I was sitting on the bench along the Pittsburgh Steelers sideline during the pre pre-game period when "Barefoot Ross" Cockrell came out to loosen up a little and take in the atmosphere with assistant coach Terry Cousins. That's when a wave of thoughts and memories washed over me, and on this Thanksgiving Day, so special in this country, I realized I am so thankful for My God, my wife, my six children and my four grandchildren (still waiting on the fourth to arrive!). I am so thankful that at the age of 58 I still have access to the best seat in the house along the sidelines and I am most humbly grateful and privileged to stay so close to the game I have loved since, at the age of 7, I told my mom I was "going to be a pro football player someday." I have so very much for which to be thankful.
* Yeah, and thankful that the Thanksgiving Day massacre of 1983, which Tunch and I were a part of, losing 45-3 to the Detroit Lions in the old Pontiac Silverdome, is nothing but a slightly painful memory. Highlights of that day included WR Robbie Martin (cut by the Steelers) returning a punt for a Lions TD; RB Billy Sims not sticking his foot in the ground but leaping and planting it on the helmet of Jack Lambert and cutting off the head of Jack Splat (I saw the cleat marks on Jack’s helmet) and running for a huge gain; and an impassioned halftime speech from Keith Willis urging everybody to “not take the easy way out,” or let bumps and bruises be an “injury” to get you out of the game. No sooner did we take the field in the second half when on the first play from scrimmage Keith pulled his hamstring and was out of the game.
* He really did suffer the injury. It was that kind of day.
* And, hey, we took the bus from the Silverdome to the wrong airport after the game. We did arrive at the right airport in time to find that our plane wouldn't start. And there wasn't a mechanic to be found in all of Detroit or the surrounding cities. So a plane that DID fly was dispatched to pick up a mechanic in a neighboring state. Our plane was fixed and we settled in comfortably until news spread that the mechanic was not only from Cleveland but a Browns fan. At that point I turned to Tunch and asked, "What else can go wrong?” He replied, “We aren’t even in the air yet.”
* On my way to the Indy press box, I had the joy of crossing paths with a former coach with the Steelers during my era, Tony Dungy. He was there with his boys and on hand to receive his Hall of Fame ring alongside WR great Marvin Harrison (a Syracuse man by the way). Always a pleasure to hug up Tony Dungy. Far be it from me to throw accolades at him, though. He needs none from me. His life’s work speaks for itself.
* With Cameron Heyward watching from the sideline, replacing Cam "by committee” was an imperative. Javon Hargrave, Ricardo Mathews and Dan McCullers all needed to raise their game a notch or two and contribute significant reps to beat the Colts on this day. With Stephon Tuitt turning into the monster that ate Cleveland, and taking the necessary steps to become a leader in Cam’s on-the-shelf shoes, the aforementioned fellas needed to step forward. And they did. On the first third-and-5, Hargrave sniffed out a Colts screen to RB Robert Turbin. Javon locked out on the OG, watched as Turbin released to the flat, and stalked him before pouncing on Turbin like a massive lion taking down a gazelle. It was like watching an episode of “Wild Kingdom.”
* From the shotgun, Ben Roethlisberger took the snap and gave an underneath handoff to Le'Veon Bell, who broke outside to his left and sprinted laterally along the 5-yard line. I witnessed the perfect juxtaposition of Ben raising his arms to signal TD while Bell was still in a full-on sprint, five yards out, to out-leverage the second-level containment. Ben predicted correctly as Lev scored easily.
* Well, Big Ben went 25 yards and “yard” as he hooked up with Antonio Brown for a TD. Bell then hooked up with Antonio to get a little dancing in after the TD, which drew a flag for choreography. Later on, after AB scored his second TD, and Lev came over to congratulate him, AB pulled Lev to the sideline, where they danced. That brought no flag from the No-Fun-League officials.
* Mojo was moving from the Steelers to the Colts after a Scott Tolzien-to-Donte Moncrief TD pass cut the score to 14-7. The Steelers found themselves in a third-and-13 hole with the tide turning behind the frenzied Colts crowd. Ben faced a stiff and hostile blitz, backpedaled away and aired out a beautiful pass to the “Ferrari,” Ladarius Green, who gained 32 yards. The Steelers went on to score, making it 21-7, and I can’t tell you how big it was for the Steelers to throw a bucket of ice water on that burgeoning Colts bonfire.
