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The Steelers ABCs: Ennui and pure excitement

In this iteration, we count down some of the best plays from last season.

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The first four entries in the ABCs series all eclipsed 1,600 words, so I wanna keep this one relatively concise (or at least a bit more palatable). For those of you who have been following along thus far, thank you sincerely for lending me your eyes. Today’s lesson involves ennui and excitement. Find parts A, B, C, and D hyperlinked to the corresponding letter.

Ennui + Excitement

Perhaps you’re not particularly enthralled by the MLB regular season (understandable), the Stanley Cup Playoffs (meh, no Penguins, so who cares), or the NBA Playoffs (okay, this is ridiculous: how could you not be captivated by watching the two high-flyingest, points-scoringest teams in the NBA do battle out West or by bearing #Witness to LeBron James scoring 40-point triple-doubles against a patchwork assembly of underdog Celtics?), so maybe this segment of the sports calendar kind of sucks. To slice through this off-season ennui, permit me to indulge in a listicle. In no particular order, let’s look back at some of the most exciting moments from the Steelers during the 2017 regular season:

Week 3: Vance McDonald chases down Marcus Cooper

I’ve watched this clip probably 50 times and my brain still refuses to believe it actually happened in real life. The Steelers did lose this game—humiliatingly, in fact, squandering prime field position and settling for a game-tying field goal on their third-to-last drive and going three-and-out on the penultimate one before losing in overtime because they forgot that you’re supposed to tackle the guys in the different colored jerseys. But McDonald briefly attained Ubermensch status by chasing down Marcus Cooper and saving a touchdown after a blocked field goal. Cooper, meanwhile, joined a long list of players—including his Bears teammate Danny Trevanthan—who have been diagnosed with premature celebration disorder (PCD). Please send him your prayers.

Week 6: Antonio Brown makes Tony Romo soil himself

This play was not so much impressive and amazing as it was unimaginably lucky and the direct result of Phillip Gaines evidently channeling his inner DJ Khaled and taking a pass that should’ve been intercepted to the head.

Ben Roethlisberger, then on the tail end of his Maybe I Don’t Have It Anymore Tour, tentatively uncorked an awkward-looking pass in the general vicinity of Antonio Brown, who had outmaneuvered Gaines near the line of scrimmage on a nifty little pick-route and found himself three yards open. But Ben threw the pass wayyy short, giving Gaines just enough time to whip his head around and make a good play on the ball. It was for naught—the ball squeaked through Gaines’s hands, crashed into his facemask, and popped sheepishly into the air. It was at this point that safety Daniel Sorensen, Kansas City’s last line of defense, had a decision to make: he could play the ball, snagging the damned thing out of the air himself or at least slapping it out of play, or he could play Brown, halting Brown’s forward progress or perhaps even rendering the pass incomplete. Sorensen chose the latter.

Unbeknownst to Sorensen, Brown was no longer in motion—in fact, he’d come to almost a complete stop. Then, like a scorpion, Brown ripped the ball right the heck out of the air with one hand, avoided Sorensen, and headed downfield. In response to what he’d just seen, CBS color commentator Tony Romo, correctly anticipating the internal (and external) monologue of greater Steelers Nation, shouted “NO WAY!!” as Brown surged his way toward the end-zone. The Steelers won 19-13.

*As a brief addendum, I’d like to point out that we could’ve run an entire story on Antonio Brown plays, so don’t think I forgot about the helmet catch vs. the Titans, that bananas one-handed catch against the Browns, the game-tying touchdown against Cincinnati in which George Iloka attempted to liquify Brown’s brain stem, or the toe-drag against Green Bay.

Week 8: JuJu Smith-Schuster scores a record-breaking touchdown

During the scouting process in the run-up to the 2017 NFL Draft, JuJu Smith-Schuster was dubbed a “possession receiver,” which has always struck me as somewhat of a backhanded compliment. Sure, this powerful, NFL-ready receiver can catch the ball, but DOES HE RUN FAST? Smith-Schuster does run fast. He did so in the above-mentioned video (though it is not inaccurate to say that he appeared to have been totally caught at least twice, and perhaps three times). When Smith-Schuster eventually waltzed into the end-zone, he set the record for longest pass play in franchise history. He then headed to the sidelines and chained the exercise bike to the bench.

