A Blast from the Past: PLAYOFFS???

Hines-WardA close (14-9) but relatively satisfactory victory over the Browns on New Year’s Day of 2012 was, alas, still only good enough to get the Steelers a wild card berth, despite their 12-4 record. 

A first-round game in Denver was fraught with difficulties, although there was little respect around the league for the quarterbacking abilities of Tim Tebow.

First and foremost was the captain of the defensive backfield and hard hitter extraordinaire, Ryan Clark, who was almost certainly going to be sitting on the sidelines of any games at high altitude.

But it isn’t like there were a lot of healthy bodies, either. Rashard Mendenhall had a torn ACL and was out for the foreseeable future. Ben Roethlisberger was still hobbling around. Hines Ward was a shell of his former play-making self. All in all there were certainly matters for concern, and Hombre didn’t shy away from them in his Five Burning Questions.

But the question which had wider implications concerned an article posted by Neal Coolong.

 As Hombre said:

Neal Coolong described a private jersey ritual he will observe to honor Hines Ward’s 1,000 catch achievement.  The Steelers have only officially retired Ernie Stautner’s jersey, but have an unofficial rule that numbers 12, 32, 52, 58, 59*, and 75 do not get re-issued. Do you think number 86 needs to join that elite group?

So what was this “private ritual”? I didn’t remember the article, so I went and checked it out. Here is the main gist of it:

The [Jersey Rules] Committee is pleased to announce the addition of a new rule, its first-ever in-season change, and with it, a new tradition: “The Commemoration Rule,” a.k.a. The Hines Ward Rule.

The Hines Ward rule states a jersey of the fan’s choice, with the fan’s own declaration for doing so, may be worn to commemorate a specific player on a specific date once each year. The stipulation is the event in question must be worthy of historical commemoration. If the fan genuinely needs to ask whether the event in question is worthy, then it is not.

To honor this rule, I will be wearing my Hines Ward jersey, purchased in August of 2000, for every Steelers Week 17 game now and forever. The jersey will never again be washed, and it will be placed in a vacuum-sealed bag and kept out of humidity and daylight in the time before and after each Steelers Week 17 game.

I would love to know if Neal has actually carried this through. In these frenetic times it would be easy to forget the special jersey, tucked out of sight in its hermetically-sealed bag in the back of the closet.

Furthermore, Neal is a married man, and how his lovely wife feels about a jersey which has not been washed in such a long time is an interesting question.

However, it’s not like the Week 17 games in the past few years have been unimportant ones. The Steelers’ playoff hopes have hinged on this game several times during this time period, and this may have spurred Neal to action.

But perhaps I’m worrying about the wrong thing here:

Ward’s 1,000th reception is an accomplishment few outside Pittsburgh will ever truly appreciate. Much of that statement is based on the chorus of boos cascading from the mostly empty Cleveland Browns Stadium. The list of players who have accomplished this rare achievement is as well decorated as any other club outside the Hall of Fame in all of football. Jerry Rice, Tony Gonzalez, Marvin Harrison, Cris Carter, Tim Brown,Terrell Owens and Isaac Bruce.

Only Ward and Rice have 1,000 catches and more than one Super Bowl championship. They are also the only Super Bowl MVPs on this list.

But only one of them has an anti-contact rule named after him. Imagine that, in an age in which offensive players are given a regulatory cushion, Ward is the one hitting defensive players to the point they regulated him.

Amazing stats there. But Ward wasn’t obviously a franchise type player in 2000. So how did Neal end up with his jersey?

I decided on the purchase of Ward’s jersey due to the multi-faceted tough-guy role he played on the Steelers’ smashmouth offense in 2000 (a highly underrated team that caught fire toward the end of the year, and would have made some serious noise had they made the playoffs at 9-7). He was emerging. He was not well-known outside of Pittsburgh. He was the kind of player a team keeps for the long-haul.

In other words, he was the perfect buy. I hit the jackpot early, as Ward blew up in 2001, and I already had a year’s worth of wear on the jersey. Each time Ward would catch one of his 52 first downs that season, people all gave me high-fives, or patted the No. 86 on my back. I felt like a trend-setter. One of the first to wear what would eventually be one of the most popular jerseys in team history.

It’s a lovely article, and I highly recommend clicking the link above and reading the whole thing, as there is much more in there than I’m sharing at the moment.

And speaking of Ward, here is Hombre’s wildly speculative question about him:

4. The Steelers are also mighty thin at running back. Hines Ward played tail back his sophomore season at Georgia. If, God forbid, Pittsburgh should suffer another injury at running back during the playoffs should they consider lining Ward up in the backfield?

Fun thought, but as we know it didn’t happen. Maybe it should have.

Hombre also posed a Wild Card Question:

6. Seneca Wallace hurt the Steelers defense plenty with his scrambling ability. What must the Steelers defense do to stop Tim Tebow from doing the same?

It’s pretty funny in hindsight to realize it wasn’t Tebow’s scrambling ability but his much-despised arm which finally did in the Steelers. That, and about 20 other injuries during the game…

And finally, the following question is interesting in hindsight:

2. Antonio Brown has had a sensational season, but nonetheless was a surprise winner of the Steelers 2011 MVP award. Do you think Brown has done enough to deserve the award, and if not who should have gotten it?

