Anatomy of a Classic

<p>These are the thoughts, in highly charged running order, of a sportswriter who can certainly understand why Steelers fans are basking in the afterglow this morning:<o:p> </o:p> </p>

  • Those in charge of the neon signs over the Parkway got Sunday rolling with their message of "Send in the Browns" to commuters entering the city.
  • The fans are a bit testy before the game. At the pre-game radio set outside the stadium, one loudly demands to know "What the hell are you talking about?" after I'd called The City of Pittsburgh vs. Kelly Holcomb the match-up of the day.
  • The point? The weather, the fans, and the defense would make life uncomfortable for the Browns' back-up quarterback. I would only be slightly wrong.
  • The official prediction is Steelers, 30-17, but when asked for investment advice I mention that "teasing" the home team from -8 to -1 makes an awful lot of sense. Even as the line creeps up to eight-and-a-half, I stand firm.
  • During player intros, right tackle Marvel Smith wildly high-fives every teammate in sight and then falls flat on his face. An ominous sign?
  • With Chad Scott out of the lineup, the Steelers shouldn't miss him much since his replacement, Deshea Townsend, is arguably the team's best cover corner. The only potential problem could be the shakeout on the dime defense. But Hank Poteat can cover Dennis Northcutt. Right?
  • It becomes a second poor assumption as Poteat is burned badly on the Browns' first possession.
  • Amos Zereoue and Kendrell Bell are in the starting lineup and all is well – until the Browns open up in the spread and Bell and nose tackle Casey Hampton, a.k.a. the 2001 draft class, hustle off the field.
  • A poor decision by Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox sets up the Browns for a 14-0 lead. Already, the Kordell Stewart fan a few seats down is getting stirred up.
  • Poteat blitzes on the Browns' next possession and forces a punt, showing all concerned parties that he's better when taken out of coverage. But one Randle El fumble later, Poteat's on the trail end of another Browns bomb.
  • Randle El's 66-yard punt return makes Steelers history and cuts the Browns' lead in half. "All I wanted was another chance after that fumble," Randle El would say after the game. "But I really didn't know if I'd get another chance." It's the first move NOT made by Coach Bill Cowher on this day that would pay off handsomely.
  • With the Browns poised to take a 21-7 lead on first-and-goal at the 1, Lee Flowers jumps offside to cause a 3-yard loss. The officials miss it, and then a sack on an intended reverse pass sets up a 31-yard field goal.
  • Maddox's halftime stats add up to a passer rating of 34.4, which provides the Stewart fanatic in the press box much merriment as he snickers at the rest of the tri-state media.
  • Steelers radio analyst Tunch Ilkin doesn't understand why the Browns aren't staying in the spread since Bell, who is pulled in that situation, is having such a big game for the Steelers.
  • Steelers dime back Mike Logan is beaten for a touchdown and redeems himself, as Randle El had earlier, by intercepting a pass. It is the game's turning point. However, at 24-7 with 7:17 left in the third quarter, Logan's knee injury during the return sets the Steelers back three defensive backs. Brent Alexander moves to the dime position next to linebacker Joey Porter and has difficulty communicating the secondary calls. Rookie Chris Hope moves to free safety. His backup is wide receiver Plaxico Burress.
  • Many in the media, by the way, are wondering whether it's time for Stewart to replace Maddox. Cowher does not make the move and 10 plays later the Steelers pull to within 24-14.
  • Entering the fourth quarter, the notorious Heinz Field playing surface is holding up well, comparatively speaking of course.
  • Down 27-14 very early in the fourth, Randle El catches a pass for 20 yards, catches another for 30, makes the kickout block on Zereoue's 7-yard run and catches a third pass in the four plays to put the Steelers at the 2. Randle El then turns the game over to tight end Jerame Tuman, who catches a tipped pass for a touchdown.
  • The Browns take a snap on their last touchdown with no time on the play clock. It's missed and seems like a much bigger deal than the ref's missed call on Flowers, but the Browns fail on a 2-point conversion, and those giving the one-and-a-half can still see green, just in case the Steelers pull off a miracle.
  • Maddox is sacked during a 2-man Browns pass rush and Anthony Henry drops an interception. "Kordell Stewart wouldn't have thrown that," our press-box madman offers up. Another couple of dumb mistakes by the Browns sets up a 5-yard touchdown pass, into quadruple coverage, from Maddox to Hines Ward.
  • Bell is helped off the field after the first play of the Steelers' most important defensive stand of the season. "It was a dime situation anyway," Kimo von Oelhoffen would muse after the game.
  • On 3rd-and-12, Northcutt breaks free behind Poteat, again, and Holcomb makes a beautiful pass. The ball hits Northcutt's hands. And then it hits the ground. The Drop.
  • Jeannette's Dick Hoak, an assistant coach with the team during the Immaculate Reception, calls for a fullback draw from the press box as the Steelers move in for the kill. It was the play that Maddox said he'd audible, if it hadn't been called. The same play, out of the same formation, with the same personnel, had earlier in the game resulted in a loss of yardage, but this time Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala rams it home to put the Steelers ahead by 1 with less than a minute to play.
  • The extra point will provide the gravy for the economy of the Steeler Nation, but wait. Cowher is sending the 2-point conversion unit onto the field – without Maddox! Ward lines up under center, looks at my horrified face behind the end line, and goes in motion. Randle El takes the snap and rolls right. Tuman breaks free to make the catch so that Steelers fans can have their cake and eat it, too. All that's left is Holcomb, Poteat, and a good, strong heave, but Burress enters the game and lines up deep, and the Browns dink and dunk their season away.
  • The most important post-game news concerns the status of Bell. He was given "the good stuff" prior to the game, but as Cowher said, "What he got was only going to last about five hours and the game itself lasted about five hours." In other words, the drugs had worn off and the inference is that another shot of "the good stuff" next week ought to do the trick.
  • On another news front, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who interviewed Saturday afternoon for the Bengals' head coaching job, is adamant that his one and only focus right now is winning a Super Bowl.
  • The best post-game comment comes from von Oelhoffen, who said,  "That's probably the most fear I have ever had playing the game of football."   
    Fear?
    "Fear of losing. Fear of going home. I don't want to go home. I've got nothing at home but my daughters, and that's great, but this is why – this is what I'm living for is to play this game."

    --Jim Wexell

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