran's group, but I'll be darned if I have a clue as to what I said.
On a side note the pollen count was high in and around the Canton area as my "allergies" kicked into high gear, because there could be no other explanation, obviously, for the tears streaming down my face. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it).
* The former US Ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney, was hanging out on the pre-game sidelines, in his words "loafing." We ended up walking up the tunnel from the field to the locker room together and Mr. Rooney asked me if I was on the sidelines today for the game. With a smile on his face, after I replied to the affirmative, Mr. Rooney said, "Make sure you bundle up." You betcha, Mr. Rooney.
* Pre-game was a beautiful tribute to our nation's war heroes. The Steelers do an awesome job of bringing in some of our local heroes and honoring them. You better believe the crowd loves them. They are such amazing men and women. When I shake the hand of a man who has served in the Armed Forces, I am humbled. When I shake the hand of a man who has served in combat, I am diminished as a man, because I am shaking the hand of a better man.
* FYI, sitting ringside in attendance for the pre-game towel wave was Phil Davis, the #3 Light heavyweight UFC contender. Phil's a great guy, a Harrisburg native.
* First quarter action and I had to watch "Super" Mario Williams on a 3rd-and-5 pass rush against Kelvin Beachum. Williams came into the game with 11 sacks and left without marking on the score sheet. Mario sprinted up field, and then tried to Reggie White "Hump" move Kelvin with his inside arm smacking into Beachum's rib cage like he was Rocky Balboa throwing a left hook to the lifeless body of a hunk of meat hanging in a meat locker. Kelvin kick-stepped in tandem with Williams, then sat heavy inside when he saw the club coming and clamped with his elbow down on Mario's arm. It's not holding technically because it's just Kelvin's elbow pinning the hook to his body. Mario didn't move Beach a millimeter out of position.
* FILE THIS UNDER BAD NEWS: On the first cold game of the year, one of the turbine powered jet-engine heaters that sits on both ends of the Steelers benches either caught fire or was about to because it began smoking like an old J&L Steel chimney stack. Hey, I was nowhere near the thing, OK?
* After Ben Roethlisberger threw the first-quarter interception in the direction of rookie Markus Wheaton, I strolled over to Mudville to check out who was to blame. Normally, when you have a rookie involved and he's just gotten back after an injury, it's a shoo-in as to who gets the blame. Ben, Bruce Gradkowski and Todd Haley were all huddled up and I couldn't read their lips. The fact that Markus wasn't there in their midst seemed to indicate Ben was taking the fall, but I certainly can't say that for sure.
* Vince Williams came up and made a great hit on a C.J. Spiller run towards the sidelines. Vince knifed his way through a gap and dropped Spiller like a bad habit. I still can't believe that Williams made it onto the field after the train wreck he was in last week. Vince walked off the field right past me last week after sustaining a dinger and he was, as the players of today call it, "Walking on air."
* In the second quarter, Le'Veon Bell showed me some signs of growing as a professional. Bell got stacked up, and while fighting to drive forward he also picked his feet up whenever the pile started to move in an awkward direction which could lead to getting an ankle, or knee trapped at a bad angle if you don't protect those hoofers. You learn these things intrinsically from game repetitions, which, when added to the practice reps in the days of yore when we banged three times a week, week in, week out, all year long, gave you a samurai sixth sense that helped to protect yourself from injury. Now I'm starting to sound like Mike Ditka.
* With the wind blowing fiercely, Matt McBriar was bit by the dreaded "Shankapotamus," and ripped off a 28-yard punt. Suddenly I was transported back to 1988, to a very windy and cold in then-named Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, playing these same Buffalo Bills. Harry Newsome was our punter and into the teeth of gale-force winds whipping off Lake Erie, Harry's punt shot straight up in the air, held there several tantalizing seconds like a news chopper surveying traffic jam-ups below, and then landed three or four yards in front of the line of scrimmage. As a team on the sideline, we were yelling at the gunners and punt coverage people to turn around and sprint back to the line of scrimmage.
* On a second-quarter 15-straight, which had Bell running off tackle to his left, Beachum had a great double team with Ramon Foster. The reason it was significant to me was that Kelvin is a knee-bender, not a waist –bender like so many of these gi-normous offensive tackles of today who can't get low enough to bang a 3-technique's hip. So they end up chesting the DT and get no vertical movement on the guy. Beachum not only can get low, but he whacked the hip so hard it bumped the DT to the inside of Foster who sealed him off, and Bell followed Beach through the hole to the second level for a nice gain.
* Jonathan Dwyer MEETS "THE LEGEND OF KIKO." There's a Chuck Norris-type legend thing going on with Kiko in Buffalo. Rightly so, the kid's a player. "It's been said that Kiko Alonzo went tubing over Niagara Falls. He calls it the lazy river." Stuff like that's going around Buffalo these days. Well, Kiko may have enjoyed his ride over the falls, but I doubt very much that he enjoyed the splat job J-Dwyer just gave him on a short run.
* The Bills came out of the locker room with only 20-30 seconds left on the halftime scoreboard. While they were hurriedly trying to warm up, a very impatient Mike Tomlin was talking to an official pointing out that his guys were on time, ready to go. "What's the hold-up?" asked Mike.
* In the third quarter Jarvis Jones and Lee Smith, a very combative TE for the Bills, got into a pushing match that the rookie lost after he was flagged for a personal foul. That's a rookie error. Pushing matches post-whistle are like picking up the check for lunch or dinner with a buddy. You can go one push too many just as easily as you can go "No, let me get that," too many, and then you're stuck with the check, or the flag.
* Foster is a big man. Doc Maroon isn't. I don't know who was in more pain, Ramon or the Doc. Ramon had just injured his ankle, and all 6'5"and 340 pounds of Big Ragu was leaning on the diminutive 5'6" and soaking-wet 135-pound doc who Ramon was using like a human crutch.
* HE SHOWED HIM THE SKY PART1: Mike Adams' thunderous slam dunk/pancake of Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham was the highlight of Bell's third-quarter TD run. It was a prolific body slam, something of which Bruno Sammartino would be proud. Ol' Nigel got a good view of the cloud structure hovering over Heinz Field.
* HE SHOWED HIM THE SKY PART II: Fourth quarter, David DeCastro stayed on his block and stayed on his block after locking horns and ham-hocks with NT Marcell Dareus, a 330-pound mastodon. DeCastro finished him off with a final surge, goring Dareus and giving him a complete view of the Pittsburgh skyline.
* After Ryan Clark intercepted the ball and returned it, Dick LeBeau, 77 years young, jogged/bounced/bopped his way onto the field with both fists clenched and sporting a smile from ear to ear. Dick was hugging, chest-bumping and high-fiving all the way around. I'm here to tell you it was an awesome moment.
* As I walked my way up the tunnel post-game, I found myself walking next to fellow Syracuse man Shamarko Thomas, who was already in a walking boot at that point. I looked at him and said, "What's the matter with your foot? Doesn't it know that it should follow your body?" He gave me a grin that was contagious. I can see why everybody thinks highly of this young man. He's a gem.