Editorials

Steelers Fever – It’s Yours Nick, It’s Yours

It’s Yours Nick, It’s Yours – By John Smathers

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

It’s Friday morning in Florida, the morning after the Miami Dolphins’ 28-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the phone rings at Nick Saban’s place.

Heath Miller“(Yawn) Heh-hello??”

The man on the other end of the line wiped his eyes and spoke solemnly.

“Nick? Hey, buddy, I saw the game last night and, man, (*sniff*) I just want you to know, I’m with you. I feel your pain (*sniff*).”

“What? Who is this? It’s six in the morning. Who is this?” The other man weeps gently into the phone but tries to compose himself.

“What they did to you last night … I just, I just want you to know, I’ve been there … and I’m here for you, man (*sniff*).”

Saban checks his caller ID … it’s Mike Holmgren. He sits up and clears the cobwebs.

“Mike, it’s 3 a.m. in Seattle and I just went to bed myself 15 minutes ago. It was not a fun flight back from Pittsburgh. Why are you calling me?”

But all he can hear is sobbing and Saban hangs up. Then the memory of Thursday night washes over him. He reaches for a tissue.

Boy, that fictional encounter took me back. It was a late November day in 1998. I was driving to Happy Valley that morning because I was writing a story about a Michigan State kid from Indiana, Pa. who was to play against Penn State that day. The night before I had covered a high school playoff game somewhere in northern Pa., drove all the way back and … long story short, I was now driving to State College on a couple hours sleep and I was flying. I ended up with a speeding ticket somewhere after Port Matilda.

Sure I tried to talk my way out of it. But no sale. This was a local cop that preyed on Nittany Lions fans on Saturdays. I didn’t have my red flag with me, so I accepted responsibility and ate it.

Later that day, I interviewed the head coach of the Michigan State Spartans. I was very impressed with the way he handled himself and the way he took responsibility for his team’s 51-28 loss to Penn State that day.

His name was Nick Saban, too. I wonder what happened to that guy.

Fast forward to February, 2006 and a coach named Holmgren cried Pittsburgh a fourth river after the Super Bowl. Maybe you’ve heard about this. It seems he thought the Pittsburgh Steelers had more than a little help from the officials in beating his Seattle Seahawks. And maybe you’ve heard, too, that Coach Mike was roundly criticized outside of Seattle for being out-coached and his team was indicted for its failure to rebound from adversity in that game, something the Steelers did quite well in 2006.

Fast forward again to last Thursday night at Heinz Field and the controversial play by Steelers tight end Heath Miller. Miller scored a key fourth-quarter touchdown, taking a Charlie Batch pass 87 yards, a Heinz Field record and one of the longest touchdown receptions ever by a tight end. But as the replay showed, Miller’s foot splayed out of bounds between the 1 and 2-yard lines before he scored.

Somewhere I imagined Holmgren was leaping out of his La-Z-Boy and putting a foot through the plasma screen. Then the flashbacks to Detroit kicked in and tears flowed. Holmgren still couldn’t deal with reality. He and his team pouted while the Steelers played.

Mikey, Mikey, Mikey. And now, Nicky, Nicky, Nicky.

Maybe you also heard some of Saban’s post-game press conference Thursday and Saban’s answer to queries about the controversial touchdown and his lame effort to challenge it.

Clearly, it was not a touchdown. I think the whole planet can agree on that. But clearly Saban still had to wait for confirmation from his coaches upstairs before he could challenge the call. He then had plenty of time to toss the red flag, and he did so before the snap for Jeff Reed’s extra-point kick. But the ball was snapped anyway and the Dolphins had no further recourse.

Turns out, the referees didn’t see the red flag because Nick took a couple steps onto the field and tossed it timidly where referee Walt Coleman could not see it. Coleman seemed as surprised as anyone when he didn’t see the flag. By the time Saban tossed it, the officials were focused on the extra-point try. Reed made the kick and the rest is history.

Nice arm, Nick. But Saban should know, as all NFL coaches should know, that he is allowed to leave the box and get the referee’s attention. Heck, maybe he could even have hit Coleman with the flag, as long as he didn’t hit him in the eye with it. Ask Orlando Brown. That hurts.

And Saban took longer than he needed to finally throw it.

Hey, you never know. Maybe Batch would have fumbled inside the 2, as he did on an earlier series. Saban hurt his own team’s chances to win. But there he was, after the game, doing his best Mike Holmgren.

“The official said he didn’t see it, and when he said he didn’t see it, there was nothing he could do,” said Saban. “That shouldn’t happen.”

Cue the Kleenex.

“They said they didn’t see it,” Saban said. “Whose fault is that?”

Saban should have accepted responsibility for letting his team down in that situation and ate it. Because it was yours, Nick, it was yours. Now pick up your flag, blow your nose, work on that underhand delivery … and tell Mike to put it to bed already.

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