The Monday Night Football music theme echoed throughout the cavernous FedExField whetting the appetite of every fan already in the stadium, and certainly, like me, just adding to the surge of adrenaline. My anticipation for the start of the season grew with each repeat rendition of the MNF theme music.
The growing crowd began to swell in numbers as they came in from the parking lots and tailgating sessions that had begun hours earlier in earnest, as far as I could tell, when our buses drove in to the stadium. It looked like a Grillers convention such was the smoke coming from the tailgate lots and I had a thought they might have to send in the smokejumpers to put out some of the grills they were packed so tightly together. With big stages come big-time performers and the big stage in our nation’s capital would not disappoint.
* Actor Matthew McConaughey of film fame such as The Wedding Planner and The Lincoln Lawyer made an appearance ringside during the pre-game warmups. All I wanted to hear from him was, “All right, all right, all right … Gentleman, start your ENGINES!”
* Maury Povich showed up while I was chilling out on the Pittsburgh Steelers bench while both teams were warming up and then I got to talk to the Commish, Roger Goodell, who was walking down the sidelines. And no, despite being a Jamestown, New York native, he still hasn’t been to the Lucille Ball Film festival or museum. Tsk, tsk. C’mon, you know I had to ask.
* I also happened to run into Antwaan Randle El on the sidelines. He had attended a Steelers Nation Unite function the night before and it was so very good to see him. He single handedly got me home from Mexico City this past off-season, navigating me through the complex computer check-in procedures at the airports along the way. But that’s another story.
* The intensity continued to swell as kickoff approached. Players all around me wore serious, now it’s for-real looks etched upon their faces.
* Every single member of the Steelers stood at attention for the National Anthem. The giant flag that covered the field was held on the edges by service members from all the Armed Forces. And DHB (Darrius Heyward-Bey), displaying characteristic class and integrity as he has since checking in as a Steeler, went out of his way to fist-bump all the folks from the Armed Forces holding the flag on the Steelers sidelines.
* Speaking of great American Heroes, I stepped onto the elevator to go up to the press box, turned around and had the pleasure of meeting and shaking the hand of former Seal Team 6 member Rob O’Neill. Yes, the man who killed Bin Laden. Awesome man.
* In first-quarter action, when Ross Cockrell dropped the easiest pass interception opportunity of his young, fledgling career, I happened to be standing nearby. The look and sardonic smile that creased Ross’ face betrayed the incredulity that he had to be feeling as he laid upon the turf. It was only after a couple of moments, as Ross lay there, that I noticed the look on Mike Tomlin’s face. As did Ross. I’m thinking Mike had to be feeling a touch of incredulity as well. Not to mention Ross looking up and catching a look of Mike looking at him.
* Later in the first quarter, Wash 'Skins CB Bashaud Breland grabbed a tipped ball away from Eli Rogers, and started a thundering herd down the sideline right toward me. As bodies began to fly from blocks and whatnot, I was making sure to keep moving, looking for the photographers along the sidelines. They are true professionals, those folks will hang in there right to the end to get the shot they’re looking for. They provide perfect cover. Just sayin' …
* In the second quarter Antonio Brown caught a pass and the ball was stripped from AB, and it went to review for a replay after Jay Gruden threw a challenge flag. In bang-bang real time, it looked to be an incomplete pass according to the rules. But back in the days when I played, that was a fumble. So as we stood around waiting on the Ref to get under the hood and commiserate with New York, I started watching Tomlin. When the Ref came out and announced it as an incomplete pass, the smile on Mike’s face was a “knew it all along” smile.
* Tunch Ilkin had adequately described the first quarter offense as “ragged” and lacking rhythm. Ragged and rhythm-less quickly became whit-hot offense when Big Ben gave the undisclosed visual/mental telepathy sign to AB on the very next play on a fourth-and-1 from the Washington 29. Single man-press coverage, one-high safety sitting out in center field, go baby, and he did. AB and Ben combined for six points on a beauty of a long ball and 29 yards later it was a symphony of head slaps.
* Still second quarter, the Redskins ran a 4-trap, which has LG Shawn Lauvao, all 6-3, 326 pounds of moving mass, pulling to his right and turning up into the 4-hole. Ryan Shazier and his 6-1, 230 lbs. found himself face-to-face with the much bigger and hostile Hog. Ryan deftly slipped under and inside the hefty hoofer and made a play on the RB for a short gain. An excellent play by Ryan.
* Third-quarter action further displayed Shazier’s amazing athleticism. He’s just beginning to scratch the surface of his abilities. Earlier in the week, Tunch talked about listening to Tomlin coach up Ryan during practice, and how Shazier needed to get to the deepest point of his zone drop in pass coverage and just read the QB and react. Don’t anticipate, just react. He did. With a beauty of an INT which also saw some of Ryan’s quick-twitch running skills on the runback. Ryan walked past me on the sideline after the play was over and his lips were purple from a lack pf oxygen. Man, that’s getting the job done!
* AB did it again. Third-and-2 from the 26, Breland was prone on the turf after Ben and AB got together on another go route with a safety over the top. AB started to dance and a couple guys ran in to join the celebration, one being youngblood Rogers. A flag came out and DHB, serving as senior mentor, grabbed Eli to talk to him about excessive celebration and the cost of getting caught up in the emotion of the moment. But "after further review,” apparently Antonio over-Elvised himself and got Ed Sullivan-ed with a flag.
* In the fourth quarter Redskins QB Kirk Cousins rolled out and pulled up, nailing a pass to Jamison Crowder, who's so quick it’s been said, “You could put him in a phone booth and still not lay a hand on him.” Mike Mitchell proved that wrong. Though Crowder caught a 16-yard pass that was a textbook open-range classic tackle that dropped Crowder in his tracks.
* When James Harrison intercepted Cousins in the end zone to end the game, I don’t think anybody thought that was a clean INT and it would be reviewed. But that turned out to be wrong. Not that it was an incomplete pass, no, the consensus on the sidelines was that no official wanted to be the one to tell Deebo it was an incomplete pass.