The Immaculate Extension: A Second Look
by Ivan Cole
First and foremost, credit where credit is due.
Authorship of the phrase “Immaculate Extension” goes to a Steelers fan from Maryland who called into a post-game show on Steelers Radio. When I heard it I thought it was a clever, exuberant reaction to what would, ultimately be a mere transitory moment in the yearly journey that football fans travel seeking the grail of entertainment gold; a place in the playoffs over the holidays and, if fortunate, a championship.
Let me invite the reader to carefully consider whether something more significant has occurred. What I am about to assert will be viewed by many as controversial, and I welcome the pushback.
On Monday, October 11, 2015 it was established that Mike Tomlin is a great coach.
All the noise and criteria you want to generate in order to obfuscate the issue is fine if you want to expend the energy to do so. And quite frankly I would expect nothing more from some of you. Let me take a couple of the arguments and dismiss them so we can move on to what’s important here.
Has Tomlin won enough championships or enough games generally? The assumption here is that winning is synonymous with greatness. I say that winning is a byproduct of greatness.
The relationship is less directly correlated than some would think or would like because many of the variables that go into winning are not under the control of the coach. Barry Switzer has won as many Super Bowls as Tomlin, Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, John Madden, Mike McCarthy, Dick Vermeil, and Hank Stram. More than Bud Grant, Marv Levy and Don Coryell. As good as or better than any of them, I think not.
Will Tomlin make it into the Hall of Fame? I have no idea. But I know this; Vince Lombardi did not become a great coach after his induction into the Hall of Fame. That is putting the cart before the horse.
Some will undoubtedly point to the lost seconds of Monday night’s game and want to use that as a platform to once again introduce the red herring of ‘game management’ into the conversation. If you are into watching pigmies gnawing on people’s ankles you can go there I guess. But this all misdirects from the main point.
Mike Tomlin is a great coach.
Let us begin with Mike Tomlin’s press conference:
Pay particular attention to his explanation as to why he went forward with the decision to go for the win. His response is an extraordinary window into his character, as well as the character of what sport at its highest level would, hopefully, represent.
What have we been hearing in the aftermath? That nobody has seen or could remember that type of walk off victory. Do you know why? Because it requires a level of personal courage and integrity that is largely absent from this precinct of our cultural life.
A play of this type usually only takes place out of desperation or strictly by accident. By contrast, the Immaculate Extension involved a premeditated decision, an act of faith that put the fate of his team, and his own professional status and reputation on the line when a safer, more defensible option was at hand.
Choosing as he did he accomplished two things. First of all he took those players and coaches whose performance to that point could be questioned or criticized, such as Michael Vick, off the hook and made the issue about him. Second, he chose to take the path of the warrior, though expediency would suggest otherwise. He made a faith statement; not just about what he believed was the capacity of his team, but also about proper way to respond to a challenge.
Whether or not this team manages to make it into the playoffs from here really is a pedestrian concern. The potential ramifications of the decision for the participants could resonate for generations.
Win or lose, this is how you do it!
The conversation throughout the football world yesterday centered upon the question ‘who does such a thing?’ For some the list was a small one, for others it was Tomlin, and only Tomlin.
I invite you to linger for a few moments on this before we move on to the Cardinals, the other next big thing in our lives. Video at the moment of victory showing Ben Roethlisberger, and behind him General Manager Kevin Colbert, arms raised in exultation. Mike Mitchell, who was reported to have sat in his locker stall in full uniform for over an hour after the Ravens game had ended the previous week, exhorting a crowd of thousands of Steelers fans in San Diego. Kelvin Beachum, Cody Wallace and Stephon Tuitt in celebration with Le’Veon Bell. Others with Michael Vick. David De Castro speaking of the feeling of disbelief contained in the moment. Listen to the comments made by Heath Miller, the tweets by Jerome Bettis. Can you imagine what Joe Greene and Franco Harris were thinking?
Take into account as well how little the haters and detractors have been moved by this. Too much has been staked upon cynicism and contempt to back off now. The slicker ones will rhetorically give me a patronizing pat on the rump and declare that I have gotten carried away—that Tomlin should be saluted for his courageous (foolhardy!) act. But—and there is always a ‘but’—please choose any or all of the following:
- If he had been a better coach he wouldn’t have found himself in such a predicament in the first place.
- Where would we find ourselves if the play had failed?
- If he had been keeping track of those lost eighteen seconds we wouldn’t have been in the situation.
- The jury is still out. Maybe after Tomlin wins his fifth championship or after Cowher’s players (there are five left now) are all gone.
- At least make it to the Super Bowl this year and then we’ll talk.
There’s more, but life is too short.
And then there is the hardcore group who won’t even concede that much. They don’t like him and they never will. Their passion runs so deep in this regard that they secretly (and some not so secretly) root for the Steelers to lose in order to force the hand of ownership to make leadership changes. Some are a little less courageous in that regard so they resign themselves, and us, to a constant stream of nagging in the impotent hope (all naggers are impotent) that this will get them somewhere.
None of this should be seen as peculiar. It perfectly reflects so much of what is going on in the wider society. And given the fact that Steelers Nation includes the likes of Snoop Dogg and Rush Limbaugh, we are in some respects a reflection of the larger society.
Our difference and advantage is that we have better leadership.
What will be the fruits of Tomlin’s leadership? In the short term it is hard to say. This team has been dealt a difficult hand. Key injuries, suspensions and a tough schedule makes things precarious for this season. But this is what I know.
If I were a player or a coach in this league this is the team I would want to play for. If I had a son or a daughter (especially a daughter) who wanted to be part of the business of professional football, this is the organization that I would want them to be a part of. If I were a fan and somehow had the ability to approach this with, in essence, a blank slate, the team I would chose to root for (the only fan base that regularly pulls off what they did in San Diego the other night) would be this team.
Based upon current events, do you think Mike Mitchell, Darrius Heyward-Bey, DeAngelo Williams and Michael Vick are happy about being here? Do you think Ben, Deebo, Heath and Will Allen are just collecting paychecks and playing out the string? Developmentally speaking, where would you think the mindsets of players like Bell, Tuitt, Alejandro Villanueva, Ryan Shazier, Martavis Bryant, Bud Dupree, Ross Cockrell and Sammie Coates are right about now?
Is this a team that you would ever choose to play against with something really important on the line? More to the point—with these players and this staff are you feeling good about meeting them in the playoffs this January if it comes to that?
Tomlin is a great coach, working in a great organization, with the makings of what could be in the months ahead a truly great team, with phenomenal support.
This is the bone I have to pick with the detractors. If you can’t appreciate this—if your demons are such that all you can do is seek to desecrate it under the guise of holding out for some imagined nirvana—then it is likely that you are incapable of appreciating anything at all.
You really are lost.