Sunday, January 18, 2009

43 For XLIII

"If only he'd been 3 yards deeper when he plucked that pass ... "

That's what they'll be buzzin' 'bout tomorrow ... that if Troy Polamalu had recognized the symbolic nature of what was unfolding (as it was happening), he might've made a deeper drop in coverage and, presto! ... We'd've had 43's 43-yd. INT TD clinching a trip to SB 43 during the final days of our 43rd president.

Once we take into account every factor of this Steelers-Ravens bloodbath [the Sweed drop, the Parker drop, the disallowing of a Santonio TD, the Heath catch, the other Heath catch, the Polamalu pick, the Polamalu leap, the Santonio drop, the Berger flop, all the hard-hittin', all the shit-talkin'], the factor which overrides 'em all is the moment when we admit to ourselves that the only thing better than that INT TD (which, in some circles, is called a "pick six") is the act of punchin' the REW button again and again and again on the DVR remote, just to hear Heinz Field frickin' explode the very instant that Polamalu stabs Flacco's pass.

What an eruption.
Like a volcano.
Or World War Four.
Or like when the Colts pump artificial noise into their stadium.

>>> SPEAKING OF THE REW BUTTON, THE COOLEST PART OF THAT RUNBACK WAS WHEN TROY REACHED THE 12 ... WE COULD I.D. EIGHT RAVENS IN THE PICTURE AS THEY FORMED THE HUMAN TUNNEL WHICH TROY DANCED THROUGH -- AND, TO TOP IT OFF, THE SIGHT OF (#79) WILLIE ANDERSON WAS WORTH THE PRICE OF ADMISSION BECAUSE WHAT WE SAW IS WHAT A BOOKCASE -- OR A FOUR-DRAWER FILING CABINET -- LOOKS LIKE WHEN IT TRIES TO RUN (dude's gotta stick to his regimen of 'roidin' up, gettin' into a 3-point stance, raisin' outta the 3-point stance, pushin' n' shovin', maybe fallin' down, eatin', sleepin', re-'roidin', repeat ... shhhhhh, NFL players don't 'roid, any more 'cuz 'roids are illegal, wink, wink ... ) <<<

Now that the Steelers are off to their 7th Super Bowl, this is where the Steeler fan sets down his Towel and consoles the Ravens fan with the usual conciliatory platititudes, such as, "Your team had a lot to be proud of this season. Now, let's talk about Ryan Clark's decapitation of Willis McGahee ... "

"Allegedly," hits such as Clark layin' the wood to an opponent (when he woke up, Willis McGahee thought he was Willie McGee) are 'sposed to make us all somber as we reflect that the NFL is a violent world of which 96.7 percent of us have no understanding.

You could see it in Ray Lewis' eyes as he knelt and asked his God to watch over Willis McGahee and the families of them two dead boys lyin' in the Atlanta street (who dey?) outside the Cobalt Lounge.

"Oh, snap! I dittint see nuthin'!"


From a pure, football-watchin' standpoint, this was not a legendary, epic tilt along the lines of Alien vs. Predator ... but, it did feature some hijinks and nailbitin' nervousness.

Tomorrow, though, we'll all be required, by law, to say it was the hardest-hitting game we've ever seen ... just because it's freshest in our memory, so it's trendy to say "Hardest-hitting game I've ever seen" ... even though some of us who lived through Steelers-Raiders in AFC Championship slugfests in '75 and '76 and Steelers-Oilers in the same setting in '79 and '80 will nod disapprovingly at "the hardest-hitting game" of all-time (ever!) ... seriously, just because Lime Is Sweet recovered from the SuperDrop to lower his helmet and coldcock Corey Ivy into incoherency, we're 'sposed to go with the flow and remark that this game was the ultimate confrontation for Alpha Male status?

This outranked Sam Davis sluggin' it out with Otis Sistrunk?
This was more-wicked than Mad Dog and Fats -- souls we lost in '08 --containing the powerful Earl Campbell?
C'mon ...

The funny thing is, Polamalu's INT was so fist-pumpin' good that it almost made ya forget about his leap-over-the-pile stop of Flacco on 4th down (late in the first quarter) shortly before the early-in-the-second-quarter, Big Ben-to-Santonio streetball play for the TD (punctuated by Santonio mocking the blackbirds with his arm-flap gesture).

This much we can assume: If our pal -- that guy with the DANISH 43 jersey who we saw (but didn't bother to talk to, so we have no idea if he's anything like us, willing to light up a Pall Mall while watching Polamalu) at the Steelers' game in B'More is compiling a Polamalu Portfolio, this game made up for the chapter of "near-misses."

If the 3-ring binder that DANISH 43 oversees matches the one in here (pointing to my head), he can quickly access Polamalu's only other career pick-6 ... way back in his second year ('04) in which he intercepted his USC colleague, Carson Palmer, and then weaved his way through Bengal traffic something like 30 yards before running over Palmer on the goal line.

