Craig Wolfley with notes, quotes, anecdotes from Steelers' win

Steelers sideline reporter Craig Wolfley with Veterans Day shoutouts and more from the Steelers' win over the Raiders.

I love the Pittsburgh Steelers' Salute to Service, which honors our brave and courageous military community. Ceremonies were held before and during game against the Oakland Raiders. Many veterans from all branches of the Armed Forces were honored. I actually had the privilege of shaking hands with an amazing man who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima. Anything, any honor or award I have ever won during my years, paled and turned to dust in the moment of shaking this incredibly courageous man’s hand. It is because of men and women such as these, who walked into the stadium on this day, that we are able to enjoy Sunday’s festivities. It certainly gives you pause, and encourages one to take the time to reflect how blessed we are in this country. And say thank you.

* During the singing of the National Anthem, I couldn’t help but notice the deep pride and strong military salute performed by all the veterans. Whether young or old, male or female, one has to believe that the National Anthem, as profound as it is for all those who have never had to lay their lives on the line, means so much more to those who have fought wars in the name of freedom. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. When I meet a man or woman who has served in the Armed Forces, I am humbled as a man. Their service to our country is something I will never know. When I meet a man or woman who has fought in combat, I am diminished as a man, for their courage and valor is something I will never know either.
 
* The “You” game, or a T-E twist on a pass rush, has been giving the Steelers' line, and specifically the left side of the line, fits the last several games. Alejandro Villanueva and Ramon Foster have had a few burps in getting on the same level, or hip to hip as we used to say. The penetrator attacks the “B” gap in between the Big Ragu and Al, and if he hits the gap between the two, the protection is severely compromised. So on the initial third down I got into position so I could watch and see if the Raiders would, first of all, run the twist, and then if Al and Big Ragu have been able to get it fixed. Sure enough, as my former coach, Chuck Noll, told me so many years ago when I struggled with the exact same rush that got me benched two or three times in one night in Miami so many years ago, “They will run it until you shut it down.” Al and the Big Ragu shut it down this time.

* Cameron Heyward and his wife together welcomed a new life into the world the day before the Raiders game. When that happens to a young player, there is an almost indescribable joy which you cannot help but exude. I remember an always-scowling, ornery game-day Jon Kolb giddy-ish and laughing pre-game on the day his son Tanner was born while we were in Cleveland. Jon played the game and then made it to the hospital in time to be there for the birth. I had my first child Megan on a Tuesday before a Sunday game, and it changes you and your perspective on life and the game itself. So watching Cam take the field and play hard like he always does, knowing that after the game he’d be heading back to the hospital to see his wife and son, I had the feeling that he was propelled by forces other than the game itself. He’s a father now. There is a difference.

* Welcome back, Stephon Tuitt. It only took a series or two for Stephon to make his presence felt. Playing with a cumbersome knee brace, Tuitt locked out on humunganoid (highly technical term for humongous lineman, 6-7 330 before breakfast fits the bill I’d say) J’Marcus Webb, then disengaged and stuffed Latavius Murray like a pimento olive for no gain. To have the power in your body to hold up a massive human like Webb, hold the point, locate the ball carrier and then throw the grizzly bear sized Webb aside to make the play is impressive to say the least. Back in the 16th and 17th century in Russia, until it was outlawed in 1648 by special decree by Tsar Alexis Romanov, Russian bear wrestling was a popular sport. I think Stephon would have done well back in the day. Just saying.

* Near the end of the first quarter, Ben Roethlisberge went downtown to Antonio Brown on a 59-yard go route. If a young WR wants to learn the finer points of a go route, this play should be his go-to example. Head down, driving forward with all his might, Antonio got up on the defender to finally lift his head and locate the ball at the last second. Superb aerial wizardry in all ways.

* I’ve been around some world class hits in my day, but when Rosey Nix went cowabunga on Lorenzo Alexander on a kickoff and totally crushed him about 15 yards away from me on the sideline, I must say I stood in awe. So did the “Ohhh” from the crowd that saw it. Taiwan Jones downed the ball in the end zone, but just before he did Nix eviscerated Alexander with a hit that will be in the conversation for best hit of the year. When Alexander got to his feet, he did the former Steelers DE Keith Willis “Ginny-goo-goo” dance, Keith’s metaphor of someone who got hit so hard that when they walked away from the hit they looked like a marionette puppet.

