After riding the bus over to LP Stadium from the team hotel, I stopped into the Steelers locker room to drop off my luggage 3-4 hours before kickoff. I went in to see Steelers Head Trainer John Norwig to bum some sunscreen since I had forgot to bring any myself and I was stopped in my tracks by the huge number of I.V. bottles at the ready. Oh yeah, this is going to be a hot one I thought.
The intensity of the sun matched the look on the Steelers faces as they took the field just prior to the kickoff. It was blazing hot, hot the way standing too close to a heater in winter is too hot. It wasn’t merely uncomfortable, it was brutal. When the players were on the bench, sucking Gatorade and water, young bucks held sun screens over their heads trying to provide just a little relief from the scorching sun.
After Antonio Brown lit up the stadium and Stevenson Sylvester tackled and caused a fumble which Keyaron Fox recovered on the following kickoff that reduced all the honky-tonkers in the crowd to beer crying early, the only guy on the sideline that seemed a little miffed was DE Aaron Smith. Aaron looked like a bull snorting before somebody pulls a gate open and then it’s 7 seconds of fury. Oo boy, Aaron’s ready to play some football.
Dennis Dixon donked Heath Miller in the helmet and Hines Ward started a melee that turned into a free-for-all. Guys were feisty and temperatures were rising that had nothing to do with the sun. Flozell Adams laid a shot on a number I didn’t catch, but it was amazing the dude didn’t have whiplash. Flo put it on him.
When Dennis Dixon took one from the blindside 2 plays later and fumbled, everybody on the sidelines seemed to flinch as one. Guys were screaming “Blitz, blitz” but Dennis didn’t see Titans LB’er Will Witherspoon come late off the slot.
Rashard Mendenhall manned up on this day to provide some of the hardest fought for 69 yards of his young career. This guy has come a long ways since taking a seat in Chicago last year. Mendenhall runs hard, spins, stiff-arms and puts it to would-be tacklers. He’s just beginning to understand what he’s capable of. After the game was long over and we flew back to Pittsburgh, I happened to be walking through the airport behind Rashard. He looked like a cowboy that’s saddle sore and been punching cows out on the trail. Tunch Ilkin asked him, “Rashard, is this the worst you’ve ever felt after a game?” Rashard said “No, I’ve been worse.” I want no part of any game where what I was watching hobble down the hall had experienced worse.
Chris Johnson of the Titans found out what it was like subbing for a Pinyata. Remember I spoke last week of the need, among other things, to hit the daylights out of Johnson every chance the defense had. From the second quarter on, you could see Johnson getting up slower and slower. Off the top of my very flat head I can think of half a dozen or so wicked shots he absorbed. After the “Silverback” planted Johnson like a tree on Arbor Day, it was clear that Johnson was suffering from a severe case of James Harrison poisoning.
Speaking of planting someone, I don’t think I’ve seen a more brutal sack than the one put on Vince Young by James along with Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. Harrison double-legged Young while Smith and “The Deisel” crunched the upper body. Vince must’a thought he was caught in the spin cycle of a washing machine.
“Law Dawg” Lawrence Timmons has gone from ridiculously talented to performing ridiculously. His closing speed is like a Rottweiler on a T-bone steak. Tell me that Chris Johnson couldn’t have sped by any other human on the planet but the Law Dawg on a run from the Steelers two-yard line late in the fourth quarter. That play was all about who was mentally tougher. Both were exhausted, both had played crunching football all day. Now, who can turn it up a notch when it matters most. Law Dawg, paws down.
The long-haired-flying-Hawaiian-human-crash-test-dummy Troy Polamalu again did things on the field I’ve simply never seen before. The INT was rather average for Troy, but blowing up a guard on a blitz, and dropping from the sky like a bird of prey after a tasty snack when he dropped Kerry Collins on a QB sneak right before Law Dawg did his deal on Johnson was another in the long list of “Did you see that?” plays by the Flying Monk. On the sidelines Coach Mike was beside himself. As were all the other players who were so hoarse and dehydrated, you could hear guys croak like bullfrogs.
Though the flight was just an hour or so from Music-City USA back to the ‘Burgh, that was probably one of the more subdued Steelers flights I’ve ever been on in my 21 years of flying team charters. Everybody was exhausted from the game. Guys didn’t move about the way they normally do. I don’t expect that things will get any livelier after another smoking Sunday in Tampa Bay coming up next week. That’s okay, visiting with others after a game like that is over-rated.
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