Speaking of grudges, I found myself exchanging bear hugs and laughter with Bruce Laird before the game. He used to play safety for the Colts (in Baltimore) and the Chargers.
Back in '82 during a playoff game that we lost to the Chargers, Bradshaw threw an INT. Bruce picked it off and I tackled him on the return. One thing leads to another after the tackle and we're punching away like there's no tomorrow. Now we're hugging. Crazy game.
M&T Bank stadium, with a new record crowd and enclosed end zone seating proved to be problematic, noise-wise. The hogs were looking at the ball from the very first play. And to make matters worse, the Ravens were exploiting it to the max by moving people around during the snap count and overtly interfering with Ben's audibles.
While you're looking at the ball and zeroing in on the count, you have to take a snapshot in your head of the guy you're blocking. Raven defenders were moving around while Ben ran the cadence. At the snap, particularly in the passing game, when you whipped your head around, who you thought you were blocking was no longer there, or had moved to another spot and a different number had taken his place. The ability to recognize the defense, read the situation, and react instantaneously is usually reserved for Ninjas, and the Steelers could have used some.
The crowd noise was so loud, the line calls couldn't be communicated to the backs. A great example was Bart Scott's sack. Speaking of which, if you've never had your sternum touch your spine, you don't know what you're missing.
And then there was Ray Lewis. While Ben was checking to another play, Lewis would walk up to the line, a mere two feet away, and yell nonsense. I'm sure he was throwing in some stuff of his own, but mostly he was just yelling to confuse what Ben was saying. First time out it worked. Illegal motion, walk off five.
By the time the first quarter was about over, the Ravens had run four different defensive fronts on first down alone. A stack 4-3, 4-3 over, a 3-4 and one I couldn't figure out. Obviously I wasn't the only one having trouble figuring out the fronts.
Todd Heap's TD was nicely drawn up by the Ravens. The Steelers were in a cover three, which puts Deshea Townsend on the outer deep third. Derrick Mason is split wide to his side, and Heap comes in motion out beyond Mason, and at the snap runs a vertical route, a hitch and go. Mason ran a post. Ryan Clark is covering the post. Townsend bites on the hitch, got smoked by the go and it's a quick six.
The Ravens hit everything Steeler all day long. Doc Rydze, standing on the sidelines, got wiped out by a Ravens guy. A former Olympic diver now into his fifties, Doc completed a nice somersault and came to his feet. I gave him a 9.5 on the backward roll.
I positioned myself in the player's tunnel as the Pittsburgh Steelers took the field for the second half. Not a word was spoken amongst the players as they took the field. What bothered me more than anything else was the look of resignation on the faces.
In the second half, the Steelers tried a quasi "legal" pick play on a pass. Hines Ward was split to the right; Chris McAlister was in press over him. At the snap, Hines drove straight through McAlister, then five yards deep stopped, turned inside and tried to make it look like a hook route. An unidentified receiver came underneath Hines, while Ward "picked" his coverage. The cover guy Hines picked happened to be 270-pound Adalius Thomas running at full speed. Hines got trucked.
In closing, I'll just way it might've been the longest short flight home on the team plane that I've ever taken.