Week 15: Vince Williams intercepts Tom Brady, instills false hope

Tom Brady, debatably the GOAT and unquestionably Pittsburgh’s daddy, had not thrown an interception against the Steelers in, like, 10 years before doing so last December. Five plays after Vince Williams broke this curse, the Steelers scored a touchdown to push their lead to eight, and, honestly, it was a changing-of-the-guard kind of play that would’ve been featured prominently in the DVD commemorating Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl LII victory, probably in super slow-motion with Bill Hillgrove’s isolated vocals overlaying the whole thing. And Williams picks him off! It’s Steelers football!

Week 15: JuJu breaks free for massive gain, instills even more false hope

Because the Patriots are an esoteric, unkillable monolith, Williams’s interception ultimately meant nothing. This 69-yard catch-and-run by Smith-Schuster, however, did, and it very nearly enabled the Steelers to defeat the Patriots; secure top seed in the AFC; play Tennessee in the Divisional Playoffs instead of Jacksonville; beat New England by four touchdowns in the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field, and beat the Eagles by 11 touchdowns in the Super Bowl, thereby ensuring the blanket of sadness which has enveloped Philadelphia since [checks calendar] forever remained in place for at least another season. BUT ALAS.

Week 13: JuJu demolishes Vontaze Burfict, restores world order

Most of the pro-Steelers delegation viewed JuJu’s block against Vontaze Burfict as a good-vs-evil kind of thing, a charismatic, affable player enacting some frontier justice against a player for whom a considerable portion of the NFL fan base harbors palpable and abject contempt. Bengals fans, on the other hand, were rightfully ticked about the hit. At best, it tiptoed the borderline of legality, and more probably was a cheap shot. Perspective matters. Fortunately, Burfict wasn’t hurt (not badly, anyway).

Week 7: Le’Veon Bell punishes Dre Kirkpatrick with a devastating stiff arm

Dre Kirkpatrick stands 6-foot-2 and weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 190 pounds—this is to say, he’s not a small man. Undeterred by such minor inconveniences as height/weight ratios, Bell slammed Kirkpatrick into the ground with such force that Kirkpatrick hopped right back to his feet like a weeble wooble. Now seems a good time to mention that Kirkpatrick is under contract through 2022 and carries an annual cap hit of more than $10 million.

Divisional Round: Ben Roethlisberger makes an ill-advised pass, Antonio Brown is unfazed

This play is the perfect encapsulation of the Roethlisberger/Brown hookup. It’s fourth-and-five in the fourth quarter of a playoff game and the Steelers absolutely, under no circumstances can turn the football over on downs. Would a pass that travels, say, six yards be acceptable in this situation? It most certainly would. What about a slightly more aggressive mid-range pass, perhaps one aimed toward the receiver who has navigated himself wide open near the left sideline? This, too, would’ve been sufficient.

Instead, on fourth-and-five in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, Roethlisberger, or Todd Haley, or Mike Tomlin—but probably Roethlisberger—tossed a so-called “low percentage” bomb to a streaking Brown, who was completely blanketed by All-Pro cornerback A.J. Bouye (I’m not joking; please watch the video—Bouye could not possibly have defended this pass any better). Yet somehow this play resulted in a touchdown.

Week 12: Chris Boswell drills a game-winner from Armstrong County

Not long ago, hitting a 50-yard field goal in Heinz Field was seen as an impossibility. I’m starting to think that the difficulties in kicking well there had less to do with the bad grass and crosswinds and more to do with Jeff Reed showing up to games full of Old Crow and beef jerky. That, or Chris Boswell is just an exceptionally adept kicker. Actually, all of these things are probably true—especially the Jeff Reed thing.