This was quite a weekend for me. Outstanding Steelers fans – brother & sister Matt and Kristen invited me to join them for the game. We made a full weekend out of it arriving on Friday. I did get to go to the Steelers Alumni dinner which was very cool seeing the players and families of inductees into the inaugural Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Honor. Dan Rooney’s brother Art Rooney Jr. was there as was Mrs. Noll and a number of legacy Steelers including Franco Harris, Dick Hoak, Joe Green, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Dermontti Dawson, Donnie Shell and more. It was poignant for me that a number of players like LC Greenwood were represented by family members since they have departed way too early. 27 were inducted including all 23 members enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame. Donnie Shell, LC Greenwood, Andy Russell and Dick Hoak are not in the NFL’s Hall of Fame but are in Pittsburgh’s Hall of Honor. Merrill Hoge was the Master of Cermonies. Looking forward to next year’s class and hoping that Bill Nunn gets his due in Pittsburgh as well as eventually by the NFL.
Me with Matt & Kristen at Hall of Honor display that was unveiled Sunday Night in Great Hall:
Most of Saturday we spent in Pittsburgh’s Strip District – for you non-Burgher Steelers fans, it’s not what you think. We saw a lot of Packer fans wandering the streets. Too bad for them, the memorabilia shops only had Steelers, Penguins or Pirates gear available. As one Korean-American proprietor nicknamed “Crashey” would cheerfully tell Green Bay fans – “sorry we all sold out of Packers stuff.” Crashey was given his moniker by Matt since that is how he would pronounce all his “classy” merchandise. He has adopted his name gleefully. We spent most of the afternoon in Lefty’s; a hole-in-the-wall that had a great mix of locals and visitors. My kind of place; we felt like regulars after just a round or two.
Matt & Kristen have been coming to Steelers games for years and recall games from Three Rivers Stadium. Their dad is from Pittsburgh but they grew up in New Jersey and both settled in Charlotte, North Carolina in the 1990’s. They drive up for a game each season; otherwise they host Steelers game bashes back in Charlotte in an amazing Steeler cave they have built up over the years. Experienced tailgaters; they know right where to go to get fresh foods in Pittsburgh so they don’t have to pack much in. Sunday morning, we are up early and in line when the doors open at Wholey’s Fish Market; not for fish but they have some delicious side dishes among other things. Then a walk to Mancini’s Bakery for some fresh hamburger and roll buns. Then another walk to Strip District Meats for, well, meat of course. Liquid refreshments already acquired the day before and shopping is almost complete. We get some caffeine at Allegheny Coffee & Tea Exchange and a cigar run at the Leaf & Bean. All this was done in less than two hours and was leisurely since it was a night game. We were back to the North Shore by 11AM and had time to nap before setting up and meeting other fans as we tailgated. Nice way to prep for a game.
I really was hoping that the Steelers would follow-up the Titans game with a complete game against the Green Bay Packers. A dominant win with Packer quarterback Brett Hundley throwing interceptions or running for his life. A comfortable win decided early in the second half. Well the game wasn’t quite what I wanted; but the finale was certainly what was needed.
The opening 38-yard kickoff return by Martavis Bryant was both exciting and surprising. No one expected that. The Steelers teased us with an opening drive with Ben Roethlisberger targeting seven different receivers. Le’Veon Bell gain 14 yards on two carries including one that dug us out of a hole. The shovel pass to Xavier Grimble was slick and had Heinz Field rocking. The missed extra point by Chris Boswell barely noticed.
The referees set the tone early. Vince Williams was called for unnecessary roughness on the ensuing kickoff. A replay was not shown in the stadium but later replays I saw appear to show that the referees missed a Packer face mask on Vince. Like many sports the retaliator often gets the whistle. So, working on a short field the Packers are saved by the referees again on a 3rd & 5 play with Stephon Tuitt sacking Brett Hundley and forcing a fumble for a loss of eight yards. We are going nuts until oh, oh someone dropped a Terrible flag on the field. Artie Burns called for illegal hands to the face. The replay we are shown does reveal Artie’s hand going up toward the face of the receiver for a brief second but we can’t see any contact and it is withdrawn quickly – it really did not impact the receiver’s movement, vision or the play – but does give the Packers a first down instead of punting. Two plays later Randall Cobb is countrywide open and Green Bay has a sudden 7-6 lead.
