They talked about emotion and excitement and the feel of victory after three losses in a row. They talked about Steeler football—a return to basics, an escape from finesse. They had free-lanced on defense, and when things got tight in the fourth quarter last Sunday in Three Rivers Stadium, they found one play that clicked and kept hitting the Green Bay Packers with it.
"We were hungry, our backs were to the wall," said Pittsburgh Linebacker Robin Cole. "We're just getting a taste of it again."
You could close your eyes and swear you were listening to the Eagles of a few years ago, when Philadelphia first started to emerge from the dark ages, or to the Tampa Bay Bucs of last season, when they first realized they could beat people.
But, hey, folks, these were the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Team of the '70s, the Super Bowl champions the past two years, and it was Green Bay they beat, a team even more crippled than the Steelers, a team that has been walloped by the good clubs all year. Pittsburgh won 22-20, thanks to nine points worth of miscues by a Packer reserve center. The Steelers had to struggle, and with seven weeks left in the season, one has to wonder whether they'll be playing football when January rolls around.
This week Pittsburgh visits Tampa Bay, and thus ends the NFC Central portion of its schedule. The NFC Central has been kind to the Steelers; they've built their 5-4 record largely on a 3-0 run against that division. But after the Bucs it's AFC—the A division—all the way.
Pittsburgh was written off by a lot of people after suffering three straight losses—to Cincinnati, Oakland and Cleveland—before the Green Bay game, and the Steelers needed Sunday's victory "to get that terrible, crushing weight off our back," as Joe Greene put it.
In time of triumph in Pittsburgh, age was never a topic of discussion; but now it has been pointed out that the Steelers' regular front four on defense average just under 32, that Greene and L.C. Greenwood are both 34, that these old fellows have lost the knack for the sack, and that when you can't put heat on the opposing quarterback, you're strictly a pigeon in this era of fly-boy football.
The Steelers have had last respects paid to them. After the 27-26 loss to Cleveland two weeks ago, a funeral wreath was delivered to the front office, a big one, a $50 job loaded with chrysanthemums, tinted black. "With deepest sympathies," the card read. The donor was anonymous. In the suburb of Millvale, a cardboard sign decorated with gold and black hangs from a utility pole, PRAY FOR PITTSBURGH it says.
Even the poetry has turned morbid. No city in the NFL has as many fans given to versifying as Pittsburgh does, but, lo, look what the pen hath produced. From a gentleman in Punxsutawney:
One for the thumb
Is what the fans chose,
But this year will be
One for the nose.