They were visited by the lowly Detroit Lions the fateful opening day and after that game were never the same team again.
Barry Sanders, on an innocent looking screen pass, juked All-Pro Rod Woodson's knee right out of its socket and thus the Steelers' best defensive player for the past 5+ years was out for the season. Adding insult to injury, Neil O'Donnell, firmly entrenched as the starter, broke his ring finger. And if it hadn't been for a pure miracle, the Steelers #2 quarterback, would have been down for the count after a punishing, highlight reel, cranium-crushing sack.
O'Donnell would return 4 weeks later, but the Steelers would struggle through the first 7 weeks of the season, unable to find an identity or a leader to get them to the other "sunny" side of the street while they moped on the dark side of the road.
Incredibly, it took a 22-yard, 4th down touchdown pass to Ernie Mills and a jaw-dropping 50-yard field goal to send a pivotal contest against Chicago into overtime. The Steelers would go on to win the game and that one match turned their season around. But it didn't have to be like that.
Injuries are sadly part of the game. They are even worse when they take place outside of the football field. Anyone remember Justin Strzelczyk?
But, the Steelers must find a way to get past these types of tragedies. The Minnesota Vikings weren't ever able to fully deal with the death of Korey Stringer. That, with the coupling fact that they had no running game or defense, propelled the Vikings to an awful season.
The Steelers don't have the type of deficiencies that the Vikings had. They don't have an awful defense or stagnant running game. Therefore they have no excuse to start the season on a losing note.
Last season, I often voiced my displeasure with the mental toughness of the team. I felt that they were unable to ride the wave of expectation that they were bequeathed. However, the playoffs proved that the Steelers in a losing effort had bound together as team and were ready for almost any obstacle. The hope was that this mentality would push forward into the next season.
Well, that "next" season is here and the obstacles are just starting to appear, Kendall Simmons, Brett Keisel, and now Joey Porter. I think the last thing Porter wants to see is his defense and team crumble without his presence. Talk about a guilt trip.
Therefore, the Steelers need to take the high road. This team has too much talent to consider itself in any danger of losing its rightful place as an elite team in the NFL. However, we will see if the Steelers have the mental toughness to be in the elite.
This season the Steelers have no "gimme" games, sans Arizona at home, no matter what the odds-makers say. They can't afford to hit the game in Denver with a losing record. So, it'll take a supreme mental toughness to defeat the Baltimore Ravens. One that I'm convinced they gained and have maintained throughout the off-season.
For the new viewers to the site, the "Apple Pix-Six" will list the six most important matches of the week, not including the Pittsburgh Steeler contest (see the GOTW rules in the July 9th Wednesday Apple Pie). After this week, there will be an additional section briefly recapping the previous wee'ks "Pix-Six".
- (GOTW) Tampa Bay at Philadelphia: For the first time, the Super Bowl champs don't play at home in Week 1. My question is why? So Philadelphia can open their new stadium on national television? When did Philadelphia earn that right? Oh…right, I forgot, its not about earnings, but money. All of this hoopla and Tampa should still win.
- Oakland at Tennessee: And another slap in the face to those who win, as the AFC Champions play on the road in the second of two rematches. I wouldn't be surprised if the Raiders win this one too.
- New England at Buffalo: The road to the AFC East crown starts in Orchard Park and the loser takes one step back while the winner takes two steps forward.
- Indianapolis at Cleveland: Kelly Holcomb makes his first opening day start in the NFL, while Tim Couch looks over at Peyton Manning and sees everything he was expected to be and more.
- St. Louis at NY Giants: This annual slug fest pits two teams that loath one another. The Giants got the best of the Rams last year. That shouldn't happen on Sunday.
- San Diego at Kansas City: In what is the most competitive division in football this season, the Chiefs and Chargers both begin their Super Bowl dreams in Arrowhead. The team that stops the run will win as Priest Holmes and LaDanian Tomlinson look to run wild over the opposing defenses.
The Complete Power Core Rankings: Week 1
Every week the Power Core Rankings are compiled. This year the full listing will appear in Wednesday Apple Pie every week.
- Tampa Bay – The Champs treated like chumps by schedule makers.
- Oakland – Age should finally catch up to this team, sans Jerry Porter.
- Philadelphia – Seems like teams in Pennsylvania can't get over the hump.
- Miami – It's September. They'll look like an unstoppable force.
- Atlanta – I don't move them down much because I want to give Doug Johnson a shot.
- Green Bay – They jumped the shark years ago.
- Tennessee – Steve McNair is the new Ironman of the NFL. Now if he only had someone to throw too.
- New England – I have them high because they had a great off-season.
- Pittsburgh – The most important man in the defense now becomes James Farrior.
- Kansas City – If they have the defense, they will go very, very far.
- San Francisco – Their season is riding on the aching back of Jeff Garcia.
- Buffalo – Drew Bledsoe doesn't equal wins, no matter how well he plays.
- Indianapolis – I still don't buy this defense.
- Denver – Different quarterback, same Elway-shadow.
- San Diego – David Boston has had a rough off-season. Maybe it's because wide receivers aren't meant to be built like that.
- NY Giants – Boy, Ron Dayne's been a big bust hasn't he? Almost as big as that Troy Edwards guy. Who'd he play for again?
- St. Louis – Edwards couldn't catch balls thrown by Kurt Warner. It looks like it was Kordell after all, Troy.
- Baltimore – Starting Kyle Boller is a great move for the future of the franchise.
- Washington – They cut Danny Wuerffel again. Is Spurrier really sure or is this the beginning of Quarterback Carousel 2003.
