Right about the time the third quarter ended in Cleveland today, Steeler fans' faces were so red with rage and their hearts were so full of anguish re: Big Ben's performance that most of them had already torn their vinyl Roethlisberger FATHEAD off the wall and, as they were ranking the QB somewhere between Bubby and Kordell as "Biggest Disappointments In Steeler QB History," well ... the damndest thing happened.
Big Ben spent the fourth quarter applying a blowtorch to the Cleveland defense.
In fact, the headline atop the front page in our heads screamed: "BIG BEN BURNS DOWN BROWNS."
En masse, everybody climbed back aboard the BenWagon -- that is, everybody who didn't sprain their ankle jumping off the BenWagon earlier in the day.
SOME OF US stuck with B-Roth when his body language seemed to say, "Be not disheartened or dismayed, my blossoms." And the lucky snook who had only 48 yards passing through the first three quarters (including another infamous INT TD), shredded Cleveland's defense for 224 yards in that final period, which included the impromptu, backanded flip to Fast Willie for the game-deciding, 4-yard TD with 32 seconds to play in the must-have 24-20 victory.
That's back-to-back weeks of nailbiters (see last week's victory over the Saints). As lane-positions for the AFC Playoff Spots 1 thru 5 have become more clearly defined, it's a free-for-all for "The Race For The No. 6 Seed" between the Chiefs (6-4), the Jags (either 6-4 or 5-5 after the NYG game), the Jets and the Tiger Helmets (both at 5-5) and then The Curtain, the Dolphins and the Bills, all at 4-6.
Somebody's going to fall out the race.
The Steelers need to be there to offer a shove.
Or a punch.
Or a forearm shiver.
Then again, some of us 'round the Haystack hacienda spent the early season noticing how a certain 5-game chunk of the Steeler Sked was going to play a major role, considering the historical implications and ramifications.
Roughly one month ago, a strange cluster of games appeared on the horizon.
1) Chiefs @ STEELERS -- K.C. hadn't played in Pittsburgh since 1989 (back when Cowher was in his first year as Schottenheimer's D-coordinator) ... and the Steelers were 4-4 in the eight games played in Arrowhead during the 1992-2003 span.
Oddly enough, this game was to be the showcase of the two players who were, in essence, "traded" for each other on Draft Day '03.
That was the day when the Steelers exchanged their No. 27 spot in the first round for the Chiefs' No. 16 selection.
One team traded up -- or the other traded down (can't remember which was which ... and/or why).
As we know, Pittsburgh drafted Troy Polamalu at No. 13 ... K.C. took Larry Johnson at No. 27.
It's always fascinating to play the game of "retrospection" and wonder what it might've been like with L.J. in the black n' gold.
Then again, there were reports before the '03 draft that the Steelers were interested in spending that first-round choice on Cal QB Kyle Boller.
Dodged that bullet.
Anyway, this Polamalu-LJ showdown was highlighted by Troy's INT and dash down the sideline which ended with L.J. making the tackle by getting his fingers tangled up in Troy's flowing mane.
Saved a possible TD.
It was all water under the bridge, though, in the 45-7 pasting of the Injuns.
2) STEELERS @ Falcons -- Pittsburgh hadn't played in Atlanta since 1996 -- and, on top of that, the Steelers were 11-1-1 all-time vs. the Falcons.
Moreover, this showdown again revolved around Polamalu, as he was on the same field against his Briscoe High teammate, Michael Vick.
For a lot of people interested in this game, Vick had more at stake since we all remember how, in the TV commercial, it was Vick who was unable to generate enough offense as the Hawks trailed "Visitor," 14-10 -- a game which was pulled out of the fire when LaDanian Tomlinson threw that game-winning, halfback-option TD pass to that clod, Ryon, as time expired.
Ryon ... he's the kid who has the blonde girlfriend in the stands -- but Ryon is also the one who, when almost-too-gross-for-words Jillian Barberie says, "Hi, Ryon" in a come-hither manner in the Briscoe hallway, he doesn't brush her off and end that brush-off with the word "beee-yotch."
