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|01-30-2011, 09:55 PM||#1|
A Son of Martha
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Steelers play in Hits-burgh, Pa.
Steelers play in Hits-burgh, Pa.
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, Toronto Sun
Last Updated: January 30, 2011 9:37pm
PITTSBURGH, Pa. — James Harrison was explaining how much he liked the nickname “Hits-Burgh” for his Pittsburgh Steelers defence when a cell phone suddenly could be heard ringing on the other side of the locker room.
Was it the NFL head office calling?
Did Harrison do something wrong again?
Was he about to be punished for violating some obscure rule like: “Illegal use of nicknames?”
Another fine, perhaps?
As ludicrous as that sounds, Harrison must wonder sometimes if he can do anything right in the eyes of the league after paying out six figures in fines this season for a number of alleged questionable hits.
The Steelers have felt all along that their surly linebacker was being picked on by the NFL. And so have their fans.
That led to one of Harrison’s acquaintances to come up with the term “Hits-Burgh,” a moniker Harrison quickly embraced.
“That (nickname) came with the fines and everything,” Harrison explained. “Hits-burgh ... Because I got $100,000 in fines.”
Here’s a memo to the league: The nickname “Hit-Burgh” is going to stick heading into next Sunday’s Super Bowl clash against the Green Bay Packers.
And, fines or no fines, so is the Steelers rugged, at-times vicious style of play.
When Harrison was being portrayed as the league’s “bad boy” by the NFL during his series of controversial tackles, the veteran linebacker actually said he was contemplating retirement. But he eventually changed his tune on the subject, partially due to the support sent by his teammates and coaching staff.
Their message: Don’t change your game. The rest of us aren’t going to change, so why should you?
They weren’t condoning headshots, just hard hits. Whether the league agrees or not, you can, in fact, have one without the other.
In the eyes of veteran defensive co-ordinator Dick LeBeau, Harrison is not a dirty player. None of his defenders are. And he told his team as much during the team’s mid-season controversy, a time when Harrison was forced to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss the perception that Harrison used head-hunting tactics.
“Coach LeBeau told us to keep going out there and playing hard and doing what we’d been doing,” defensive lineman Brett (The Beard) Keisel said. “We weren’t going to slow down regardless of what happened.”
Instead, the intensity of the Hits-Burgh Steelers grew even stronger, a key component in the team’s run to the Super Bowl.
“No matter what people say, I don’t think we ever changed our style of play,” safety Troy Polamalu said. “I don’t recall it even being discussed.”
In other words, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers can expect Harrison and co. to try to knock him out of the game at every opportunity. Legally, of course. At least in the minds of the Steelers.
That is the way they’ve played. That is the way they’ve always played. With just one victory separating them from a record seventh Lombardi Trophy, they are not about to tinker now.
The Steelers had legitimate reason to feel the NFL was trying to make an example of them. Along with Harrison’s fines, there was a December game in Baltimore in which the Ravens broke quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s nose and left tight end Heath Miller concussed from an obvious late hit, two flagrant rules violations that astonishingly did not draw a flag from the officials on either instance.
There were a few understandable cries of protest, to be sure. But, on the field, where it mattered, the Steelers continued their in-your-face play, no matter how badly they’d felt they’d been screwed.
There would be no Terrible Towels used as crying towels here. Instead, the best statement they could make is battle through the obstacles and reach the Super Bowl.
It hasn’t been a smooth ride, however. There was the trading of wideout Santonio Hol mes before the season. There was Roethlisberger’s four-game suspension. There were key injuries to Polamalu and defensive end Aaron Smith. And there was the shocking release of Super Bowl-winning kicker Jeff Reed midway through the season.
Indeed, much like the Packers, who have 15 players on injured reserve, the Steelers have been no strangers to adversity.
“It’s amazing,” receiver Hines Ward said of the Steelers’ roller-coaster ride to Dallas. “When we first started out, Ben missing the first four games, Troy going down, the loss of Santonio .... well, different guys stepped up. We stayed together.
“That’s why it makes things special.”
In Hits-Burgh, a win next Sunday will make things even more special
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