View From The Sideline

Craig Wolfley knew the warm breezes that kissed the Steelers on the Miami sideline last Sunday wouldn't last into the month of February.

The sidelines at Land Shark Stadium in Miami provided an intoxicating backdrop to the finale to the 2009 season. Warm and breezy prior to kickoff, game-time temps were cool for Miamians but a stark contrast to the 12 whole degrees Pittsburgh was enjoying at the time.

* Speaking of cool weather in Miami, I've never seen so many "Fins to the left; fins to the right" Jimmy Buffet/Dolphins fans singing and wearing tukes and hoodies. And while on the subject, Pittsburgh can rest easy in the Jumbotron intimidation war. There's very little threat factor when the Jumbotron in Miami is showing singer/part-owner Marc Anthony, all 128 pounds of him, or Cheech and Chong doing their schtick, up on the board. It's a little different than a good rousing rendition of "Renegade" in Pittsburgh.

* The sidelines just prior to kickoff carried with it a sense of the end of the season even though the Houston-New England game was also a one o'clock start. Players chest-bumped, hugged, and went through the usual pre-game gyrations of a team focused on winning its third straight. But the hugs were a little longer and the faces were a little grimmer, thanks to the understanding that their odds of making the playoffs were long.

* Rashard Mendenhall has come so far. From a benching due to lacking attention to details, to transitioning into a multi-faceted run/catch/block triple threat, this young man has come a great distance. The only -- and I say this as a guy who never carried the ball a single time in the NFL -- anticipated development is that he might use the jump cut more when cutting back. When he chops his feet, he slows down to hit the back side. The chop action slows his acceleration. When the eighth man in the box drops in, he has the advantage over Rashard trying to regain mojo.

* LaMarr Woodley has been on fire the last eight games. If only he could get out of the gates as fast as he closes the season, he might well re-write James Harrison's team sacks record. LaMarr racked up two sacks in the first half, left one on the field in the second half, and had a shot at a four-bagger by the end of the game.

* He has star potential. LaMarr benefits from a system that turns the dogs loose, and he has a great bookend that allows him to battle with tight ends, backs, or both on occasion, which his first sack was. With Harrison and Woodley, it's truly pick-your-poison for opposing offensive coordinators. I find it hard to describe the power it takes to run over 330-pound tackles, coupled with the speed to turn the edge on a tight end and the agility to jump over and not miss a step with a back cut-blocking him. If you look up the word "specimen" in the dictionary, you'll see LaMarr staring back at you.

* I happened to be standing about 10 yards from the impact zone when Lawrence Timmons chased Dolphins quarterback Pat White as if he were a blood hound. Timmons rocketed from the inside buck linebacker position and accelerated like he was in one of those funny-looking cars trying to set a world record on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. People speak of closing speed, LT just does it. It's amazing to watch from groundhog level.

* Timmons dove after White and caused him to fall forward into another heat-seeking projectile in the form of cornerback Ike Taylor. The resulting crunch could be heard easily, even though I had my headset on. White lay motionless on the ground without a quiver. Immediately I yelled "He's out!" I've been around a knockout or two in my day, both in football and boxing. Shoot, I've even been on the receiving end during competition in both sports. (I'm always reminded when I see a KO why some people teach boxing, as I should just stick to, and why others compete in boxing.) Regardless, it was a scary moment for Pat – a lifelong Steelers fan -- his family, and all the players on both sides of the ball.

* Every player out there knew it could've been him. They live with that inherent threat. The looks on the faces of all concerned, especially Ike, was evident. Nobody wants to see a player hurt, boarded and carried off. It certainly gives each player a sense of his own mortality in a sport that lives 10 feet tall and bulletproof.

* The look on Willie Parker's face in the post-game locker room only served notice of the great work he had done on the field. That last drive engineered by the Steelers to ice the game featured the fresh legs of Fast Willie against what was by then some heavy legs of the Dolphins. Willie one-cut and jumped like a rabbit out of a cage and left many a Dolphin defender reaching for empty air. Willie will be missed. He's a classy young man, and handled the difficulties of this season as a real pro. But like Larry Foote, Willie wants to start. I'm glad for him he had the chance to contribute in a meaningful way before exiting Pittsburgh.

* The sense of finality after the game was overwhelming. I walked off the field and into the locker room. Many guys just sat in their gear, disbelieving the Houston final score. What a difference from the post-game locker room in Tampa Bay just a few months ago, or so it seemed.

* From "King of the Dance" to not even being invited to waltz is quite a fall from grace. That's what makes this game so incredibly challenging and rewarding. I so very much want to thank all who have spent their valuable time reading my post-game thoughts, and I most humbly look forward to resuming this in the 2010 season.

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