Another thing about Briscoe: In the team photo of the Hawks (which appears in all the national sports mags), Vick is pictured kneeling to the left (the reader's right) of Ikpemoghena Ikharo -- which makes ya wonder why Ikpemoghena Ikharo wasn't given a greater role (if any) in the TV ad.
Also, Polamalu never appears in the print ad ... and neither does Hawks mascot, Grandpa Lee Corso, who removes his mascot head whilst the Tomlinson pass is in the air.
Note: When he's not the mascot at Briscoe, Corso works in the cafeteria and coaches Briscoe's JV softball team ... facts which are conveniently omitted from the TV and print ads)
Sidebar: Why is it that the Briscoe Hawks' football program was never given the death penalty by the Florida Sports & Scholastic TV Consortium? Seems as though SOME players may be receiving improper benefits (i.e. Urlacher) ... and we're not just talking about potential freebies from the raspy-voiced, almost-too-gross-for-words Jillian Barberie. Oh, well ... just goes to show what a shitty coach Shula always was ...
Back on earth, gotta hand it to the scatter-armed, crazy-legged Vick for playing his ass off in the real-world victory over the seriously-flawed Steelers. Four Steeler fumbles were bad news, but at least Charlie Batch came off the bench and made two quality TD throws, particularly the long one to Hines Ward, who lost his shoe and went the final 30 yards in his sock.
3) STEELERS @ Raiders -- The last time that the Curtain played the Raiders on the road, the result was a 29-10 win in Oakland in 1995, the Raiders' first year back in the Bay Area after 13 seasons in L.A.
It did seem unusual that the rivals which squared off in three consecutive AFC Championship games of Biblical importance in the mid-'70s, never played at Three Rivers when the Raiders were "the L.A. Raiders."
Of course, the Steelers will forget about this trip to Oakland after Big Ben's two INT TDs and a host of frustrating drives in the 20-13 setback.
To be sure, the aggravation level is pretty high for a team which is defeated while limiting its opponent to 98 yards of offense, but, for Steeler fans, this was nothing like the pure torture of the 24-6 loss to the Houston Texans in four years ago.
Not even close.
That one STILL stains the memory.
Dec. 8, '02 ... the most-inexplicable "L" in Steeler annals, hands down ... Pittsburgh ran 85 plays to 40 for Houton, outgained 'em by a whopping 422 yards to 47 ... Tommy Maddox completed 30 of 57 for 325 yards; David Carr was 3 of 10 for 33 yards and, with four sacks for minus-23 yards, finished with 10 net yards passing (a figure which is the NFL record for the fewest in a victory) ... Houston had three first downs, two on its opening possession ... yet, a Steeler "W" still seemed salvagable in the third quarter when it was only 14-6.
Then, rookie Antwaan Randle El fumbled a punt, leading to a FG by ex-Steeler Kris Brown and 1:33 later (just before the 2-Minute Warning), Aaron Glenn picked off Maddox and ran it back 65 yards for a TD.
Glenn had intercepted Maddox in the first quarter and returned it 70 yards for a TD to make the score 14-0. On the Steelers' first possession, Maddox fumbled without being hit and cormerback Kenny Wright picked up the loose ball and ran it in for a 40-yard TD.
For those of us who weren't at the game to experience first-hand the insanity, we said that we were there, just so that we could embellish the day's madness by mentioning that after we met that stranger wearing a Texans shirt, we used a blackjack to knock that Texans fan unconscious before dumping his limp body into the Monongahela.
So, yeah ... watch yer step, you L.A. Frickin' Raiders who Berman annoyingly refers to as "the Rayyyyyy-duzzzzz."
4) Broncos @ STEELERS -- You had to go back 20 years (to 1986) to find the last time that the Steelers lost a regular-season game at home to Denver (in a crummy Monday Night contest). However, you only had to go back a few months to recall when what should have been a mega-memorable AFC Championship victory over Denver was tarnished by a distinct background noise.
