Normally I would be rooting hard for a Steelers victory this weekend in any case, but I am praying, burning incense and contemplating sacrificing small innocent animals in the hope that these pathological musings will go back into remission because frankly, its a little bit scary.
That was my attitude as Sunday's home opener against the Jets approached. As soon as Ben threw that pick six in Denver it became a foregone conclusion that a rough week awaited Steeler Nation and BTSC.
For all of our talk of the sophistication of Steelers fans it is an unavoidable truth that there is a segment that is
flatout crazy! Okay, let me try that again. Some among the legion of fans in Steeler Nation exhibit insane tendencies when the team experiences minor misfortune. Personally, while it would not be the outcome I would have desired, I didn't subscribe to the notion that an 0-2 start would necessarily signal the end of the world. However, I feared I might be in the minority in that regard. And for certain (and most of you know this to be true) the panic and insanity would go absolutely viral.
We're not talking about climbing on the ledge, we're talking about diving head first out the window. We're talking about finger pointing, inquisition, executions (proposed), rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. This could go on for weeks, months maybe. And honestly, I didn't want to have to put up with that crap. I can only take so much
crazy uh, passion, before I get irritable and rude.
The bar that I attended was in Alexandria which is a thirty minute drive away, so when I arrive at 4:00 my first task as I settle in is to catch up on the progress of the early games. Steelers fans are the predominant group, but I immediately notice some Eagle and Redskins fans in attendance. The game displayed in the Steelers section is Cardinals versus Patriots and, surprise, Arizona is leading late in the 4th quarter. This is hopeful, but...c'mon. You just have to assume that Brady will pull off some sort of comeback or that the Cardinals will screw up somehow. Steelers fans tend to be somewhat stoic when they are in mixed company and Pittsburgh isn't directly involved in a game. I knew that we all wanted New England to go down in the worst possible way, but to look at us we appeared to the untrained eye to be uninterested in what was going on.
Sure enough Arizona running back Ryan Williams coughs up the ball in Cardinal territory. A group of about a dozen Pats fans whom I had not noticed earlier make quite the commotion. The Steelers fans sit poker faced, but I sense that, like me, they're pissed. I have a weakness about Patriots fans. I tend to imagine them as being smug and arrogant. This probably isn't so, just my justification for not liking them much. As they continue to celebrate I lean over toward the guy sitting across from me and nod in the direction of the Pats fans and ask, "Can we take them out back and kill them?" There is another factor at play here.
The Steelers fans are also a little on edge. Truth be told, in spite of the optimistic banter there is a whiff of doubt in the air. The Jets looked pretty good beating the Bills last week. The Steelers, who knows? Is this reversal suffered by Pittsburgh West some kind of omen? Is this gonna be one of those days? And then, miraculously, New England kicker Steve Gostkowski channels his inner Bill Cundiff and shanks the field goal attempt badly. The Steelers fans erupt. Take that Cheatriots! The Pats fans are stunned; first by the events on the field and then by the reaction, a verbal form of a sucker punch, by the heretofore passive Steelers fans. Its not the victory over the Jets that we are hoping for, but a positive development nonetheless. Things are looking brighter.
I assume because of some sort of contractual obligations we don't get the Steelers game right away. We have to endure the end of Ravens/Eagles. We are understandably bitter about this, but there is some consolation in that Baltimore is losing and word comes in via smart phones that the Steelers are up 3-0. The Joe Flacco that was a world beater in week one is not present. The Flacco we all know and love fails to rally his team at the end. The Steelers fans erupt again. The Pats and Ravens go down to agonizing defeats within moments of each other. Neither team looked anywhere near as formidable as they did the previous week. The 2012 season is looking up.
The joy is short lived as the Pittsburgh game cuts on precisely at the moment that Santonio Holmes catches a touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez. And in the short run things don't look good for the home team. The defense appears as porous as it was in Denver, the offense hums along for a few plays and then stumbles. Things turn around after Lawrence Timmons levels Sanchez and running back Shonn Greene is knocked woozy by Ryan Mundy. These are the Steelers that I have known and love. Most problems can be solved if you just rachet up the violence by a few notches. Heath Miller catches a short touchdown pass near the end of the half and somehow you got the feeling that things were under control.
