Dateline: Pittsburgh, 18 December 2011
Head Coach Mike Tomlin's remarks to the press after Saturday's practice shocked even grizzled beat reporters when he revealed that a decimated Steelers squad cannot even put a starting lineup of 22 players on the field for Monday night's joust at Candlestick Park.
"Have I ever heard of such a thing before? You tell me. I'm just trying to figure out how we can play winning football," said a composed Tomlin. "After all, that's how they did it in the old days. If it was good enough for the NFL then, it's good enough for me now."
When pressed for details, Tomlin lost a bit of his legendary cool.
"Why are we planning to play our guys on both sides of the field? Well, I'd like to know who you propose we put in."
Tomlin then went through an injury/inactive report that took over seven minutes. No one was surprised by James Harrison's suspension or by Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey's ankle sprains. But Marcus Gilbert's hospitalization, Emmanuel Sanders' foot infection, and Ziggy Hood's lingering groin injury were a surprise. And by the time Tomlin had finished reading the list of injured or ill players, you could have heard a pin drop in the room.
"So that's it, gentlemen. We have precisely 16 men remaining on the team that are capable of playing on Monday night. We have no choice but to play them on both offense and defense, and I just hope that their conditioning is up to the task."
Chaos erupted in the room as questions flew furiously towards the podium, but Tomlin raised a hand and the noise abruptly ceased.
"I know that you want to know who is going to play what positions. We are still working out the fine details, but here is what I can tell you now.
First, at quarterback, we will go with Hines Ward. Fortunately his concussion-like symptoms have subsided sufficiently to allow him to play. Charlie Batch, as you may have noted in my report, was hurt when he took an unusually hard snap from Doug Legursky. Dennis Dixon was hospitalized earlier in the week when a locker room prank went wrong, and it turned out he was violently allergic to the guinea pigs that were nesting in his cleats. The doctors tell us that it may be weeks before he can get his feet into any shoes at all.
We had hoped to avoid dealing with the kick/punt team, and proposed to the League Office and to Jim Harbaugh that when a punt or kickoff was necessary that the ball just be placed on the 20 yard line. Unfortunately, before the League could respond, Harbaugh said that this would not be acceptable to him, and so Jeremy Kapinos will handle all kicking and punting duties, as well being the backup for the linebacking corps. He's never actually played linebacker, but he does tackle well, and we won't ask for any pass-rushing duties from him when he is rotated in.
Tyler Grisham will be the back-up quarterback, as well as rotating in for the receivers and the safeties. Ike Taylor will start at corner as usual, and will serve as a receiver on the offensive side of the ball. He has, after all, caught interceptions in the past two games, which we find to be above the line. Will Allen will be the other starting corner, and will also be a receiver. Ryan Mundy and Ryan Clark will fill out the receiving lineup. Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith will rotate in for all secondary and receiving positions.
Brett Keisel is getting his wish—in addition to starting at defensive end, he will play some tight end. Anyone designated as a receiver may also be asked to act as a running back if needed; Larry Foote is the designated starting running back, and Larry, James Farrior, and Doug Legursky will form what you might call an inside linebacking corps by committee.
Putting together an offensive line was a bit of a challenge, although fortunately one starter and one backup are good to go. Doug Legursky will play center, Max Starks will play left tackle, and Max will also serve as the nose tackle on running downs on defense. Mortty Ivy will play at right guard, Steve McLendon at left guard, and Cameron Heyward will show us whether he is worthy of a first-round draft pick by his play at right tackle. Brett Keisel will also rotate in with all offensive line players except center—Doug Legursky and James Farrior will share those duties.
Who are the backups? Well, "backup" is a fluid concept in this plan. The fact is that every man still standing will be on the field for a considerable portion of the game."
Once again cacophony reigned as reporters shouted questions. Tomlin again raised his hand, and the room fell silent.
"I'm afraid that I can't take any questions at this time. I've got enough of my own. But the standard is the standard, and I expect each and every man to give a winning effort on Monday night."
A lone voice cried "Can you predict the score?"
A sly smile played across Tomlin's lips as he said "I'm not in the business of speculating in any form or fashion. All I can tell you is this—we are going to whoop their effete West Coast granola-eating BUTTS."
And before the stunned crowd could react, Tomlin had slipped out the door.
Note: I trust that everyone can tell that this is fiction, although it was prompted by a stunning injury list in today's newspaper, including Marcus Gilbert's hospital stay this week and so on. But I'm quite sure that Mike Tomlin would never use the phrase "effete West Coast granola-eating BUTTS" in a press conference.