It isn't often we get to walk in the Steelers' shoes, especially the size 22s of the man so enormous that they call him "Flozell The Hotel." But Saturday night was one of those times. Saturday night, we all could relate to big offensive tackle Flozell Adams. Saturday night, we also learned a little more about why this Steelers team is so special and will go to Super Bowl XLV Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, if it can beat the New York Jets Sunday night in the AFC championship game at Heinz Field.
Read on with caution if you are having your bagel and coffee.
"He was puking his guts out," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Adams. "He puked out everything."
This was at halftime of the playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens. Somehow, Adams made it through the first half but, finally, was brought to his knees, not because the Steelers trailed, 21-7, although that made every player on the team feel sick, but because of flu-like symptoms. Who among us hasn't been there? We just want to die when we're hugging the commode. Adams wanted to get back on the field to block the great Terrell Suggs and the other beasts on the Ravens' defense.
The Steelers' medical staff worked feverishly through halftime and the third quarter to get Adams well. "I had IVs, pills, shots [of anti-nausea medicine], everything you can think of," he said.
"It hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn't believe it. I don't think I've been sick like that since college. And to get sick now ... "
During the biggest game of his decorated pro career.
Adams, 35, spent his first 12 years in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys lost all five of its playoff games with him before beating the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago in the wild-card round. He signed as a free agent with the Steelers right before training camp after starting right tackle Willie Colon was lost for the season in the summer because of an Achilles' tendon injury.
Do you think Adams would love to get back to Dallas for the Super Bowl?
You have no idea.
"Flozell came here for one reason -- to win," Tomlin said. "He has all the money he needs and all the accolades. All he wants to do is win. His intentions are as pure as any player I've ever been around."
Adams' illness left the Steelers in a bad spot. Backup swingman Trai Essex had to jump into Adams' spot. That's not a good thing when Suggs and his bunch are the opponents.
The Steelers' problems got much worse when left tackle Jonathan Scott was banged up on the final play of the third quarter. Now, we're talking some serious juggling. Essex had to move to the left side. Backup Doug Legursky stepped in at right guard and bumped starter Ramon Foster to right tackle.
That's when something amazing happened. Something almost Willis Reed-like, if you will. As the players huddled up for the first play of the fourth quarter, Adams, who was aware that Scott was down, walked straight from the locker room to the sideline and right onto the field.
Actually, staggered is a better description.
"Dead Man Walking," teammate Brett Keisel called Adams.
Tomlin ran 20 yards onto the field to stop Adams. He and trainer John Norwig pulled him back to the sideline. This wasn't time for heroics from a guy who was so sick he could barely stand. Not against Suggs and Co., who were coming after Ben Roethlisberger with bad intentions.
"Wasn't it an awesome sight seeing him trying to go out there?" Tomlin asked. "I told him I appreciated him and what he was doing, but that, hopefully, we wouldn't need him."
The Steelers didn't, as it turned out. Scott recovered quickly and finished the game. Essex went back to right tackle and Foster to right guard. The Steelers won, 31-24, surviving and advancing.
"They made the right decision not letting me play," Adams said after the game. He appeared to be feeling better, if only because of the win. At least he no longer looked green.
"I could have let the whole team down if I had gone back in," Adams said. "I could have given up a sack or missed a block or got the quarterback killed. Better to have Trai and Doug in there. They did a damn good job. The whole line did. I'm so proud of 'em."
It's been that way all season. The line, though not nearly the best in the NFL, has been better than most people think despite playing without Colon and starting left tackle Max Starks and with rookie center Maurkice Pouncey. Sure, it allowed six sacks Saturday, three by the inimitable Suggs. But Tomlin wasn't concerned with that number. "We could have five Anthony Munozes on the line and we'd still give up sacks because of the quarterback. No. 7 is going to take some sacks. But he's going to make more big plays for us." The only numbers Tomlin cares about were on the scoreboard. "We're not interested in style points," he has said many times.
Adams expects to be ready when the Steelers take on the Jets. "I came here to win the Super Bowl. I'm one win from getting there."
The Steelers will start to look ahead to the Jets game when they report back to work today at their South Side compound. But Roethlisberger wanted to take one final look back at the Ravens game. Adams' willingness to play under such trying circumstances wasn't lost on him or the other players.
"That the way it is with this team," Roethlisberger said. "We would do anything for each other. Even get off a gurney. I mean, literally get off a gurney."
You want to know why the Steelers are in the AFC championship game?
That's as good a reason as any.