Monday, January 19, 2009

The Steelers are going to Tampa

I wanted to be confident about the Steelers' chances in the AFC championship game. They were playing at home in cold weather, and they had the best defense in the NFL. But they were playing the Ravens, trying to beat them for a third time this season (which is actually easier than fans think, if you look at the historical records), and they had history at home against them. Even when they had a 13-7 lead at the half, I couldn't relax. Roethlisberger kept holding on to the ball too long, the running game hadn't gotten going, and the Ravens were a quick score away from taking the lead. We should have been up 20-7 or 16-7 at the half but for some bad play and bad clock management. In the second half, when the Ravens narrowed the gap to 16-14, I saw an unpleasant future: Baltimore kicks a field goal for the lead, and Pittsburgh has to play from behind to get a game-winning score. I saw the Ravens celebrating the AFC championship on our home field.

But those things didn't happen. The Steelers played their game and hung in there, and Troy Polamalu's pick-6 iced the game. I was ready to celebrate but Willis McGahee's injury took me out of the game as much as it did the crowd at the stadium. When the game did end, and Rod Woodson(?) handed the Lamar Hunt trophy to Dan Rooney, I played the "Steelers Polka" and danced a little in my living room. It was a few hours before I could read some of the post-game recaps and commentary and fully digest the results of the win. Three years ago, when the Pittsburgh went to the Super Bowl to face Seattle, I was going through some difficult times and the Steelers' surprising run to a championship gave me reason to be excited about getting up in the morning. Also, since I hadn't seen a Steelers title run since my early childhood, I was elated at the prospect of witnessing one as an adult.

This time, it feels more like my team belongs in the game. We're the veteran team facing a newcomer in the Arizona Cardinals. They have former Super Bowl and league MVP Kurt Warner and the insanely talented Larry Fitzgerald on offense. They're not going to be a pushover. I like the Steelers' chances in this game (more than I did against the Ravens or in a possible matchup with the Eagles) but I will do my best not to get too excited before game day. It's going to be a fun Super Bowl, and I'm going to be a mess while I watch it. Best not to get too anxious yet.

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