Bizarre, As In, An Out-Of-Body Experience - By Neal Coolong
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Over the last five minutes of that game, I think I had an out-of-body experience. Seriously, I wasn't there. I can remember flashes here and there, but my memory seems to be that of blood vessels exploding, my throat bleeding and my heart not working properly.
Not far into the fourth quarter, it was over, I swear. Bus goes in from two yards out for his sixth touchdown in the last four weeks. 21-3. The "mighty" Colts were about to face their typical January demise. I was giddy over the thought of which excuse Peyton Manning was going to use to mask the fact he once again over-orchestrated a game in an effort to be the hero as opposed to using his teammates - a practice to which the former league MVP seems to be heavily addicted.
I wasn't overly concerned at the time that Pittsburgh decided to stop blitzing after taking their 18 point lead. Even if Peyton leads them to a meaningless touchdown, they're still looking at a massive up-hill battle.
Quick, long touchdown to Dallas Clark. Ok, well, it was bound to happen. 21-10. All we need now is three first downs, then I don't care what happens. Bettis gets two of them. On third down, Roethlisberger gets them set. Calls his cadence. Suddenly, there are three Colts defenders in the neutral zone, pointing frantically at All Pro guard Alan Faneca.
And this lasts for a full two seconds. Right tackle Max Starks gets out of his stance, causing the end to rush past the line.
Finally, the whistle blows. No flag is thrown.
"Umm....isn't that a penalty of some kind?" my dad said sarcastically.
"Probably," I answered.
Replay clearly shows Faneca rocking ever so slightly back. Ok, fine, false start. But they didn't throw the flag. So, while the officials are huddled (more than likely discussing the current magic ride they were on due to "that stuff" they took at halftime), I'm explaining to my girlfriend why it was going to be called "encroachment" instead of "off-sides," and what the difference is.
"There is no foul on the play."
WHAT?? It's one or the other, no foul is not an option here. What the hell is "no foul," anyway? The play was started before the ball was snapped and you whistled it dead. What in the hell is the matter with you?
No worries, Roethlisberger got the first down. But Pittsburgh had to punt a few plays later. Chris Gardocki is one of the best in the league at punting inside the five. Already had two on the game inside the 10. He needs about 46 yards, so he punts it 47.
Whatever. I'm only thinking that Manning is just RIPE for one of his classic post-season interceptions - you know, the one where he gets that look on his face like he just smelt a really REALLY bad fart and gestures to every receiver on the field for not running the right route? You can see it happening. Troy Polamalu has already sealed his legacy in Pittsburgh with his performance Sunday, you just figure it's gonna be him.
Troy and His Hair just miss one game-ending interception. In and out of his hands as he's fully extended. But he gets him two plays later!
Bedlam! That strep throat thing isn't stopping me from shaking the foundation of the house.
I'm still hooting and hollering, telling my family members that Tony Dungy is challenging it because his season is over if he doesn't, and all the referee is really pondering while under that hood is where the best happy hour is.
As a trained NFL official, he has to know no one is anywhere near Polamalu when he hits the ground, and because he made a "Football Move" (my new favorite phrase), in this case, he was moving forward when his knee jarred the ball loose, this is an interception followed by a fumble.
Apparently, his definition of a "football move" and my definition of a "football move" are different. Overturned. Official Pete Morelli explained later that he saw the player hit the ground with the ball, got up and DIDN'T make a "football move." Hmmm…a spin move, perhaps? It was SOME kind of move anyway, and I'm willing to bet the consensus of people would classify it as of the football variety.
A small, albeit powerful flame began to rise. I am one of the last people you'll ever hear blame officiating on the outcome of a game, but a sloppy ref can be as annoying as a sloppy defense.
(NOTE: the NFL later said Morelli's call was incorrect. This came about as much a surprise as when I was told Reggie Bush was turning pro.)
The teams hit the field again, and we all know this is just a matter of time before Manning freaks out and throws a ball 65 yards at 95 miles per hour for a touchdown. He hits Marvin down to the goal line, and Edge pounds it in.
I felt like I got hit in the head with the dull edge of a cinder block. My legs are wobbly, and I've now retreated upstairs as to avoid breaking my 85 pound mother with a drastic flailing of limbs or Coke can toss. Two point conversion is good.
