Sunday, January 22, 2006

Pittsburgh’s going to the Super Bowl!

AFC Championship game

Score: Pittsburgh 34, Denver 17

Another great game from the guys in black and gold! In some respects this game impressed me more than the effort against the Colts. Pittsburgh played a complete game on both sides of the ball against a very tough Denver team. I must confess that Denver had me worried, lol. They’ve been defensively tough all year long…knocking out the best offensive teams they’ve faced. But today was just Pittsburgh’s day. They played inspired ball, again.

And, I really don’t think enough good things can be said about Ken “the Whiz” Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator of the Steelers. Wow! What a game plan! He was two steps ahead of Shanahan and the Broncos…and that is no small task. Shanahan is no slouch in big game acumen [or offensive genius]. If this game doesn’t land Ken a gig as head coach, I don’t think anything will. I hope he stays with the Steelers, but if he does, they need to give him a pay raise!

Great game, though. And solid execution on both sides of the ball for Pittsburgh, especially offense – some excellent third down calls. And, some excellent plays for first downs and TDs. Ben performed really well today…and a lot of credit goes to the offensive line. Wow, did they ever pick up the blitz! Case in point: Third down throws against the blitz were around 75 percent conversion rate. Also note: On the TD run by Jerome Bettis, Alan Faneca blocked two Broncos, lol.

Denver linebacker Ian Gold paid Pittsburgh the ultimate compliment:

"We did not complete the mission and it's frustrating," linebacker Ian Gold said. "But anytime you make it to the AFC Championship Game and you lose, you hope to lose to a team like that."

Pittsburgh is playing monster ball, right now – unprecedented, really. They've beaten the 1, 2 and 3 seeds to advance – first time that's ever been done. And, it's the first time a 6 seed has ever advanced to the Super Bowl. Quite fitting that it's Super Bowl XL! Super Bowl Xtra-Large...for the way they're playing, lol.

And…western PA is going crazy with Steeler fever, lol.

Restaurants were sending people home because of no customers; TV stations were showing shots of the malls and stores, with streets looking like ghost towns, lol! Everyone was home watching the game, or with friends and fans at sports bars.

Non-residents of PA seem stunned at the loyalty of the fans. One writer said this, after the game:

And all those loyal Pittsburgh fans! An estimated 8,000 came to Denver and they stayed well after the game, waving their Terrible Towels in the corner of Denver's Invesco Field until security finally had to ask them to leave…

Is it any surprise that one guy in a sports bar had a heart attack last week when Bettis fumbled against Indy? Or that another guy last year asked to be laid out in a recliner with a brew in hand, “watching” Pittsburgh highlights? These people take it seriously!

Growing up in western PA, going to school, teachers actually gave extra credit points for students who wore black and gold during the playoffs. I kinda resented that, then. I thought grades should be earned. But looking back, I just laugh and shake my head.

I called my mother before the game and said,

“Mom, just checking in to see if you are gonna watch the game.” And she said, “Yes.”

Then she said, “Loy, you wouldn’t believe it, but I wore black and gold to church today!”

And I laughed. Then I acted shocked and said, “Mom! What’s this world coming to, whenever a fine, upstanding Christian lady like yourself wears professional football colors to the house of the Lord? Why, it’s almost idolatry!”

And she laughed again and said, “Oh, I blame this on my three sons for making me a football fan!” And I laughed, because there wasn’t much I could say to that.

The she said, ‘But if they play like they did last week, I might not make it through the game.” Then she put the pressure on me. She said, “If I didn’t make it and had to be laid out, would you boys come to my funeral or watch the game?”

And I said, “Oh, mom! I’m not gonna say I would ever choose a football game over you I’ll be there…! But…don’t be surprised if somehow there's a large screen TV at the wake!”

And she laughed like a little girl, lol!

And she said, “Loy, you are so bad!” And I laughed, too.

Then she said, “I might just end up getting up out of the casket for that one.” And I said, “Yeah, you’d probably get up and walk on water, too, if they won!”

And she laughed and said, “Now you are being bad, so I have to go!”

So I let her go to watch the football game – but it just gives a flavor of the fever in Steeler country!

