Posted on: September 11, 2009 10:59 am

History, Legacies and a New Beginning.

One has to wonder if 117 years ago, when the first professional football game was played in Pittsburgh PA, if the originators of the first league had foreseen how big the sport would become or the number of fans that it would eventually draw?  One has to wonder,  when the first professional football league was born in the town of Latrobe Pennsylvania, with very few rules and very little equipment, if they might have caught a glimpse in their minds eye how elaborate the sport would end up.  From a $500.00 payment to William (Pudge) Heffelfinger, to multi-million dollar contracts of players today.  From a group of guys from an athletics association looking for bragging rights, to a prized trophy and the infamy that comes with winning it. 

Since February, after the Pittsburgh Steelers hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, a lot has happened.  Fans began watching free agency, the draft, mini-camps and training camps.  Teams filled in needs, identified their game plans and prepared for the upcoming season.  The NFL would see Dan Rooney leave for Ireland.  There would be tragedy, there would be triumph in an off-season.  We would watch the ongoing saga of a man who refused to leave the game he loved, and we would comment on hopeful young prospects whose dreams were one day to become as much of a household name.  We would see new coaches coming in to hopefully lead teams to the next season and argue about which quarterback was better.  There would be new rules that would leave us grumbling and scratching our heads.   As fans, we waited, sometimes impatiently for the arrival of September, when the first kick-off of regular season professional football began, trying to fill the gap in the meantime by evaluating talent and hoping that the teams that we pulled for would grab the best of the best.  Questions regarding the worst to the first dominated discussions. 

Since February, the City of Pittsburgh, prepared.  It welcomed home the Superbowl Champions with parades and celebrations.  It would begin preparing for an international summit that would be held in the city. It would welcome home it’s Stanley Cup Champions and would shake it’s head when the beloved Pirates would register it’s 17th straight losing season.  And come August both the City of Pittsburgh and the Steelers organization began preparing for the beginning of football season.  Throughout this past week, as we began to count down the days and then the hours, events were held in anticipation of the city and the Steelers hosting the first game of the regular season.  NFL60 events were held around the area and on Thursday evening, while people tailgated at Heinz Field, others were filing into Point State Park to be a part of the opening celebrations that featured the Black Eye Peas and Tim McGraw. 

Then it happened, it was finally here.  Somewhere in my mind I heard echo’s of Bocephus asking if we were ready for Football and for a moment, John Maddens absence was extremely notable. The fireworks erupted and the Steelers were announced and the Tennessee Titans would be entering hostile territory.  And before the kickoff, we stopped and remembered the tragic events of 9/11 and paid tribute to those lost, not only on Flight 93 but in NYC and the Pentagon.  The coin toss, the kick-off and then they were off.

How can you talk about the first game of the season without talking about the events leading up to it?  With football there is history, legacies and traditions, one of which having the Superbowl Champions hosting the first game.  This year, it would be held in Pittsburgh.  And what more fitting opponent for the team who won it all to meet the last team that beat them. 

The Tennessee Titans come into the 2009 season with unfinished business and the Pittsburgh Steelers, despite the words of coach Mike Tomlin and company, looking to repeat as Superbowl Champions.  Going into the game there were many story lines.  The Steelers hadn’t lost a home opener in the last six years.  Titans quarterback Kerry Collins, prior to the meeting was 3-0 against the Steelers.  Last night, one of these streaks would come to an end.  The comment of LenDale White seemed to be shrugged off in regards to the towel, except, with the fans. 

By now we all know the results of a game that was nothing less then fitting for a season opener, a nail biter to the very end.  Fans looking for high scoring shootouts would be disappointed.  For Titans and Steelers fans, could we have hoped for better?  Perhaps in some areas, yes.  In others, well. 

Anyone who thought the Titans defense would degrade substantially with the departure of Albert Haynesworth, may have jumped a little too soon to that conclusion.  Titans coach Jeff Fisher came into the game with a plan to stop the Steelers running game and they were successful, allowing less then 30 yards on the ground.  At one point their defense had the Steelers at negative yardage. Offensively, Kerry  Collins showed once again why he should be starting quarterback ending the night 22 for 35 with 1 interception.  Most noteworthy though is the Titans offensive line which gave excellent protection to Collins, allowing only one sack.

As for my black and gold.  Despite the slow start, in the end, even with some issues, Steelers seemed to have started the season with the same form that got them to the Superbowl last year, with one exception – a seemingly much improved oline when it comes to pass protection. 

When first signed by the Steelers, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took the number 7 due to his favorite player being John Elway.  By the end of last nights game, Roethlisberger would once again, have the media talking about his clutch performance.  When the offense was under Ben’s control, he was almost perfect, at one point completing 12 straight passes while in no huddle, keeping the Tennessee defense on their heels. 

