As my job took me away from the corn farm lands of Iowa and the cheese country of Wisconsin, I was all set to head to Motown in time to watch a full Sunday of football. But, plans change and while the rest of my traveling companions were forced to head back to New York City for a few days, I set out for Pittsburgh for a visit with the folks and where I had a date with a VCR and videotape containing the game.
One of the incredible things about Western Pennsylvania isn't the lush rolling hills or the small valley towns that hide along the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. In fact, it's the people. They have a passion for their sports teams and an enjoyment of small town Americana that rarely can found in many places across the country.
Of course there are Wal-Marts and Targets and other mega-corporations that seem to dominate small communities. Yet, there is Butler, Pa. Just an hour outside of Pittsburgh to the north, it is still filled with small shops and still fighting to keep its honor.
While stopped at an Eat N' Park (which is a Western Pennsylvania icon all on its own) on its outskirts, the waitresses walked around wearing Steeler paraphernalia. I figured that the work staff were listening to the game via radio inside the kitchen and I hoped that not one word would be uttered out loud in regards to the outcome.
All ages of people were wearing Steeler garb at that restaurant. Small children wore Randle El jerseys, old men wore caps and old ladies wore sweatshirts. Regardless of the conversations on the weather, everyone seemed to have one thing in mind: What on earth was going on in Cincinnati.
Noticing my Steeler cap and jumper, an elderly lady tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I thought a victory would come out of the trip to Cincinnati. I told her that they better and that I was taping the game and didn't want to know anything.
But, it's not just the professional football squad that these people crave. The high school football scene in this area is dwarfed only by Texas, Georgia and Florida in size, but never passion. The rankings of the Quad A (the largest high schools) playoffs were released on Monday and it made front page news in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I won't even get started about the soccer playoffs that began either. Soccer has almost as much of following in these parts as does football.
When I finally got home, my mother checked our upstairs television to check on the time remaining. She came back down announcing the game had five minutes left, but she had a stone-cold poker face that would make Phil Ivey proud. With the outcome still in secrecy, the tape stopped recording at 4:15. The tape then rewound, my father and I sat down to watch the Steeler game.
Just before we started, my mom passes the phone with my grandmother on the other end. She asked if I had watched the game and I said, "We taped it and we are about to watch it, but I don't want to know anything." She said, "Okay, I won't tell you the score, but you'll be happy." She's 87-years old and she couldn't contain her enthusiasm. And as I watched the game, neither could I.
1. Minnesota 23 Green Bay 20 - Meltdown #1. Minnesota, after trailing by as much as 17 in the second half, wins on a last second 56-yard field goal. Here is the dilemma facing Brett Favre: When he passes for 315 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions and his team still can't hold a 17-point lead late in the third quarter, why would he consider coming back next season? It also proves that even with the injuries, the Packers defense is the real problem on this team, not Favre's turnover issues, not the offensive line and not the special teams unit.
2. Philadelphia 20 San Diego 17 - Meltdown #2. The Chargers stop Philadelphia on 4th down at the Eagle 30 yard line. Then on their clock-draining drive, Nate Kaeding's field goal attempt is blocked and returned for a touchdown, giving the Eagles a 3-point lead. Drew Brees leads the Chargers down the field until a fumble by Reche Caldwell kills the drive and the game. In a game that featured absolutely no semblance of a running game on either side, the Eagles offense proved that it can not continue to win without asserting Brian Westbrook.
3. NY Giants 24 Denver 23 - Meltdown #3. The Broncos, after leading by 13 points in the third quarter and intercepting Eli Manning with just over four minutes left in the game, fail to hold the lead and lose on a final second touchdown pass from Manning to Amani Toomer.
4. Atlanta 27 NY Jets 14 - Everyone will remember this game as another example of Michael Vick's incredible athleticism. But no one will remember that his numbers as a "quarterback" were horrible as he threw three interceptions and zero touchdowns. Numbers like that will cost this team any shot at winning a Super Bowl.
5. Oakland 38 Buffalo 17 - It's painfully obvious that Kelly Holcomb is not the answer for Buffalo. The Raiders run-stuffing abilities took away the Bills' only weapon and LaMont Jordan finally showed the rest of the league what he is capable of when he gets 20+ carries a game.6. Chicago 10 Baltimore 6 - The Bears don't have much offense but with a defense playing as well as it is playing and facing a team like the Ravens, that doesn't believe in having offensive weapons, 10 points were all they would need. The Ravens now are two games behind a Wild-Card berth with Pittsburgh coming up at Heinz Field on Halloween. And as last year proved, Heinz Field goes crazy on Halloween.
Apple Pie Six-Pack
1. Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers (GOTW) - I really love this game and here is why. The Panthers and Vikings are two teams that many folks had as the NFC representative to the Super Bowl. The Vikings have underachieved and the Panthers have not been consistent on offense. Yet, both teams come in here with their respective division titles in reach and both with possible Wild-Card berths in reach. This is a must-win for both teams. And I love must-win games.
2. Philadelphia Eagles at Denver Broncos - This could be a long game for the Eagles unless Andy Reid is committed to getting Brian Westbrook more than just a few running attempts. Also, the Broncos are coming off a painful loss (see Meltdown #3) against the NY Giants and should be bitter all week.
3. Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers - Just as Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke Skywalker, "This is a dangerous time for you," this is a dangerous time for the Chargers. Sitting at 3 - 4 and faced with a two-game deficit on the second place Chiefs, the Chargers cannot lose this game if they have any hope of winning the AFC West let alone a playoff spot.
4. Washington Redskins at NY Giants - Skip Bayless of ESPN is in love with Eli Manning. In fact to him, Eli is the second coming of Johnny Unitas. But, I say, let us hold the phone and not jump to conclusions. The younger Manning is going to be a superstar in this league and may even win a Super Bowl at some point, but Eli will have his problems this season. He may have a big problem this week against a stingy Redskin defense that finally allowed Levar Arrington to see the field.
5. Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots - The Patriots open division play at home against a Bills team that is the very definition of "Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome". Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the NFL and he has basically thrown the fate of the defending champs on his back. It may not be enough to win another championship, but it's looking like it will be more than enough to win the AFC East.6. Jacksonville Jaguars at St. Louis Rams - Just when the Rams need a game to try to catch up to the Seahawks, the Jaguars come into town. Jacksonville has one of the league's best pass defenses and won't let Steven Jackson get rolling. Worse yet, Marc Bulger won't be manning the helm for this Rams offense and Mike Martz will miss the rest of the season due to health concerns. This is a big game for the Rams or their season may be finished.
Apple Pie Power Rankings1. Indianapolis Colts - Starting to play to the level of their competition.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers - Still the kings of the AFC North.
3. Philadelphia Eagles - Blocked kick doesn't change this team's lack of a running game.
4. Denver Broncos - This is still a really, really good team.
5. Atlanta Falcons - When Vick runs without abandon, two things can happen: injury or big play.
6. Jacksonville Jaguars - This team is a dark horse to reach the Super Bowl.
7. Washington Redskins - Brunell has turned back the clock and Joe Gibbs is creating hope in D.C.
8. Cincinnati Bengals - The Bengals turned into the Bungles once again.
9. New England Patriots - Can't drop them out for not playing.
10. Seattle Seahawks - About to run away with the NFC West.
11. NY Giants - The G-Men have their new savior.
12. Kansas City Chiefs - Their running game is scary. Now if that defense could only come around.
From the gut of Super Fan Pappy Fried Chicken
Something is missing. I can not seem to put my finger on it, but my gut starts talking to me usually around Tuesday afternoon and does not shut up until kickoff the following week, no matter how many sacrificial Patio Red Hot Beef and Bean Burritos I put in there to appease it. Game time is the best time of the week, but when it comes to the missing feeling, game time only seems to abate that feeling until the following Tuesday. What is happening?
Excitement is in the air and I should have no reason to fear any falling off. We just came away from a very telling win, but for who was it more telling?
The running game ran up and down on Cincy for their highest production of the season and I know in my heart of hearts that the passing game will be there when we need it. Even though Ben Roethlisberger has only had 100 passing attempts, you still have to throw the ball well and not make mistakes to have the highest quarterback rating in the league. The offense seems alright. Still my gut rumbles.
The rushing defense is giving up an average of 90 yards per game. No cause for concern there. The linebackers have been quieter than we would prefer, but the defensive backs are more than making up for that right now and could end up as one of the best groups in the league with more experience. So, the defense is okay. Still with the gastric churning.
Maybe it is the special teams. That near block of Chris Gardocki caused a little flutter in my heart, but that breakdown was found and remedied. Jeff Reed is having another good season. Ok, so special teams seems to be doing just fine too. Then what is my problem?!
Yes, I know the burritos are probably the culprit, but this team needs some consistency.
Coming up we have a schedule that should ease my pain and allow the Steelers to gain some necessary momentum. Our next four opponents are a combined 5-13 and we should be poised for a splendid run up to the November showdown with the Colts in the dome. This next month is more crucial than just a few division opponents. Unlike last season when the Steelers were peaking right about this same week, the time is now to get the momentum going to carry them into the playoffs. The "peak" should arrive mid way through the Cincinnati rematch and then should lead us all the way to Detroit and to the promised land.Don't worry. I will bring the burritos.
Mock Apple Pie
Last Week's Results
DCFB 81 Oregon Nugz 51
Gemini vs. Dogs Of War (Night): Two weeks ago Gemini 28 Dogs of War 20
Woodside Avenue Cyber Gemini 29 Blitzburgh Dogs 16
DCFB (5 - 2) vs. Tehran-Pyongyang Axis of Evil (0 - 7) - The Axis of Evil are winless but hardly weaponless. The DCFB will be hard-pressed to come out with a win.
Gemini (1 - 4 - 1) vs. The Smooth Smoke Daddies (5 - 1) - The Geminis and Daddies are two of the original four teams still left in the league. The Daddies have won the championship twice. The Gemini still have yet to smell a championship after reaching the title game last season.
Woodside Ave. Cyber Gemini (5 - 2) vs. Sweatin' Sopranos (2 - 5) - Division foes face each other for the second time with the Sopranos' season on the line. But, the Gemini can't help but look ahead a few weeks until the showdown against the evil, hated, vile Kobra Kai coached by our very own Brian West.
Editor: The picture is one from Butler County and has nothing to do with the Steelers, but I couldn't resist.