View from the Sideline

Craig Wolfley watched from the sidelines Sunday as the Steelers pillaged and plundered the Vikings. This is what he saw:

Watching the pre-game warm-up festivities from a ringside view was the "Gladiator" himself, Russell Crowe. I wanted to tell him I'd named my third son Maximos after the fictitious character he'd played in the movie, but seeing myself in the movie theater of my mind being dragged away by security and thrown out of the stadium with Russ yelling "It was only a movie you wacko!" kept me quiet. Once the ball got kicked off, I was quiet no more. And here's what I saw from groundhog level:

* Max Starks told me earlier in the week that Jared Allen, though a great player, racked those gaudy sack stats up in the dome (where he was able to take advantage of crowd noise to get a good jump on the snap) and guys that were dinged up. And when the smoke cleared, the stat line read two tackles and a tipped pass for Allen. That was it. No sacks or tackles for loss, fumble recoveries, or any of the other myriad nightmarish mojinations Allen's capable of bringing to anybody's house on any given weekend.

Two things became clear early on: Max had a great kick-step while staying centered, and he used those "Jumper cables" disguised as arms to tag Allen before he could get upfield. Staying centered while kick stepping allows you to stay in balance and therefore you are at your strongest. Punching early and often slows a mutant pass rusher who has to engage and battle early in getting upfield and getting an angle before engaging.

Max was having none of that and tied Allen up quickly before re-loading and pummeling or circling his hands after the initial contact and working to grab control of Allen's chest plate as the two behemoths fought for the all important "centerline" that divides a player in half. The player who wins is the man who controls his opponent's balance point. And that is the centerline.

That's not to say that Max didn't have a couple "Close encounters of the sack kind." But on a couple of occasions Max "Flozell-ed" Allen, making like Marc-Andre Fleury kicking out a slap shot on the short side of the net. Illegal, I suppose, but only if you get caught.

* Ryan Clark's hit on Percy Harvin over the middle was devastating, with Percy catching a glimpse of the human heat-seeking-missile a heartbeat before Clark closed and obliterated any rational thought process for a couple of seconds. I watched Harvin take a long, slow and painful walk to the sidelines and I'm sure he was going over the essentials in his mind, such as my name is Percy and I'm playing in hmmm…aahhh???

* Santonio Holmes's timely block on the safety to spring Mike Wallace was a thing of beauty from my vantage point in the end zone. Engaging the corner, Tone eyeballed the safety and released as the corner went to contain, and whacked the safety a moment before 4.28 Wallace came smoking. Mike looks fast on TV, faster still from the stands, and indescribable from groundhog level.

At some point Wallace, while going Greg Louganis ith a front somersault into the end zone on his beautiful 40-plus post pattern TD, had to be thinking "This might be a bad idea." I'm thinking it was about the time he was re-entering the earth's atmosphere and preparing for splashdown. That was some elevation the young man showed, but until they install crash pads on the field he might want to re-think that TD celebration.

* Will Gay did a great impression of road-kill when he tried to tackle Adrian Peterson. It looked like Jerome Bettis running over Brian Urlacher. Will is a much better player than that, and it only serves to reinforce that old NFL saying "If you haven't had your butt kicked on a football field, it's only because you haven't played much." Sooner or later, you get mulched.

* Andy Russell is off the hook for the slowest fumble recovery return for a TD in Steelers history. When I spied James Harrison casually backpedaling next to Lamar like a deep safety on a fourth and 50, I had a barometer to measure Lamar's terrific return by. Great play by a wonderful young player, but its best to poke fun when you get the "W."

* Keyaron Fox showed virtually the same thing on his return, but they didn't have to manually accelerate the play on "Sportscenter" the way they did Lamar's.


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