Offensively, in the passing game, though some errors and mistake, the wide receivers (and tight end Heath Miller) came through.  Veteran receiver Hines Ward showed just a little too much passion, but in the end, the Steelers defense was able to keep the Titans down field, allowing the game to go into overtime.  Earlier in pre-season I had commented that rookie Mike Wallace would make a name for himself and he didn’t prove me wrong when, in OT he put himself into a position to catch a pass that allowed Jeff Reed to kick the game winning field goal. 

I could say that I was excited about the passing game, but those of us who’ve watched Roethlisberger and company for the past few years knew, that despite what critics said, we could trust Ben if the game relied on his arm.  With the lack of a run game and the inability to convert 3d and shorts on the ground, that was the only way it was going to get done.  However, the excitement I felt last nigh was watching kick returner Stefan Logan picking up more then ten yards on a run back.  Logan’s acquisition from the CFL by the Steelers promises to fill a need where in the past the Steelers special teams struggled in punt and kick off returns.

Unfortunately, the Steelers still need to find a way to create a ground game and perhaps, as the season wears on, it will.  Defensively, the Steelers seemed not to have lost a step, until free safety Troy Polamalu went out with an sprained MCL.  When he returns is unknown.  Although, not as electricifying as Polamalu, Tyrone Carter backfilled just fine and nearly had an interception of his own, though Polamalu’s absence was noticeable at times. 

As far as any retribution for the “disrespect of the towel”, it was doubtful that there was any.  It was more of a matchup between two teams, one looking to defeat the current champions, the other looking to atone for their last matchup.  Although, something to ponder.  The late Myron Cope use to say that the Terrible Towel was magical.  Never more apparent are the towels waving then when a team is down by the goal line and the camera’s catch everyone on their feet swinging the towel around.  A lot of talk over the off-season about the Titan’s disrespect for the towel.  Could it be the spirit of the towel took it’s revenge on the least likely of persons, Titans kicker, Rob Bironas?  How strange that one of the most accurate kicker in the league would miss a field goal under 40 yards with it going wide right and then on his second attempt, actually have it blocked by Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith.  I know ludicrous, right?

As for Tomlin and company.  Well they have ten days to rest before heading to Chicago.  Coach Tomlin and the rest of the team, despite being asked about repeats, say they are seeking a championship and not looking to repeat.  Funny, former Steelers Coach Chuck Knoll adopted that mentality and those types of comments with the press the years the Steelers won the SB back to back.  It’ll be a long and exciting season for fans, something we’ve been waiting for along time.  Once again, it's a new beginning.

Posted on: December 22, 2008 6:07 am

They were not gong to be denied

They were proclaimed the best in the AFC, that was, until the Steelers beat the Ravens.  Once that happened, those in the media jumped the bandwagon and started in on how the Steelers were the team to beat.  Instead of ranting to the media about how they got no respect, they seemed to shrug their shoulders and went into Sunday with an attitude of..."we'll show you".

Of course, all the props went to the Titans defense before the game and with Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch being out, people were proclaiming an easy win for the Steelers offense, an offense that had trouble against tough defenses all season.  That defense wasn't so tough without their two star players.  Jeff Fisher made sure to prove otherwise.

Steelers went into Tennessee, another team that had the Steelers numbers and well, was handed their butts.  The star that day wouldn't be a big named linebacker, but a rookie named Jason Jones.  Jones, with his 3.5 sacks would make a veteran quarterback, one who had come back from behind to win games against the Cowboys and the Ravens, look like, well, a rookie. 

Not only did the Titans defense make hash of an ineffective oline and stuff the running game, but the offense set out to prove it was better then people were saying they were.  They didn't abandon the run and when Collins was able to open it up, forced the Steelers to back up and played balanced enough to take the win, and they took advantage of the turnovers.  29 pass plays to 31 running plays is pretty balanced, wouldn't you say.  It's not a secret, the offense that can stay balanced tends to win.  They made a huge statement yesterday, they did something the so called better offenses couldn't do, put up 300 yards on the top ranked defense in the league.

Titans were  out to prove a point, along with sewing up HFA for the playoffs.  They showed why they remained the top team in the AFC and in the NFL this Sunday. 

Posted on: December 21, 2008 12:11 pm

Fever and Lights in the City of Steel

Funny, no matter how many times you've been there and seen it, it's still catches you by surprise, in a good way.  Or maybe not.  Somehow I knew what I would see.  Call it faith.  Faith, that the City of Steel would light up it's buildings for the holidays and faith, that the Steeler faithful, would be that, faithful, and showing their pride. 

It was affirmed, while I sat for two hours in the Charlotte Airport, waiting for my plane to Pittsburgh, passing the time, people watching.  Amongst the holiday travelers, the soldiers on leave, the young students heading home for the holidays, there were, yes, the Steeler faithful.  Fans of the black and gold, in their jersey's, sweatshirts, jackets with the Steelers emblem on it, intermixed in the crowd.  Some were on flights that had arrived from Pittsburgh, a few, were like me, waiting for our flight into the Steel City. 

