View Full Version : Steelers live the motto ‘no pain, no gain’

01-19-2009, 10:40 PM
Steelers live the motto ‘no pain, no gain’
The Kansas City Star

PITTSBURGH | Football is violence. It’s easy to forget that sometimes, easy to start believing that football is about other more pleasant things, that it is about coaching and strategy and star quarterbacks and fabulous catches and touchdown dances and defensive schemes and former players and coaches yukking it up back in the studio.

Then you come to Pittsburgh. And it’s all made clear.

The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens 23-14 in the AFC championship game Sunday. But, more than that, the Pittsburgh Steelers pounded and pummeled the Baltimore Ravens into submission. This was football played on the very edge of sanity. Helmets crashed together. Legs were twisted and pulled. Ribs cracked. Players limped to the locker room. One player, Baltimore’s Willis McGahee, was strapped to a stretcher and carted off into a tunnel. It was taken as good news that he could move his arms and legs, but he had significant neck pain. The game took almost four hours to play, in large part because the game was stopped often so that the wounded could be tended to.

Baltimore came in with the reputation of playing ferocious football, but this is Pittsburgh, and it’s different here. After you land at the Pittsburgh airport, on the way to baggage claim, you see two statues: One is of George Washington, who fought the French here, and went on to some level of fame. The other is of Franco Harris, who made the Immaculate Reception, the touchdown catch that beat the Oakland Raiders in 1972. Locals insist that more photographs are taken with Franco.

That’s what football means here. Football isn’t a show in Pittsburgh. Football is not an event. Football is Jack Lambert, with those missing front teeth, tearing a running back to the ground. Football is Mean Joe Greene picking up offensive linemen and throwing them out of the way like empty beer cans. Pittsburgh football is pain and fractured bones and breath that in the cold looks like smoke pouring out of the steel-mill chimneys. You know what musical act played halftime of the AFC championship game Sunday? Bruce Springsteen? U2? Maroon 5? Beyonce? Come on. This is Pittsburgh. And at halftime (with the score a very Pittsburgh 13-6), the Kittanning Firemen’s Band walked out to perform. They all wore different clothes. They were a bit rusty. They had not played since the Pennsylvania Firemen’s State Convention Parade in Gettysburg in September.

They sounded good enough. This was Pittsburgh football. This was James Harrison, a Pittsburgh linebacker who was not even drafted, a guy who spent two years on the practice squad. Now he’s the defensive player of the year, and Sunday he ran around like a madman, relentlessly chasing down Ravens. This was LaMarr Woodley, another Pittsburgh linebacker, in only his second year, sacking Baltimore’s Joe Flacco twice and then pointing up to the stands as if to say, “I know that’s what you would do if you were down here.”

This was Troy Polamalu, this soft-spoken man whose off-the-field interests include growing flowers and playing the piano and reading the Bible. Sunday, like always, he played as if possessed. When the Ravens had fourth-and-inches, Polamalu leaped over the offensive line, grabbed Flacco by the neck, and twisted him down to the ground. When the Ravens were trying to come back, Polamalu ran across the field, intercepted Flacco’s pass, ran through the line and scored the clinching touchdown.

This was Ryan Clark, a safety, undrafted like Harrison, weakened last year after having his spleen and gallbladder removed. With the Ravens desperately trying to come back, he rushed up and hurled his body into McGahee. From one angle, it appeared their helmets collided, and from another it looked like they did not, but from every angle McGahee’s head snapped back, and he lost the ball, and he crashed to the turf. A dozen players and medical personnel surrounded McGahee. Some prayed.

Football is a vicious game, there’s no way to hide that, not on a frigid day in Pittsburgh. Flacco, the Ravens’ rookie quarterback who built a reputation for being cool under fire, melted under the Steelers’ heat. He threw three interceptions and was sacked three times. Baltimore receivers ran gingerly over the middle. The Ravens kept putting in extra offensive linemen, play after play, in a desperate effort to move the Steelers’ defense. They managed just 73 yards rushing all day.

The Ravens’ defense played ferociously too — there was pain on all sides — but this was not the Ravens’ place, and this was not their day.

It’s funny, the NFC championship was played across the country, and it was entirely different, it was indoors, in Arizona, and it was an air show, a spectacle, it was Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald running free, it was quarterback Kurt Warner throwing four touchdown passes, it was a blur of red confetti being blown on the field after the Cardinals won. Collective Soul played at halftime.

That’s fine for them. But that’s not football. Not in Pittsburgh.

“Sure, I’m hurting,” Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said when it ended. “But it hurts less when you win.”

To reach Joe Posnanski, call 816-234-4361 or send e-mail to jposnanski@kcstar.com. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com

To reach Joe Posnanski, call 816-234-4361 or send e-mail to jposnanski@kcstar.com. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com

01-20-2009, 12:05 AM
Hit the nail on the head, that is Steelers football