On the Steelers: Much ado about trick that wasn't
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We have it on good authority that the Steelers will attempt a trick play today. They will run Isaac Redman off tackle more than one time against the Jets.
Ridiculous? No more so than the hubbub that took place after ESPN's Bob Holtzman reported on the day of their first playoff game against Baltimore that the Steelers would run a trick play against the Ravens. Holtzman said only that a pass would be thrown by a position player other than Antwaan Randle El.
Such a revelation was innocuous, but you would think by the reaction that Holtzman had passed the entire Steelers game plan to Baltimore coach John Harbaugh in the middle of the week.
Holtzman said two Steelers players told him about the trick play. He did not violate any protocol because he was not at practice that week, so he did not see any such play there, and he and ESPN were not involved in production meetings the night before the game where coaches will tip off network announcers to something so they can be prepared to comment when it happens. CBS had the game, not ESPN.
Further, did anyone think that as soon as the Ravens learned of Holtzman's report, they hurriedly gathered their defense and discussed how they were going to stop this mysterious trick play? Not only did the Ravens have no idea what the trick play might be, they had no idea whether someone on the Steelers might have tried to plant the idea. You know, spy vs. spy.
So it was surprising that, internally, the Steelers reacted at all to Holtzman's report. One member of the organization advised him on Monday that it would be better if he did not show up for interviews the past week. Holtzman, however, stayed in town, interviewed players and attended news conferences. There was no unpleasant instance other than coach Mike Tomlin's rather humorous response to one of Holtzman's questions about what the coach thought the Jets' defense might do against the Steelers.
"It depends on whether or not you give him my plays, you know?" Tomlin answered.
Why Holtzman's report about a "trick" play touched nerves among the coaches and even some in the media is surprising. It certainly was not unprecedented or even the most specific revelation by a TV sports reporter.
One such instance occurred on ESPN in 1993 before a Steelers Monday night game in Atlanta. Andrea Kremer, who had a long and distinguished career as a reporter for ESPN and now does similar work for NBC, revealed on air before the game that Steelers cornerback Rod Woodson would play a little at wide receiver.
Unlike the Steelers trick play that never surfaced against the Ravens, they did put Woodson at receiver that Monday night in Atlanta for a play or two. That experiment with Woodson, by the way, failed miserably (maybe the Falcons heard Kremer's report and called an emergency one-hour defensive meeting before the game to discuss how to defense it) and Woodson never again played on offense.
The instance in 1993 caused nary a ripple, so why now?
Bruce Arians brought up a point that few considered about that pass incomplete/fumble play vs. the Ravens in which Baltimore defensive end Corry Redding picked up a loose ball and ran 13 yards for a touchdown.
Redding was the only player of the 22 on the field to react and even his was delayed. Did a whistle blow? Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said he heard one.
"I still think the whistle blew," Arians said.
If a whistle blows, the ball is dead and whether it was a fumble or not cannot be challenged. But I've been in stadiums where you can hear a whistle and it came from the crowd, not an official.
Whistles have been used by football officials probably since the birth of the game. But with crowd noise -- stadium scoreboards were permitted for the first time this season to encourage the crowd to make noise -- and everything else that goes on in the game today, perhaps the league could tap into technology that is readily available and have someone design a whistle that when blown not only will signal the end of a play but also send a signal that would trip a big red light on the scoreboard that the play has officially ended.
There would be little doubt then whether a whistle had blown.
Not that the Steelers or any other team need more motivation than a berth in the Super Bowl with a victory today, but there have been a few underlying inspirations going on within their team.
Nothing will top the Steelers' determination to have Jerome Bettis play his last game in Super Bowl XL in his hometown of Detroit, but there are two lesser instances.
One is to see Aaron Smith, 34, return from his Oct. 24 triceps injury to play in the Super Bowl. Tomlin has dangled that possibility in front of Smith's teammates like a carrot on a stick. Since Smith is probably the most beloved man in their locker room, who knows what effect it might have.
The other is to get tackle Flozell Adams back to Dallas for the Super Bowl. Adams is a native of Chicago who played at Michigan State, but he also played for the Cowboys his first 12 years in the league and was a starter for them from the beginning in 1998. He never sniffed a Super Bowl there and, after the Cowboys showed no interest in re-signing him last season, he would love nothing better than to play for the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV in the House that Jerry Built.
Nothing, though, can top what happened with Bettis in 2005.
"I don't think there's one subplot like there was in '05," quarterback Charlie Batch said. "It WAS with Jerome because of how emotional the '04 season ended with that team meeting."
That team meeting at the end of the '04 season, a season in which the Steelers went 15-1 with a rookie quarterback, beat the Jets in overtime in the playoffs and then lost to New England in the title game at home, was epic. Bettis told his teammates it might have been his last game, and Hines Ward greeted the press after the meeting crying like a baby because he thought it was Bettis' last game.
Nothing like that yet, although there will be plenty of tears for the losers of today's games.
First Published January 23, 2011 12:00 am