One of the greatest rivalries in National Football League history is upon us. The Pittsburgh Steelers against America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys.
Roger Staubach dishing off to Tony Dorsett and just a play later scrambling and ducking and throwing deep to Drew Pearson.
Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson taunting Terry Bradshaw by saying he’s so dumb he couldn’t spell “CAT” if you spotted him the “C” and the “A”. Then there’s Ed “Too Tall” Jones swatting down Bradshaw’s passes at the line of scrimmage.
Yet, the Bayou quarterback’s retaliation is swift and sweet in the form of a 64-yard rocket fire to the balletic Lynn Swann.
Then jump ahead in the time machine and you’ll see Troy Aikman tossing right to the sensational Emmitt Smith, who powers into the endzone behind one of the greatest offensive lines ever assembled in NFL history.
And, then flash to that special moment in time when Rod Woodson points to his reconstructed knee, after a defensive play on Michael “The Playmaker” Irvin in Super Bowl XXX.
There is tremendous history between these two great franchises, as they’ve faced each other in three Super Bowls with the tally being 2-1 in the Steelers advantage.
So, you can imagine our excitement when these two storied organizations face each other once again for what is surely a preview of this year’s anticipated Super Bowl matchup later this season.
Wait. Just a moment. I’m being told the Cowboys are a dismal 2-6 this season. And, that their quarterback this weekend will either be Garrett Gilbert or some dude named Cooper Rush.
Alright then. Scratch all of the pageantry. As well as the puffery about rivalry and expectations of a classic gridiron encounter.
Dallas is just another train stop on the Steelers Championship journey, folks. I guess that means I’ll have to give this a good Spin.
A Marshmallow World
The Steelers just completed a trifecta of improbable awesomeness as they managed to go 3-0 against their last three imposing opponents.
Three weeks ago they defeated a resurgent Cleveland Browns (5-3) team by a whopping score of 38-7. Then they outmatched the powerful Tennessee Titans (5-2) with a thrilling 27-24 win and lastly wrapped it all in a bow with the 28-24 besting of the dreaded Baltimore Ravens (5-2).
Sure, the squeakiness of the wins over the Titans and Ravens caused Steelers Nation to whittle down their fingernails to a throbbing cuticle. But, they were substantial enough victories to allow for style point forgiveness.
That…was an impressive three-of-a-kind there.
Which is why you must allow us some grace as we look at the next three games before us and rise up together in songs full of relief and frolicking.
It’s a marshmallow world in the winter,
When the snow comes to cover the ground.
It’s the time for play, it’s a whipped cream day,
I wait for it all year round!
Yes…it’s marshmallow time over the next three weeks as the Steelers face Dallas (2-6), the Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6).
Now, I know what you’re thinking. On any given Sunday. Every opposing player gets a paycheck too…and all of those other Knute Rockne diatribes.
And…yes…I haven’t forgotten that Coach Mike Tomlin has earned a wee reputation of losing to losers.
But…once again, this is a different year and a different team. The Steelers will do their part and make this a successful business trip to North Dallas Forty.
Which makes it safe to note this just happens to be the perfect time of the schedule for the Steelers to enter a little Candyland as they chomp down on these marshmallows.
After all, Pittsburgh really doesn’t have a traditional BYE week in the middle of the schedule (thank you Tennessee Titans and Covid-19). And, if we’re being completely honest, this is a 7-0 team with a lot of…what should we say?…room for improvement.
This Pillsbury Dough Boy patch of the schedule allows Pittsburgh to enjoy a bit of a mid-season pre-season to work out the kinks in the machinery.
Face Like Rocky
Sure. The Steelers beat the Ravens in Baltimore. Racking up a win and then getting the heck out of Dodge was all that really mattered.
Still, the previously undented Steelers defense took a shocking combination of debilitating body blows, jabs and stiff uppercuts by the Ravens running game. You could almost hear the Steelers saying, “Adrian!..Adrian!” as Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards and rookie J.K. Dobbins pounded them into a Deep Purple.
It wasn’t just Smoke On The Water either when Titans running back Derrick Henry ran through and over them just the week prior.
