Monday, November 28, 2005

A Request of the Steeler Nation

Dear Steeler Nation,

I haven’t really talked to you in a while, but you know I’ll always care. The passion you have for your team is approached only by the passion I have for it, only while you bleed black and gold, I just want to see your team bleed from time to time. These past two years at college I haven’t got to enjoy the prattling of Steigerwalds and Hilgroves, mindlessly answering questions from uninformed callers or addressing teams they probably haven’t watched play. I miss that regional infatuation, the craziness that can only be expressed by the waving of a loud, yellow towel.

We look back on history in a different way, you and I. You see Neil O’ Donnell’s performance in the Super Bowl against the Cowboys as one of the worst nights of your life; I take a picture of that box score when I’m at the Hall of Fame. The 2001 AFC Championship game, where you had the number one offense and defense in the entire NFL and still lost, is looked back on with fondness by me; you see it as the straw that broke the camel’s back in the eternally frustrating Kordell Stewart Era. Last year, Big Ben’s run to the 15-1 record was seen as the best thing to hit Western PA since Mario by you; I dreaded looking at the standings.

But tonight we need to be united. It doesn’t happen often, but I’ll be chanting “Here We Go Steelers” and blindly rooting for you tonight when you take the field against the Colts in Indianapolis. For you, it’s the matter of staying with the Bengals in the AFC North race and avoiding a January trip to Foxboro or Denver. For me, it’s a matter of history. It’s a matter of preserving one of the most sacred things in sports – the 1972 Dolphins perfect season – from the tarnishing hands of Evil Lord Manning.

I understand there’s till five games to go after this, but do you want me to put the onus of protecting Bob, Larry and Mercury’s perfection on the shoulders of Matt Hasselbeck and David Garrard? The Chargers couldn’t do it last year with Antonio Gates healthy, and while the rest of their team is different, can I really trust them to stop the Colts at home without the best tight end in the league?

No, it’s up to you, Pittsburgh. And while I realize Bill Cowher has a track record in big games akin to Chris Webber, the pre-UNC Roy Williams and the pre-steroids Barry Bonds, the latter two showed they could change, so why not the Jawed One? You’ll probably only have Big Ben for another two or three games before he gets hurt again (I guess it really is the bigger they are, the harder they fall), so he might as well make the most of this opportunity against the Colts.

I need you do this because I’m sick and tired of hearing about how great Peyton Manning is. The guy won his first playoff game two years ago, against Jake Plummer. The year before, it was a 41-0 ass-kicking at the hands of a Jets team you wouldn’t exactly call dominant. The guy lost to Jay Fiedler. The Colts really revolve around Edgerrin James, but you couldn’t tell that from the coverage Manning gets.

I could point out things like the 2001 season, where the Colts started 3-3 before Edgerrin James went down with injury, then finished the season 3-7. Or that in 1998, Peyton Manning went 3-13, even with Marshall Faulk at running back. In 1999, in Edgerrin’s rookie season, they went 13-3.

But records can be deceiving. Surely the Colts added more than just James in between 98 and 99, so just look at individual games when Indy had their back against the wall. Just last week against the Bengals, the Colts had given up 17 straight points when they got the ball for the first time in the second half. They put on a 15-play drive, in which The Edge ran on ten of those plays, including seven straight at one point, and eventually scored the touchdown. Or what about in the 2003 AFC Championship game against the Patriots? After being shut out in the first half, on their first drive in the third quarter, the Colts put on a 12-play drive, in which James ran on seven of the plays and scored, accounting for all but twenty of the yards, which were contributed by Dominic Rhodes.

But you don’t hear that brought up by the pundits, because Peyton’s a good ol’ boy and says all the right things to Peter King and Ron Jaworski and has the dad who paid his dues taking a beating as the Saints’ quarterback. Peyton’s a great quarterback, but to discuss the success of the Colts offense without mentioning Edgerrin James as the key component is a great disservice.

Do you want to let this stand, Steeler Nation? You’re the team that went 15-1 last year, knocked off the last two undefeateds and had pundits gushing about being one of the best teams ever. All of a sudden, this year the AFC has become “the Colts and everybody else”, and you’re just going to stand there and take it? Don’t you want to be the team that ended the undefeated streak this season? Remember how fun it was when Kitna knocked off the Chiefs a couple of years back? Or when the Giants ended the Broncos bid when it had reached 13-0? And of course, you can’t forget Dan Marino shredding the 4-6 on Monday Night Football in 1985, handing the Bears their only loss of the season.

Don’t let it stand, Black and Gold. Go into the RCA Dome tonight and take control of your AFC North destiny and keep hope alive for a playoff bye. The Colts aren’t unbeatable, and you certainly aren’t a team that wants to fall to 7-4. So roll up your sleeves, get the swagger on and give Hines Ward something to smile about tonight. Have Casey Hampton stuff Edgerrin, Troy Polamalu knock the stuffing out of Dallas Clark across the middle and get those linebackers blitzing into Peyton’s blindside.

It’s not just for yourself tonight, Steeler Nation. The Phinatics are rooting for you, along with the rest of the sane football fans who can’t say the name “Peyton Manning” without a bitter taste entering their mouth.

You need this.

I need this.

Let’s get it done together.

Your Temporary Black and Gold Brother in Arms,


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