It's starting to sink in that Pittsburgh may lose this game. They have been able to run the ball in the fourth quarter, but the Colts still have three timeouts. I knew in my gut Peyton was getting the ball back one more time.
And this becomes true. I am close to resembling jelly as stand over the kitchen table, watching the 9-inch TV normally reserved for volume during bathroom breaks.
There's Peyton, once again changing the play, barking over center. I hate him with all my being. This game was already over twice. And this ego-maniac is hanging around like Mike McD at KGB's place.
Incomplete pass. Nice! 2nd and 10.
Then you see Pro Bowl OLB Joey Porter down in a three-point stance. He's coming. And he will literally kill Peyton if he has to.
Not much of a block on him....And he's all over him! 3rd and long!
Porter and Farrior combine for a sack on 4rd down thanks to Troy blowing up the middle. I announce via text message that my first child will be named Troy William Cowher Coolong to my friend Mark. Yes, even if she's a girl.
Sigh of relief. Steelers ball, first and goal from the 2. My old roommate Jash gives me a call. I'm accepting calls at this point, as the wave of relief is more potent than the damn amoxicillin that the "doctor" at Urgent Care gave me.
Double tight formation. Bettis and Krieder in the backfield. Two yards to paydirt.
An exact quote, minus the rampant profanity: "That's right, JASH!!!! EAT IT, NFL! THERE WON'T BE A MANNING IN THE SUPER BOWL!! SORRY ABOUT THAT! YOU CAN TAKE THEM BOTH AND STICK THEM UP YOU'RE.....umm...you're....uh…what's going on?...oh no....no...it can't be...no…please God, no… "
I slowly hung up the phone. The guy whose wife stabbed him in the leg a mere 16 hours earlier was racing down the carpet for a shocking touchdown. In an instant, Jerome Bettis' career was about to become completely devastated. The Steelers were about to lose a game when they carried a 21-3 lead into the fourth quarter. That 9-inch TV was about to find a permanent resting place on my parents back lawn.
There were no words to describe this horror. This atrocity.
Roethlisberger gets him down, but Manning has three timeouts and about 20 yards to get to Vanderjagt. I didn't breathe. My throat was dripping blood down itself. Completions to Stokely, Wayne, Harrison....the Colts are well within range.
The only hope the Steelers had was Peyton playing the hero card. And then he did, right on cue.
3rd and 2 from the Steelers 29. Most rationally-thinking people would give the ball to their 1600-yard running back, try to pick up the first or at least move the ball into the middle of the field.
Peyton is too good for this option. Instead, he audibles and goes deep to Wayne, incomplete.
(Quick sidenote: Don't you just love Bryant McFadden this year? Is he not the best second round pick we've had since Kendrell Bell? You knew Manning saw him in single coverage on Wayne and thought he'd win it all right there. B-Fad shuts him down. Love the guy. Just love him!)
In trots Vanderjagt; perfect at home, one of the best kickers in the game. I remembered my dorm room and where I was sitting when Gary Anderson slunk onto the field for the Vikings in the NFC Championship game against Atlanta in 1999. Same type of situation.
And then, the out-of-body experience.
All I really remember about the next 10 minutes is my eyes fixing on the goal posts. I didn't see the snap, I finally learned to tune Dierdorf out. I was just watching the uprights. Time was moving so slow at that point, I remember waiting and wondering where the ball was. I saw a speck of something fly through the far corner of my right eye. I mean, the way far corner of my right eye.
"What is that? That couldn't be the ball....right? RIGHT??? WAS IT THE BALL?? IT WAS THE BALL! WIDE RIGHT! FINKLE MISSED THE KICK! FINKLE MISSED THE KICK!"
One miracle begets another, as Boomer Esiason followed the game up with something I actually agreed with:
"If Pittsburgh lost today, it would truly have been a shame. They out-played Indianapolis all day and got some terrible calls from the officials. The right team won this game."
I think I saw Blue at this point. He looked glorious.
I came to about 10 minutes later, not yet having let this win sink in. I heard Peyton Manning blame his offensive line. I heard yet another commentator talk about poor Tony Dungy, and his son who took his own life and became a martyr. All things I expected. But hearing Shannon Sharpe mention he thinks there's a possibility of Pittsburgh defeating Denver next week? C'mon....ridiculous...
It's that kind of year, ladies and gentlemen....it's that kind of year.