Monday, December 04, 2006

Paper Champions (Tales From TerribleTowelTown)

Just about everybody in TerribleTowelTown remembers that time in '02 when he/she set down his/her I.C. Light, rolled up his/her sleeves and was ready to throw down with anyone wearing pewter.
That was the last time (before yesterday) that the Black & Gold faced Tampon Bay -- a mini-rivalry game sparked by Lee Flowers woof-woof-woofing that Tampon Bay was merely a "paper champion" after the Steelers' 17-10 win in '01 (in which Blitzburgh sacked Brad Johnson 10 times).
Wacky Lethon's assertion precipitated the pushing and shoving between the Steel Curtain and the Paper Champions before the '02 rematch (a 17-7 Steeler win on a Monday Nighter played only two weeks after arguably the Steelers' all-time most-humiliating defeat -- the 24-6 shocker at the hands of the expansion Houston Texans, who, despite being outgained, 422-47, won with with three defensive TDs).

We all remember how satisfied we were two weeks after that disturbing outcome vs, Houston to be leading, 17-0, late in the game against the 11-3 Bucs, but also how cheated we felt when T.B. scored that TD to ruin the shutout.

Most of us would've preferred a 20-0 whitewash yesterday -- only that paper-machete coach, Jon Gruden, opted for a field goal on the game's final play.
Sadly (for him), the myth that is "Chucky" lost a lot of steam roughly 15 minutes after Tampon Bay went from paper champions in '01 to NFL champions in '02 to NFL also-rans in '03, '04, '05 and '06.

In fact, more people are talking about the Steelers #56 Chukky Okobi as the NFL's "Chukky."

Anyway, thanks to the vagaries of NFL scheduling, this was Tampon Bay's first trip to Pittsburgh since 1983 when the Buccaneers were wearing the Creamsicle-coloured pants (unless they were wearing white trousers on the road that season ... it's hard to remember since '83 was the season before rookie Freddie Acorn made his mark inside The Big Sombrero).

Despite another pimp-slap of T.B., everybody from the dudes wearing their #57 Clint Kriewaldt jerseys (only on Casual Friday, of course) to the chicks wearing their #29 Chidi Iwuoma Steeler jerseys (and nuthin' else) knows that the playoff possibilities are unSteeleristic, but remain a mathematically possibility nonetheless.
We've seen the raw data in the AFC -- four teams clustered at the top (SD, Indy, NE, the Billickmore Ravens) ... five teams logjammed at 7-5 (NYJ, Cincy, Jax, KC, Den) ... and then that four-car pileup at 5-7 (Mia, Buff, Tenn, PITT).
There are no 6-6 teams right now -- and that seems odd.

It's true that the Steelers don't need all five 7-5 teams to go 1-3 the rest of the way -- just four of 'em (depending how the tiebreakers would shake out with Steelers vs. Cincy/KC/Jax/Den).
So, if the Steelers go 4-0 (beginning with the Brownies on Thurs. nite), they probably won't need all five teams to implode, melt down and vanish from the face of the earth.
Don't laugh ... Denver's already lost three in a row and any one of the other four are just itchin' to go into that Biblical 0-4 tailspin.

Truth be told, the Steelers are more likely an 8-8 or 7-9 squad which will spend these next four weeks in an evaluation phase in preparation for drawing up their "pro/con" chart on a piece of folded-in-half (longways) notebook paper re: the DB or OL which will best address the Steeler needs on Draft Day '07.
Such being the case, Steeler fans should set aside their contempt for 75-year-old Marilyn Devine of West Mifflin.
Despite her transgrerssions on that chilly morning early last March, Marilyn Devine still hurts inside, like you do, when the Steelers lose. The only difference, of course, is that, unlike you, she got flagged for the $5,300 in the back seat of her tan Ford Escort and the unloaded .9mm she used in the commission of acquiring that $5,300.

Anyway, since some of us who reside "south of Breezewood" didn't have the Steeler game on our NFL radio/TV menu, we decided to punch the rewind button a little harder than usual so that we could spend the day spooning with that 17-12 Steeler win over Tampon Bay from 1983 (when the Bucs might've or might've not been wearing those tangerine-coloured pants).

