- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
In '73 Ed Kiely was head of public relations. He suggested to a couple of players that they take me to their after-practice bar, the Nineteenth Hole, and the rest is literature. Now Kiely is 94. Three days a week he goes into the Steelers' complex and rides the exercise bike. "Coaches would always be yelling about the press to me," he says, "and I'd say, 'Hey, if you come in here someday and they're not here, get scared, 'cause they're as much of this almost as you are.'"
You'd want to play for Tomlin, though, I guess. As media folk, Kirven and I are allowed to stand on the Steelers' sideline during the last two minutes of the Chiefs game, so that after the final whistle we can get quickly to the entrance to the dressing room. So there we are as the clock ticks down in regulation: Steelers tied with a bad team, and Big Ben is hurt. But you wouldn't know how dull the game has been from the dazzling lights on the sideline. You know the last scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Bright like that. "It was like a dream," Kirven says. "I was fairly dispirited going into overtime, but then I'm watching Tomlin stalking to the bench and saying, 'Let's just get this done and we can go home,' and I'm loving him for it."
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons intercepts a pass right in front of us. Steelers win.
"Words can't describe that," Timmons says after the game. "I got butterflies."
"I was shivering," says Kirven, "and I wasn't sure if it was the cold or the thrill."
So, O.K. But nine of Noll's 22 starters are in the Hall of Fame. They were bodacious, and acted that way. "We had gizzards," defensive end Dwight White (now deceased) told me after he retired. In the current Steelers' grown-up blandness with the press, I kept picking up just a hint of Eddie Haskell.
Maybe I overreacted to all those prohibitions. Prohibitions? How can you hang around a football team and give in to a raft of prohibitions? I know I had special dispensation in '73, but, hey, I wanted to know what was going on. I would put on Steelers sweats and mess around on the field during practice, catch an occasional pass. I hung with the original Art Rooney and with current offensive coordinator Todd Haley's father, Dick, who was personnel director. I knew that Babe Parilli, the quarterbacks coach, was going to "resign" before he knew. Rocky Bleier told me what he said to God when he was lying bleeding from multiple shrapnel wounds in Vietnam: "'I'm not going to promise to be a priest. I'm just going to put my life in Your hands, to do whatever You want with it.' I knew at the time that was a pretty chickens--- move. I mean, I could do anything and say, Well, that's what God must want me to do."
Media cannot be prohibited from reminiscing.
After the Kansas City game I visited Dan Rooney in his office. Lucky to catch him, because he's the U.S. ambassador to Ireland now, spends most of his time over there. At 80 he's stooped but still flashes the Rooney twinkle. He's talking about the Immaculate Reception. "Everybody in Pittsburgh is sure they were there for it," says Dan, who was running the team at the time. "They probably saw it on TV"—in fact they couldn't even have done that if they were in Pittsburgh, because before 1973 all home games were blacked out—"but they're sure they saw it here. Even if they weren't alive."
Interesting word choice, here. The Immaculate Reception occurred nowhere near Dan's current office but more than four miles away, in old Three Rivers Stadium. That's where, until 2001, the Steelers played and practiced and dressed and lifted weights and watched film and had offices and ate soup and sandwiches in a little kitchen. I don't remember any windows in the Three Rivers offices. The premises had a noir quality, leavened by a great deal of laughter. (Come to think of it, that might describe the Steelers' history before the Immaculate Reception.) Dan's office now is almost as bright as the Monday-night sideline.