* Mike Mitchell seemingly has solved the riddle of modern-era “no shots to the head” slobberknockers. Last week, Mike laid out a couple of Browns, and this week it was T.Y. Hilton. Mike hit T.Y. so hard that Terrelle Pryor, last week’s victim, may have felt it. It was a beautiful de-cleater that nobody could have penalized, yet it captured all of the elements of the big-time hits from days of yore. Everybody had to lie around for a while after the monster hit to make sure all body parts were checking in, but all participants (including Lawrence Timmons) eventually got up and back to business. Later on, Hilton was parked for the night, but thankfully the injury was described by Colts Coach Chuck Pagano as a contusion.
* With a third of the field to cover and only one yard standing between his prey and paydirt, Steelers safety Sean Davis squared up to take on a scrambling Tolzien, who tried to shake Davis out of his shoes. Davis came up instead and dropped Tolzien like a bad habit. It was a great display of open-field tackling, which, at least in the context of blitzing the passer, had been a bit problematic for Davis. Not so here.
* To this point in the third quarter, Hargrave has been physically manhandling not only the rookie starting center for the Colts but also his injury replacement. The replacement, Jonothan Harrison, periodically looked like he was taking orders at Sonic, complete with roller skates on. Though Javon is susceptible to double-teams, he’s had little trouble whipping men mano-y-mano. Javon stays alive in the play with his feet, uses his hands well and has serious ham-hock power. He’s growing week by week, and, though I’m never going to say that missing Heyward is advantageous, Hargrave is going to accelerate his rookie development because of the extra reps.
* Speaking of which, Hargrave just sacked Tolzien. The most surprising element wasn’t that he caught Tolzien from behind, nor that he beat two offensive linemen to do it, but that the 6-2 Hargrave actually beat 6-6 LG Jack Mewhort with a swim (arm-over pass-rush technique) move.
* It’s good to see Bud Dupree back in action. Late in the third quarter, Bud came around on a twist stunt as the trailer and roared up the middle, leaping and giving Tolzien a face full of furious linebacker antagonism. He didn’t get the sack on the fourth-down play at the goal line, but he sure got Tolzien’s attention after Bud showed him the ceiling of the Lucas Oil Stadium.
* We witnessed a case of former nose tackle-on-present nose tackle violence. In the fourth quarter, Bell ran inside behind Maurkice Pouncey and Rosey Nix. Maurkice stood up David Parry -- the 6-2, 310-pound run-stopping Colts NT -- and fullback Nix came flying inside to lead up on the linebackers. Parry caught a flying Nix full on, and was driven to the ground by the former college NT. Now, to be truthful, I’m always trying to watch whenever and wherever Nix plays. It’s like watching a guy’s-night-out movie. There’s usually an explosion, a big crash somewhere, bodies flying, unnecessary violence and some sort of pugilism, followed by a big smile at the end. Always entertaining.
* Tolzien attempted to again run the ball into the end zone after previously getting stuffed by Davis. Mitchell turned him back this time, preventing Tolzien from scoring from two yards out with a crunching hit. That made Tolzien 0 for 2 against Steelers safeties in ground attacks.
* Later in the fourth quarter, Mitchell snagged a Tolzien pass and tried to wake up the echoes of the running back in him from high school glory days. While the return was going on, play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove described the return as “perambulating.” The definition of perambulating is “walking or traveling around a place or area especially for pleasure and in a leisurely way.” Billy, of course, was just having fun with Mike’s return, which was a huge, huge play in getting the win.
* Mitchell wasn’t about to end on a perambulating note. After William Gay plucked another Tolzien pass in the fourth quarter, both Will and Mitch gave some of the photographers a Kodak moment with a mannequin challenge freeze frame.
* While I was hanging out at the locker room door, Big Ben came by with a turkey leg, I’m assuming from the broadcast crew, a la John Madden and his infamous “Terducken.” He didn’t offer me a bite. And on Thanksgiving no less. Sheesh.