Here are some of the more interesting comments to those questions:

quikdoc said the following about AB:

2 No. He is the Most Improved Player but not our MVP. BB holds that spot.

PixburghArn disagreed:

2. Absolutely. Brown impacts not only one phase but two phases of the game.

Arn added “greatly impacts” in a reply to his own comment.

lottwasgangsta commented on both Ward questions in one go:

He deserves to have it never re-issued, and there is no WAY, at his age, with his speed (or lack thereof) that he could be an effective tailback. A decade ago? Maybe. Put him in at fullback though, and let him deck people.

I also thought his sig line was worth sharing:

“Football combines the two worst things about America: It is violence punctuated by committee meetings” -George Will

Pretty funny…

Bradshaw’s index finger was also high on Brown:

2.Yes…Brown has play with a high motor every chance he has stepped on the field. His tackle on the fake punt attempt verses the Rams was what made me feel he deserved it.

Steelgator possibly got the Tebow question wrong:

The Broncos simply can’t test anyone’s secondary; it doesn’t matter if the receivers are open because Tebow will probably miss them. Playing NE with a bunch of practice squad guys in the secondary is another matter. A healthy secondary is absolutely vital for that game.

VinnySteel wasn’t feeling the love for AB:

2. No. I do believe Ben is more valuable to the team. I think that if Antonio went down, Ben would have gotten more balls to Cotchery or one of the other receivers that were healthy. Thy may not have been as spectacular, but they would have been enough to win. Also- while Brown has a lot of return yards, he doesn’t have a really high average on punt returns.

ddoubleday said:

BB is MVP, no question

2. The players don’t bother to give it to him because QBs get all the glory already. But be serious—who is the one player we HAVE TO HAVE to do any damage in the playoffs? The question answers itself.

I would feel a lot better about our chances if he were 100%.

Kyle228 wasn’t feeling the Tebow love either:

6. Seneca Wallace is no All-Pro, but the guy has been in the league for a while for a reason. And he’s not Peyton Manning, but he can throw a football, and he’s seen a number of NFL defenses before, so I think the Steelers had reason to respect his ability to throw the football. Tebow on the other hand, hasn’t played a full season, and really doesn’t throw particularly well. I think the Steelers could afford to play him to run more than to pass. I’d like to see Timmons spying Tebow this week. Timmons is a baaaad man, and if given the lone task of tracking Timmy all over the field I think he’d do ok.

PaVaSteeler got fired up:

2) I find it extremely insulting that the media, especially local Pittsburgh media and Steeler fans, have the audacity to question the decision of the Steeler players themselves, who the team wants to honor as MVP. Its their reward to give, its their decision, and we should learn to appreciate it , not act as if we (fans and media) know well enough what goes on inside the locker room to make such a determination.

And I couldn’t leave out Broncs55 out:

Let a Denver Fan take a crack to answer your questions

1. Does #86 deserve to be retired?

Yes. Plain and simple. While many people feel he is probably the most dirtiest receiver to play the game, there is no mistake what he has done for that organization. He has been a superior player and athlete. Without Hines, seasons might have gone a bit different.

2. Should Antonio Brown receive the Steelers MVP for this season?

I can’t answer this one, as I haven’t watched enough of you guys.

3. Should the Steelers play Ryan Clark in Denver if a medical plan in place?

No. Not because I’m a Denver fan either. No human life is worth the risk of a ball game.

4. If an injury occurs in the backfield, should they consider playing Hines at tailback?

I would. Ward loves to hit, he loves contact, he has strong hands and knows how to juke. Stick him in!

5. Name one player on each side of the ball that will help Pitts. win the Lombardi this season

Big Ben. He sucks with a bum ankle from what I’ve seen. The other, Ryan Clark (if you beat Denver).

6. How to Stop Tebow

Set the edge but don’t over penetrate, maintain your gaps, don’t pursue until you see separation from the running back and quarterback to determine who has the ball. Flush him out to his right if need be. Sure you’ll give up some yards to McGahee or Ball, but you won’t allow him to scramble and get huge gains. Cover Thomas and Decker well!

He also had a great sig line: The Definition of an optimist: A Buffalo Bills fan waiting at Buffalo Niagara International Airport for the Bills to return from winning the Super Bowl.

And perhaps you could have guessed that the answer to question #3, the one about whether Ryan Clark should risk playing, was our own Ivan Cole:

Would winning a Super Bowl be consolation for Ryan Clark dying?

Could we handle not winning a championship this year in order to have Ryan Clark live?

Literally true in this case; this isn’t life and death, this is just a game.

That was a lot of commentary, but I posed a lot of questions. Next up will be the aftermath of The Tebowing in Denver…

2 comments

  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    In retrospect, that was one of the best burning 5 questions ever and it had some excellent responses. Too bad the Steelers were so beat up for that Denver game. I seem to remember the defence was being held together with spit and baling wire as well. I don’t know if there were many teams they could have beaten that weekend.

    Like

    • They lost at least two crucial defensive players during the game, Keisel and someone else whose name escapes me. They were so battered that I was actually relieved that they lost. I couldn’t bear the thought of them trying to go back on the field the following week…

      Like

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