The second half unfolds the way I believe we all imagined these games would when we were suffering from severe withdrawal back in April or thereabouts. The defense is now effective. Ben is on top of his game. All is well for the most part. Two things disturb my peace. Rex Ryan challenges a spot that is successful and results in a 4th and one deep in Steeler territory. One fan begins yelling for the Steelers to "Go for it." I pay it no mind. It's the third quarter, we're ahead by ten. He's just kidding right? But he keeps repeating that we need to "Go for it." Then I heard a few other people pick up the chant. Remember what I said about crazy? Cooler heads were disagreeing in a good natured way, at least at first. Somehow the idea formed that there would be some weird form of telepathy, a Jedi mind trick would influence Tomlin to 'Go for it'. Boss Steeler Chick caught my eye. I guess the look on my face was floating somewhere between horror and hostile. She said that the fan in question was "passionate". She said passionate in the same tone that educators use when they describe a student as "special". The Steelers punted, the Jets fumbled and turned the ball over. No harm done.
Then there was Tim Tebow. For me the words 'Tim Tebow' elicits the same reaction as 'Niagara Falls' did for the Three Stooges; it takes me into the Mechem zone. So when Tebow ran for a long gain I went somewhere rather dark. How dare Tebow show his face in Pittsburgh? I wanted the defense (joined by Harrison and Polamalu in street clothes) to catch Tebow, dismember him and feed his parts to a herd of feral cats collected for this specific purpose by the Rooneys. This is illegal of course, but given the deer in the headlights behavior of the replacement officials by the time they intervene the cats would have completed their meal and would be sitting at midfield cleaning themselves. And Steeler Nation and the world would be delivered from Tim Tebow. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, but I think Rex Ryan got the vibe because Tebow was quickly removed from the game and didn't come back.
Finally, there was the bonus of Mike Tomlin. As you all know, Tomlin is a pretty cool customer on the sideline; never too high or too low. So, for me it was quite a treat to see the coach let his hair down, fist bumping and back slapping with his offensive lineman after that 10 minute plus 4th quarter drive. "Woo".
From 4 to 7:30pm was certainly the best few hours of 2012 if you are a Steelers fan. The team righted the ship in winning their 10th home opener in a row. And while they failed to exact revenge on the Broncos, they did a bit of payback on their main tormentor from that wild card game last season, as well as smacking Rex Ryan once again; never a bad thing. And for one week at least they kept the dream alive for another special season for Steeler Nation, and doing so without the services of their two All Pro/DPOYs, their number one running back and their top draft choice. That alone would be good enough, but in addition fans also were treated to despised rivals New England, Baltimore and Dallas being tossed into the metaphorical lake of fire in that same time period. If you listened carefully you could hear their tortured moans in the warm night air as contented Steeler fans happily scattered, looking forward to the week ahead. As we left, a couple of us were approached by a Jets fan, who tried to put the best face on the situation.
Jets Fan: "We'll meet you guys in the playoffs and then we'll beat you."
Me: "Oh, so you're gonna try something different this year."
He got the message and slinked away.
Other Takeaways From Week Two
Ryan Clark. The Steeler safety returns to action for the first time since the second Cleveland game. Clark is perhaps the most underrated player on the Steelers roster. It is understandable given that he operates in the shadow of one of the greatest players of the game. But even with that being true the argument could be made that Clark may be more essential to the continuity and success of the defense than Troy. Together Ryan and Troy creates tremendous headaches for opposing offenses. His absence in the two Denver games was devastating.
Injuries. Much has been made of the ongoing injury problems of the team. And momentum is growing to call into question the training and coaching methods of the team in general and Offensive Line Coach Sean Kugler specifically. I don't know what the truth is here, but I think that the following must be part of any comprehensive arguement as well. Because of our laser like focus on all things Steelers it is understandable that we might not notice that all teams are struggling with injuries. I'm beginning to suspect that the problem may be that we are reaching the limits of the capacity of the human body. To be a professional football player in the 21st Century for many is to be a combination of a sumo wrestler, world class weightlifter and world class sprinter. Perhaps they can prepare their muscles to handle that kind of stress, but what can you do, really, for the joints, tendons and ligaments, not to mention the brain?
Mike Wallace. Remember those folks who contended that we didn't need Mike Wallace? That he was so vastly overrated that the Steelers would be ahead of the game if we could trade him for one or two mid round draft choices and a bag of Skittles? The proof that he was a fraud was the reduction of his productivity during the latter portion of last season. That would never happen they said to a really great receiver like Larry Fitzgerald. This past Sunday Fitzgerald had one catch for four yards. He was not injured. Let me be clear, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But be honest. If you believe he was and/or is greedy, lazy, arrogant, disloyal, stupid, naive, etc., etc., that's one thing. To suggest that he's not that much as a receiver, or that he doesn't have a high market value is much less credible. Now the Wallace haters are reduced to hoping he gets injured in order to prove that he blew off training camp because he's lazy.