If there is a happier place than Green Bay, Wisconsin, on game day, I would love to some day see it.
My partner in crime, Tunch Ilkin, loves to get out and, in his words, do some "urban hiking." As Tunch walked around the ever-increasing blizzard conditions of downtown Green Bay early in the morning, he was constantly greeted with "Happy Game Day," by the local Packer fans.
* Driving over to Lambeau Stadium on the team bus was a sight I hadn't seen in a while. Lambeau is the centerpiece in a Norman Rockwell painting in which lawns are covered with Christmas cheer in small town America. People had plowed their front (and some their rear) lawns to park Packers patrons. Signs abounded stating that while it would cost you $10 to park, $15 got you bathroom access in the home. Bill Hillgrove later quipped, "It gave a whole new meaning to personal seat license."
* Jarvis Jones is sick. Whoa, I mean sick. Poor Jarvis was covered with anything he could find to stay warm and ease the flu that was wracking his body. Jarvis was laid out on the locker room floor looking like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz after the Winged Monkeys tore him up in the Haunted Forest, when they snatched Dorothy and Toto. I, like many others, tried not to breathe while around him.
* So it's pre-game, and I'm of course checking out the turbine heater situation. I hang out with the hogs and I notice that Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert are wearing the hand warmers around their waists, like the QBs, RBs and WRs. I give Mike the eye. Ramon Foster sees me and starts to laugh and says something to Mike, who must have taken some abuse from the Big Ragu, and Mike chucks his hand warmer to the ground. Atta boy Mike.
* Shaun Suisham kicked off a wickedly cold, snowy game afternoon appearing to be at home in the frigid climate. On the opening kickoff Shaun ran down and immediately got into the spirit of the thing, as Chuck Noll used to say, by making the opening hit. Being that punters and kickers have just joined the Bald Eagle and fresh water Mussels on the endangered species list, I'd have to say that the "Kicking Canuck" is one highly aggressive endangered critter.
* Eddie Lacy is a serious load. On a carry early in the first quarter, Lacy steamrolled Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark in a savage three-way fender bender by the sidelines. It was quite a collision, and although Ike gave way to Lacy by some 50-60 pounds, Ike still went full steam into the crash site. Unfortunately for Ike, Ryan's pursuit angle brought him into momentum compliance with Lacy and the two of them slammed into Ike. Ike is one tough dude, believe you me. My joints were cringing from the safety of my arctic condition wear, well back from the blast area.
* When Lacy got to his feet, the crowd started chanting, slowly at first then building to a swirling crescendo, "ED-die! ED-die!" just like in the movie "Eddie And The Cruisers." Pretty cool moment for him, I would assume.
* I went up to Suisham and said, "Hey, don't you know you're defenseless?" He looked at me with a look like, "Really, is that the best you got?"
* The Packers were playing zone coverage when Ben Roethlisberger started to attack the line of scrimmage as he scrambled. The underneath coverage of the Packers started to shadow Ben as he moved forward, like they're taught. Ben took a couple steps forward and the Pack cover guys took a couple steps towards Ben. Ben took a couple more, the Pack took more. Suddenly Ben flips the ball to a wide open Emmanuel Sanders, who suddenly found himself all by his lonesome, because Ben drew the coverage towards the scrimmage line. Ben played the coverage like a fiddle.
* Cameron Heyward is like The Terminator. He never quits. I mean it. Watch him as I did in the second quarter as he bull-rushed a "Beefalo" all the way back into the lap of Matt Flynn. Heyward then quickly turned and sprinted to Lacy to combine with a hitting-anything-that-moved Lawrence Timmons. The effort of both men held Lacy to a 5-yard gain.
* A sideline photographer was reprimanded by Suisham and moved out of the way so he could kick into his net on the sideline. It's a little cramped for space in Green Bay and the photog was slightly miffed. When he queried me as to who that was, at first I said, "Don't let the endangered species thing fool you man. He's Canadian. He's a born killer."
I don't think my Pittsburgh humor plays well in arctic climes.
* Tunch and I just jinxed Kelvin Beachum. Beach had been all over Clay Matthews up until this point in the game, and Tunch and I couldn't help but point out how Beach was handcuffing the rush master Matthews. Wouldn't you know, it a couple pass rushes later Matthews gets a sack.
Let me come to Beach's defense, though. He rush situation in which he and Foster had three guys to watch. The weak side rush linebacker was hovering just off the line and in between a down lineman and Matthews, who was on the end of the line outside of Beach. The Will was threatening the "B" gap and a possible twist stunt, which Beach had to honor by protecting the hip of Foster, who had a rush man over him. Beachum, at the snap of the ball, had to move slightly inside to make sure the linebacker didn't attack, and then come back outside to pick up Matthews, who already had a step and a half to the corner. Anthony Munoz couldn't have made that block.
