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Steelers Radio Network sideline reporter with his must-read notebook

A glimpse of Miami heat and Dolphins desperation from the 'groundhog' level of a Steelers sideline reporter.

After dropping off some stuff in the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room, I headed to the field to tape a pre-game hit for Steelers TV with Tunch Ilkin and Bill Hillgrove. As I headed for the locker room doors, I noticed the IV trees, where they plug a player into an IV and fill him with a solution to alleviate cramps that players will get in hot weather. Back in the day, that would have spared me a trip to Key Biscayne hospital and an overnight stay. The technology to hydrate players at the stadium wasn’t readily available in my time. Riding in an ambulance listening to Calypso music as the attending EMT’s sang along and having a doctor at Key Biscayne ask me if I had done too much “yard work” to bring on that total body cramp from which I was suffering were the highlights of one trip to Miami as a player, but that’s a story for another time.

* The fans thronging in, around and throughout Hard Rock Stadium in Miami had an excited buzz in anticipation of the game. There were plenty of Steelers fans, and I knew this because I had gotten thoroughly lost after exiting the press box and attempting to find my way back to the field. In fact, I nearly ended up outside the gates of the stadium. Yes, I know, only someone like me, with a sense of direction inherited from my mom rather than my truck-driving dad, could possibly pull off a scenario in which I essentially “lock” myself out of a stadium full of people. Should have taken that as an omen of things to come.

* During the National Anthem, as I was standing at attention with my hand over my heart and toward the flag, a gentleman to the side of me backed away from a box-like structure on the sideline. He asked me to “Please move back.” I realized, almost a little too late, that he was the fireworks guy about to set off some serious in-Anthem fireworks, a la our dear Zambellis. Oh yeah, baby, I moved back. Funny how you don’t notice that stuff until suddenly you do.

* You know it’s hot when you see Steelers CB Artie Burns, a Miami native who played collegiately at the “U,” sucking down extra water in pre-game. Cramps, I hate 'em. I went over and slugged down a couple of Gatorades myself.

Le'Veon Bell must have some sort of GPS, or radar, going on in his head. He possesses the sensitivity of flying objects hurtling toward and around him like a bat, and he puts it to use. On a first-quarter screen pass in the flat, Lev took it and began his run down the field. It’s hard to put into words at groundhog level on the field how he non-rhythmically weaved his way for a short gain. The highlight was watching the proverbial “dead-leg” move he put on Kiko Alonso in which Alonso flailed madly at a stationary Lev Bell leg that was then no longer there, nor stationary. Stealth Mode.

* One of the unintended consequences of the safety-driven agenda in taking out helmet-to-helmet hits is players having to take drastic measures to avoid a penalty flag. Finding themselves in near-ballistic yoga postures due to twisting their bodies just prior to impact puts the defender in an awkward and more vulnerable position than the guys they are trying to defend. Mike Mitchell found himself in this very dilemma when Ryan Tannnehill tried to hook-up with Devante Parker on a post route in the first quarter. In “days of yore,” Parker would have had a huge, heaping, helping dose of pain dished out by the closing Mitchell. As it was, Mike, in breaking up the pass, hit Parker, and tried to do so without going el-flagrante on the NFL house rules. But because Mike pulled off and twisted, thereby avoiding a helmet-to-helmet, Parker dished out the worst of the blow and Mitchell had to leave with an injury to his lower body. And frankly, having a close-up look at this in real time, I’m surprised Mike wasn’t hurt worse.

* There was chippiness from the get-go by the Dolphins. As one of my former teammates, Ray Pinney, used to say, “There’s a reason they’re on scholarship, too.” Meaning the opponent, no matter the record, is in the league because he/they can play. All week long I’d been hearing about Dolphins coaches calling out their players. To a man. When you hear Vance Joseph, the DC of the Dolphins, saying that not only did Mario Williams need to play better, he needed to play harder, well you can bet the bear got poked.

* Watching all the last punch, push, what-have-you occur in numerous instances in the first quarter, I realized that this was not the same Dolphins team that had been hammered by the Tennessee Titans a week earlier. These guys were fighting mad. When Jason Jones sacked Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter and drew an unsportsmanlike penalty, I began to get that gnawing sensation in my gullet that this was going to be a long day.

* On the next play, Darrius Heyward-Bey went yard, 60 of them, on an end around, running over and then out-running the Dolphins. I chastised my gullet for getting overanxious. Surely this was the breakthrough the Steelers needed to be able to get the offensive juggernaut moving. Things were looking up as far as I was concerned.

