Rematches with the Ravens always seem to be an event, one that is certainly not to be missed.
Evening the score has just as much to do with it as getting a leg up on the rest of the division. When AFC North powerhouses such as the Steelers and Ravens proceeded to start their engines in the week run-up to a “Two trains one track” showdown played out on a national stage before a national audience, that featured the retirement of the number of the most revered Steelers player of all-time, well let’s just say it has the potential of a simultaneous happening and reckoning.
It was all that and more.
* Star power abounded on the sidelines during pre-game warm-ups. From Franco Harris to Mel Blount, Andy Russell, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, Army Generals and Navy Admirals, on a Salute to Veterans night, it was so very hard to describe the hum of anticipation that was pulsating through the crowd.
* Gadzooks, somehow the Turk up in the booth has got to get a grip on this mojo thing. It all started years ago when Tunch spoke of “Bad things happen on a re-kick” to Ricardo Colclough following a penalty against the New England Patriots. That re-kick resulted in a fiasco that turned the game for the Patriots. When Tunch started talking about WR Torrey Smith and how QB Joe Flacco liked to go deep to Smith in plus territory, I knew we were in trouble. Sure enough a play or so later, it’s Flacco and Smith going bombs away on a 35-yard touchdown. Zip it, Chalooch. You gotta zip it.
* Maurkice Pouncey is nasty, oh yeah. Playing with a little nasty behind superb athletic skills gets you some nice trips, like Hawaii, except of course for the fact that this year’s Pro Bowl will be played in Phoenix. Too bad the NFL can’t seem to leave well enough alone.
* Early on in the first quarter, Le'Veon Bell banged it up inside for a modest gain while Pouncey was locked in a titanic struggle with DT Brandon Williams. Kind of like watching King Kong have a go with a T-Rex. Pouncey had the inside hand position locked on, and as the two struggle for leverage superiority Bell flashed by. When Williams reached for Bell his fate was sealed as “King Kong” Pouncey sensed the moment when Williams was at his weakest and accelerated his feet and focused his power. One could easily have imagined the earth moving as Williams was driven into the Heinz field turf with an intentional ferocity that became the recurring theme of the night. Great googly moogly. And to think I actually get paid to watch this stuff.
* Speaking of King Kongs and T-Rexes, maybe the mightiest of them all, James Harrison, got under Baltimore Birdies (in Cope-speak) OT Eugene Monroe. Monroe just had a knee scoped not too long ago. While a very athletic LT, Monroe isn't built with the underpinning’s of Harrison. James is ham hock heavy with superb “under and up” Chuck Noll-ism leverage and power and uses all of it to bull, thrash and then trash Joe Flacco for a 6-yard loss on a sack. The Steelers have been missing James’ pass-rush power like a front tooth.
* I know I’m old. I know that short-set pass-pro has gone the way of bell bottoms, clogs and 8-track tapes. Still, I can’t help but think that Marcus Gilbert would totally mess up Elvis Dumervil with a short set. Vertical sets (moving backwards giving ground in concert with the rest of the line) rather than forcing your man into a closet for a little close-quarter combat is biding time rather than staking a claim to dominance over turf. Yet I would love to see Marcus get his 6-6, 330 pound power unleashed in a phone booth with the 5-11, 253 pound Dumervil and see what would happen. My money’s on Marcus.
* Arthur Moats got the crowd going when the Pittsburgh “O” found itself going backwards on back-to-back-to-back sacks and punted deep from its own end in the second quarter. The crowd, wild and wooly at the start of the game, had found itself floundering in the wake of the Ravens' 7-0 lead and the offense resembling more the offense that ran aground in Baltimore. Moats forced the fumble off Ravens rookie RB Lorenzo Taliaferro and Brice McCain scooped it up for a chunk return to bring the Heinz Field faithful back from the land of sitting on their hands. Blues guitar maniac Stevie Ray Vaughn had a hit single back in the day called the “The House is Rocking,” with his band Double Trouble, and it well could've been written about Heinz Field at this particular moment.
* I’ve heard of various forms of trifectas. From horse racing finishes to football plays such as sack, fumble, and touchdown. But for the life of me I can’t ever recall seeing a trifecta of penalties on the same team on one play by three different players. Defensive holding, roughing the passer and horse-collar tackling were all chronologically called. Is there anything I forgot on that play?
* After Markus Wheaton scored on a beautiful pass from Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin walked up the sideline with a satisfied smile playing on his face and a demeanor that said, “See, I told you it would work.” Watching and sometimes listening to Mike coach a game is almost as interesting as watching the game itself because the two are so uniquely intertwined. The man lives in the moment like few others.