- New Orleans – The Saints are the Miami Dolphins of the NFC. Great beginners. Terrible in December.
- Seattle – I still don't see why every one is gaga over Shaun Alexander. He's got to be the quietest superstar in the NFL.
- Chicago – Kordell Stewart will be…sorry I've got nothing.
- Carolina – Rodney Peete is starting on Sunday. Isn't he 70 by now? Well, the Panthers always have had a fixation with older players.
- Cleveland – Where are the front 7? Do they even have a front 7?
- NY Jets – Losing Chad Pennington put the stamp on one of the worst preseasons in the history of football.
- Detroit – Will this be the year Matt Millen has a coronary?
- Jacksonville – Mark my words: Byron Leftwich will be a bust.
- Minnesota – No matter how you look at it, I still don't like this team or its makeup. It's too wimpy, for lack of using a "colorful metaphor".
- Dallas – The Tuna's back and Dallas still doesn't have a chance. That's how far this franchise has really fallen.
- Arizona – By the end of the season the Cardinals should be firmly entrenched as the worst team in football.
- Houston – Will David Carr get sacked more than 10 times in the first game?
- Cincinnati – They ended on the bottom…they start on the bottom.
Fruits of Labor (stock is rising)
- James Farrior, Clark Haggans, & Alonzo Jackson – These three linebackers will go a long way in determining how much of a drop-off the defense suffers.
Rotten Produce (stock is falling)
- Joey Porter – The Steelers linebacker suffers because of someone else's stupidity. That's the worst type of pain. He'll be back. And he'll be one mean, son-of-a-b%$^& when he does.
Missed Point Opportunities (MPO)
Next week, this section will unveil a score and begin tallying a season record for the Steelers based on Missed Point Opportunities or MPOs. If a team fails to score, in most cases a touchdown, on a drive where they had momentum, they receive a point. The team with the fewest MPOs is, in most cases, the winner of the game. Turnovers, missed field goals, settling for multiple field goals, and coming up empty when given great field position are all prime examples of MPOs. However, a new rule this year will be that if either team leads by more than 17 points in the 4th quarter, MPOs will not be counted under any circumstance. In the spirit of the game, if a team is leading by 17 points or more and throws an interception at the goal line, no MPO will be given.
Wisdom From the Girl Apple
Each week the SteelApple will sit down with the Girl Apple and ask a very important question regarding the Steeler season. Here is a transcript of this week's interview.
Apple: Your man and the men of many non-football loving women across the country begin an emotional journey next Sunday. How do you feel about that?
Girl Apple: Why don't you just make these answers up for me? I'm trying to watch Legends of the Fall.
Apple: No. I really need an answer in the spirit of good journalism.
Girl Apple: I don't know. I'm not happy about it. Please, it's 8 a.m. on Labor Day. Unless you're telling me that you've just scrubbed the toilet and picked up your underwear, I don't care right now.
Apple: Thank you Girl Apple. There you have it folks. More wisdom from the Girl Apple.
Super-Fan Pappy Fried Chicken's Keys To The Game
Each week, the Apple will catch up with one of his best buddies, Super-Fan Pappy Fried Chicken, for the keys to the upcoming contest.
- "Throw it to Riemersma over the middle cause that opens up the offense. It opens up the running game, passing game, and it opens up the wide receivers."
- "Defense! Haggans will be fine. He'll be fine. Haggans won't be Porter. Porter's a big loss. But Haggans will be fine."
- "They've got to get pressure on Boller. A rookie quarterback is easy to disrupt."
- "And most importantly to set the tone of the game, SMACK Ray Lewis right in his big fat mouth. Because I don't care who you are, you miss almost a full season then you've lost a step."
Thoughts Assisted by Yuengling
- The Steelers really could use the Jason Gildon of 2001 right about now.
- I've reconsidered my stance to cut Kimo Von Ollehoffen and start Brett Keisel. Yeah. I was wrong about that one. I whiffed with the bases loaded.
- Many pundits have the Steelers winning the AFC North, going far into the playoffs but losing at home in the AFC Championship game. So it isn't as much of a chic pic to forecast the Steelers NOT winning the AFC North.
- But none of them have the guts to pick the Steelers to win the Super Bowl. So, I will. Pittsburgh over St. Louis 28 – 27.
- As for the rest of my picks? They are below.
AFC NFC 1. Pittsburgh 12-4 1. Philiadelphia 13-3 2. Tennessee 11-5 2. St. Louis 11-5 3. Kansas City 11 – 5 3. Tampa Bay 10 - 6 4. Miami 11 – 5 4. Green Bay 10 - 6 WC #1: New England 10 – 6 WC#1: San Francisco 10 – 6 WC #2: Baltimore 9 – 7 WC#2: New Orleans 9 - 7 AFC NFC WC Round Kansas City over Baltimore Tampa Bay over
Kansas City over Tennessee
St. Louis over Tampa Bay
Philadelphia over Green Bay
Pittsburgh over Kansas City St. Louis over Philadelphia Super Bowl Pittsburgh over St. Louis
- My apologies to Jason the Bronco Fan, but that AFC West is just too tough and I see Baltimore sneaking in ala Cleveland.
- How in the world does Len Pasquarelli think that the Cleveland Browns have a shot on this ethereal plane to be AFC North champions? I'd pick the Bengals before I gave the Browns a chance.
- I don't think Dewayne Washington will last a quarter of the season before being demoted.
- My MVP Predictions? League – Steve McNair; Offensive – Priest Holmes; Defensive – Ray Lewis.