Then a role reversal occurs after a 3rd and 5 conversion is negated by offsetting penalties. Green Bay had 12 men on field; Ben catches them with a quick snap but the referees say illegal shift since the player was not set for a full second – perhaps technically correct but how can you do a quick snap? Players were all set; but not for a full second. The Steelers still convert but then Ben’s pass intended for Eli Rogers is intercepted by Damarious Randall. He just seemed to anticipate the pass and jumped right in front of Eli. Another short field for the Packers and a screen play goes 54 yards for a touchdown. There is loud cheering in Heinz Field; the many Packers fans who made it have cause to celebrate.
In the second quarter Pittsburgh exchanges punts with Green Bay but appears to have territorial advantage. Antonio Brown has a 35-yard punt return negated by an illegal block “above the waist”. There is another flag that is also picked up. The replay is shown but the blocks sure did not look bad to me. Yet another lengthy referee conference followed by explanations that do not satisfy. Instead of being on the Packers 10-yard line the Steelers have to start from their own 35 – a 55-yard swing in field advantage. The Steelers render this moot with a long throw to Antonio Brown and a 17-yard touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant. The 2-point conversion ties it up – it’s a new ball game.
My confidence was rattled at the beginning of the 2nd half. Tie ball game and I’m thinking time for the defense to step up. Don’t let the Packers strike quick like the Titans last week. Green Bay receives to start the half. Their first drive lasts longer than 11 seconds; it goes for almost 3 minutes and is capped by another long pass play this one for 55 yards. I am sick and tired of hearing the visiting fans cheering and watching Steelers defensive backs ineffectually chasing Packer receivers down the field.
The next drive is no better. On 2nd and 7 Maurkice Pouncey is called for holding. Another lengthy referee conference – I’m starting to wonder if they are instructed to do this to sneak in a quick 30 second commercial for TV viewers. The replay I see shows Pouncey with a clenched right fist on the defenders left shoulder pad. No hook or grabbing of jersey – perhaps other views that are not available to me show the hold – but the Steelers fans inside Heinz Field are booing like crazy. Ironically this will be the last significant call against the Steelers though I see plays later in the game plays with much more obvious holds that are not whistled. Nonetheless on 2nd and 17; Ben throws his second interception. This was tipped at the line so was a jump ball but still… wasn’t it supposed to be Hundley throwing the INTs?
Fortunately for the Steelers, Mason Crosby’s field goal attempt was pathetic. It would not have been a 35-yard attempt as it skittered very low. Not sure if Steelers special teams forced him to rush or if it was a bad snap or hold. Regardless, it was a huge miss and gave the ball back with good field position. On this dive, the ball was not distributed like the opening drive. Bell runs twice for 16 yards. Ben rambles (you cannot describe what he does as running) for 8 yards. Pass to Bell for 15. Pass to AB for 11. There is one incomplete pass to Martavis but he draws a penalty for a fresh set of downs at the one. Ben needs just one to finish the drive with a pass to AB.
With the game tied once again at 21-21; the Heinz staff strategically plays Renegade just before the kickoff. It’s a good one – the Packers drive totals minus 6 yards to finish the 3rd quarter. Green Bay punts to open the 4th quarter but the Steelers offense stumbles when Bell fumbles on his third carry of the drive. Replay is close but most in the stadium know that the fumble will stand. The defense forces another 3 & out. The misdirection that Green Bay had been using to negate the Steelers defensive pursuit not working as Hundley’s three incompletions show what we had been expecting coming into the game. He is not Aaron Rodgers.
The Steelers go right back to Bell after Ben is sacked on the first play. A key conversion by Eli Rogers. More Bell then a 33-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Bell. Heinz Field takes the unusual step of a double Renegade night. This one does not work as the Packers hold the ball for 6 ½ minutes and tie the game up at 28-28. Their misdirection working and with two minutes to go it’s a tie ball game.
Pittsburgh fails to deliver on the first drive but although Jordan Berry’s punt is only 28 yards; it is high and the Packers fair catch at their own 18-yard line. T.J. Watts sack on the first pay have their backs to the wall and they end up punting. AB makes a catch that from my angle looked way out of bounds. I groan and even the first few replay angles do not look good, but then you see his toe in and the back foot dragging with him extended with the ball – wow what a catch! The next out pattern to AB looks very easy but not much time left. I wonder why Mike Tomlin did not call timeout earlier in the Packers drive – he could have saved 15-20 seconds. The pass to Bell for a loss made no sense to me. Now, Boswell would have to attempt a 53-yarder from the same side of the field that he had missed an extra point after the opening touchdown. The kick goes and does not clear the cross bar by much and is angling left but is good and this game is over.
I did not get the blowout win that I wanted but the Steelers win was what was needed; so, will finish this long article with a Rolling Stones song that seems apropos: The Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want
I did get to meet Brett Hundley’s wife at the end of the game. She was as gracious as she was beautiful.