Throwback Sunday, with teams all over the NFL bringing back legends of the game as honorary captains for the coin toss, always brings out a wonderful sideline reunion here in some shape or form.
For me, the chance to see two of my former teammates, Franco Harris and Mel Blount, and hug 'em up was not only a wonderful moment of embracing past memories, but a moment of warmth as we laughed and lied about how tough we were back in the days before turbine heaters and heated benches.
* Bitter gusting wind driving across Heinz Field was a far cry from the playing field that I first watched Blount work his craft up close and personal. Back in the summer of 1980, in the Meadowlands, on the third play of a pre-season game against the New York "Football" Giants, as the receptionist will say if you call there, I watched as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed rookie observing from the sidelines a wide receiver run an out pattern against Mel, who had him in man coverage. After the receiver got his hands on the ball, Blount swooped in like a gi-normous bird of prey and hip-tossed the wideout head-first like he was driving a fence post into the ground on his ranch. The receiver was knocked out cold, the ball came out incomplete, and Mel merely looked at him in a detached sort of way for a moment, and then without any gyration or self-promotion ambled back to the huddle while the Giants' medical staff worked on their player. Mel was a monster then and he still commands huge respect today.
* On the second play from scrimmage for the Bengals, WR Marvin Jones set up for a bubble screen. Troy Polamalu, having an opportunity to play his safety position rather than the mack linebacker, shot through the gap of an attempted rub route with another Bengals WR and blew up Jones. Troy played the ball through the man and slammed him to the ground as if he had been watching the screening in my head of Mel and the poor Giants receiver from 33years ago.
* Bengals punter Kevin Huber mishandled the snap after a gust of wind apparently moved the ball to his left, outside the framework of his body. Huber reached with his hands, rather than moved his body over to back his hands up, and dropped the ball. Will Allen, playing some of his finest football since coming back from purgatory, otherwise known as the "Big D," pounced on Huber like a mongoose on a cobra. This was merely the beginning of a bad ending for Huber.
* On the next Bengals series, Andy Dalton scrambled his way for nine yards and did a last-second slide, feet-first, right in front of Ryan Clark, who "took a little off the top" for Dalton. I sucked in a very cold draught of gusting air, expecting the ref to throw the flag because Ryan's semi-hit was just the kind of doink that officials seem intent on throwing in order to keep the QB's skirt clean. Dalton jumped up immediately, making sure that the side judge knew that Clark's trim-job wasn't copacetic with him.
* Huber met Terence Garvin face-first on Antonio Brown's 67-yard punt return which can only be described in highly technical terms as a "mulch." This play should be a teaching tool for the term "Keep your head on a swivel." If I heard it once as a rookie covering kicks, I heard it a thousand times. And I paid the price more than once because I didn't get the message. I don't like to see anybody get hurt, certainly, but this is a big boy's league and it was a great hit by Garvin. Sometimes kickers and punters begin to think they are players and start to act like that in coverage. This will remind Huber that playing safety is not only safer, but will extend his career longer. After much medical attention, Huber ran past me on the sidelines with a big ol' wad of bloodied padding in his jaws, and I'm suspecting that he's going to be sipping dinner through a straw for a while.
* The Steelers were part of a moment that could only be described as "You had to be there." During the game the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Cory J. Lemasters believed they were there to receive an honor on Lemasters' behalf. His family thought Cory was in Afghanistan. When the young man walked out of the players' tunnel after his name was announced, into the arms of his bewildered family, Heinz Field was rocking. I had a front-row seat to this ultimate family reunion, and I can truthfully say I shared tears with his family. No one can know the fears, loneliness and night-time terrors of a family with a loved one serving in harm's way, other than those who have been through this ordeal. How absolutely thrilling and joyful to see one of America's own sons come home.
* Getting back to Huber. Back in the '80s, we were running through a field goal drill in pre-season up at training camp. A young, overeager linebacker by the name of Tyronne Stowe reacted a little too strong when the "Fire" call went out signifying a fumbled snap exchange by the holder. Then-Steelers kicker Gary Anderson ran with the ball, simulating what he would do during a game if this happened. As Gary rolled out toward the sidelines, looking to throw the ball to a TE releasing from the wingback position, an overeager Stowe came flying up and mulched Gary, an obvious breach of practice etiquette. Gary staggered to his feet after Tyronme's hit and we could see little Chiclets and blood flowing out of his pie hole. Chuck Noll was stunned. He didn't know what to say at first. He was always a big believer in practicing like you played, but this was even a little too much for him. After a couple of confusing moments while the trainers attended to Gary and the rest of us stood around uncertain as to how to proceed, Tunch Ilkin yelled "Let's go to team!" That seemed to break the spell and we picked up the practice with the team period.
* Cameron Heyward just seems to be getting his monster on each and every week. After bull-rushing Bengals OT Anthony Collins straight back, Cam blasted Dalton right in the chest just after he threw the ball. I mean I couldn't even finish counting one-Mississippi, two-Mississ— and Dalton got the ball off and Cam was whacking him.
Either that or my face has just frozen.
* I just found out that after Brown's touchdown catch in the end zone, without planning anything of the sort, Antonio heaved the ball into the stands and it was caught by the father of Lance Cpl. Lemasters. Pretty good night for the Lemasters clan I'd say.
* I'm a little Heyward heavy here, but I'm really intrigued by his growth process this year. Cam came to camp 20 pounds lighter. He worked his tail off all off-season and through training camp. His leadership skills were evident in the off-season when he teamed with Alameda Ta'amu and made sure this young man got to and participated in the training program. It went for naught, when Ta'amu was cut, in spite of Cam's best efforts. Now standing by the heaters at the half, I hear Cam yelling "Let's flip the switch!" Cam is coming into that period of his life when it's not enough to be good, but to lead. And he's filling the role nicely.
* Jarvis Jones is another guy who appears to be getting better. All night long he's been showing up on the field. He's got a nice inside rush move, the usual flying head butt of a bull rush, but no real outside, up-the-field corner move. But on this rush, Jarvis took the already victimized OT Collins back and "Showed 'em the sky!"
I love them sky watchers.
* FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS: It tolls for thee, Jayson DiManche. On a 6-yard run, Le'Veon Bell finished it off with a powerful slobber-knocker of a hit on the Bengals linebacker, DiManche, who was either practicing the yoga corpse pose called "Shavasana," or he needed a moment to get his emotions in check after getting trucked by Bell. Earlier tonight we saw Bell hurdle a Bengal, outrun a Bengal, and now run over a Bengal. I don't think he likes Bengals.
* Apparently, the Bengals don't seem to much like Bell, either. Two post-whistle plays in a row had Vontaze Burfict, the tackling/talking machine of the Bengals' linebacking corps, having a little pushing and shoving and wording with Bell. Mike Tomlin called Bell over, and in what seemed to be a stern message he appeared to be teaching Bell to stay away from the post-whistle stuff and concentrate on the pre-whistle stuff.
* What a difference a week makes as I walk the very same set of stairs that last week seemed like last year. Players who trudged up the stairs looking like Atlas carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders a week ago now zipped up the stairs taking them two and three at a time. After arriving at the top of the stairs myself (taking them singly, mind you) I stood outside the Steelers' locker room for a while before the media gained entrance. Faintly at first, then gathering strength like an incoming storm, I could hear cheering emanating deep from within the bowels of the stadium, and I know that sound. It's the sound of winning.