In 1862, a reporter asked President Lincoln how he felt about the results of the election in New York, where a Democrat had just been elected Governor. Lincoln famously responded, “Somewhat like that boy in Kentucky, who stubbed his toe while running to see his sweetheart. The boy said he was too big to cry, and far too badly hurt to laugh.”
Well, that's how Homer feels the morning after. Except he's still immensely proud of the team he loves, and the character they showed yesterday.
First of all, props to Denver and Tebow. They played clean. They played hard. They took what was given them, and more. Tebow's ability to hit the long pass was both unexpected and uncanny. Denver won the game with huge splash plays. The Steelers didn't hand it to them. They earned everything they got with spectacular passes and receptions.
Second, please understand that Steeler uniforms don't have magical powers and do not make plays by themselves. The plays are made by the players, and too many of them were injured, especially on the D. When Hampton and Kiesel went down early in the first quarter, that meant McLendon, Hood, and Heyward had to play almost the entire game in Denver's mile high air. By the end, they were totally gassed.
The secondary, which Tebow burned time and time again on long passes, was already in tatters. Clark could not play. But, even more telling, Cortez Brown and Curtis Allen went down in recent weeks, and Keenan Lewis was nursing a bad hamstring. That's four DB's lost.
Coach Dad was severely limited in what he could dial up - especially in coverages - because of his personnel issues - especially among DB's.
The Steelers game plan was to stop Denver on the run, stop Tebow from scrambling, and make him beat us with the long pass. Considering his past performances and Steeler personnel issues, it seemed to be a good defensive game plan. It was, except for the fact that it didn't work. Tebow beat the Steelers with the long pass.
Homer is proud that the Steelers stuck together, and - outmanned because of injuries - still fought back from a 20-6 lead to tie the game. They nearly won it in the last minute. But it was not to be.
There were so many good things about this past season, and they provide Homer a source of comfort over his morning coffee.
1) Ben Roethlisberger not only turned his life around, but he became a team leader. Ben has seen the error of his ways, sought redemption and found it, found his soulmate and took her hand in marriage, and has transformed himself. He has always been nearly indestructible, but the courage he showed in the Cleveland game and yesterday is the stuff of legend. In many ways, this is the best story of the past year.
2) Despite that 12-4 regular season record, this was a year of transition and reloading. The defensive backfield went from being a weakness to a strong point, with Keenan Lewis and William Gay stepping up and rookies Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown making huge contributions when called upon. Marcus Gilbert was terrific as a rookie on the offensive line, and Cameron Heyward is simply a beast-in-training on the DL, with a limitless ceiling. And all these rookies seem have good work ethic and solid character. The Steelers struck gold in the last two drafts, and we will see the dividends for years to come.
3) Isaac Redman. Damn, he's tough to bring down. Blocks well, too. Guess we were right about him.
4) You play the game to win, but the loss to the Broncos may have a silver lining or two. First, it underscores the need for change and transition. Some of our most beloved veterans know they'll either have to retire or take big pay cuts to stick around. The reality of the salary cap is that you can't pay big bucks to your fifth receiver or your backup DE, as much as you respect them and love them. And second, if Tebow was able to shred the Steelers depleted secondary, imagine what Brady would have done next week. Sheesh.
As Bobby Burns once wrote, I'll lay me down and bleed awile, and then rise up to fight again. And, as Myron Cope once said, "our wonderful Pittsburgh Steelers season is over." Our guys overcame injuries and setbacks all year, to post a 12-4 record, and came back from a two touchdown deficit in Denver. They never ran out of fight, even though they nearly ran out of guys.
The loss hurts, and we are like that kid in Kentucky that Honest Abe joked about. But we are proud of our guys, proud of the character they showed all year, and the effort they put forth. We are proud of the unmatched Steeler tradition. When Mike Tomlin and the rest of the crew walk into work, they walk past six Lombardi Trophies. Nobody can match that. And nobody can match the quality of the Steeler organization.
Thanks, guys, for a helluva year. Spend time with your families, rest, and get well.
You are still our heroes.