1983 ... now there was a season worth reviewing and re-reviewing. Although Lynn Swann and Jack Ham had retired before the '83 opener, not too many of us figured that Terry Bradshaw's bum elbow would limit him to one quarter of one game (the win over the Jets at Shea during that 1-4 stretch to end the regular season) and that he'd retire at season's end or that Franco Harris, after an '83 season with six 100-yard games which would put his career rushing total at 11,950 yards, would be wearing anything other than a Steelers jersey when he made his bid to break Jim Brown's then-NFL record of 12,312 yards rushing.
Franco never broke the record. Needing 364 yards, he finished '84 with only 170 yards rushing.

So, '83 was the last hurrah for Hall of Famers Terry and Franco -- only, when the 0-8 Bucs limped into Pittsburgh, the Steelers' ground game was in the hands of Walter Abercrombie and Frank Pollard and the passing attack hinged on the acute decision-making of Cliff Stoudt.
And those three put on a show that day vs. John McKay's team -- Stoudt throwing three interceptions and the Steelers losing four of a remarkable seven fumbles.
The seven giveaways contributed to a 12-0 deficit (on four Bill Capece FGs) heading into the final quarter -- only it's doubtful that anybody such as Buc D-lineman Hasson Arbubakrr was barking at Steeler players that they were paper champions.
After all, Arbubakrr was a teammate of Gabe Rivera's at Texas Tech and this was the Steelers' first home game since the paralyzing car crash of Senor Sack in North Hills only 10 days earlier.
Six NFL games ... and done.
(Note: Hindsight always reaches its peak when the selection of Senor Sack with the 21st pick in the '83 draft is questioned. If a D-lineman was a priority -- rather than an available Dan Marino -- had Gabe Rivera REALLY graded out that much higher than a Jim Jeffcoat, who was taken at #23 by Dallas, or a Leonard Marshall, chose with the 37th pick by the NYG?)

As the story goes, that 0-8 Buccaneer team didn't strut out of Three Rivers with a 1-8 record that day, thanks to some spirited play of two rookie receivers who have been forgotten -- Wayne Capers and Paul Skansi.
Capers caught a 10-yard TD pass for the first Steelers score (and the only TD reception of his Steelers career) and then it was Skansi who had a 57-yard punt return to set up a score (a FG by Gary Anderson to make it 12-10) and a 21-yard reception to set up the go-ahead score (a 1-yard TD run by Pollard right after Pollard blasted 13 yards to the 1).
Interestingly (depending on one's point of view), in that first-and-only-and-final game that Bradshaw played in '83 (vs. the Jets), the Steelers' first TD was a scoring throw from Bradshaw to rookie Gregg Garrity.
Capers, Skansi and Garrity were all chosen in the first five rounds of the '83 draft -- and the Steelers were so pleased with their success that they spent their first three picks of Draft Day '84 on WR Louis Lipps, TE Chris Kolodziejski and WR Weegie Thompson.
This was viewed (by somebody, we presume) as providing three fresh-faced targets (along with veteran John Stallworth) for Mark Malone, now that Stoudt had joined ex-Steeler asst. Rollie Dotsch and the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL.
The proof was in the pudding because the '84 Steelers went on the road and won a playoff blockbuster in Mile High, whereas, one year earlier, the Raiders had stomped Stoudt and the Steelers in the L.A. Coliseum, 38-10.
(Note, II: It wasn't until last night when I first learned that this Haystack's No. 1 fan attended that playoff game, thanks to his sister, who was dating Steeler rookie LB Todd Seabaugh, who spent all of '83 on I.R. **** Ironically, the organization which has retired only one jersey number -- Ernie Stautner's #70 -- allowed Seabaugh to spend 1984 wearing Jack Ham's #59. Since The Todd Seabaugh Era -- which did not extend past '84 -- no Steeler has worn #59, so, yeah ... it does seem like it's a mere "bending" of the truth rather than a bald-faced lie to tell his grandkids or Chuckles when he says that he is the reason why no one wears #59 for the Steelers anymore)

Fortunately, no one unofficially retired Cliff Stoudt's #18.
Which made it possible to one day establish Mike Tomczak's in our hearts as "Our Favorite #18 On The Eternal Steeler Roster In Our Hearts."

Ah, the romance of Steel Stories from TerribleTowelTown.
And, since the NFL Network isn't in my NFL-watching game plan, maybe we'll dust off these memories during Thurs. night's rumble vs. the Brownies.
Look out, Blitzburgh! Derek Anderson is comin' to town!
(Note, III: Derek Anderson is half as talented as Todd Philcox was, but is filled with twice the rage. Should be fun ...)

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