* Taiwan Jones ran the ball towards the sidelines for a 1-yard gain sometime in the first half, about five yards from me. Antwon Blake closed on his prey and served up a heaping healthy dose of ballistic Blake barbarism in the form of a tackle that knocked the ball loose and out of bounds. I was so close to the hit I felt the crunch in my bones. I could see the expression on Taiwan's face at the moment of impact, and it was the face of PAIN. Watching that hit up close was just another reason for me to celebrate being retired from the game.

* While the officials were measuring for a Steelers first down, Marcus Gilbert began waving for Ben on the sidelines to hustle back to the huddle, thinking the time clock was running. Ben, putting his hands out in  a “just chill,” gesture calmed everybody down by pointing out that the Steelers were going to let the two-minute warning kick in. I always found it useful to leave the “ciphering” in the hands of people who don’t lead with their helmets on game day.

* That was some powerful “Big Al” hamhocks driving Raiders DT Mario Edwards to the Heinz Field turf when DeAngelo Williams pounded the pigskin into the end zone just before halftime. Al then proceeded to bench press himself off Mario, you know, just to remind Mario who the top dog was.

* On a Murray first-half run, Tuitt showed up in the intended run hole, so Murray tried to reverse his field. Blake, disguising his blitz intentions while coming in off of the slot WR, drilled Murray and brought him down. Blake, ever the combative CB and about as subtle as a frying pan to the forehead, showed some real “sugar” capabilities in camouflaging his real intentions. Kudos, Antwon.

* Mike Mitchell picked up a fumble from Murray after Ryan Shazier blasted Murray on the sidelines. The ball lay close to the out-of-bounds lines and Mitchell tried to slip back in and get both feet down on the fly as he sprinted into the end zone. Obviously the officials went under the hood to review and knew at once Mike didn’t get both feet back in bounds before snatching up the ball. During the review, I could see Mike Tomlin calming Mitchell, who made a bang-bang play and thought he got his feet down, or close enough that it wouldn’t be overturned. It was overturned and the Raiders got the ball. Say what you want about Mitchell, but he’s starting to remind me of another great Steeler of years past, Donnie Shell. Mitchell is putting fear back into the middle of the field for the wideouts. And doing it without drawing flags. I’m a fan. By the way, Donnie Shell SHOULD absolutely be in the Hall of Fame, just in case you’ve never heard or read that in the million or so times I have said or written it. Just saying.

* Nix can’t help but blast people. Running as if his life depended on it, Nix beat his man to the intercept point on a kickoff in the fourth quarter to light up Taiwan again like it was Light Up Night in the ‘Burgh, and Jones coughed up the ball. I have played on all the special teams in my pro career. The kickoff team takes a special sort of courage (or craziness) because of the high velocity hits that accompany each return of the kick, whether you’re the hitter or the hit-ee. Of course it is better to give than receive, but either way it’s going to leave a mark in the morning.
 
* Just an observation, but that was Chris Boswell kicking off, his first real job in the NFL. Rookie Nix knocked the ball loose, rookie Anthony Chickillo recovered it and then rookie Jesse James caught the touchdown pass to conclude that scoring sequence. It’s nice to see the young people making big plays.

* Raiders defender Taylor Mays covered and (in my most humble opinion) interfered with Heath Miller on a pass play in the fourth quarter. Mays seemed to sheepishly help Heath to his feet, a dead giveaway that Mays thought he had drawn a flag for pass interference. Not so, despite howling protests from the Heinz Field crowd. I’ve spent 26-plus years on the field or sidelines, and body language is a skill you pick up after awhile. Mays thought he had fouled Heath for sure.

*Its déjà vu all over again, as the late, great Yogi Berra once said. Roethlisberger got on the cart just as Le'Veon Bell had the week before and the Heinz Field faithful looked stunned as if they couldn’t believe that lightning had struck twice to the same unit on consecutive weekends. The look on Doc Bradley’s face as he rode shotgun next to Ben was pretty much the same look he had the week before while riding shotgun for Bell.

* There were loads of players and coaches all around Landry Jones as he buckled his chinstrap and huddled with Todd Haley and Tomlin on the sidelines. As I watched Landry, there was a calm about him and his demeanor that spelled one thing missing from his first game action against the Cardinals: Landry is a vet now. He’s been there, done that in relief successfully, and moreover the people around him obviously believe he's capable. Things have really changed for Landry over the course of the season. Couldn’t happen to a finer young man.

* Watching the sidelines erupt as Brown capped a record-setting performance with a 57-yard catch and run from Landry was one of those indescribably joyous moments when there aren't any words that adequately capture the moment. Just watch the replay at home and enjoy.
       
* Wash, rinse and repeat for Boswell’s game-winning kick.


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