In the interest of candor, my blood type is black & gold.
Among my trinkets and tchotchkes is a Terrible Towel from 1978, when we — yes, we — had just three rings, halfway to Sixburgh. I also have a signed Franco Harris football card, a Joe Greene jersey and another of Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu and Big Ben. My closet is bulging with Pittsburgh Steelers attire — hats, caps, socks, sweats, sweaters and hoodies.
I still speak in the collective. It’s the only uniform that still stirs my adrenaline, that teleports me back to Terry Bradshaw, Jack Ham, Mel Blount and those preteen days watching with my old man on the old Sony Trinitron.
But the pragmatist in me saw a steel curtain close on their season once that Rams lineman drove into Ben Roethlisberger’s left knee. Every Steelers fan gasped in horror, sure that his MCL and ACL would short-circuit the MRI.
Turns out he had a sprained ligament and a bone bruise. That’s enough to keep him on crutches, enough for the solemn forecast of five or six weeks without our star quarterback.
It’s also enough to warrant Mike Vick, whose rap sheet and mangled limbs make us cringe whenever he limps onto the field. They tell us to root for the laundry, but seeing No. 2 really tests a man’s allegiance. Still, you must wave the flag even if you don’t adore all the natives.
Then Pittsburgh blew that game against Baltimore, our blood rival, our Ohio State to their Michigan. We’d root for Red Russia over the Ravens. It essentially ended when the formerly acrobatic Vick couldn’t gain a yard on fourth down.
Then the last-second escape in San Diego. Saved by the bell — Le’Veon Bell, whose return was the sole silver lining in Big Ben’s absence. If there’s a better running back in the NFL, please tell us. Bell was just enough to overcome Vick’s obvious shortcomings.
But surely it was an aberration, a gift before the Cardinals guillotine would behead us. The Arians Bowl was coming. Bruce Arians had the QB, RBs, WRs, defense and incentive to drop 60 on us.
The details behind Arians’s departure from Pittsburgh are still sketchy, but clearly ugly. Word is the Steelers let loose that he would retire, while he had no intention to leave the NFL. Then they canned him, much to Roethlisberger’s dismay. Then he moved to Indianapolis and did a divine job with the Colts, then got his long-overdue shot to show his wares in Arizona, where he has been a revelation.
Entering the game in Pittsburgh, there was authentic talk that the Cardinals were the best team in pro football. Despite their narrow loss to the Rams, they were vaporizing opponents. And he would be playing Pittsburgh at the most opportune time, while they were creaky at QB and anemic on defense. Surely Arians, Carson Palmer and the offense was drooling at the prospect of galloping through the Steelers secondary.
Iconic wideout Larry Fitzgerald, who played college ball down the road for the Pitt Panthers, also had ample motivation. He’s one of the few remaining Cardinals who lost to the Steelers in the Super Bowl six years ago.
Then there’s Carson Palmer, who has the biggest bone to pick with Pittsburgh. When he was a fledgeling QB in 2005, he and the Bengals were armed to make a serious run to the Super Bowl. But during a playoff game against the Steelers Kimo von Oelhoffen rolled his knee, ending his night, and the team’s path to the title. The Steelers wound up winning the game, and Super Bowl XL. Neither he nor the team were the same. Cincinnati moved on from Palmer, picking Andy Dalton to lead them five years ago.
With the rules bent so far in favor of the quarterback, with Carson playing so sublimely and the Steelers so woeful on defense, this was the perfect alchemy for a football execution at Heinz Field. Arguably our best player was the Mesozoic James Harrison, almost old enough to have played with Dwight White.
Funny how the orthodoxy folds at the oddest time. The Cardinals drove up and down the field with impunity. But between turnovers and penalties, they were kept to a small lead at halftime. Troy Aikman accurately asserted that the Steelers were lucky to be in the game.
Then Vick tweaked his hamstring on a seemingly harmless trot to the sideline. This forced the Steelers to send in Landry Jones, who hadn’t thrown a regular-season pass. Add to that Mike Tomlin’s bizarre decision to go for two points after a Steelers’ TD catapulted them to a 12-10 lead. Though we laud the coach’s aggressiveness, nothing was to be gained from a two-point conversion.
Two touchdowns to Martavis Bryant later, the Steelers shocked the Cardinals, 25-13. Arians surely had to wonder what he has to do to shake the Ghosts of the Three Rivers. (And yes, I can name them — Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela.)
The Cardinals will be fine. They’re still loaded, and Arians is still one of the five best coaches in football. Tomlin, by contrast, is a marvelous motivator and a dubious game strategist. And he doesn’t have the overall talent that Arians enjoys in Arizona.
But no one will gripe with 4-2, not with Landry Jones suddenly slinging the ball like this and Big Ben about to return. No, not the most objective reporter or the least objective writer. Not an absolute or abject homer, even if this Pittsburgh homer is from New York City.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.