Travis Kirschke returned to full practice yesterday and pronounced his torn calf muscle ready to play against Baltimore tomorrow, even if it means he and fellow left defensive end Nick Eason will spend much of the night bashing into the subject of a box-office smash.
"Blind Side," playing at a movie theater near you, is the rags-to-Ravens-riches story of rookie right tackle Michael Oher, No. 74 on the Baltimore roster and No. 2 across America with a $43 million gross after one week that already dwarfs the Pirates' projected payroll for next year.
"Oh, really?" an unwitting Eason asked yesterday. "Wow. What is that about?"
Well, Oher's rise was the focus of a 2006 best-seller by Michael Lewis. Oher was a homeless, aimless, uneducated lad from Memphis, Tenn., one of 13 children born to a crack-addict mother and an uninvolved father later found dead, hurled from an overpass. After bouncing around foster homes, he was adopted by an upper-middle-class family, nurtured into a prep-school tackle and a dean's-list student at the University of Mississippi, then drafted by the Ravens April at No. 23 overall.
- Game: Steelers (6-4) at Baltimore Ravens (5-5).
- When: 8:20 p.m. tomorrow.
- TV: WPXI.
Thanksgiving Day, the movie finished No. 1 at the box office, with $9.5 million in sales. Tomorrow, Oher figures to be one of the stars on the M&T Bank Stadium stage for a Ravens (5-5) and Steelers (6-4) game rife with playoff implications.
For Kirschke, potential brushes with the famous offensive tackle mean little, especially after sitting out the past three games.
"Yeah, I haven't paid too much attention to that," Kirschke said of the movie. "I've just seen the highlights on TV -- the commercials. Heard it's a good movie, though."
"I might go check it out," added Eason. "That's one of those unique stories that deserves a movie. I'm proud of him for that, in all seriousness. ... Needless to say, that has nothing to do with anything come Sunday. When he lines up, he's just going to be a Baltimore Raven football player to me. When you line up against me Sunday, I'm not thinking about a movie, I'm thinking about winning. I don't think he's going to be thinking about a movie, either."
Oher skipped the Nov. 17 New York premiere because of his day job. This 6-foot-4, 310-pound man of 23 then went out Sunday and kept Indianapolis' Robert Mathis from getting a sack.
"That's my dog. I called him Monday," said Steelers rookie receiver Mike Wallace, a friend and former Mississippi teammate. "I asked him if it's worth going to see. He said, 'Go check it out.' He said he was going Thursday for the first time."
And how was it? Wallace was pictured in the book but left off the big screen. Otherwise, he said, "They did a real good movie. I enjoyed it."
Kirschke, a 13-year veteran, is eager to return after the first muscle tear of his career.
"I feel good," said he. "Each day, it's gotten better. Gotten more comfortable with it. ... You love these games. The Baltimore Ravens. It's a big game for both of us; it always is. It's a fun game to be a part of."
Kirschke's return, added Eason, helps him, the defense, and the Steelers as a whole.
"No question," Eason said. "We went into the Super Bowl last year with six D-linemen, we didn't go in with five. Anytime you got a rotation, guys can stay fresh and play at a high level for four quarters. You can wear offenses down that way, too." Including famous offensive tackles.
NOTES -- While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (concussion), like Kirschke, practiced yesterday with the first team and was listed as questionable for tomorrow, officially making each a 50-50 proposition, star safety Troy Polamalu (PCL) and left guard Chris Kemoeatu (MCL) did not practice again and were listed as out.
Baltimore listed linebacker Terrell Suggs (knee) as doubtful, meaning there was a 75 percent chance he will not play, while star safety Ed Reed (foot, illness) and middle linebacker Ray Lewis (foot) were questionable.
Reed and Suggs missed both practices this week; Lewis was limited yesterday the same as with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (ankle), who was listed as probable along with tight end Todd Heap (chest), linebacker Jarret Johnson (shoulder), center Matt Birks (neck) and tight end L.J. Smith (illness).
Chuck Finder can be reached at email@example.com .