I'm sitting just a foot or two from "Potsie" Farrior, moments after the game in the locker room. James is waiting, as I am, for the post-game radio show I do. We chat about the game that just wrapped up. James is bruised all over his legs, and one of his knees is skinned and bleeding. He's tired and beat, but he's going to cowboy up and talk football, even though all he wants to do is jump in the shower and get to the rapidly departing buses. Steelers ace head trainer John Norwig walks by and tells Potsie to make sure he cleans up. James laughs, and shakes his head.
"James," I begin, "What possessed you to taunt somebody down the stretch of such a crucial game? You, of all people, know you have to keep your cool. You're the guy everybody looks to for leadership on that defense."
Farrior looks me right in the eye. He's close enough that I can see that there's no kidding behind the dead-pan eyes that engulf me. He pauses, and says simply, "It's Cleveland."
At the start of the game, I watched Bruce Arians take the field. Normally, Bruce is easygoing prior to kickoff, but as he walks toward me on the sideline I see he's locked into a real personal grudge. His eyes are smoldering with concentration. Sunday Night Football sideline reporter Andrea Kremer descends on Bruce to, I assume, ask some questions. Bruce wouldn't be bothered, and with a courteous but firm "I'm busy" look he moved on by. Bruce understands what this game is about. Bruce also joined me in the post-game locker room show. I asked him about the pre-game intensity. He looked at me and then mimicked the same reply as Farrior, "It's Cleveland."
Having myself engaged in nearly two dozen of these turnpike games as a combatant, I knew exactly what those guys meant. Forget the records, throw out the winning streak that the Steelers are currently enjoying, maybe common sense too. This game is all about slugging it out with somebody that wants to make you fight from the first snap to the last. It's Cleveland.
The intensity of this game was matched by the craziness of the weather. Garbage flew everywhere. I was mugged by a hefty trash bag that blew down from the stands; hit me right in the mush it did. I thought I was wrestling with an unruly Cleveland fan, and went James Harrison on the bag.
Trash wasn't the only thing flying around in Cleveland Browns Stadium, either. Troy Polamalu went airborne in the second half on a play that I didn't even see the finish. I didn't follow the play because I had to see the end result of Troy's kamikaze rush. I was like a fan watching a crash at the Indy 500. Polamalu blitzed and carried his momentum toward the line of scrimmage while timing the snap. Seeing his path blocked by one of the Browns' hogs, Troy got air. Big air. He literally pole vaulted 6'6"of Browns G Eric Steinbach.
I thought I'd seen some of the craziest people and plays in my day, but Troy takes the cake.
Justin Hartwig had a battle all night, as did Chris Kemoeatu and Kendall Simmons. NT Shaun Rogers came with the rap as a player who takes plays off from time to time, but it wasn't apparent here. This cat came to play, and you respect his effort. However, don't hand a trophy to Rogers. When crunch time came, and Rogers needed to come up big, he disappeared. And that was through the work of those inner three guys. They busted it all night long.
If Ben Roethlisberger is anything, he's cool under pressure. With Tom Brady out, there's not a better QB in the NFL right now. With 3:16 remaining in the game, 2nd and 10 from the Steelers' 31-yard line Arians called for a bootleg right. Ben rolled out. Meanwhile, the Browns had gone to a 4-4-3 alignment by inserting an extra LBer to counter the anticipated run play. Carey Davis slid out to the flat where nearby a Cleveland CB was lurking. Most QBs would dump the ball off to the back and pick up the five-yard gain. Not Ben. With the Browns' defensive line hot on his heels, he pulled up from the rollout and surveyed the field. The fox was staring at the hounds, as he waited for Heath Miller to clear the middle zone of the field. "Throw it, throw it, THROW IT!" I said to myself. The play unfolded in front of me as the big guy with the separated shoulder threw a perfect 19-yard strike to Miller at the 50.
Say what you want about Cleveland, but I always loved playing the Browns there. Heated rivalries always make for interesting games, and, hey, Batman needs the Joker, the Hatfields need the McCoys, and the Steelers need the Browns. And then there's that "W" that's become so automatic, too.