In The Spirit Of The Game – By Viktor Figeczki
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|The NFL has become pass-wacky. The forward pass is a fad on par with bellbottom jeans in the ’70s or outlandish fins on cars in the ’50s – sure, it looks interesting, but what does it really do for you? Several offenses throw the ball on close to sixty percent of downs, the Eagles are so one-dimensional it doesn’t take a psychic like John Edwards to figure out what they are going to do on any given play, and the Cardinals, who led the league in passing yards in 2005 – yes, the Cardinals! – nearly sent both their starting receivers to the Pro Bowl. Is the number of passes thrown in a game supposed to be proportional to the level of excitement? Do pretty spirals amount to better football? Or is this trend akin to Hollywood jamming more explosions and computer-generated effects into its blockbusters to mask the lack of genuine suspense?
The forward pass, the pillar on which many of today’s offensive playbooks rest, was not even a feature of the game during its infancy, having been introduced on February 25, 1933. Before that date, football, at its core, came down to one guy running with the ball and another guy stopping him. Period. He who hits the hardest wins. No superfluous boobie-tassels, no bling, no guys with the build of lamp-posts performing Hamlet soliloquies for end-zone celebrations.
The Steelers’ brand of football has stayed true to the origins of the game. In an era when other teams out-think themselves by electing to throw the ball to gain a measly pair of yards on third-and-two (The Colts in last year’s playoffs, Eagles and Cardinals certainly seem to have problems grasping the odds of picking up two yards when their running-back averages four per carry), Bill Cowher, rather than hop on the bandwagon, has elected to instil a toughness in his team that is perennially the benchmark for the rest of the league. Others might be faster or more “talented”, but nobody has the power ground-game of Pittsburgh. Nobody is as intimidating. Teams that face the Steelers one Sunday (and lose) usually win the next, because their subsequent opponent, by comparison, hits like a bunch of girl-scouts.
One of the finest regular-season games of recent memory was not the ridiculous shootout featuring Cincinnati and Indianapolis this past season, but the 2004 Monday Night slugfest between a young, brash Jacksonville team (led by QB Byron “I-Don’t-Need-A-Shin-To-Play” Leftwich plus a stingy run-defense) and the bruising Steelers, whose rushing attack was conducted by The Bus, Duce Staley and five offensive linemen who, attired in gold and white uniforms, looked suspiciously like highway streamrollers. The final score was a seemingly uninspired 17-16 in favour of the Steelers; neither quarterback put up the gaudy numbers of Peyton Manning, and the chains were not moved often or easily against either defense.
Yet this clash epitomized everything great about the sport of football. Both teams sought to inflict as much pain upon their opponent as humanly possible, and both teams stood up to the punishment. The result came right down to the wire as big men ferociously hurled themselves at each other, The Bus and Staley moved piles of defenders and Hines Ward cemented his reputation for being the best blocking receiver at the professional level.
With all that going on, who gives a flying f*#% about the score? If you want to see balls gliding through the air and stick-figures performing acrobatic pirouettes, catch the Lakers against the Spurs. It you want to see a gritty battle of will and endurance, catch the Steelers versus the Jaguars on the third Monday of September this year.
Football is a physical sport. It’s about The Bus doing a hit-and-run on the likes of Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher. It’s about Troy Polamalu’s making receivers regret going for the ball. Although a well-timed interception will change the course of a game, there’s nothing like a keg of whoop-ass to make the adrenalin pump through the arteries of spectators. Football is about Gregg Lloyd, in the good ol’ days, perpetually electing to absorb a $10,000 fine rather than abort his hit on a QB that has already released the ball. Or Jack Lambert holding his ground against heavier blockers and producing snot-bobbles in the nostrils of victims.
Pittsburgh’s trademark is playing vicious, suffocating defense and steady, run-oriented offense. It’s an approach that has seen them labelled everything from unglamorous and conservative to boring and ugly. It’s also an approach that has produced six AFC Championship appearances during Cowher’s fourteen years at the helm, two Super Bowl births and one world title.
Oh, and by the way; it’s also a philosophy that has thrilled Steel City fans for a very, very long time.