* COOL CUSTOMER: Late in the second quarter, on a third-and-1, I heard "Bell! Bell!" Apparently, Le'Veon Bell was a little late to the huddle as he dashed from his full-length cape and a warm seat on the bench to the playing field. The clock was running and Ben leaned over to him and gave him last-second instructions. My heart was racing -- (I have this tendency to play out the play along with the guys) -- and my mind was screaming to call a timeout because this was too important a play to leave to chance. Bell looked, for all intents and purposes, like a guy who's never in a hurry. The ball was snapped and Bell calmly ripped off a beautiful first down run. He is something.
* PUMPS THEM UP! In the second half, Mike Tomlin came by the hogs and said, "You guys are rock stars! Let's get out there and fight for every blade of grass." You could see the fight rising up in the troops as they started to respond to Mike's urging by word and body language.
These are moments during a game when brothers-in-arms lock ‘n load together in a steel-forged act of will. Moments like these dominate my memories of battles, games, glories and agonies of yesteryear. I loved these moments. The old war horse in me snorts a little, and the hog DNA starts to rise in me along with these young men, until I have to bend over and tie my boot and realize I have to come up for air. Oh, well, but for a moment …
* Big Ben ran in to make the score 17-14, Steelers. Ben came to the sideline and the jubilation washed over the whole team. Mudville came alive as players threw aside capes, slapped high-fives, and coaches actually smiled and gave congratulatory hugs. The pressure of performance, the individual will becoming part of the collective whole, and the electricity that this game generates as it pulses and ripples up and down the sideline still thrills me to this day such as no other.
Forgive me if I repeat myself here, but my mother tells a story of me at the age of seven telling her emphatically that someday I would be a pro football player. I don't know why God put that into my heart at such a young age, but I am ever so grateful for that passion, and the opportunity to pursue that passion on and off the field.
* Bell put the ball on the ground and it was at a critical geographical location and time period. He stood on the sideline while the ref got under the hood and checked it out. The Jumbotron in Green Bay was re-playing the fumble over and over. Lev stood there, very stoic, a cape thrown over him, watching the board as if he's punishing himself by having to relive the moment, while Packers fans thunder from the stands.
Here's what's important though: There was no "awe shucks," or being a finger snapper as Coach Noll used to call them, from Bell. Finger snappers are guys who shrunk from their failures. Chuck was big about getting the job done, and when it got kai-boshed you stuck your chin out, manned-up and got it done the next time. But don't wallow and wail, or in today's words, "Never let them see you bleed." Bell was having none of that. When they reversed the decision, Bell calmly walked to the bench and took a seat.
* I TOLD YOU SO: On the next Steelers' possession, Bell ripped off a 25-yard run while going Roger Kingdom over a Packer defender in the process. No, he's no finger snapper. That's how you respond to adversity.
* After the free-for-all over the blocked field goal ended, and the post-play melee concluded with the officials getting it all wrong, Tomlin and special teams coach Danny Smith took turns arguing with the refs. Mike was hot, and deservedly so. I think the ref, Carl Cheffers, got a lump of coal in his stocking.
* CODY THE AGITATOR: You have to love Cody Wallace. Cody got B.J. Raji to go one more retaliation than he should have. It cost the Packers' nose tackle 15 yards, all because he couldn't restrain himself from taking a retaliatory shot at Wallace. Wallace had a Cat-that-ate-the-canary look on his face when he came to the sideline. Cody is one of those guys that you love when he's on your team, and hate if he's on another.
* Cortez Allen's pick-six just took all the air out of Lambeau Stadium. I have never seen Cortez smile as broadly as he did after scoring and heading back to the sideline for a love-fest with his fellow teammates. This is the Cortez Allen for whom everyone has been waiting.
* When Shamarko Thomas – a Syracuse man – raced across the John Facenda "Frozen Tundra" to track down Micah Hyde and temporarily save the day for the Steelers, I knew I would have to include this in my view from the sideline. After all, I am also a Syracuse man, and I just like the sound of "A Syracuse man" in my head when I write it. It beats referring to each other as a citrus fruit.
* The roar from the Green Bay faithful, swelling, full throttle at the snap, quickly turned into a groan as Flynn-to-Boykin hit the frozen tundra. Unlike the "Ice Bowl" of '67, when Bart Starr plunged over from the 1-yard line behind the blocks of Ken Bowman and Jerry Kramer to defeat the Dallas Cowboys at this very same end zone (I checked with the chain gang, they know everything), there would be no miracle finish for the Pack. But believe me, that was a very happy visitor's locker room at Lambeau. Even Jarvis Jones managed a weak post-game smile.