That was nearly as cool as Polamalu's only other TD before today's TD ... that time in Green Bay during the '05 season when Troy From Troy blitzed Favre, missed the sack, but forced Brett to step right into the jarring hit of onrushing rookie CB Bryant McFadden, who was also blitzing.

When Favre lost the ball, Polamalu gobbled up the loose biscuit and ran off with it as McFadden continued to hustle and throw a block by acting as a moving screen to the Packer lineman in pursuit.

Of course, the near-misses have been just as memorable, be it that pass vs. Cleveland on that Sunday nighter one week after the aformentioned Green Bay game -- a ball which Polamalu was going to intercept for an easy TD to punctuate a 41-14 win ... only he doinked it, the ball ricocheted to a Browns receiver ("tip drill!") and the big gain set up a TD for 34-21 final, please drive safely ...

And, although Polamalu registered a career-high 7 INTs during this regular season, some of us have languished w/ anguish over that potential 70-yd. INT vs. Manning (which was dropped and coulda made the score 24-7 at the half) before Polamalu aggressively took a bad angle on the go-ahead TD pass which Peyton floated over his head, jeez ... ).

Such are the hits n' misses of a pro career ... and, to think, the first time we ever saw the kid was in the Kickoff Classic in '00 when 'SC played Penn State ... and following a blocked punt (or was it an INT?), Polamalu slid on the wet grass at Giants Stadium and extended his arms with the universal baseball signal for "safe!"

The first thought that crossed our minds: Who the frick does this Samoan hot dog think he is?

We found out on Draft Day '03 when the Steelers swapped their 27th pick in the first round for K.C.'s 16th pick ... and dee eeeweew (K.C. would select Penn State RB Larry Johnson, hmmmm ...).

While some of Troy's missed opportunities were his own doing, we're equally miffed that he has been ripped off a few times -- most notably, during the ending to the 11-10 game when his hustling, heads-up, loose-lateral TD was disallowed (incorrectly).

That was a screw job on par with the highway robbery perpetrated against Troy during the '05/'06 run to the Super Bowl when his playoff-game INT of SuperManning was overruled because the ball bounced off his thigh pad when he scrambled to his feet following his tumbling catch on the horseshoe logo.

THAT'S WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT THE NFL ... so arbitrary ... with rules applied so indiscriminately and capriciously (by investment bankers and guys who own a chain of hardware stores because officiating NFL games is part-time work for part-time thinkers ... guys who haven't played the game in 30 or 35 years -- and when they did -- they suited up with 10 other white guys to do battle against the 11 white guys on the other team ... ).

The game moves n' grooves now (rather than plodding n' trudging) -- which is why Santonio had his TD taken away.

If we go by the literal interpretation (the letter of the law), then, yeah ... it can be debated.

But, if the spirit of the law is factored into the mix -- if the play was judged by what we saw rather than what we read -- it seems obvious that Santonio already possessed the ball and was extending his arm in a stretch for the goal line (a seemingly smart and athletic play).

"Carry the ball to the ground" to "complete the catch"?

That sounds like partisan rhetoric ...
Or a hidden agenda ...

A literal question for a literal interpretation: Where are the penalty flags for the holding fouls which occur on every play of every game?

If there are varying degrees of holding, vis-a-vis, flagrant and/or overt, is there not some varying degree of what is a complicated incompletion and what is a "TD by athleticism"?

In a game this punishing, it's interesting that three varying degrees of holding played so prominently -- i.e., the pass which Lime-Ass couldn't hold, the end-zone INT which Frank Walker couldn't hold (because Lime-Ass was holding him) and the hold which somebody named Daren Stone put on Anthony Madison before he threw him to the ground on the Ravens sideline for a personal foul penalty which cost the Ravens 26 yds. of field position (putting the ball at the 14, not the 40) shortly before the game-clinching INT.

With a more-advantageous field-position scenario, would Flacco have altered the 16-14 score at that point?

It's a fascinating dichotomy, isn't it? (whatever "dichotomy" means) Seriously ... if the Steel Curtain does win SB43, members of the Anthony Madison Fan Club will shout with glee, "He's the reason!" (even if the only people we might ever hope to see wearing a "37" jersey 'round The 'Burgh likely have "LAKE" stitched on the nameplate ... that is, if anybody remember Carnell Lake, I dunno ... ).

Nevertheless, it was Anthony Madison who, last week vs. S.D., was engaged w/ blocking Eric Weddle on the ill-fated punt which caromed off Weddle's helmet and set up the field position for a TD which put the Black N' Gold in command.

Tonight, it was Mad Dog who drew the penalty which had the Ravens re-thinking their approach to the last-ditch drive since the series did NOT begin near midfield.

In a nutshell, it's: "Anthony Madison: Pre-Super Bowl Pre-Hero."

It truly DOES require all 53 players ... and all the fill-ins when one of the 53 goes down.