* Late in the second quarter, the Heinz Field crowd reached another stage of roaring, almost as if they were sensing the oncoming moment when it would pay homage to the man who turned the tide and fortunes of the Pittsburgh Steelers. As the halftime proceedings were being staged, and the celebrant's family, friends and former teammates began arriving on the sideline, the electricity started to rise against the backdrop of an all-in Steelers Nation that was rooting today’s heroes on. There’s little in my vocabulary that can properly translate what heightened sense of anticipation permeated the field and the vocal landslide that accompanied the walkout of Joe Greene, who made his entrance onto the field. The crowd was literally pressing forward from every part of the stadium, as apparently no one left their seat at halftime. Emotions ran long and deep, high and wide. Stunning in his simplicity, as overwhelming as his presence is in any room he’s ever walked into, "Mean" Joe may be legend, but he’s no myth. Few men can capture a moment like he captured this one, and the power of his formidable persona and what he accomplished on the field cannot, will not, be measured alongside mere mortals. Franco Harris said it best when he said that the number 75 was not just Joe’s number, it was our number, all of us, his teammates, great and small. Every one of us, from the Hall of Famers to all of us not so Hall of Famers, were capsulized and represented by Joe Greene’s number 75, and he is our champion. Joe became, on this night, a one man solar eclipse. Such was the impact of this very special man, Joe Greene, upon all who attended the game on this very special night.
* Just before the presentation got into full swing, lo and behold Tomlin came out early from halftime along with Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward. Mike moved into the inner circle along with the other Hall of Famers while Cam and Brett took up post just outside of it. A great tribute by Mike, Cam and Brett in paying their respects to a great man on an action-filled night.
* Emotions ran hot in the first half and only got hotter in the second. Gilbert got into a tussle with his arch-nemesis Dumervil. The combatants were separated and as referee Bill Vinovich ushered Marcus back to his “corner” after the bell had rung, I could see Vinovich mouthing the words “use your head” to Marcus. It's so easy to say, but oh so tough to do when you are in the heat of the moment. When you are in that state of frenzied mind on a search and destroy mission, pulling off on a punch, a kill shot, or a blindside facial readjustment is nearly impossible to do. My old line coach, Ron Blackledge, constantly preached that an offensive lineman had to be “cool in the head and hot in the heart.”
* I know Terrell Suggs loves to play the villain when he locks it up with the Steelers. He looked to go a tad over the line on a hit to the backside of LeGarrette Blount. Where’s that guy on TV with the funny glasses who says “He can judge intention with super-slow motion replay?” Matt Spaeth played the “equalizer” and gave Suggs a good goring a play or so later as was deserved. Suggs deep down knows it, too. What goes around comes around. It’s the Jack Kerouac “meat wheel” of NFL life.
* Trapping the hands of an onrushing defensive lineman is a technique that came into vogue during my playing days. I myself wasn’t too keen on it because if a guy locked up on me, I was going to work my hands to the inside and lock him up. It was like stand-up grappling. That was second nature to me, I was born a phone booth fighter. Tunch, playing on the outside, developed the ability to trap, or knock down the hands of a pass-rusher, repeatedly frustrating great players like Charles Mann and the great Reggie White. Tunch worked some in the off-season with Kelvin Beachum, who just destroyed Ravens DT DeAngelo Tyson with a hand trap so good Tyson found himself face-planting and eating Heinz Field turf. Well played Beach, well played.
* After Antonio Brown’s catch and TD run in the fourth quarter, AB came over to the sidelines with the ball in his hands. He was greeted by Ike Taylor and they had some post-touchdown sideline fun but I enjoyed staring over Ike’s shoulder into the eyes of Antonio. AB’s eyes more resembled a laser-like particle accelerator and I swear he could have vaporized me with those eyes had he looked my way. There is some serious focus and intensity behind those eyes.
* Well, if Suggs wanted to re-establish his role as a hated Heinz Field villain, he surely succeeded. After chasing Bell on a play to the sideline, that entire side of the stadium began chanting Suggs’ name derisively. The fans pulled a Ben Dreith and began giving Suggs “the business,” Heinz Field style.
* If Heinz Field wasn’t in a heightened state of hysteria near the end of the game, it got there when the Jumbotron went dark and the Steelers unleashed an all-Joe Greene Renegade video. It was a fitting, final salute to the greatest of the great Steelers, one Mean Joe Greene.