On my way to Soldier Field in Chicago, the home of the Bears, everyone who claimed Chik-a-go as their town and their team were hopeful that this game would jumpstart their miracle machine. As I settled into the press box, the first person I ran into was Lou Ransom, former Courier managing editor and current executive editor of our sister paper, the Chicago Defender. I was sworn to secrecy as I knew he was rooting for the Black and Gold. The mystique surrounding this game would stir up memories of Gale Sayers, Walter Payton, Mike Ditka and Dick Butkus. This was the Super Bowl in September for the Bruins from the Windy City.
Pittsburgh lost the game 17-14 in an unlikely victory for the Bears.
The first quarter and a half looked as if it was not going to be a game. The Pittsburgh defense appeared to be almost impenetrable and the Bears defense looked like Swiss cheese. And then came the unimaginable.
The Steelers allowed the Bears to hang around and show they could be competitive. You could visibly see their confidence increasing. You could almost see them beginning to believe in themselves. With 6:56 left in the third quarter and the game still tied at seven, this seemed o be the optimum time for Pittsburgh to seize “Big Mo,” otherwise known as momentum. And they did just that. They only needed 1:30 and four plays to drive 69 yards, including a defensive penalty to take the lead once again.
The third quarter ended and the Steelers were once again driving. Then the Bears and what seemed like the entire city of Chicago began to sing a fight song that sounded sort of Knute Rockne-ish. They also have a corny sort of rallying cry, “one city, one team.” I am reasonably certain that when all was said and done, Pittsburgh was the city and the team singing a sad and lonely ballad in unison when the clock struck midnight, this past Sunday.
Bears headmaster Lovie Smith did not show a lot of love toward his fellow graduate and frat brother from Dungy University, Steelers head coach Mike Tomin. The mammals from the Windy City seemed as if they had a serious attitude and were ready for battle.
Yeah, yeah, it was a rainy day, but ahh. There was, however, enough ineptitude to go around.
Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes dropped two important almost sure catches. It looked as if he misplayed a sure TD completion from Big Ben Roethlisberger near the corner of the end zone. “You had to fight the elements. The rain did play a big part. You have to be professional about it.
Everyone sharpened fingers to be pointed in regards to the Steelers defeat but Steeler kicker Jeff Reed was having none of it. There were many excuses offered, such as the rain and the slick turf but Reed seemed oblivious to the chatter. “There’s no excuse. I missed two kicks and basically what it was, I was trying too hard on both of them. That’s what happens to a right-footed kicker—you hook them. I’m just embarrassed because these guys fought their tail off to win the game. If there’s one player who can singlehandedly lose a game, I’ll take credit for it.”
The Steelers defense at times appeared to be defenseless, allowing the Bears to go on the final game winning drive.
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, who was about to be drawn and quartered after his four interceptions, helped the Green Bay Packers beat the Bears in their season opener, accounted for both of his team’s touchdowns with passes.
He did not throw a pick and Pittsburgh could only manage to sack the nimble-footed QB just once. Tomlin had a positive assessment of Jay Cutler. “Jay Cutler was very good with the football in the face of pressure. He made very good decisions.”
The Steelers defense found itself in a very unfamiliar position, having to stop the opposition from winning the game in the final seconds. “Usually, we find a way to pull it out at the end defensively, unfortunately for us, they pulled it out,” said Pittsburgh defensive end, Aaron Smith. James Farrior added, “It was a tough one today. We could have made some plays when we were supposed to, we just didn’t. Chicago’s got a good team and just hung in there to the end. That’s usually what we do.”
At the beginning of the season everyone (including me) thought that aside from their opener against the Tennessee Titans the Steelers had a reasonable chance to be 4-1 after the first five games because of their supposedly easier schedule, especially in comparison to last year’s lineup.
The Steelers up until now had been appointed and anointed to make the trip to Dolphins Stadium to compete for the NFL championship.
They have now come home disjointed and disappointed. All the members of the Steelers Nation who have put their money aside in interest bearing accounts to pay for their Super Bowl tickets and their hotel rooms for Super Bowl XLIV in Miami in February, had better make sure their accounts are not debited prematurely.
The loss to an emotionally charged Chicago Bears team in their home season opener will not prevent the Black and Gold from repeating as Super Bowl champions just as Pittsburgh’s opening victory against the Titans was no guarantee of professional football supremacy for the 2009 season.
There is an old and overused saying—one game at a time. Pittsburgh should take it a step further and hold on to the concept of one play at a time.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: abruce@newpittsburgh courier.com.)