Sure, Daniel Sepulveda's season-ending injury in preseason was a severe blow to the Steelers' punting game. Mitch Berger's been a brick -- the long PR by Leonhard and the 21-yd. Berger shank set up both Raven TDs -- and, when Paul Ernster was a 3-game fill-in vs. Indy, Sandy and Cincy, he averaged only 31 YPP ... although it was his work as a holder which'll live in our hearts forever as his placement of the football -- laces out -- in the final seconds, on a perfect pass from fill-in long-snapper Jared Retkofsky, allowed Jeff Reed to execute the final-seconds FG which provided the decisive points in the only 11-10 game in NFL history).

"Jared Retkofsky: Furniture mover ... playoff stalwart ... "

Anyway, the Steeler D was heavy-duty and the O clicked on just enough big plays despite the aforementioned blips (some would say "screw-ups" ... i.e., the Parker drop, the Lime-Ass drop and the Santonio TD nullification) which could've widened that halftime lead from 13-7 to 24-7 (or an approximation thereof).

It seems as though the only reason for Fast Willie allowing that ball to glance off his shoulder pad when he was wide-open down the right sideline (one play before Hines wrenched his knee; two plays before Santonio got jobbed) was that "possibly," out of the corner of his eye, he saw somebody in the neighborhood, not realizing that the only guy nearby was The Spaeth Cowboy.

As per Sweed, some of us were there for last week's Bambi-like sprint downfield before he gakked that deep ball from Leftwich ... a reminder that the Steelers have NEVER had a reliable receiver who wears #14.

While we can't say for sure if Amos Zereoue would've snagged the ball that Parker clanked, we're almost positive that Weegie Thompson would've corraled the ball that Sweed muffed.

It's a definite head-scratcher as to why pass plays were called for Parker and Sweed when they've combined for 9 receptions this season.

Simple mathematics -- combined with the lunar tables and tide charts -- indicate that, even with Hines Ward injured, options are plentiful with Heath, Santonio, Nate, Mewelde and, sure, what the heck ... even The Spaeth Cowboy (however, Santonio could've done a better job gobbling up that slant-pass -- one play after the Sweed drop -- for a big-gainer or a TD instead of the casual attempt which resulted in a 0-yd. gain).

And, with the way that Big Ben buys time, well ... it kinda/sorta/totally doesn't make sense throwing a pass in the end zone intended for Lime-Ass, frickin'-A ... (sidebar: Why was it that God didn't assist Ray Lewis in getting more in the face of Big Ben when the back-breaking pass to Santonio was released? He was right there, but a step slow, it seemed. Was God's Linebacker worn out from dancing or praying too hard for the families of them dead boys lying in the street outside the Cobalt Lounge? Was he spent from making sure the microphones were nearby for one of his super-motivational speeches which "will" the Ravens to victory? ... LORD, THAT TOUGH-GUY TALK TO THE TROOPS IS SO TYYYY-YURD ... ).

To their credit, the Steelers didn't exactly shy away from Ed Reed (when everybody said they would).

On the game's first series, Ward added 20-25 extra yds. to the when Reed was late (and played the ball, not the man).

On the Santonio non-TD, Reed was nearby ... and on the 2nd-and-24 laser which Big Ben threaded to Heath for 30 yds., Reed was in the neighborhood.

They didn't completely shy away from him ...

So, in the end, this WAS the most-satisfying outcome for America: The Steelers advancing while the Ravens w/ their rookie head coach and their rookie QB and their butt-ugly jerseys head home.

America simply wasn't ready for only its second Super Bowl since SB 5 in which both teams had every player wearing black cleats (the other was Colts n' Bears in SB 41 ... note: black cleats are killing this nation, thanks to Nike and Under Armour producing some sick-lookin' footwear ... that's "sick" as in "stupid/lame," not "sick" as in "bad-ass" ... black cleats are like your girl wearing a denim nightie to bed ... clunky, not elegant ... although, surprisingly, black cleats DO work for the Browns -- and maybe Tampa Bay -- but, not for the Bills, who used to look sleek and sharp ... now, w/ jerseys n' pants which are too busy, w/ socks w/o much white and w/ black cleats which look like sneakers, yup ... it's the look of a perennial also-ran ... ).

Looks aside, John Harbaugh couldn't channel his kid brother Jim (who was on the Ravens' sideline the week before the Steeler game at B'More) and his ol' dad Jack, who he rejoiced with on the sideline in Nashville last week.

There's no way that his brother-in-law, Indiana b-ball coach Tom Creen, was gonna receive a sideline pass.

Creen's got his own problems, such as worryin' 'bout whether his Hoosiers are going to finish 0-18 in the Big Ten.

So, it's up to America to get better-acquainted with Mike Tomlin and to get re-acquainted with the 20 or so Steelers who were on the SB XL roster.

For those of us who were fans of the special-teams, 1-2 punch (back then) of Clint Kriewaldt and Chidi Iwuoma, we're FINALLY coming to grips with twin-cincos (Patrick Bailey) and double-deuces (William Gay).

Now, it's America's turn ...

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