I realize the following accolades I’m about to present might be considered in poor taste, given the climate of political correctness in today’s NFL.
But, such is life.
I realize I'm a holdover from another age, a time maybe when the orcs and elves did battle with dwarfs and cave trolls in middle earth, a time when major battles, even major hits, were celebrated and their movements in time captured either in picture or video and widely circulated.
Although this may draw sneers and upturned noses in some quarters, I believe there remains a goodly amount of fandom which appreciates old-time football and what drew so many of us to chase the NFL dream in the first place: the big hits.
In keeping with the “Days of Yore” and the ancestral tackles which accompanied any Pittsburgh Steelers season, I would like to highlight three that were of colossal force this past season.
I believe Steelers fans still care and appreciate big-time, eyeball-popping, head-snapping football, and so to you I present the three Slobberknockers of the Year.
Drum roll please ...
Slobbernocker No. 3
The return of Bud Dupree played a major role in the Steelers defensive fortunes this past year. I remember watching Bud run in sweats back in August at the Superdome in New Orleans, and I felt that while he was lighter and looked quicker, more explosive, something wasn’t quite right. Then it all became clear a bit later after sports hernia surgery and a subsequent half-season stay on the IR.
But Dupree came back with a vengeance, and when he met Matt Moore in the playoffs he produced a vaporizing hit toward the Miami Dolphins sideline at Heinz Field. It was one of those “Py-yah!” Doppler Radar-type hits in which the sound moves through the ear canal and back in a heartbeat to leave one confused as to what had just happened. Or where one was. Or what my name is.
Anyway, Dupree closed on Moore as Moore rolled out while searching downfield for anything resembling a semi-open, breathing, warm body who was willing to take the ball. None readily appeared in time, but Moore passed anyway and Dupree closed so quickly and harshly that he left his DNA on the quarterback. I’ll bet Moore’s family tree on Ancestry.com now has a picture of Bud.
Slobbernocker No. 2
Hit number two came courtesy of Cleveland Browns Stadium and Stephon Tuitt.
Browns QB Josh McCown should have known better than to leave the friendly “pocket” confines and get on the “open field highway” and proceeding to merge into traffic without checking his rearview mirror and signaling a turn. For if he had, he most certainly would have seen the T-Rex gaining ground behind him. Remember, objects are closer than in the mirror and it certainly would have kept McCown from taking one of the hardest hits I've ever seen. Had Stephon been going the other way, and the two were coming together in a collision of forces rather than moving in the same direction in an aligning of forces, I fear Josh would not have been fortunate enough to have resumed play such as he did.
I remember standing on the sideline and hearing a collective “Oooohhh!!!!” rolling down from the crowd, such was the ferocity of the impact.
Hear me now and believe me later, McCown has to be one of the toughest hombres I’ve ever seen, to take a hit like that and get back up. Hats off to you, Josh, though next time you might want to just check that rearview and get down.
Slobbernocker No. 1
In heralding our top hit of the year, we head back to Heinz Field yet again.
While all of the hits were amazing, this one is just like in the movie “The Highlander" - there can be only one!
And so for me this is easy.
On Christmas Day, against the Dirty Birds of Baltimore, on the second series of the game, The “Big Ragu,” Ramon Foster, pulled out from the line of scrimmage on a play the Steelers call Counter O. Foster pulled to his right and turned the corner, heading up into the second level with Lev Bell in tow, carrying the ball. There, waiting for him, was Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley, and Moseley didn’t stand a chance.
And I mean on a major scale.
Ragu hit Mosley so hard, so clean, it resembled one of the Terminator movies and a scene in which Arnold was struck and run over by a truck. This was the mother of all hits, in my most humble opinion, because C.J. is a big, 250-pound-plus, take-on-all-comers type of downhill inside guy, who saw Ragu all the way, who had time to, as Chuck Noll used to say, get under and up in his hitting hamhocks body position. Moseley did all of that and he was still freight-trained in spite of those best efforts.
Not merely flattened, mind you, for there was none of this taking a hit and going with the motion, falling back and rolling onto your backside here. Moseley might as well have been Wile E. Coyote looking out the window and pulling the window shade down as the train was about to run him over. This, folks, was a quintessential “Slobberknocker.”
Truth be told, I was stunned just watching.
Amongst offensive lineman, Ramon’s hit is in the conversation of G.O.A.T. hits, reminiscent of the late Steve Courson’s legendary hit back in the '80s on Bengals OLB Reggie Williams, who was hit so hard he did a back flip. This was up there with Alan Faneca on a search and destroy mission hitting another Bengals linebacker so hard in a helmet-to-helmet hit that an orange-and-black striped helmet shot straight up four or five feet into the air as if his helmet was a nose pimple that got popped.
Cut it any way you want, big hits are part of life in the NFL. It’s why you play the game. It’s why you come to see the game.
It's why Ramon Foster has won my Slobberknocker of the Year Award.