I’ve been driving around with a football in the passenger seat of my truck, lol. And, p.s. – It’s gonna stay there through the Super Bowl, too. But I’m not superstitious or anything, lol! I just like football!

All together now: “Pittsburgh’s goin’ to ‘da Super Bowl!”

Go Steelers!



Patrick O'Hannigan said...

Thanks for the vignette. I'm rooting for The Bus. If I remember correctly, he's a Notre Dame alumnus. And I like a quarterback who comes off the practice field with a big grin on his face, and Ben did earlier this week, when a wire service photographer caught him looking energized rather than tired.

Loy Mershimer said...

Thanks, Patrick!

Yes, "The Bus" is a Notre Dame alum. And a good guy, by all accounts. He's really helped to make Pittsburgh a team -- which is a rarity in the professional sports world, sadly. Comparing the Steelers to the Bears, for instance, is like night and day. If all I knew about pro-football was what I know about the Bears [internal character, off-field actions] I'd never watch another pro game. Period. But "The Bus" and Pittsburgh help to break that mold, thankfully!

And yes! why shouldn't a pro-athlete be energized by the practice field? I mean, please -- playing ball for a living, what most of us can only enjoy doing in spare time...why shouldn't there be a smile and energy?

But again...kind of indicative of the nature of pro-sports that we don't see that more often. And, indicative of the team of Pittsburgh, imo.

I truly hope Pittsburgh wins, is the team of destiny, b/c it will be a win for blue-collar athletes and a blue-collar segment of America...



Dan Petrucci said...

One For The Thumb (and what it means)

1980 is a long time gone – a full generation ago. In the interim, many Steelers fans have been whisked from idealistic teens wearing Levi’s to life-tested middle-aged men and women, often bearing the weight of the world. Much has changed along the way. Remembering care-free days of gas & beer $ being the chief concern blossoming into the realities a seasoned adult must endure – like holding onto hope as a loved one keeps a brave face in the stare of a distant danger. Many a head hair has been shed by this Steelers fan as we went from the days of dominance under Terry Bradshaw, through the days of darkness with Malone, Woodley, & Brister, past the almosts and pretends of O’Donnell, Stewart, and Maddox, up to the one who’ll finally free Excalibur from the stone, and wield a sword finally befitting the leader of the greatest team on Earth, bringing the “Grail” home to Camelot … our own King Ben. Yes, the mantra One For The Thumb which has held since 1980 – the last time the Pittsburgh Steelers were called champions, will finally be realized.

Then again, some things never change. I still wear my Levi’s, and the Pittsburgh Steelers still win football games the old school way. Run the football. Attack on defense. Nothing less would do from this franchise so rich in tradition. Take coaching, for instance. Since the merger, the Steelers have been head coached by only two men. Chuck Noll, aka; The Pope, and Bill Cowher, aka; The Chin. I seriously doubt that two men could be more different in personality while striving for the same outcome via Steeler fashion. Noll, the silent, stoic leader who expected – and received – the very best from his players at all times. Motivation wasn’t his forte’. “These men are professionals. Save motivation for Pop Warner.” He was a man who knew what it took to succeed with the team he ran. Then we have Cowher. The animated, emotional leader who’ll grab the facemask of one of the greatest running backs of all time, and ask, “Do you wanna score a TD? Then go do it!!”, giving # 36 the boost he needs to cross the goal line. The ultimate motivator. Cowher has been criticized for not being able to win the big one. Perhaps that criticism has been justified up ‘til now. Cowher was a coach who lived and died by the axiom “Ya dance with who brung ya”, refusing to change schemes for an opponent mid-way through a game despite evidence that change was needed. But for those who’ll believe it’s still the same ol’ Bill pacing the sidelines … let’s go to the video tape: The Steelers were eaten alive by Peyton Manning in the Monday Night Football match up in Indy. In that game, Cowher allowed defensive coordinator Dick LeBeu to play coverage against the Colts, and the results were disastrous. Enter: Round 2. The playoffs. The old Cowher would’ve refused to change the defensive scheme, and the results wouldn’t have changed much either. The new Bill recognized the need to relentlessly pressure Manning, and the outcome resulted in the Steelers dominating the line of scrimmage (though the final score didn’t reflect it). It’s taken a while, but Bill Cowher finally realizes that you can still dance with who brung ya … but no one says ya have to dance the waltz every time. Lesson learned. This is a Head Coach who can lead his team to the Lombardi trophy.