You remember: On any Steelers' '05/'06 highlight DVDs, any time we hear Bill Hillgrove calling a Steeler TD or a huge defensive effort on that historic day at Invesco at Mile High, we can also hear that woman who was seated right outside the pressbox squealing like a stuck pig during every triumphant Steeler moment.
Why the Steeler fans seated near her didn't take care of bidniss by gagging Screechy McScreamer with a kerosene-soaked Terrible Towel, well ... maybe they really aren't very dedicated fans at all.
Oh, and for the record, the three fumbles that the Steelers lost THIS time vs. the Broncs far outweighed Big Ben's three INTs.
It was a frustrating outcome ... almost as teeth-gnashing as the last time Denver came to Pittsburgh -- for the '97/'98 AFC Championship Game, a 24-21 loss to Elway & Co. a little more than one month after Kordell had a "coming out" party (as they like to say) in a 35-24 win over the very same Broncos.
The bright side to this defeat was that the Steelers' record dipped to 2-6 -- meaning that only the 1-7 Arizona Cardinals would be selecting before the Steelers on Draft Day '07.
It was at this time that visions of Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson (6-foot-5, clocks a 4.3 in the 40) wearing black n' gold while dancing in the opponents' end zone danced in the heads of Steeler fans.
True, a cornerback is the No. 1 priority, but, c'mon ... Calvin Johnson rocks!
5) Saints @ STEELERS -- The last time the Saints came marching into Pittsburgh was during the '93 season -- and, while this version could have been a vintage "Duce vs. Deuce" showdown, ummm ... say, what the hell is wrong with Duce Staley, anyway?
History aside, it was interesting to note how thru the first eight games, Pittsburgh had recovered ONE opponent fumble.
Then, they get THREE, two which set up TDs and the other which thwarted N.O.'s late rally.
The only drawback in this game was that Fast Willie twice shook free for 70-yard sprints, only to be tripped up inside the 10.
Fast Willie, though, finished with 208 yards, just shy of Frenchy Fuqua's 211 vs. Philly in '70.
The moral of the story: The victory over the Saints illustrated the simple fact that Steeler fans need to accept lest they climb out onto the window ledge is that 61 percent of the time, B-Roth will make good decisions and quality throws; 39 percent of the time, he'll either hesitate or double-clutch or force a silly throw.
Whether that has anything to do with a June-time, fender-to-windshield-to-asphalt bust-up, well ... it's all conjecture, really.
In this camp, we're standing behind the big fella because we remember the Brister years and the experiments with Woodley, Blackledge and (gulp!) Kent Graham. For example, there was that pass last week against the Saints ... from the camera angle, it seemed as though Roethlisberger had thrown the ball wayyyyyy over the head of a wiiiiiiiide-open Cedrick Wilson, running all alone inside the Saints 10.
Right about the time we were ready to cut loose with a steady stream of invectives and epithets, the ball nestled neatly into Ced's hands in the back of the end zone.
Quality throw, quality catch ...
Based on past achievements (13-0 during his rookie regular-season in '04; a Super Bowl last year), it's worth it to be pro-Big Ben rather than engaging in anti-Roethlisbergerism.
After all, how'd ya like to be in The Windy City rooting for a QB nicknamed "Sexy Rexy"?
Surprisingly, Fathead DOES manufacture a Rex Grossman Fathead.
We've given serious consideration to buying that Rex Grossman Fathead and a (this is a gem) Jack Lambert Fathead -- just so that the Jack Lambert Fathead can pummel Rex Grossman Fathead on the living-room wall.
For a loss of 12!
Next up: The Jack Lambert Fathead unleashes some fury on the Fathead of Briscoe High's Ikpemoghena Ikharo.
If Briscoe coach Don Shula ever starts Ikpemoghena Ikharo ...