There are moments when I am particularly proud of being a Steelers fan. At halftime of Sunday's game with the Raiders was one of those moments.
I didn't completely pick up on it at first. I was caught up in that private little hell that I go to when the team is in that one step forward, two steps back mode they get in when they play outfits like the Raiders. So it took some time for the booing to nip the edges of my consciousness, and even then I wasn't sure what or why he was booing. Let me start with a little scene setting.
I'm at the Alley Cat in Alexandria, Va., with the DC Steel City Mafia. I'm sitting with PaVaSteeler and his friend Steve because in our infinite wisdom we thought repeating what we did last week would be good luck. So much for that theory. It did not start out well. I was late because of DC area traffic. When I get there the game's not on due to 'technical difficulties'. Michele who is attending for the second time ever (Last week against the Ravens was the first time) says that she got a message on her phone that someone named Terrelle Pryor just ran from Oakland to San Francisco on the first play of the game. Was that a good thing? "Uh, no," I reply. She wasn't sure who Pryor played for, and with all the roster moves going on I couldn't blame her. And I was no longer upset that I had missed the first few moments of the game. No need witnessing that crap.
Now, back to the boo bird. I emerge from the fog wondering who's booing and why. The place is packed with Steelers fans but there are two other games on display as well. The Redskins are engaged with the Broncos in a game that was far more competitive than anyone imagined, and the Bengals were curb stomping the Jets. So the guy continues to boo but also elaborates; "Fire Tomlin!" A little over the top, but basically boilerplate disgruntlement. We were all a little frustrated at that point, right? "Fire LeBeau!" Oh...this guy's just an asshole. And then he proceeds to prove my point. I don't see him at first until PaVa helpfully points towards him sitting at the table right next to ours (that's how out of it I was). At halftime he comes over to our table and begins ranting Bill Cowher style, minus the spit thank God. And then he starts waving around a pair of tickets to Heinz Field (lower level he says), and how much of a waste it is to have them. We're just sitting there looking at him and all I can think is why would you bring tickets to Heinz Field to the Alley Cat? And, if you don't want them....I've yet to see a game at Heinz. I'll be happy to go watch them lose, especially on the lower level. And then he leaves.
Here's the part that made me proud. A guy sitting at the bar leans over and says "Steelers fans don't boo their team." While a bit of an exaggeration in the absolute sense, it was a situational truth. No one was feeling this guy despite the fact that we were down 21-3 at that time. The ranter had been sitting at the same table as Karen prompting PaVa to ask whether she was with him. Now I don't know Karen very well, but felt confident enough to suggest that what we were seeing from her was not agreement, but an advanced case of stoicism. That, in fact, she was probably trying to figure out what she had done to offend certain higher powers that she would end up seated next to that clown. But back the game.
I made a bold assertion right before the half that I thought the Steelers would come back to win the game. Steve agreed with me. It didn't turn out that way for a number of reasons, but chief among them was that we had not anticipated the unexpected and unwanted return of Redskins Shaun.
At least a year earlier, maybe more, I had shared my concerns with PaVa and any number of DC area Steelers fans about Shaun Suisham. There was a reason they ran him out of DC; you just saw it. We wondered if and when that part of him would show up. But he played so well last season and was perfect thus far in 2013. Maybe that part of him had been successfully slain. Then, like that scene out of the movie Alien when everyone is settling down to a nice dinner, Redskins Shaun bursts out of Suisham's chest and just takes over. The horror. Its at this point I'd like to share with the community some interesting (at least to me) insight about our friend PaVaSteeler. You might be tempted to think that, based upon the tough love nature of some of his writing, after those misses he would have come down on Suisham like a ton of bricks. Instead he was the very personification of compassion. He took umbrage at those long, lingering pornographic shots of Suisham sitting on the bench, suffering in his own private hell. I thought I was sitting with Steeler Fever.
But as easy as it would be to put that particular gorilla on Suisham's back (those two missed field goals would have been the difference between victory and defeat) the loss was more of a team effort. Let's begin by saying that as bad as Suisham was, he wasn't the worst kicker out there for the Steelers. That would be Zoltan Mesko. Then there was Roethlisberger doing his Good Ben/Bad Ben thing. Antonio Brown reprising certain elements of his performance from last year in this same venue. Heath Miller continued the uncharacteristic trend of being somewhat butterfingered. None of these things in and of themselves doomed the Steelers. The Raiders didn't come close to scoring a point after halftime. The fatal wound that these events caused cumulatively was in a loss of time.
And speaking of reviving memories of last year, lets talk injuries to the offensive line. First of all I take full responsibility for this aspect of the game. It happens every time I make the mistake of saying in the Checkdown that we got off easy with injuries the previous week. During halftime Barry joked that maybe I should suit up. A few minutes later I was thinking somebody should. That was when Guy Whimper was lying face down on the turf. Just goes to show you how quickly some things can change. Two weeks ago if that had happened someone surely would have popped the cork on some Champagne. While I didn't see anyone burst into tears, the reaction was respectfully sober. Of course it didn't help that Whimper was in there because Ramon Foster has suffered a concussion, and then DeCastro got hurt. As a result we got to check out Cody Wallace, and Beachum would have to move inside to guard, and Mike Adams was pressed into to service as something other than an oversized tight end. Whatever the sins of the O line, if you lose two starters and a reserve to injury a performance downgrade should be expected. So maybe we lighten up on them.
Periodically, PaVa would ask what I was thinking. I never knew how to respond. I think the term "thinking" threw me. I and others have been saying that this team didn't have much of a margin for errors. That's what was on display yesterday. It wasn't so much that I was thinking while I was watching, as it was I felt myself trying to will the team through certain situations without making mistakes. So many players performed so well throughout and I can't think of anyone who performed badly the entire time. Lost in the disappointment of the loss were some fine performances by Troy Polamalu, Cam Heyward, Lawrence Timmons, William Gay, Le'Veon Bell, Brett Keisel and Jerricho Cotchery. Also soon to be forgotten were some fine individual moments from Emmanuel Sanders, Brown, Ben, Cortez Allen, Heath, Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark and others. They force three turnovers, but they made more mistakes of their own than this team at this time can overcome.
Sarah, who stayed in the Reston to watch the game texted me throughout the second half, saying in essence 'This looks bad'. It was frustrating to watch. Pittsburgh kept cutting themselves and then eventually bled to death.