The Hess Report

Monday, February 02, 2009

Steelers Victory 

It's hard to describe what it feels like to be a Pittsburgher the day after what sports writers are already calling the greatest game the Superbowl has ever seen. Forget about all the ups and downs of the first three quarters. Forget about James Harrison's unbelievable interception and touchdown run back. Although, can you forget about it? Here's this guy who keeps getting cut and finally works his way through determination and force of will into being this incredible badass on the field, who wants almost nothing to do with the press and then is rewarded for his labors with making possibly the greatest play in Superbowl history. So, let's forget about forgetting that, because you can't.

But the hurricane of those last five minutes -- it was the Steelers' whole season, distilled into one toxic, heartbreaking, triumphant shot. Throughout the season, we knew that even though Polamalu was a beast (guided missile? higher-order being?) at game time, we were still vulnerable to the kind of sniper fire that the Warner/Fitzgerald connection was capable of providing. There are always chinks in the armor. So when they hit it, with just over two minutes to play, there were flashes of other games this season, lost so late in the last quarter.

And none of that would have mattered much to a fan -- because when you're beaten, you're beaten and you can accept it -- except that Ben Roethlisberger, say what you will about him and offensive line, can still win in that situation. If he hadn't done that enough times this year to give you hope, you'd sit down after that Warner/Fitzgerald nuclear blast and say to yourself "Well, it was a good run, etc." and start to absorb the loss. But if you thought the game was over before the Steelers took the ball on that last drive, then you haven't been paying attention this season. With the kind of drives that Roethlisberger has engineered in those last two minutes, you still have hope, and that hope with everything on the line drives you out of your freaking mind. I can't even imagine what those players were feeling.

I find football so fascinating and fun because it functions as a microcosm of combat. At the strategic level, the owner and manager must acquire and allocate the resources for a protracted campaign that consists of varied engagements with different opponents. Also falling under strategy is the overall tone of play -- how should our team approach their team? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What are ours? At the tactical level, the offensive and defensive coordinators decide the play calling and personnel match ups. Then, the players themselves have to execute the tactics, hopefully fulfilling the strategic goals. And against all of that, you're contending with another group of people who are doing the exact same thing.

But once it's 2:37 left in the game, and you're down by 3 points, there is no more strategy or tactics to speak of. You have one choice -- throw the ball -- and your opponent knows it. Both sides understand the game plan and their relative tactical positions, so at this point it becomes almost entirely execution. And guts.

The Steelers march the ball down the field, landing blow after blow like a heavyweight fighter against a defenseless opponent. Santonio lets that first back corner pass whiff right through his hands and you find yourself wondering again, like you did at least once in almost every game this year "Which Pittsburgh Steelers are on the field tonight? The ass kickers who do the unbelievable, or the guys who somehow just don't live up to their potential?"

Then Santonio grabs that ball in the opposite corner with his feet dragging the ground and plants flat on his butt, head down on his chest and hugging that ball like it's his long lost brother. No dancing or pre-rehearsed end zone celebrations. Just stillness from Mr. Cocky while everyone in the stadium goes completely bananas. Tissues anyone?

Yeah, I could have done without Mr. Rooney thanking Mr. Obama (for what, exactly?), and I'm sure it's a little rough for Ben. I mean, he did a lot better this time than last time, and they won, but to be a two-time Superbowl champion quarterback and have the MVP go to receivers both times might bug him a bit. It would be nice to have such problems, though.

But overall, incredible.

This morning, things seem nicer, and I don't think it has anything to do with Hope or Change. The Steelers are the NFL champs. It was light when I drove to work this morning. We're on the second consecutive day of thawing temperatures after a deep freeze and snow like we haven't seen in years. And on the radio, what's this? Groundhog Day. I'd forgotten. I love Groundhog Day. It's so silly and pointless and fun. Perfect. Three for three.

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