A Season on the Brink
Association Press, Dateline Pittsburgh
With the first half winding down in Sunday’s key match-up with the Seahawks, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin saw his team’s season writhe on the edge of a scalpel. His franchise QB, Big Ben Roethlisberger, hobbled to the sideline after taking a shot to the knee. Instinctively, Steelers backup Charlie Batch threw down his clipboard, exchanged his signature ball cap for a helmet, and rushed on the field before calmer heads could stop him.(continued after the jump)
Knowledgeable fans around the stadium groaned. No one manned the clipboard.
Most NFL teams sit the all-important first team quarterback when games get out of hand. Not in Pittsburgh where personnel savvy took them to three Super Bowls in six years. Hence, BB stood tall in the pocket late last week in Baltimore [except when Ngata tried to plant him into the Maryland dirt] despite trailing by twenty-eight points. After all, any lug can heave a leather sack stuffed with compressed air, but back-up QBs who can chart no-huddle plays on sight and without miss-spelling ‘punt’ are rare.
By the time Tomlin realized the danger, Batch had squatted behind the center, ready to take the snap. Much too late, the head coach tried to call time-out while offensive coordinator Bruce Arians clutched his chest and collapsed. Without Batch’s handwritten evidence to keep his play-calling in check, Arians knew in his heart-of-hearts his addictions to ‘let’s send Wallace deep and cross our fingers’ and ‘throw it to a flanker for a two yard loss and hope they break a tackle’ would doom the entire season and probably his job. Batch survived the first play unscathed.
Someone had to be the lead dog with the clipboard. Dennis Dixon snatched it off ground, but paused with the pen on the paper. Was it second and ‘gole,’ he wondered, or ‘goal?’ Spelling had never been his forte. Tomlin tried to reclaim the clipboard, but DD felt the backside pressure and scrambled automatically. Darting between a ball boy and the medical staff attending Ben, he leapt over the bench, juked out William Gay, and stiff-armed Dick LeBeau before being smacked upside the head by Polomalu, which brought him to his senses. His maker, Dennis recalled, had made him to be a runner who could throw a ball, not a writer who could spell ‘Taj Mahal.’
The team and attentive fans gasped, Batch clutched a hand in obvious pain after the second play. All along the Steelers sideline, grown men wrung their hands and wailed. No one cheered that Charlie had set a personal record by escaping injury the first play—the hand he grasped was his writing hand!
“What’s wrong with Ben?” screamed Tomlin at the medical staff. “Can he play?”
The team doctor shook his head. “It’s a slight fracture of the upper femur compounded by a partial tear of the ACL. An immediate x-ray and MRI should—”
“The key words,” growled Tomlin as he knocked the man aside, “are ‘slight’ and ‘partial.’ Ben,” he addressed the QB, “we need you big guy!”
Onlookers claim the injured player said, “But...but my leg! Make Ryan take some snaps. He set them off with that quip about ‘not being our rivals any more.’ Suggs is trying to kill me!”
“You’re having a flashback,” snapped Tomlin. “Wake up! We’re playing the Seahawks, not the Ravens. Besides, you’re a passer, not a kicker. Suck it up and get out there!”
Big Ben [who also can’t man the clipboard and knows it—it was he who suggested ‘gole’ to Dennis] mumbled in agreement, picked up his helmet, and retook the field. The season still hung on a flimsy thread; would Charlie be able to write?!!
Only Kevin Colbert, the Steelers personnel wizard, looked on unaffected. He alone knew the secret that had made acquiring Batch the steal of the decade: Charlie was ambitious...um...ambitextral...err, screw it! He can write with both hands!