I could hear the many voices of laughter and good cheer as my family and extended family members gathered together and as one, wished me Happy Thanksgiving over the phone. I've been here before, done that, as a player and now a broadcaster, but it always leaves you with a hollow feeling when you're not with your loved ones on a day when there's so much to be thankful for.
* During the pre-game warmups I found myself hanging out with Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith and the kickers. During some down time before they got busy, their presence conjured up an old memory of a special team's gaffe on my part 33 years ago against the Minnesota Vikings on the punt return.
I screwed up the count number of the man I was supposed to block. I kept beating up and driving into the ground the R-3 man as opposed to the R-2. But it was the R-2 man who made the tackle on punt coverage just about all day. Nobody could figure out why until we saw the films a couple days later and Chuck Noll (the special teams coach as well) got really chilly with me. While in the meeting room, Coach Noll stopped the projector (hey, it was 1980) and it was so quiet I could hear my heart beating like I was leading the half-time band. He said sternly, "Wolfley, just what is it that you do during special teams meeting?" Needless to say, I didn't have much of an answer. Danny thought it was hilarious. I think he's coached up a couple of me on punt returns in his career.
* I was on my game in Cleveland, had the right gear, footwear and all. Being a little lazy as we headed into Thanksgiving and not really anticipating a cold night, I stuck to regular shoes instead of my Wolverine boots that are so nasty they growl when you put them on. Before kickoff I was thinking I shoulda re-thunk this one.
* Just an observation here, but in my 12th year of patrolling the sidelines, I've noticed that, unlike all the other band instruments and people who play them, I've come to the conclusion that it's the tuba players who come in the greatest variety of shapes and sizes.
* It's amazing to watch the long-haired-Polynesian-human-crash-test-dummy by name of Troy Polamalu play the "Mack" linebacker alongside Lawrence Timmons in the Steelers' 4-2 sub-package on defense. Troy has a great feel for reading plays and the quickness to beat the hog to the spot on run plays. There is always an intercept point on a run play, and for a smaller player, if you can beat the hog to the spot, you can win the battle. Troy does so here in the first quarter on a couple of occasions.
* The Ravens' superb DT, Haloti Ngata, by the middle of the first quarter had already tossed more bodies than he did in the first game. It appeareds Haloti's leg ailment was making him track in a straight line and his entire pass rush looked like he was pushing a car to a gas station. There was none of the whirling dervish pass rushes where he clubs, spins, throws a body or two. He just trudged. But on this night, I think his knee is feeling better.
* Well hello there, Training Camp Phenom. My guy from August, Terence Garvin, was playing the mack linebacker alongside Lawrence Timmons instead of Troy early on against the Ravens. Dick LeBeau had gone to a big nickel, with Garvin, as well as a little nickel with Troy playing that spot. When Terence was in, Troy resumed his safety role.
* There's already been 2-3 skirmishes between players, and this one with Torrey Smith and Ike Taylor looked to be bubbling into a Bill Hillgrove "Pier Six" brawl. Frankly, by halftime I'm suspecting we'll be on Pier Eight with as many eager combatants as it appears.
* Jason Worilds second-quarter sack of Joe Flacco was a thing of beauty. Jason started up the field on Mike Oher, and when Oher tried to punch Jason in the chest, Jason trapped, or knocked down Jason's arm with a chop-like technique. After he blew by Oher, Jason launched himself Superman style to knock the ball out of Flacco's hand while sacking him. Marshal Yanda recovered, but I seem to see a new skill weekly coming out of the Jason Worilds toolbox.
* Just before halftime I had the pleasure to hug-up an old coach of mine as Tony Dungy stood ringside for the "Football Night in America" broadcast. Tony is one of the most amazing men I know, and a man who lives his faith in God in a way that is transparent, open, honest, and full of love – just an incredible human being.
* If you wanted to see something of a bizarre view, it was Shaun Suisham kicking warmup field goals at halftime as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performed rock music while surrounding Shaun on the field. Try to paint that picture with words.
* By the third quarter, Worilds was getting into the head of Michael Oher.
Oher, after giving up two sacks to Jason and numerous QB hits, pressures and so forth, had dropped all pretense of technique and was just mugging the snot out of Jason. It was as if Oher had lost his composure and was going to do whatever it took to clamp down on Jason.
