Monday, December 8, 2008

Clearing My Desk: A Testament to Toughness, Steelers 20-Cowboys 13

Many fans of football mistakenly fall into the line of thinking that games are won by scoring touchdown or kicking field goals.
And while certainly, you need to be able to run, pass and kick there are other very important aspects too, like run and pass defense and special teams.

But even that doesn’t summarize what it takes to be a championship football team. There’s one other major ingredient necessary: Toughness, both physical and mental, and this 2008 Steelers team has toughness by the bushel basket.

First of all you have the number one defense in the league. Successful defense is accomplished by playing with toughness, attitude and an unrelenting will. There’s no shortage of that on this team.

But you know, the offense, for as maligned as it has been this season has plenty of this ingredient too. Yesterday, for example, Nate Washington had his leg twisted like an Aunt Annie’s Pretzel and after writhing on the turf and then collecting himself, he literally then leaped to his feet in a show of defiance. Where do you think he learned that move? From “the head of the receivers”, Hines Ward possibly? I could just see Ward teaching Washington about smiling and never letting defensive players think they got your goat. Toughness, it’s the Steeler way.

In fact, toughness is such an ingrained trait for this team that I believe they actually recruit toughness as much or more than any other football skill. They even recruit tough coaches. Look at the Steelers coaches over the last 30 years. Chuck Noll: The guy could look at you and cut you in half. Bill Cowher, “The Jaw”. How many times did we see him glare at a player or official, spit flying from his moustache.

Now there’s Mike Tomlin. Tomlin just won his 20th game out of a young 30-game career (.666) yesterday. Tomlin brings an unquestioned attitude of resolve and self assurance into a football game. But yesterday was the first time that he really let loose after his team finished off the “Cryboys” with DeShea Townsend’s rousing interception and return for a touchdown late in the game.

In a game where the wind chill index dipped into single digits, the Steelers found themselves in a dogfight against a Dallas team that obviously came ready to play their “A” game.

You know in watching football, many fans seem to forget that there’s another team out there that’s trying to win the game too. But being down ten points in murderous cold weather, the Steelers managed to rally back and pull out the win. It was not a “beautiful” or “artistic” game, but it was football. Drilled down to its’ most basic level: Toughness personified.

Before yesterday’s game, the only team this season to have really impressed me with their toughness was last year’s champions, the New York Giants. However, they’re seeing a lot of pieces suddenly fall from their team. They may even already have peaked. The Steelers on the other hand are 10-3 without having had a good offensive team all year.

Speaking of offenses, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens won the SuperBowl with a suffocating defense and a mediocre offense. The Steelers have the suffocating defense part down pat, but they haven’t been a consistent, productive offense. Still, there’s no way you would compare this offense with the pathetic crew that the Ravens trotted out in 2000. And yet the Ravens won it all that year.

Next up for the Steelers are the surprising Baltimore Ravens led by former Pitt q.b. Joe Flacco. A win in Baltimore could set the team’s confidence level to a point where no one may be able to stop them. They’ll then face the Conference-leading Titans on the road and then the pathetic Browns at home.

Call it attitude, call it toughness, call it never-say-die. The Steelers, with this win yesterday over the Cowboys, clearly established themselves as one of the top four contenders for a league-leading sixth trophy and at worst about even money to at least get into the next SuperBowl game. For fans of the Black & Gold around the country, that game yesterday was as close as we’ll come to the SuperBowl ever being played in the Burgh.