Sunday, January 15, 2006

How to Avoid A Heart Attack (and still be a Steelers fan)

You have to be a veteran Steeler---a veteran Steeler fan, that is--to appreciate the emotions of today's game. For three quarters plus, the Pittsburgh Steelers (#6 seed in the playoffs) dominated the Indianapolis Colts (#1 seed), the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl. No #6 seed had ever done this.

For veterans, it was like thirty years had melted away, and the Steel Curtain, Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris were invincible. Those were the days when every schoolkid wore a Steelers jacket, and waitresses would ask you if you wanted your coffee black or gold.

Then after another defensive crush, the Steelers were on the goal line for the touchdown that would put the game away, when their Mr. Automatic, the Bus, did the unthinkable and fumbled the ball. The Colts nearly scored a touchdown after recovering it.

This then was a different echo---the talented teams since the 70s, brilliant one week, and yet in playoff games or even once in the Super Bowl, able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in terrible ways, and I'm not talking about towels.Then the Pittsburgh working class self-contempt would kick in, and it would all seem like fate. The little guy never gets a break.

Needless to say, the bonehead plays of the 70s teams were all forgotten, because that now mythic team won so many crucial games, more by the skin of their teeth than most memories would allow.

Anyway, the Steelers survived that scare today when the Colts improbably missed a field goal to tie, and the team that deserved to win did. (In addition to the fumble, the Steelers had a late interception taken away on an inexplicably bad call on replay; they'd lost a couple of other crucial calls as well.) It was the biggest upset of the weekend, although Denver over New England was close.

I taped the game so I could watch it without commercials, and only if it turned out to be worth watching. I didn't even see the score until it was over. I've paid my emotional roller coaster dues. But I'm sure this would have been impossible if I still lived in Pittsburgh (I'm in CA now, where the traditional afternoon games are in the morning, which makes it easier to resist watching them) and my first thought when I read about the fourth quarter, was that I hoped my old friend Clayton didn't have a heart attack.

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