is brought down
Encore ends Steelers' act
By Michael Holley, Globe
FOXBOROUGH - So, is everyone
ready for Sunday's opener? It will be Patriots-Jets at Giants Stadium.
It will be Bill Belichick's past vs. Bill Belichick's present. It
will be ...
Oh. I see. You thought
the Patriots opened their 2002 season last night at Gillette Stadium.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were here for what was supposed to be Game
1 of New England's Super Bowl defense. But this wasn't really the
opener. This was an extension of the AFC Championship game.
The Steelers lost by a
touchdown in January, but the defeat wasn't convincing enough for
them. They kept insisting that the story had an epilogue, and they
were right: They really aren't as good as we thought. They lost, 30-14,
and showed the nation that their winter loss at Heinz Field was not
Shame on these guys if
they don't spend the next few days apologizing. To their fans. To
the Patriots. And especially to the rest of the country for making
us listen to their whining, carping, and overall lack of class.
Kordell Stewart should
apologize for suggesting that the best team didn't win in January
(the stadium operations crew played the clip several times last night).
Bill Cowher should apologize for allowing his team to spew such nonsense
without backing it up. The entire team should gather around a squawk
box and apologize to former kicker Kris Brown, the current Houston
Texan who was supposedly part of the special-teams conspiracy to bring
What a sad team. Trailing
by 23 points with less than a minute to play, the Steelers made a
mockery of themselves. They continued to call timeouts, desperately
trying to make the game appear closer than it was. Stewart scored
on a fourth-and-1 dive with one second remaining, a score that infuriated
Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
No, this was not opening
night. This was the unofficial closer to the Super Bowl season. The
new stadium was initiated by owner Robert Kraft in a pregame ceremony
that included fireworks and highlights from the Snow Game, Pittsburgh,
and New Orleans. After that, strangely, it was time for the Super
Bowl champs to prove themselves to Pittsburgh.
At least that was the national
view. The Steelers entered the game as 3-point favorites and the trendy
choice to win Super Bowl XXXVII. The visitors from Western Pennsylvania
- home of fundamentalists such as Joe Montana and Mike Ditka - could
learn a few things from the Patriots.
New England won this game
because it was careful with the ball. The Patriots have turned the
ball over once in their last two games against the Steelers; the Steelers
have turned it over nine times in two games against the Patriots.
They won because Richard
Seymour and Roman Phifer and Willie McGinest had good nights against
the Pittsburgh offensive line. They won because rookie receiver Deion
Branch had a nice block on safety Lee Flowers, and the block led to
a Donald Hayes touchdown. They won because they used their heads.
On one play, McGinest dropped Stewart and forced what appeared to
be a fumble. Instead of scrambling for the ball, McGinest blocked
for Phifer, who scooped the ball and ran to the end zone. Officials
ruled that Stewart didn't fumble, but Belichick said afterward that
he was impressed with McGinest's thinking.
It's funny that we're even
having this discussion, isn't it? People around here knew about the
soul of the Patriots last season. But the doubting Steelers didn't
know. The Rams didn't know. Las Vegas didn't know. In the first exhibition
game at Gillette, the Eagles didn't know, either. During warmups of
that game, Philadelphia linebacker Ike Reese stood near the New England
bench yelling, ''They're the Super Bowl champs? I don't believe it!
I don't believe it!''
Doesn't it always work
this way? The people who talk the most trash have little or nothing
to offer when it's time to be productive. It's also ironic that Flowers
declared Tampa Bay ''paper champions'' last season, but that's exactly
what his team has become. We know that they would be fabulous talk-show
hosts. Champions? Not yet.
The Patriots were able
to keep Jerome Bettis from running off tackle, which is his comfort
zone. They were able to force Stewart to be a reading quarterback
when he is most comfortable running. They were also able to overcome
two interference calls on Ty Law.
There is no more 2001 business
left on the agenda. The stadium is open. The championship banner has
been hung. The rings have been distributed. And Pittsburgh - we hope
- has finally gone the Al Gore route and conceded the '01 conference
The true season opener
begins Sunday afternoon in New Jersey.
Michael Holley is a Globe
columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story ran on page D7 of the Boston Globe on 9/10/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.