FanHouse in the Stands: the View From 522 - Steelers vs. Panthers
This season, FanHouse writers will be taking their cameras around the NFL snapping photos of what people are wearing to tailgates and games. We've cleverly titled it "FanHouse in the Stands."
I am a season ticket holder for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Our family has been since the start of the 2001 season, and we haven't missed a game in the years since. We even convinced my older brother and his wife to change their wedding date because it was going to fall on the same day as the Steelers' home opener in 2007. Clearly, we don't mess around.
The only drawback to having season tickets for an NFL franchise is the fact they force you into buying full-price tickets for two glorified practices they jokingly call "preseason games." Since these tickets are nearly impossible to sell, or give away, you are faced with two options: (1) Give away the tickets for a loss or (2) use the tickets yourself and drink $8 beers all night. Naturally, I chose option No. 2... as I always do. Details and pictures after the jump.
For preseason games, everything is turned down about six notches on the intensity scale. The players, the fans (the ones showing up, anyway) even the guys on the radio all approach it with sort of a, "blah" attitude. Honestly, I've seen more lively crowds at training camp practices in Latrobe.
Pictured above is a handful of Steelers players warming up before the game, with 22 people (not including ushers) looking on from the stands. I believe that's cornerback Bryant McFadden standing in the front with the black tank top. The guy in the white shirt at the six-yard line who appears to be dancing is Deshea Townsend. Hey, he's just happy preseason football is over.
Throughout Heinz Field you are reminded of Steelers greatness from the past at seemingly every turn. In the Great Hall -- the main concourse -- there are five massive, gigantic replica Super Bowl trophies representing each championship -- WITH ROOM FOR MORE! -- in team history, along with individual awards handed out to Steelers players, and Pitt players, from years past. Tony Dorsett's Heisman trophy is in there. There is a display of replica lockers from Jerome Bettis, Andy Russell, Jack Lambert, Franco Harris and Terry Bradshaw, to name a few. Nowhere is this homage to Steelers greatness from the past better displayed than the small bar room in the upper deck of the North End Zone right behind section 524. The room is wall papered with a photo mural from Three Rivers Stadium and it features...
I love it.
On this night, the national anthem is done by Scott Blasey, lead singer from Pittsburgh based band The Clarks. He does a fine job, and is wearing a Hines Ward jersey, much to the delight of the fans. As soon as the National Anthem ends the Carolina Panthers are introduced while the small gathering in the stands (not yet a crowd) offers a token round of boos.
At this point the scoreboard goes black, and continuing with the theme of "toned down preseason atmosphere," a small introduction video is played to welcome the Steelers. Linkin Park's "Somewhere I Belong" is the song of choice, and the scoreboard displays a message: "To us...it feels like home...but for 31 other teams we want to know...how it feels to play in..."
And then a large sign that reads "STEELERS NATION" is shown, and a 30-second highlight video featuring various Steelers players roughing opposing receivers is played. Head Coach Mike Tomlin then emerges from the tunnel by himself, as he did before every home game during his rookie year, and runs out onto the field pumping his fist in the air. The Steelers soon follow, with the starting defensive lineup being introduced.
The game is sluggish. The Steelers first drive ends in a three-and-out after new starting center Justin Hartwig launches a shotgun snap over Ben Roethlisberger's head. Where have you gone Dermonti Dawson? The first-team offense plays one more series and uses a no-huddle offense to engineer a touchdown drive, capped off by a 7-yard run by fullback Carey Davis. Ben throws one pass which doesn't count in the stat sheets due to a pass interference penalty. The consensus in the cheap seats is, "you've got your touchdown, now get everybody out before they get hurt." Tomlin agrees.
On one of the first plays with the second-team offense, the Steelers send out a very tall, very large wide receiver to the right side wearing No. 4. Everyone is asking, "who the hell is that guy, and why haven't we seen him yet this year?" Turns out, we have. It was quarterback Byron Leftwich, split wide, with Rashard Mendenhall in the shotgun position at quarterback. The Steelers will use this formation twice, with the longest play going for, I believe, six yards.
One of the things I enjoy about Heinz Field is the fact that nearly everybody in the stadium wears a player jersey, and they come from all different positions, generations and random levels of obscurity. The fans from the 70's era still wear their Bradshaw's, Greene's, Webster's, and Harris', while the younger generation from the 90's proudly sports their Woodson's, Lloyd's, and Thigpen's, while one guy wears a Cliff Stoudt jersey every week, probably for laughs. There's even a few Jeff Reed jerseys thrown around. Bottom line is, jersey's are in. Except for this guy.
Yes. That's a pink, button down dress shirt with a sweater vest. At a football game. If there's not a law against this already, I'm favor of there being one. I realize it's a weeknight, and people are at work all day and time can be an issue... but dude, throw a jersey in the back of the car and slap it on in the parking lot. This guy created more debate from the bleacher dwellers than the game on the field.
For halftime entertainment in the preseason the Steelers do one of three things: (1) Frisbee dogs (2) Drunk guys kicking field goals (3) hand out the award for the previous season's rookie of the year. We were treated to frisbee dogs during the first game, so options two and three were in play on Thursday.
The rookie of the year award was handed out to punter Daniel Sepulveda, and I did not envy the guy that had to come up with his highlight video to honor the occasion. It began with a clip of Sepulveda, in college, running down the field and destroying a helpless punt returner (you can see it here) and then went on for 45 seconds showing nothing but brief clips of him holding on field goals, following through on punts, and about 12 different profile pictures of his face looking in different directions. This happens every year because the Steelers, essentially, redshirt their top draft picks and let them sit for a year before making an impact. But, hey, congrats to Dan.
On the first play of the second half, backup linebacker Arnold Harrison went down and was obviously in a great deal of pain. The training staff assisted him to the sidelines where he instantly dropped to the ground, no more than three feet from the field. The trainers tried to help him up, but it appeared as if he did not want to be bothered. He finally stood up and began violently swinging his arms around and attempted to rip a towel in half. James Farrior came over in an effort to calm him down, while Harrison continued to scream and frantically waive his arms around. Soon, Bryant McFadden and Ryan Clark made their way over and Harrison, again, dropped to the ground. The trainers helped him up once more, and James Farrior walked with him, slowly, to the X-ray room while Harrison continued to waive his arms around like he was in extraordinary pain. Turns out, he probably was. He tore his ACL.
Panthers coach John Fox coached this game like it was the Super Bowl. No. 3 quarterback Brett Basanez engineered a touchdown drive with just over two minutes to play, pulling the Panthers to within one. Most coaches in preseason games will go for two to assure the game does not see overtime. Fox, however, elects to kick, tying the score at 16. It was all on Dennis Dixon's shoulders to end this game in regulation... and he did. Dixon led a nearly flawless two-minute drill putting the Steelers in position for Jeff Reed's fourth field goal of the night, a 43-yarder as time expired. Of course, Fox tried to ice him by calling a timeout just before the Steelers snapped the ball.
Only in the preseason can you see Brett Basanez and Dennis Dixon exchange scoring drives in the final two minutes. It's a good thing.