Friday, September 3, 2010




ABOVE: My TV and remote. Never before had it worked so furiously.

Last night, I set out to do something that has never been done before! It was ground-breaking, scientific research, to be sure. On a weeknight where Pittsburgh's two major football programs would be competing, for the first time possibly in history that I could recall, the Steelers and Panthers would end an exhibition season and kick off what should be a great season...all at one time.

In most households this could cause a dilemma. Fortunately, since our household is always on the cutting edge of technology, we have one of those new-fangled remote thingies that actually allows you to actually remain in your seat without having to get up to change the channel!!! OMG what an invention!

Last night, I knew that I would be pushing this innovation to its' very limit as the Steelers and Pitt collided against different opponents in different time zones, but I took the chance of melting down my remote-control anyway. But why not accomplish ground-breaking scientific research during the process? I decided to record each and every click of the remote to see just how many times it would take to watch these two games. This, in a sentence, is truly amazing work on my part.

However, before we begin our sojourn into clicker madness, let me make two very important points that affected the outcome of the research:These games did not start at the same time. In fact, mercifully, there was nearly a one hour time difference between the Steeler and Panther starts. This greatly affected the rate of clicking because the Steelers were able to get in nearly a full quarter of action before Pitt received their opening kickoff. Regardless of the clicking, my wife decided to "make herself scarce" and view something of a less violent nature in the safe confines of her boudoir.

It was at the 15 click mark that Byron Leftwich tossed a TD pass to rookie Emmanuel Sanders. Leftwich suffered an ugly knee sprain and would leave the game. However, the Black and Gold were already up 10-0 against what would prove to be a totally lifeless Carolina club.

But this was a night that clearly belonged to Pitt in my mind. The last preseason game is typically the very worst of the lot. Pitt, on the other hand, was playing a very compelling game in many respects. Not only was it their opener and against a difficult opponent, it was also the first start for sophomore quarterback Tino Sunseri.

The Pitt coaching staff handled Sunseri much as you would have expected. He was in hostile territory, make no mistake about that, so they tried simplifying their offense in the first half. To his credit, Sunseri showed much poise in his first start. The Panthers managed to hold their own in the first quarter, even missing out on a 42 yard field goal attempt by kicker Dan Hutchins. However, they would cash in on a fumbled punt recovery that would end with a Dion Lewis off tackle run for a touchdown. The Pitt recipe for success seemed to be working. I was already at 45 clicks.

The Steelers, for their part, were already well into the third quarter of their snoozeathon. While I knew that there were rookies trying to make the team, I just couldn't get into this game, not with Pitt leading 7-0 on the road in their opener. But just when things looked like they were really heading in the right direction, Pitt's heralded defense started unraveling. Utah's receiver, Jeremy Brooks was wide open for a TD strike to tie the game.

Meanwhile, at the 55 clicker mark, Jonathan Dwyer was running hard for the Steelers with Charlie Batch at the helm. Clicker number 56 contained a disastrous Pitt play. The ensuing Utah kickoff was fumbled and then recovered at the Pitt 35. "Big Mo" had raised its ugly head.

At 58 clicks, Utah's quarterback Wynn once again hit a wide open Brooks for a 14-7 lead. Despite coming back later in a valiant effort to tie the game, Pitt would never have the lead in this game again.

After a quick Pitt offensive series, the Pitt defense was back on the field and appearing in virtual freefall. After a 30 yard catch by Brooks brought the ball to the Pitt 10, it clearly looked like another score here just before the half would possibly seal the deal for the Utes. It was here where Wynn made a terrible error and threw an interception to Pitt's Holley in the end zone.

At 64 clicks, the Panthers left the field for a presumed Dave Wannstedt "stashing". It was time to watch some Steeler football.

As the melodic voice of Bob Pompeani came through my TV's speakers, Jonathan Dwyer was getting killed in the backfield by Tank Tyler. Unfortunately, due to a click back to the Pitt game I had missed Carolina's only score of the night, a field goal. At 72 clicks I made a note about how bad Carolina's team looks. Finally, at 77 clicks, Wanny was back on the field commenting, "We need to make every play count in the second half."

While back watching the Steeler coverage click number 80 revealed that on the play before, Utah had apparently connected on another bomb. They were now on the Pitt 15.

At 86 clicks the Steelers have vanquished the inept the Carolina Panthers 19-3. Mercifully, I could now settle into the Pitt game completely, allowing my clicker to cool off. Fortunately, the "other" Panthers playing on this night had a lot more fight in them then the variety emanating out of Carolina.

Pitt, to its' credit would mount a furious comeback and in the process a young quarterback would show his enormous potential. At the 100 click mark, Sunseri would hit Jonathan Baldwin with a 44 yard bomb and then hit Baldwin again for a critical two point conversion. Pitt was now down 24-21 with 7:11 left.

With momentum clearly back on Pitt's side, the defense took the field and had Utah in a third and 10 situation. Wynn overthrew his receiver out of bounds, but Pitt was flagged with an interference call on a ball that clearly looked uncatchable. Given new life, Utah continued its drive and ultimately took three more minutes off the game clock. Then the Panthers got a great break on a very bad punt that gave them the ball at the 50. Utah, at this point, had the look of a team that was definitely on the ropes. I really thought that Pitt was going to pull the upset.

A quick check on the Steeler postgame coverage at 105 clicks showed coach Mike Tomlin stating at his post game press conference that quarterback Byron Leftwich would be having an MRI on his sprained knee. But who cared at this point? Pitt was on the move!!! My heart was pounding!

After driving the ball to the Utah 14, and with the clock down to 3 seconds, Pitt kicker Dan Hutchins, a very reliable kicker inside of 40 yards would be called upon to tie the score. Hutchins would tie the game, only incredibly, Utah's coach would call a timeout just before the kick, thus nullifying it. Incredibly, Hutchins would then kick a second time and then duck hook it! But wait, Coach Kyle Whittingham had actually outfoxed himself by burning a second timeout on the miss! Amazingly, Hutchins would get to kick again, this time making it (with no timeout called). I have never seen anything as bizaar as that at the end of a football game.

So the Panthers managed to send this one into overtime in a most hostile environment. Meanwhile at 108 clicks I learned that..."The Hilton Hotel is no longer a Hilton. That story next."

At 109 clicks and the clock approaching the witching hour, Pitt took the field for the opening stanza of overtime. Sadly, after leading a tremendous comeback and displaying such savvy, Sunseri would throw an ill-advised pass that would immediately be picked off. On their subsequent possession, the Utes were able to drive the ball down for a chip shot field goal by their senior kicker, Joe Phillips and win this wild game by a 27-24 score. The Utes were favored in this one by three. How do the bookies do that?

Sure, it was a sickening defeat. True, the Steelers had lost their starting quarterback too. But on the bright side, the Steelers had completely throttled an NFL opponent while Pitt and the nation had witnessed the coming out party of its' new quarterback.

Don't expect Pitt to keep this kid under wraps like they did, understandably, in the first half of this game. Sunseri showed that he can be the real deal and this Pitt offense, with the quarterback unshackled,  extremely lethal. The defense has some adjusting to do, but overall, there's nothing that I saw last night to  sway my opinion that this year's version of the Pitt Panthers is really going to be really special.

110 clicks at midnight and I'm ready for bed.

The results of this research will be forwarded to the appropriate scientific communities at CERN, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and M.I.T..

 ABOVE: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Yeah, you bet they'll be reading this issue of "Pittsburgh's Black and Gold."