Chaos And Happiness In Pittsburgh
My first thought when Ben Roethlisberger sprinted to his right and fired a 25-yard bullet to Mike Wallace for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 20-16 lead with five minutes left in the game was, "There's no other quarterback in the league who can make that play. He's unbelievable."
My second thought was: "Not again. Not the Steelers again. Not at Heinz Field. Not in front of this frenzied crowd."
Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta, Pat Moriarty and the rest of us in the press box try to remain stoic in times like these. Reporters from across the country turned their eyes to see if Oz was reacting to Big Ben and the Steelers' dramatic play. We've just had our football hearts torn out and stomped on, and we had to be professionals and classy.
It's hard. You want to pound the desk, kick the chair, throw something against something, blurt out words you'll regret instantly.
Instead, I started packing my briefcase, put on my suit coat and began that long, rotten journey to the field. I've made that trip before. You get on an elevator with Steelers fans celebrating. You walk through the lobby to the Steelers' offices, where their employees are high-fiving and hugging. It's a miserable journey.
After dropping off my bag in our locker room, there were about three minutes left in the game, and Pittsburgh had a first down on our 34. "Damn, we must have had a three-and-out," I thought to myself.
Then the worst part of the journey came. To get to our bench area, where we have post-game duties with the media, you have to walk behind the end zone, along the first rows of fans. Steelers fans are pretty sophisticated. They know you're not one of them. "Hey Ravens man. I see you. I see the purple in your tie. How's that flight to Baltimore going to be? You guys suck. You can watch us in the playoffs."
Checked the scoreboard: the Steelers had a third-and-5 on our 29. "Yes," an incomplete pass as I hustled to our bench area. Started figuring in my head: "OK, 29 yards, plus seven for the placement and 10 yards of end zone – that means a 46-yard field goal into the haunted open end of Heinz Field. We have a shot." Whistle, "Delay of Game, Pittsburgh." Good for us. Mike Tomlin then decided that a 51-/52-yarder from there was too dangerous.
Lardarius Webb fair caught the punt on our 8 with 2:24 remaining – and we had a timeout left. To say the crowd was crazed at that moment is a vast understatement. The Steelers fans were shaking the stadium, and you could feel the vibration on the field. I saw Ray Lewis walk by Joe Flacco and yell: "We got time. Go win it, Joe!"
We all saw what happened in that drive. Joe was crisp with his throws and calm in the storm. Our offense chopped up the famed Steelers defense on their field with the game on the line. Ray Rice said: "When Torrey [Smith] didn't catch the first ball in the end zone, he came back to the huddle with his head down. We told him, 'Get that look off your face. Joe will come back to you.' And, then when Anquan [Boldin] dropped one – and he never does that – he came back to the huddle and yelled at Joe: 'Call my number again.'"
We didn't have to. Joe hit Torrey with the spot-on 26-yard touchdown pass. I know you fans get very excited, but we're a little nuts. As you recall, no official signaled touchdown immediately. Because I couldn't see through the players, I stepped out on the field of play when Joe released the ball. As I watched it rifle through the air going to my right, I saw Torrey and two Steelers. I watched Torrey go down and flags go up. I saw Joe pump his fist, and I heard players scream: "He caught it."
I began moving toward the officials yelling: "Throw your arms up. Throw your arms up. That's a touchdown." John Harbaugh sprinted past me and joined the now three officials talking near the goal line. He wanted to know why the touchdown signal was not being made. The referee pointed at Harbs' feet. John then realized he was on the field in their mini-huddle and quickly backed away to the sideline.
The Hands Went Up
Bam! Touchdown was signaled. Interference on Pittsburgh was called. And, after the extra point, we had the 23-20 lead with eight seconds left.
Things settled in a hurry. Everyone was yelling: "It's not over. Finish!" Felt a nudge on my side and looked up to see Haloti Ngata. "Pretty exciting, huh?" the big man said. Caught Harbs' [add apostrophe] eye, he smiled and nodded. Holding my right fist close to my stomach, I gave him a thumbs' up. He did what most head coaches would do then. He shouted at me: "It's not over. We have eight seconds."
When your team wins a nationally-televised game, there are five interviews that happen on the field right after the gun sounds. Before our final kickoff, I saw this group of reporters, headed by NBC-TV's Michele Tafoya, sprinting away from the Steelers' bench and headed to the back of the end zone. They had about a 150-yard run around the field to get to our bench to make those requests for the interviews.
There's a certain joy in watching these reporters having to make that trek and come over to our sideline – the winning side.
The Post Game
I was happy for us, for Harbs, for our fans, and, especially Joe. He made the plays in the divisional-round loss to the Steelers at Heinz last January. There were two drops late in that game that had a lot to do with the loss. But, Joe's passes were on the mark. He deserved to make the big play in this victory. And, as always, Joe was calm on the field after the game. He did his interview with Michele and another and then politely asked: "Is it OK to go now?"
As Coach Harbaugh noted in his post-game interview: "We could feel the people in Baltimore jumping off their couches when we scored the winning touchdown." Imagine, then, the joy in the locker room. It was fun. One of the best things I heard was Ray Rice yelling at Torrey: "That touchdown is all well and good, but you owe me. Running against these guys is no joke, and you took 76 yards away from me on the first play of the game." Smith laughed: "Ray, I didn't hold." Smiling, Rice retorted: "The touchdown catch is almost enough, but you still owe me. Maybe a good dinner."
Oh, by the way, Seattle is very good against the run. Let's beat those Seahawks.
Talk with you next week.
Kevin Byrne , a Ravens senior vice president, has worked in the NFL for 32 years. Byrne has been with the Ravens since the start of the franchise in 1996. Earlier in his career, Byrne was the sports information director at Marquette University, his alma mater, when they won the 1977 NCAA basketball championship under coach Al McGuire.