"Men, you'll have that on big jobs like these," said the legendary center, Mike Webster, while Tunch Ilkin, myself and Webby stood looking down on the prostrate body of our quarterback Mark Malone.
Mark had just been sandwiched moments before in a pass rush between two Cleve Brownies, and was currently visiting another dimension of reality in his gourd. Mark's eyes were glazed over and blood trickled out of his mouth. Malone's helmet, knocked off by the fierce pass rush, rocked lazily back and forth on the Three Rivers Stadium turf. So forceful had the hit been, the snap-on ear pads from inside the helmet had been knocked loose and were laying a couple feet away from the helmet. Mark didn't finish the game, but the rest of his able-bodied teammates did and came away with a win.
Sacks, penalties, injuries and setbacks, all are obstacles which must be overcome if you're a championship-caliber team. Sometimes you have to deal with injuries, like losing two of your top three cornerbacks going into a game or losing a quarterback during a game. Other times it's the penalty bug-a-boo. It might be overcoming a day where sacks seem to be coming at you in bunches, or you can't seem to find pay dirt even when you're able to drive the ball all over the field, almost at will. And there are days when they all come together at once. As I stood on the sidelines of Heinz Field and watched the Steelers do battle with the San Diego Chargers, I watched a team battle for 60 minutes and face all those potential land mines and still walk away with an improbable win. As a matter of fact, there had never been a score of 11-10 in the history of the NFL. But the Steelers did it. And this is what I saw.
Justin Hartwig had a battle royale. Wrestling with Jamal Williams, the two seemed as if they were part of an old "King of the Ring" pay-per-view wrestling card; the one where they put a bunch of wrestlers into the ring and it might be one, two or three guys against one, and they would throw guys over the ropes until there was just one man left standing. Justin was the one man left standing in the ring. I know Mike Tomlin said in his press conference before the game that he would double-team a lot, but I didn't see it. Kudos to Hartwig, that was a match worth the price of admission. And Justin is worth whatever the Steelers paid to bring him here.
Will Gay stepped up and fulfilled the weekly mantra of Coach Mike that "Expectations will not change." Battling bigger receivers all day long, William came up and made a stop on a now route -- where there is an unspoken communication between QB and WR, followed by an immediate pass to the receiver when a corner is playing off -- for no gain in the second half. He sure didn't look like a first-time starter.
I can't ever remember playing in a game where there was such disparity between calls on two teams. Hines Ward got called three times. OK, Mike Webster has been flagged four times in a game. Heck, I've even had my own flag "Waterloo" of four in a game. But I'm watching a pretty nasty San Diego O-line that was doing an awful lot of jersey alterations for the Steelers defense. Aaron Smith had his jersey pulled down so far his arm as well as his shoulder pad was exposed. It didn't get that way itself. Marcus McNeill, the left tackle for the Chargers, is known to face-wash guys all day. McNeill doesn't even try to hide it. I'm surprised Brett Keisel has a whisker left on his face. When James Harrison stripped Phil Rivers in the end zone, Marmalade (I played against his dad back in the day and our line coach gave up trying to pronounce his name and just called him marmalade) was holding Harrison (not well) and no call was made even though it was obvious to everybody sitting in the end zone section Manumaleuna was holding on for dear life.
The important thing to remember when you're undergoing "Receiver profiling" is that you have to overcome. Hines' play down the stretch was monumental. He made tough catches of 13, 15, and 7 yards on the game winning drive. That's overcoming.
The smile Troy Polamalu sported after intercepting Rivers' pass was worth standing in the cold all day long on the sidelines. That interception was one of the most athletic plays you could ever hope to see even if you lived two lifetimes. I've seen up close and personal all of Troy's games as a Steeler and he still amazes me with what he's capable of doing. Sometimes there are no words to capture what you've just seen. This is one of them.
Gary Russell's Houdini act on a kickoff return was just plain fun. Gary muffed the kick, started to panic, and then got it together. Somehow he popped out of the scrum and kept on a-chuggin'. Something tells me that he's going to get a little more PT on the short yardage and goal line offense. I've always said that Gary has good vision in seeing the holes. He may not be the fastest, or the biggest, but he sees, then goes. And he's rarely wrong.
Watching that prolific run defense defend a run to the sidelines: LT takes the ball on a stretch play and I'm watching the defense play their gaps; Big Snack beats center Nick Hardwick front side; LT alters course and tries for the next hole; The Diesel chugs into view; LT pushes further outside and it's a scraping Larry Foote who comes into view; LT continues to the sideline where finally Troy drives him out of bounds. Hmmm, Troy and LT mano-y-mano on the sidelines. That might make for a good commercial. I'll have to think on that one.