The Steelers chose to wear their white & gold for the Super Bowl, probably as a symbol of getting to the show on the road. The last time the Steelers wore white & gold for a Super Bowl was in SB # 9 when they were vying for the first championship versus the Vikings. As a youngster, I recall watching the Steelers through the playoffs that year while thinking, “This team has a great defense and a great running game. If Bradshaw can somehow take his game to another level the Steelers will be champions.” # 12 did, and the Steelers were champions. Similarly, I found myself repeating those words during the course of the current season. Traditionally, our team has the great defense. It has the great running game. But if Ben Roethlisberger could take his game to another level …
In the playoffs, I watched Ben dissect a Colts defense that had crippled his play in the first meeting. I watched him effortlessly rip through a much tougher Broncos defense a mile high in the air; making pump fakes resulting in touchdowns that one Mr. Tom Brady could only envy. I believe the AFC Championship game was a “becoming” for # 7, serving notice to the rest of the football universe that Ben Roethlisberger can no longer be considered a “caretaker QB”. Rather, he’s taken the major steps toward becoming the game’s next elite QB.

I recall what then heavyweight-boxing champion Mike Tyson once said when asked about his chances against an opponent. He replied, “How dare they challenge me with their primitive skills!” He wasn’t just confident … He knew he was going to win. More on-point, I recall a Jack Ham interview not long ago. “Dobra Shunka” was asked if, during the Super Bowl years, the team ever considered losing the big game. The answer? “No. Hell no! I mean, we never even considered losing!” Unlike the Steelers team that lost to the Cowboys in the Super Bowl ten years ago, this team carries a similar swagger. It’s something that transcends mere confidence, and we the fans can see it played out before our eyes. It’s palpable. This team knows they’re about to win a championship.

Prior to my migration to this message board, I posted often on Steelers Digest. During the less than spectacular 1999 season, I remember reading so many posts resonating with despair and defeat. Now, as we await the battle which will crown our team as champs, I recall the very first post I created on ‘Digest. I spoke of the need for fans of the Black N Gold to keep their heads held high while dreaming of a time when we’d return to glory. That time is finally at hand. We’re goin’ home.

We as diehard fans should relish this upcoming event, and nurture it. Not rush or dread it. Take my word for it … the waiting is over. In as much, it’s time for fans of the Black N Gold to display our swagger. The Seahawks? A mere bump on the road to greatness, which is the destiny awaiting this current group of men adorned in the colors of their Steel Curtain predecessors. If there’s still any doubt as to the certainty of a Steelers win next Sunday, just ask The Bus. He’ll proudly tell you about Ben’s promise to get him home to Detroit if he’d only give the team one more year on his wheels. Promise kept: Jerome Bettis is going home, and he’s not about to let the final game of his Hall Of Fame career become a defeat. Just look in his eyes. They tell the story of a team embarking on greatness. A team that The Chief, Art Rooney, would smile favorably down on. A team whose playoff run couldn’t have been scripted for a movie with more drama. Yes, his eyes tell the story. They say, “We will win Super Bowl 40. We are a team of destiny.” That’s what One For The Thumb means. Like The Bus, we’re finally all going home. And in doing so, each of us will be helping the Bus lift the Lombardi trophy to the heavens. Oh, what a feeling!

First, when there’s nothing
But a slow-growing dream
That your fear seems to hide
Deep inside your mind

All alone I have cried
Silent tears full of pride
In a world made of steel
Made of stone

Well, I hear the music
Close my eyes, feel the rhythm
Wrap around, taking hold
Of my heart

What a feeling! Being’s believing!
I can have it all, now I’m dancin’
Take your passion and make it happen
Pictures come alive, now I’m dancin’ through my life

Loy Mershimer said...

Wow...thank you, Dan.

That is a breathtaking post in many ways. Just a profound look at what Steeler passion means to the people of Pittsburgh, Western Pa and WV.

Profound, heartfelt, and moving. Thank you so much for posting it here!

God bless you, and GO STEELERS!