View From The Sideline

After walking the sideline as a reporter for the Steelers Radio Network, Craig Wolfley penned this notes column for SteelCityInsider.com.

For all the hoopla surrounding the kickoff of the 2009 NFL season opener, this game had all the aesthetics of a "Pier Six" brawl. From the arms of defensive end Aaron Smith, who after battling the Titans offensive tackle Dave Stewart all night sported limbs that looked like he had a go with a wood chipper, to the "Man from Troy's" knee injury, this was a slugfest, and from the best seat in the house, this is what I saw:

* Pandemonium was the word that caught the Mudville emotional meter. Tim McGraw kicked off the festivities over at the Point, only to give way to the Black-Eyed Peas. Female rapper "Fergie" looked like an early candidate for the Janet Jackson equipment malfunction award. But the Steelers took the field to a SRO crowd that loved every Jumbotron blip of Mike Tomlin, on through everybody else including Rod Woodson's half-time Hall of Fame Ring presentation. Lendale White was booed with every breath he took, and even had himself a police escort off the field when the game ended. All in all, it was quite a pre-game celebration.

* I had the pleasure of bumping into the "Commish," Roger Goodell on the sidelines. As Rog is a Jamestown, New York, native and I'm a Western New Yorker by birth and ardent seeker of important items that drop from my brain to my mouth "like a gumball machine" (my wife's quote), I immediately had to ask if he had taken in the Lucille Ball Museum and Festival that Jamestown hosts every year.

"Not yet," was his candid reply, but he assured me he intends to, and also revealed that his brother had. With all the ta-doings of the NFL, I have to believe that the Commissioner could use a little humor now and then.

* I know Stefan Logan has never seen a bigger stage than the one he was standing on this night. Anticipation rippled through the stadium as "Gizmo" took his place on the field for the opening kickoff. Giz shifts gears as smoothly as a Ferrari smoking down the Autobahn over in Germany. It was a good night for the young man all night long, aside from a misplayed punt that had him resorting to halo rules in the CFL. Stefan took his eyes off the ball long enough to lose it, which I attributed to the 5-yard life preservation rule in Canada where they can't immediately rip your Tuke (Canadian for a ski hat) off your head.

* It's true, you simply can't overthrow Mike Wallace. He was a turbo-charged post pattern running Ferrari that, if Big Ben hadn't been pulling the string a little too much, would've scored a quick six.

*In last year's game in Tennessee, the Steelers defense didn't run a Fire-X all game long. This night they made up for it by running a bunch. The Fire-X has the two inside linebackers blitzing and crossing on a stunt. James Farrior came through for the Steelers' only sack of the night.

* I knew this defensive line of the Titans was going to be a good test for the Steelers' offensive line, but I must admit, as did a lot of the boys in the locker room afterwards, they didn't have the coming out party they had envisioned. The Titans rotate seven or eight fresh guys during the course of a game and they did a marvelous job of shutting down the Steelers' running game. In particular, Titans defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil, whom I've played against and can attest to the fact that he's nuts, converts his "nutticsm" into brilliant stra-tee-gery.

Cecil had his linebackers crashing the line of scrimmage and running through. The Titans' defensive tackles did a "Titanic" job of stuffing the double team blocks that has had me crowing about their summertime work ethic and success. You simply can't combo block if you can't move the guy with his hand on the ground.

* The Titans didn't even have to put eight in the box every time either. And that's a shame, yet I'll say this: That offensive line fought tooth and nail, and though they gave up four sacks (two on the line, one on the QB and wide outs and unsure of the other), when it came to crunch time, they stood tall and fought like wild men when they needed it most.

* After the Steelers fell behind in the fourth quarter, the rules change when it comes to pass pro in the last couple of minutes. At that time, O-line coach Larry Zierlein imparts a dispensation unto his hogs and "007s" them with immunity to keep their quarterback clean. They are knighted to commit anything short of a felony to keep the mutant pass rushers off No. 7. And they did just that. I saw more leg whips, face washes, holds, trips, you name it. They had more violations in those two minutes than I've seen in a long time.

The results speak for themselves. Ben checked down many times to his underneath guys while having the ability to go through his progression and pump fake the ball. That's pass protection.

* The only thing I didn't count on was the best receiver in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers getting stripped of the ball just as he was about to catch an updraft as he prepared to dive into the end zone. Give it to Michael Griffin: That was a world-class strip.

* The key play of the game was the overtime coin toss. Tails was the call, and heads it was. (I listened and the Tennessee guy didn't say "Tails never fails." You gotta say that before you call it). Hines Ward wanted the ball as bad as you could. Later on he said watching the toss was the longest couple of seconds of his life. Two catches for 19 yards helped ease the painful fumble, but the brilliant Ward smile wasn't flashing too much as he came up the players' tunnel post-game.

* I simply don't have the words to describe the performance of the Flying-Hawaiian-Human-Crash-Test-Dummy and what he means to this team. That one-handed interception grab was unbelievable, as was his mano-y-mano showdown in the open field with Chris Johnson. stunning. Troy came from the inside out on Johnson and gave him no angle to outrun him. When Ryan Clark says that God touched Troy a little bit more than the rest of us, he wasn't kidding. And NFL life without Troy won't be easy, but it must be done. And please, don't even mention the (non) penalties.

* Shades of Babe Ruth calling a center field shot when Aaron Smith called a FG block in pre-game. The big one came through and scorched the gap while getting one of those wood-chippered paws up into the air to clang a Rob Bironas FG attempt. I've said it before and I'll say it again: This defense is great because they have a passionate desire to be great. Not good, great.

* I really enjoyed Bruce Arians turning the reigns of the game over to Big Ben. The no-huddle stuff kept the Tennesseans from rotating fresh defensive linemen into the game on that last drive. The big-uns were tired and heaving and B.A. and Co. simply wore them down. Even Kyle Van Den Bosch was sucking big wind. When you see the big guys standing on the line of scrimmage with their hands on their hips, legs crossed like they have to run to the bathroom, you know they are sucking big wind.

* Jeff Reed on the sidelines prepping for a game winner is like watching Yoda go through his Jedi-mind concentration exercises as he gets ready to end the game. He's like a circus knife thrower with an assistant standing against a wall. He simply can't miss when the stakes are that high. His look after the kick said it all: "Show me the money!" And I really can't argue that at all. See you in Chi-town.


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