That Oher was doing so was surprising. He's got too many reps in the experience tank to be doing something so rookie-ish.
* The Ravens broke the huddle and lined up. RB Ray Rice was wide left, to the sidelines, and nobody appeared to see him out there all by himself. I was standing about eight yards away, along with one of the team doctors, Dr. Tony Yates.
Doc Yates was there when I was a player. Anywho, Doc starts pointing at Rice and yelling ‘Who's got Rice? Who's got Rice?' Ike Taylor trotted over a moment later, but I had to chuckle. Even the docs are coaching up the players.
* There's a new sheriff in town: LeVeon Bell had a nice carry before he ran into trouble with a few Ravens in the second half. After making a few miss, then dragging a few others, more of those dirty birds began to join in and slow, and then stack, up and begin to bend Bell back, which is always a dangerous situation if you have a foot stuck in the turf. David DeCastro came flying over and with a crunch, peeled one or two of them off Bell to make the landing a bit easier.
Way to go, David. You always have to look out for your guys.
* On the very next play, DeCastro hamhocked DT Art Jones off the ball and then "Showed him the sky." What a block! I kid you not; Jones will be pulling his cap a little lower over his eyes when he watches the game film with his teammates on film day.
* After Ben Roethlisberger threw a TD pass to Emmanuel Sanders, he was leveled by Ngata, and with prejudice. Mike Tomlin became furious and disbelieving as he looked about for an official's flag. There was none.
* LOOK OUT! Jacoby Jones flashed up the sidelines on the ensuing kickoff and Tomlin, with a foot, hip and shoulder on the playing surface, almost got drilled from behind, just making a quick escape at the last second while he watched on the Jumbotron. I thought for sure he was going to get launched, but Mike still has quick feet, and obviously he's Ninja-trained and showed some skills in getting out of the way.
* Bell's touchdown run that wasn't a touchdown run produced a lot of very concerned faces as many players surrounded the fallen runner and the doctors worked with concern on their faces as they hovered over the young man. There is always immediate concern for spinal cord issues. Players from both teams were suddenly teammates for a moment as they looked at each other trying to mask the one thing that all of us fear: spinal cord injury.
I have seen my share from behind the facemask, as well as behind the mic, of moments that no one wants to see. The good news was that very quickly, from my vantage point, I could see movement as Bell came back to the moment.
* It'll be a long time before I forget Sanders' facial expression. Manny sat for a while in the corner of the end zone after dropping a perfect pass from Big Ben. M&T Bank Stadium erupted into the biggest Thanksgiving Day celebration anywhere in one heartbeat. I was watching as the stands were shaking with the unfettered joy of thousands of Ravens fans celebrating their turkey wishbone, silent-prayer slaying of the Steelers as Manny sat in utter disbelief all by himself.
After the furious comeback that ate up Lev Bell's head and Fernando Velasco's right ankle/foot, to have the mojo abandon you at the most critical juncture of the game has to be experienced to be understood, because it is just so hard to come to grips with it as a player. There just aren't words capable of conveying the excruciating emotions running through you at the moment you feel you have failed your teammates.
* There's nobody that single-handedly loses a game. Everybody's got a hand in the pile, win or lose. Yet, you know.
For me, the knowing has been 30-something years, on a screen pass, a flag, and a called back TD and a loss. After thirty-something years I can still put myself at the down, distance, play and stadium right now and it hurts. I know how you feel, Manny. Hear me now and believe me later, you will survive, but at the moment it doesn't feel like it. Unfortunately though, young man, you will carry the memory with you the rest of your life.
* I'm walking through the airport hangar at the FBO Center in Pittsburgh. It's early Friday morning and we just landed after returning from Baltimore. Everybody is tired. I find myself walking behind Bell, who apparently has shaken off the wicked shot he took just hours ago. As we headed toward the door and into the cold night air, I saw Manny Sanders standing by himself at the door, leaning against the wall with an expression on his face I know all too well. He's got the look, the look that I had, and everybody else who has experienced the "Mama said there'd be days like this" moment on the field. Bell stopped, looked at Manny, slapped his hand and then smiled with a "Hey man, we love you" look on his face and a shoulder bump/hug that is so characteristic of this organization. All players who know "that moment," know that somewhere, somehow, sometime, it could be them. Not them getting injured, no. It's not the fear of injury that drives you in this game; it's the fear of not delivering when your teammates need you the most.