* Poor Jesse James. Even in Miami the crowd exclaims, “Heeeeath.”

* Jay Ajayi had himself a monster on this day. But in the second quarter, Ajayi, running the stretch, found himself between a rock and a harder place. Outside linebacker Arthur Moats skillfully jacked the run-blocker coming at him in the chest with lockout power. Punching the 6-6, 307-lb OT Ja’Wuan James in the chest and keeping his arms locked out, Art kept his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage for a few steps before getting upfield on James by dropping his hips and using hamhock power to set the edge. Though the Steelers didn’t get their run-down “fits” nearly often enough on this day, the play unfolding in front of me was a beautiful example of each man doing his job and nothing more. When Deebo (James Harrison) crashed from the backside and drilled Ajayi to the ground for a loss, it gave you a deep appreciation for what it takes to play the run the right way -- every running play, week in and week out.

* Though there were few defensive highlights, there were many great defensive efforts. Throughout this game, as I moved about on the sidelines, there was never a loss of intensity nor desire that I could sense from the players. Fatigue did begin to build up in the second quarter, though. Quick screens and passes, which the Dolphins had not shown in previous games, had Steelers running and gassed. And with the Dolphins able to keep the ball for nearly 12:00 of the second quarter, players were going deep into their gas tanks. A pass from Tannehill to Damien Williams along the sideline provided a great look at high-intensity effort and people running the tank on empty. Vince Williams got the tackle, and while he was wrestling Williams to the ground, Jarvis Jones got over into the wrestling match as well and attempted to extract the ball from Damien. While this was going on, Javon Hargrave sprinted all the way over to get in on the ground-and-pound. All three showed great effort to put the lone Fish to the ground, and it was a good example again of team defense. Just not nearly enough to turn the tide. 
* And while the defense struggled to get off the field, the offense struggled to stay on the field. Yet there were individual snapshots of great-effort guys. Late in the first half, Maurkice Pouncey got locked up with MLB Alonso on a run play, and I’m here to tell you it was a beautiful example of what finishing a block looks like. Pouncey locked up, then locked onto, then finally drove Alonso into the turf so hard that Pouncey flew over the top of the prone Alonso. After rolling over on his backside, Maurkice let out a war-whoop and chest pound such that King Kong would have been proud. And I would have done the same thing had I driven somebody into the turf that hard.

* Damien Williams scored on a 1-yard run, and I noticed Lawrence Timmons throwing up just prior to the snap from his inside backer position. Matter of fact, the scene continued during the play and after the play. Even to the sideline. Yep, I moved on, to be sure.

* Just before the start of the second half, I heard a roar from the crowd. It could only mean one thing: Big Ben was going to give it a go. Roethlisberger came back onto the field and began to warm up. He was showing no sign of a limp (or the knee injury that will keep him out of the next game), but adrenaline only lasts for so long. And no matter how tough you are, the pain always comes.

Dan McCullers got the Steelers going with a great surge up the middle on a third-quarter FG attempt. I had been waiting for this. With such a huge wing span, the 6-8 Big Dan, got a push going and stuck that big ol' paw in the air and blocked it. But even so, just watching the cumulative fatigue level start to show up this early in the second half was alarming. You could see it in the eyes of the players as they came off the field. There were actually canvas coverings held over the heads of the players on the sideline to keep the sun off, but I will tell you it was hot.

* Still in the third quarter, Eli Rogers made a big grab on a ball thrown behind him on a third-down completion to keep the drive going for the Steelers. You could almost feel an audible groan of relief emanating from the defensive players at their end of the bench.

* Mike Pouncey got away with one. At least that’s the way it looked from here. Ajayi scored on a stretch from 1-yard out and Stephon Tuitt was bulldogged to the ground by the Dolphins center. It looked like Mike might've grabbed some cloth on Tuitt, and Mike Tomlin apparently felt that way. He certainly gave the officials an earful.

* Big Dan showed up on defense as well. In the fourth quarter he busted through the line on a Ajayi run. Mitchell came through first and had Ajayi by the legs. But Ajayi twisted around, freed himself, and came face to face with McCullers, who slammed Ajayi to the ground with such force that when he got to his feet, from my viewpoint, he wobbled for a second. Nobody intervened and it could simply be that I wasn’t seeing what I thought I was seeing. That nothing was wrong was seemingly confirmed by Ajayi running for 13 yards on the next play. It was that kind of day for the Steelers.


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