Oh, this was a day that brought back memories. With the snow swirling about me I sat on the heated Steelers sidelines bench during pre-game warm-ups. Whilst I enjoyed toasting my tootsies my mind wandered, as so often it does before a game, and I conjured up images of 1988, when the Dolphins came to Pittsburgh on a cold, snowy day as this.
Neither the Miamians, nor we the Steelers were going to the playoffs, and it was the last game of the '88 season. My opponent, a big Jabroni (I forget his name) came out to play with a hoodie, yep a full blown hoodie on underneath his shoulder pads that had the hood part hanging out over his shoulder pads covering his name tag on the back of his jersey. He also wore gloves like you wear shoveling snow, a ski mask type headwear under his helmet, and the only thing missing was a scarf, or maybe snow pants and Mukluks. This was back in the day when there was no Under Armor, or NFL approved code of wear, for arctic like conditions. I will tell you from play one, all this guy wanted to do was get back on the plane and head back to Miami and warmth.
We won because most of the Dolphins were more concerned with getting back into the locker room at halftime, and then again at the end of the game, than in actually trying to win. I was hoping that it would be the same today as it was then; but it was not to be so.
* While I was hanging out on the bench, I got to talking to one of the team docs about "Plantar Fasciitis," maybe the successor to the dreaded high ankle sprain in the latest of medical jargon nowadays. It's a condition where you tear or injure the fascia on the bottom of the foot. Brett Keisel has it. More and more guys are being diagnosed with it, and so we got to ruminating about why it's happening and what's causing it. Part of the argument centered on the size and weight of the guys, as well as stiffness of the sole of the shoe. My trump card was simple. It has to do with the footwear. I've never heard of a Sasquatch suffering from Plantar Fasciitis, have you? Boom! Next question …
* I learned earlier in the week that Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill has never played in snow. Hmmm ... that could really work in the Steelers' favor. Tunch Ilkin came by before heading up to the booth and said, "I've been watching Tannehill throw passes all through warm-ups. He hasn't thrown a tight spiral yet."
* In the first quarter, Jason Worilds came on a hot rush from his side, LaMarr Woodley came a-screaming from the other to force Tannehill to step up in the pocket as he attempted to pass. Cameron Heyward overpowered Nate Garner, the Dolphins' left guard, with a display of brute force reminiscent of some of the finer Sumos from Japan's "Golden Era of Sumo." The four wheel drive-like push of Cam had Garner going backwards like a Sonic carhop on roller skates. That had to make Garner mutter to himself. There's nothing worse for an offensive lineman to get physically manhandled early in the game.
* Tannehill just blew down the sidelines for 48 yards. He might not be able to throw a tight spiral, but the former college wide receiver sure can run.
* For whom the Bell tolls; it tolls for thee, Le'Veon Bell, who carried the mail eight times in the 12-play drive in the first quarter, ending with Emmanuel Sanders catching Ben Roethlisberger's franchise record-breaking 213th touchdown throw, which put the Steelers up 7-0 over the Fish. The snow was swirling and coming down so heavily I was thinking Chicago Bears, the Bus, and Brian Urlacher left for road kill.
* From my vantage point I had a good clean view of Bell and the young man is "quick to power" at any point in his swashbuckling style of running the ball. Bell slides and hesitates, jump cuts or hurdles, dead-leg, ole, what have you. But at any moment of a run he can lower his pad level, get his knees high and hunker down, dawg, with the best of ‘em as he gets his pile-push on. I think this young man is a keeper.
* As the snow piled up on the field, I noticed more and more Miami guys playing with their feet under them and standing tall. Rare were the attempts of anybody trying to blow anybody up, just stall-step off the ball, engage the opponent, and move their feet till the whistle. Miami's offensive line doesn't have a finisher among them save for Mike Pouncey. (Think about that statement while you notice that the Fins rushed for 181 yards.)
* Cameron Wake gets more improbable pass-rushes going than anybody outside of Indianapolis and a guy named Robert Mathis. It's hard for me to categorize his rushes. Wake got upfield, trapped the hands of a steadily improving Marcus Gilbert, and turned the corner to get to Ben and separate him from the ball. Wake consistently gets pressure through great, never-ending effort and sweat. He just works and works and works. While some guys don't know the word "hustle," this guy doesn't know what it means to take a play off.
* In the second quarter, Mike Wallace caught a ball on an out route, got knocked out of bounds, and immediately the crowd began to boo. Mike walked a couple steps towards the crowd, almost as if he wanted to say or do something, gesture-wise, toward the vehement fans who were obviously confused. Let's face it, if somebody offered you $60 million and all you had to do was move to Florida, you'd go in a minute. After a few steps toward the crowd, Mike slowed and appeared to be re-thinking whatever it was that he had just thought about doing, turned on his heel and headed back towards the huddle. Good move, Mike.
* Troy Polamalu snatched a Tannehill toss, then went coco-loco airborne over the pylon in the corner of the end zone with a leap so high he looked like a long-haired Bob Beamon hitting rarified air in Mexico City. You had to see it to believe it. Troy then twisted in air to break the plane of the goal line, upon which he promptly caught a down draft and jacked himself when he landed.
* How do I know Troy doinked himself? Pure speculation, but Troy was to my right on the sideline and Steelers trainer John Norwig rushed up to make a note of Troy's crash-landing. John showed the concerned look of an All-State agent checking accident-scene facts. I'm sure it was nothing serious, just a mid-air fender bender of sorts. Sometimes on those hits, it hurts a little while, then it just disappears.
* In the third quarter, David DeCastro was called for holding. Holding? Seriously? Dave made like a matador on a play to the outside (I think it was a screen pass). By letting the DT rush to his inside, DeCastro whipped the Fins defender to the ground so fast he plowed up Heinz Field turf with his facemask. It was a great influence block which apparently had to be called simply because the official didn't believe that anybody could throw a big ugly to the ground that easily without doing something illegal. That's a shame, because Moon Mullins, a Steelers 70s era Super Bowl guard, and grandmaster of influence blocking would have had tears in his eyes watching DeCastro's beautiful block.
* Stunning. Six guys, five laterals and sixteen seconds of mayhem. And one major hangover after the officials waved off the Antonio Brown hook-and-ladder. When Marcus Gilbert got the rock, I thought it was game over. But Marcus showed mad ball skills (hey, he's a hog and I give him major props for handling the rock) and the laterals continued. The only thing missing was the Stanford band (or maybe a Clown Car from the circus where 36 clowns pile out of a too-small vehicle). Players were falling on the sidelines like they were struck with lightning bolts as Brown streaked up the sideline. Everybody had the "Can you believe it?" look of incredulity that only Pittsburghers can truly appreciate from an "I've seen this before!" moment called the Immaculate Reception. But it was all for naught as Antonio stepped out of bounds. And they didn't even have to get on the phone in the dugout, or in today's terms, get under the hood to get a ruling on the catch and run.
* That may have been the longest, slowest, most excruciating walk up a stairways to the Steelers' locker room in many a moon. Guys wore expressions such as resignation, pain, and anguish like they were primitive death masks at a burial. It was as quiet as church. There's never a moment quite as grievous in your professional career as the moment that you realize it's done, and for a number of players the end itself of a career will come in a matter of weeks. The sinking realization that drops into your gullet like the Gnocchis your grandma used to make. All the hard work from the off-season and the sweating and straining in training camp was for nothing because you are now basically without hope of relevance. I know it's not over until the "Fat Lady Sings," and the NFL mathematicians declare you officially playoff dead, but I do hear her warming up the vocal cords.