I recognized the large prairie mammal the moment the elevator doors slid open. Steelers G David DeCastro stepped in, pressed his desired floor destination, and on this game day kickoff of 2015, though we were still at the team hotel hours away from kickoff, I could see David was “Walking the Zone,” with that faraway look in his eyes that told me he was gathering his inner resources in preparation for what lay ahead.
We acknowledged each other’s presence like two cavemen, simply grunting at each other, forsaking small talk as I am now a “non-combatant,” and I understood where Dave was at. For the first time in a long time, I envied what David was about to do. There is a galvanizing strength that comes with walking into an overwhelming stadium full of haters like the “Death Star” of Gillette Stadium attempting to slay Darth Belichick and the Dark Side.
* Through the bedlam that roused the fury of the horde when Tom Brady led his minions onto the battlefield, I was informed that there had been preparations made should Judge Berman have ruled against Brady. The traditional pre-game ceremonial unfurling of the Super Bowl banner that crowns the home stadium of the reigning Super Bowl champs would not go up if Brady was on sabbatical. The alternate banner simply listed all of Brady’s accomplishments as a multi-Super Bowl MVP. The Patriots, I was told, would refuse to hang the championship banner until Brady was present and large and in charge of the Patriots offense.
* DeAngelo Williams looked like a young, young buck on the first Steelers drive. And he was getting a big-time push from the hogs up front. The “Big Ragu,” Ramon Foster, absolutely crushed a Patriots defender like the old pro wrestler Haystacks Calhoun. The Big Ragu locked up, got his ham-hocks into hammie overdrive and finished with the infamous Haystacks finisher called “The Big Splash.” Ragu’s block was as painful for the nameless, faceless Patriots DT as it sounds.
* Early on it was very apparent that Mike Tomlin was hot about something. Though I couldn’t connect anything on the field with what he was upset over, When Mike T is mad, you know it. Mike was after the officials about something, and I got the drift that not only had he warned the NFL previous to the game, but that whatever it was, it was happening already minutes into the first quarter.
* Well let’s see. Mike isn’t wearing his headset and there’s a confab of NFL officials huddled up behind the communications center that sits behind the bench area of the Steelers. I’m no rocket scientist, but I have suspicions of the Gillette gremlins attacking the headsets of the Steelers coaches as they are prone to do every time we’re in Gillette Stadium. Funny, I’ve never had any problems with my headset. They must be gremlin proof.
* Every time I think I’ve seen the best of Antonio Brown, he comes up with something spectacular to make you forget about the last spectacular catch or run. That out pattern with the wrap-around catch that included the helmet of the defender lit Tomlin’s eyes up like lasers, not to mention the roar from the bench. Antonio is one of a kind, to be sure.
* I am heartbroken for Cody Wallace. Cody knocked a guy down and then gored him. I mean an old-fashioned kick butt drive-by goring such as you’d see in Pamplona running down those narrow passageways with those guys in tight pants just ahead of four hooves, two horns and a heavy dose of pain. But he got flagged for it. A holding call. Horrible. Abuse of a corpse maybe, but there was no holding. Reminded me of the time we were playing the New York Football Giants at the old Meadowlands. Tunch Ilkin slammed Lawrence Taylor so hard on a pass rush the ref flagged him for holding. When Tunch protested the ref admitted that he hadn’t seen it, but said Tunch had to have been holding because “nobody slams Lawrence Taylor that easy without holding him.”
* Brady has the steel discipline of a Samurai. He will throw the checkdown/short-to-intermediate route over and over again. And just when you think one of the Steelers corners might jump a route, Brady goes long ball, like he just did to Julian Edelman for 18 yards. If Brady was an action movie star, he’d be Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter.
* Sometime in the second half the raucous hometown crowd began chanting “Where is Ro-ger!” referring of course, to the widely reported absence of NFL Commish Roger Goodell at the game. You surely can’t accuse the Beantowners of holding a grudge can you?
* Cortez Allen and Edelman blew right by me on the sidelines. Edelman had his right arm locked out and pinned Cortez’s arm to his side, essentially putting an “Arm-bar,” on Allen. Edelman blatantly interfered with Cortez, yet two, not one, but two flags were thrown in the end zone on Cortez.
* Though he didn’t rack up a sack, James Harrison’s presence was still felt. It’s too bad James can’t score points by slamming bodies. He slammed 6-8, 330-pound OT Nate Solder for the second time and gave him yet another “view of the sky.” James is a one-man mosh pit waiting for the music to start.
* When the Gronk got re-directed in the slot by Bud Dupree only to find himself wide open for a 52-yard gain, Dupree found himself on the sidelines next to Tomlin, who seemingly eviscerated the airspace next to Bud’s ear hole. Whilst not pointing the proverbial finger, I must say I’ve been there, Bud. Yes, another coach, another time, another stadium, but with the commonality of having been preceded by a mistake on the field. You should have been on the sidelines with me at Shea Stadium in New York back in the day while I tried to explain to Chuck Noll how I, an offensive lineman, could have lined up offside on a third-and-10. Seriously, I lined up offsides on a third-andd-10 because I was trying to short-set Jets DT Marty Lyons. “Well ya see Chuck, I was thinking …” Chuck looked at me like I had two heads just before the face-melt began.
* Markus Wheaton is getting his Antonio Brown on. That was vintage AB when Marcus snagged a gorgeous pass from Ben Roethlisberger over the top of an outstretched CB. Marcus toe-tapped his feet and dead-legged it all the way to the ground in a big-time display of body control better found at a local “Cirque du Soleil,” performance.
* Roosevelt Nix takes you back to the “Days of yore,” when fullbacks were really fullbacks and regularly dented the sternums of linebackers around the league. Rosey put a hit on Dont’a Hightower on a Will Johnson short-yardage run that I guarantee Hightower is feeling today. Tomlin liked it so much he came up to shake Nix’s hand. It was that good.
* I anticipated Williams representing himself well. I knew he was capable of having a good night and showing himself to be a veteran presence, mature and would hold down the fort until Le’Veon Bell returned. I didn’t know that he was still capable of racking up a five-star performance like he did. In any other city, with any other team and competing with any other back not named Lev Bell, there’s a RB controversy. Not here though.
* Yes the rain came intermittently all night long but it really wasn’t a factor -- except for my headset. It may be gremlin proof, but it ain’t waterproof.