Steelers, Pitt fans suffer two stunning defeats
Pitt fans watch as Cincinnati players and fans celebrate the Big East championship Saturday at Heinz Field.
Share with others:
When sorrows come, William Shakespeare once wrote, they come not as single spies, but in battalions.
Those, of course, are not the words of the Bill Shakespeare who was the Steelers' first-round draft choice in 1936, but The Bard, whose Hamlet once uttered the catch phrase of losers everywhere, "O, woe is me."
In the form of relentless gray clouds that blotted out yesterday's sun, melancholy hung like a shroud over the city. Such is the emotional hangover of Pitt and the Steelers suffering two last-minute defeats on the same patch of North Side sod, both on the first full weekend of a foreboding December, no less. It was like finding a lump of coal under the Christmas tree.
Anton Chekhov could not have conjured up a bleaker landscape than the one that greeted morning commuters going back to work. Where champions paraded under happier circumstances along a major Downtown artery, an occasional snowflake fluttered down what had all the ambiance of the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.
Playwright Oscar Wilde never twirled a Terrible Towel, but he once wrote: "Misery wakes us in the morning and Shame sits with us at night."
Coach Mike Tomlin, picking up the pieces and getting ready for the next battle, admitted that his defending champion Steelers suffered emotional and physical bruises after giving up three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to the Oakland Raiders. To that end, some lineup changes are in the offing.
"You got to acknowledge the potential that this could be a shaken group. We swallowed a lot here of late," he said. "We're going to have to become one with ourselves individually and collectively."
It was a Zen-like moment at his weekly meeting with the media. But unlike a week earlier, he did not promise to "unleash hell" - a line taken from the movie Gladiator, which was gleefully thrown back at him by the Raiders.
Discussions were a bit less philosophical in the blogosphere and on the talk shows - both from the hand-wringers wailing about the Steelers being unable to protect a lead in five of the team's six losses, and from Steeler-haters eager to dance on the grave of a teetering king.
The writer A.L. Prusick lived before the age of twittering, but he could have texted this observation to local football fans: "It may be that we have all lived before and died, and this is Hell."
At the risk of going to hell and back, it is necessary to revisit the gridiron disappointments that have kidnapped joy like the Grinch who stole Christmas.
On Saturday, Cincinnati scored with 33 seconds left and converted an extra point to topple the Panthers, 45-44. The razor-thin margin was enough to put Pitt in the Meineke Car Care Bowl Dec. 26 against North Carolina rather than having a New Year's Day marquee matchup against Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Then on Sunday, Louis Murphy - remember Murphy's Law, what can go wrong will go wrong? - caught the winning touchdown against the Steelers with nine seconds to play. The score came on the same end of the field as a botched extra point by Pitt that was the margin of difference in its loss.
The Panthers have three weeks to lick their wounds before getting back on the field. The Steelers, with the dying embers of their playoff hopes vulnerable to wintry blasts, have a short week. They play again Thursday in Cleveland.
The comedian Woody Allen once observed that life is full of misery, loneliness and suffering - and it's over much too soon. He could have been talking about this football season.
For the second time in four years, the Steelers may not even make the playoffs to defend a Super Bowl crown. How such a fate could befall this team is a subject that had been talked to death over recent weeks, but such chatter includes the prolonged absence of Troy Polamalu, who injured a knee in the opening game and has largely been unavailable.
The loss of one of the best defensive players in the NFL surely has an impact, but the Steelers refuse to make an issue of it.
"You can waste a lot of time worrying about players that aren't available," Tomlin said, "and I chose not to waste that time."
Even the recent solace of having Cleveland on the schedule seems illusory. The Steelers have beaten the Browns 12 times in a row and 18 times in the past 19 meetings. That would indicate that the Browns would stand a snowball's chance in hell of beating the Steelers, but Kansas City and Oakland were double-digit underdogs too.
Although Winston Churchill was never involved in a must-win NFL game in Cleveland on a Thursday night, he faced his share of adversity in leading Great Britain through World War II.
Perhaps it is wise to remember this bit of Churchillian advice: "If you are going through hell, keep going."
As in football and life, there really isn't any other choice.
Robert Dvorchak can be reached email@example.com.
First Published December 8, 2009 12:00 am