Not every team is going to have a stampede of a running assault the likes of Baltimore, but now all other teams are going to try to send out their buffalos anyway moving forward.
The Steelers are injured and depleted on the defensive line and are still recovering from the loss of Devin Bush. But, they are going to need salve their wounds and mend their walls, because offensive coordinators are going to keep poking the bruise.
That could seriously threaten the Steelers defensive dominance.
Yet, just like Rocky, Pittsburgh keeps demonstrating what makes the team special this year and that is its ability to get off the ropes and to swing back when needed.
This Band of Brothers can be trusted with a fourth quarter, and that’s not something you could say of them in the past few years. (Or ten.)
Whether it’s Ben Roethlisberger playing a little yard ball to gain the lead or one of the many playmakers on defense creating a key turnover, these guys continue to show they have what it takes to go far.
In a successful season, you’re always going to expect your big players to show up. But, what makes for a championship season is when the Unusual Suspects start making a difference.
Think about how the Steelers are winning this year.
You can start with Robert Spillane’s Pick Six of Lamar Jackson to set the early tone in their big win against the Ravens.
And, you could look at the 57-yard punt return by Ray-Ray McCloud a few games back which give the offense an advanced location on the field at just the right time.
Don’t forget about rookie guard Kevin Dotson filling in early this season in a game where he not only held his own, but was actually dominant.
Then there is his fellow draft classman Chase Claypool flashing a four touchdown expression of youthful exuberance and future brilliance.
Also, just last week, you had another rookie Alex Highsmith making a critical interception of Jackson to turn the tide.
This is what a championship team looks like. When it’s not just your highly paid veterans who are making the grade. But, when it’s literally everyone on the roster who are contributing in a major way.
It’s a beautiful thing when you have everyone in the boat…each working the row in their hands.
Is this all just a stroke of good fortune? No. This is what great coaching and excellent recruiting produces.
This is what Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have built. They are deserving of much applause.
If you want to negotiate your way out of Pittsburgh and into the loving arms of any of the 31 other teams, then you want to use the playbook employed by former players like Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace.
If it’s all about the cash…then enjoy it at least until you get unceremoniously cut or traded by your new mistress team (it happens to just about them all.)
But, if you’re smart enough to know that Pittsburgh is the finest organization and fanbase to wisely invest your career in, then you go about your negotiations with the Steelers office in a much more clever way.
Look at guys like Alejandro Villanueva. When it came time for a new contract, he didn’t threaten to hold out, or to go on a nationwide wooing tour.
He just said, “Pay me fairly…and now where do I sign?”
In exchange, Alejandro is living the good life. He’s properly compensated, he’s completely content, he’s well loved by Steelers Nation and he’s playing at the top of his game.
Why is that difficult?
You’re getting the idea that Juju Smith-Schuster is also engaging in this high level of sophisticated and brilliant negotiations with the Steelers.
Statistically, he’s nowhere close to where he would want to be as he heads into free agency. If he was going to listen to most agents, and the crazy voices that often reside in NFL players’ heads, he would be knocking over Gatorade dispensers, holding “Throw me the darn ball” press conferences and doing livestream temper tantrums.
No, Juju is going high level. Working hard on the field. Blocking. Mentoring younger receivers and saying all of the right things.
While other lesser negotiators would be demanding the spotlight, he’s celebrating the successes and growth of his teammates.
Perfectly executed, blue chip strategy. And, it’s going to get him a long stay in Pittsburgh. You heard it here.
Because, if you’re working out a big deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers, you need to win their hearts rather than trying to pick their pockets.
Well played Juju…well played. You’re the real deal. Greatness is much bigger than stats.
How ‘Bout Them Cowboys?
Yeah…how about them? I’m trying to get fired up. But, the only nemesis left over there is Jerry Jones and you got to give him some love for building such an amazing stadium.
Big rivalry? A clash of two great dynasties. Yeah…no. None of that.
But, this is an important opportunity for the Steelers to patch up their weaknesses and to turbocharge their strengths.
Ain’t nothing wrong living in a marshmallow world. At least for a few weeks.