It just seemed right, that as the Steelers fight for first seed and homefield advantage, that we displaced Steelers fans, arriving in the city of the AFC North Champions, should pass by a statue of Franco Harris (I think the other one is of William Pitt, though I'm not too sure), as we make our way from the terminal to the main building and baggage check.  And not to disappoint, just as the lights of the city took my breath away for a moment as we came out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel over the bridge, you could feel the anticipation in the air for this game, and for the games to come.  No matter how many times fans have seen this before, there's still the anticipation, the excitement, the joy for a team that has made it this far.  Indeed, even as my uncle, who currently lives in Tennessee walked through the door last night, sporting his turtle neck with the Steelers emblem and, this morning, came down wearing his t-shirt with the words Steelers across the front.  One thing is for sure, Steeler fever is alive and rampant in the City of Steel.

Today, the Steelers will stoke that fever even higher as they play against the Tennessee Titan in a battle for first seed.  Hard to say what this game will bring.  Some are saying that Kerry Collins is starting to wear down, that the horrible offense of the Steelers will once again play horrible.  Eh, who knows, only the end of the game will tell.

Although the running game for the Steelers may open up with the absence of Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch of the Tennessee Titans, one would have to wonder if Bruce Arians will play to exploit that weakness or try to throw against a defense that ranks fifth in passing.  Eighteen interceptions for the season isn't something to sneeze at,  especially since 4 of those interceptions were by former Steelers player Chris Hope

Of course, for any Titan fan who thinks that Johnson and White will run all day over the Steelers defense, I suggest you ask the Giants fans who predicted that Jacobs and Ward was going to do the same, just how that went.   Kerry Collins will be called upon to use his arm to open up the running game.  Can he do it, well, yes, he can, even more so if the Steelers overlook him.  The question is, will they.  We'll have to wait and see.

Biggest question is going to be, just how tough will the teams really want to play?  Given they already have a bye and the possibility of facing each other in the playoffs may add some truth into the urban legend of not wanting to show the other team what they really have.  That and the possibility of risking injury to their players that would cause them to be out for the playoffs, leaves us to wonder how much we'll see from either of these teams.

Hopefully, it'll be a good game, and with the post-season just around the corner, one with no injuries. 

For me, unless the funeral home director has a tv there (rumor has it he does), this may be the first game I'll miss in three years.  Of course, my uncles and I are conspiring, just how we can keep track of the game this afternoon.   Either way, it's always comforting to know that Steeler fever is as alive as the Christmas lights of the City of Pittsburgh at this time of year, and that the Steelers have continued to find ways to continue to make that fever rise.

Posted on: September 3, 2008 5:48 pm

2008-09 NFL Projections - AFC South - No Surprise

Okay, so this can be addictive.  I can understand why Judge Clark and Pete Prisco do this, despite all the garbage they get from the readers.  But, in truth, it's fun.  Of course, I think I can get away with it because I don't get paid. 

So I've projected the New England Patriots to be the division leader of the AFC East.  I know, a no-brainer there right?  So as I go through the AFC South, I know, I'll have another no-brainer in chosing the Indianapolis Colts as the AFC South's division leader.

Well onto my projection for the AFC South.

#4 - Houston Texans - Although I see them progressing to having a winning season (though they're first lost will come in their season opener), I still see the Texans sitting at last place in the AFC South.  Only because this is one tough division and the Tennessee Titans will have just a tad better season. 

#3 - Tennessee Titans - Vince Young has yet to convince me with his accuracy.  Having been playing for a few years, teams are going to be able to stop a running quarterback and his aerial attack is questionable.  Sorry, before I see the Titans advancing up in the division, Young is going to have to convince me he can throw the ball better.

#2 - Jacksonville Jaguars - Jags are going to be neck and neck with the Colts, and seriously, I see the division going based on a tie breaker, which the Colts will hold.  Garrard shows he will be as consistent as he was last year and has some young weapons to throw to and the beefing up of their defense makes this call a difficult one.  I do see the Jaguars once again holding a wild card slot.

#1 - Indianapolis Colts - No, I didn't say this because my husband is a Colts fan.  Trust me, in this household during football season, gloves are off and the fun begins.  I see the Colts taking the division with a tie breaker against the Jaguars.  Despite Peyton Mannings injury and lack of practice time, it's not going to take anytime for him to get back into the swing.  Even with Jeff Saturday being down for the first few weeks of the season, Manning has the capability of the quick release to make up for the missing center.  Given a healthy Wide Receiver corp and the duo of Joseph Addai and Dominick Rhodes, the offense will be fine.  Colts have also  a beefed up defense and a healthy Bob Sanders, Dwight Freeney and Marlin Jackson

AFC South Division Champions - Indianapolis Colts
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com