On a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium pre-game brought a lot of hugging and laughing on the field as I got to see old friends Donnie Shell and John Stallworth. And this is what I saw:
Max Starks drew the unenviable task of blocking Julius Peppers in passing situations. In four of the first six passes, he got a chip with the back or TE. Great job by Max, and throw in a plug for Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt too. The Pittsburgh Steelers' O motioned to a chip, lined up in it, threw the wall swinging Max's way and kept Peppers on the constant alert for a shot in the ribs.
Steelers Nation was out in full force. When Carolina kicker John Kasay tried a first-quarter FG, the fans started cheering and someone fired a cannon, but the kick was no good. It missed, and the egg on the face of the trigger man was due to the mistaken identity of those cheering. They were Steelers fans. It was a simple case of premature canonization.
How scary is Julius Peppers? When Big Ben bootlegged his way to a 7-0 lead, he turned into a 4.4 guy with Peppers in hot pursuit. When Ben threatens with his feet, good things happen. It slows the pass rush.
Willie Parker's 21-yard run in the second quarter showed the development of this young man. He started on a stretch play to the right, then bent it back, Fred Taylor-like, and shifted gears to outrun the corner support. Vision, patience, and a hemi under the hood are all coming together for this guy.
On the next play, Willie showed his strength with a stiff-arm to the mush of CB Rich Marshall and splat him good.
One thing John Fox has over Bill Cowher is an arm. His replay challenge in the second quarter was a beauty of a throw. That red flag flew thirty yards on the fly, in a spiral to boot.
Tell me again how Bill Cowher has lost his passion. Better yet, tell that to James Harrison after he blocked that punt. He took so many head slaps from Coach Bill after coming to the sidelines that I thought somebody should jump in there and give James a standing eight count.
Chidi Iwuoma is rodeo cowboy tough. I don't know what the injury report will be, maybe (hopefully) insignificant. After sustaining the injury to his wrist/forearm area on the second-half KO, he calmly walked off the field holding the damaged area to the bench and let the trainers cut the arm sleeve and glove off his hand. Not a whisper of pain, or even a writhing motion came from this dude. I love it when an injury is not met with histrionics. It's part of the game.
First sign that the O is having a good day, the hogs came to the sidelines after the 7:49 third quarter FG drive with jerseys soaked, red faces, and breathing like locomotives cresting Donner Pass in the Rockies.
The second sign of a good O day is Clark Haggans (whom I happened to be standing next to) and the rest of the defense dry as a bone. The lock is seeing the long snapper, Greg Warren, with the time and calm peace of mind to seek out medical treatment by applying Blistex to his lips. After all, there was a little breeze on Sunday. No histrionics there, either.
Anthony, put that high-step away. When he hit the sideline, it was all of two heartbeats before Dick LeBeau put the kibosh to it.
Legend has it that Babe Ruth called his centerfield shot before he drilled one over the fence. Bill Hillgrove (voice of the Steelers) called for a Santonio Holmes TD return on air before the fumble. Obviously that jinxed Holmes, but then came the flag. So he called for it again on the re-kick. Touchdown. See, the double call for a punt return TD turned into a double jinx that wiped out the first one. For further discussion on the power of jinxes and double jinxes, watch the movie "Dumb and Dumber."