Super Bowl LVII
Super Bowl LVIII is in the books. I was not going to say anything about it. But then realized it was the first Super Bowl I’ve watched from start to finish since 2011 when I traveled to Dallas and saw the Steelers lose to the Green Bay Packers. I did not attend the game but hung out with the extended Johns family who moved to Texas from Beaver County in the 1970s. Their family and friends had grown to a clan of about 60 Steelers fans living a short distance from the Cowboys’ home-field, AT&T stadium. So, here are my humble observations of the most recent NFL championship.
Pittsburgh Steeler Links
As an average Steelers fan, I did not heavily favor the Kansas City Chiefs or the Philadelphia Eagles. Both teams featured former Pittsburgh Steelers players. JuJu Smith-Schuster signed with the Chiefs following the 2021 season. JuJu led the Kansas City wide receivers with 78 receptions for 933 yards and three touchdowns. But JuJu was second to All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce as a target for Patrick Mahomes during the regular season.
But over in Philadelphia, former Pittsburgh defensive lineman Javon Hargrave followed up on a Pro Bowl year in 2021 with 11 sacks in 2022. He and his defensive teammates tore up other offenses leading the NFL with 70 sacks and 97 tackles for loss. I will always appreciate their contributions to the Black and Gold. And would be equally happy if either player’s team won it.
There is an old-school connection between Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Before Patrick Mahomes came along, Len Dawson was considered the greatest quarterback to lead the Chiefs. Dawson a two-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler. He led the Chiefs to three AFL championships and was the MVP of Super Bowl IV. A Hall of Famer and an all-time Kansas City great. But Dawson got his NFL start in Pittsburgh. Walt Kiesling on his third stint as Steelers head coach selected Dawson in the first round of the 1957 draft. Kiesling envisioned Dawson as the future of Pittsburgh at quarterback. Kiesling watched Dawson play several times including the Senior Bowl concluding, “One big thing in Dawson’s favor, and it’s the thing a quarterback needs in the pro game, is his coolness. He never gets flustered and manages to get off his passes fast and true. Yes, he has plenty of poise.”
But in failing health, he resigned during training camp. Art Rooney hired Buddy Parker who had different ideas and brought in Bobby Layne as his franchise quarterback. Layne sat Dawson on the bench for three seasons before trading him to Cleveland his last NFL stop before joining his college coach Hank Stram with the Dallas Texans now Kansas City Chiefs in 1962.
The Philly Connection
Most folks associate the Eagles and Steelers with the 1943 Steagles. A temporary arrangement when the team’s combined due to the lack of available players. Other teams like the Cleveland Rams suspended operations.
But what many Steelers fans do not know is that Art Rooney sold the Pittsburgh Steelers to Alexis Thompson in December 1940. Thompson renamed the Steelers the Iron Men. Rooney then bought 50% of the Eagles becoming a co-owner with Eagle’s founder Bert Bell. But in a swap of cities the original Pittsburgh franchise moved to Philadelphia and Bert Bell and Art Rooney brought the Eagles to Pittsburgh. This tumultuous series of deals all happened in the offseason before the 1942 season. The Steelers very first winning season in franchise history. I backed the Eagles in the Super Bowl since they were, after all, the original Pittsburgh Steelers.
An Entertaining Game
Philadelphia started strong scoring a touchdown on their opening drive. But Kansas City came right back to tie the score. Then the Eagles took advantage of a missed field goal. Jalen Hurts heaved a long pass to AJ Brown who scored on a 45-yard touchdown. The Eagles defense forced a three-and-out. Philadelphia driving when Hurts fumbled the ball and the Chiefs returned the ball 36 yards to tie the game. The Eagles came right back to break the tie. Patrick Mahomes hurt while scrambling. And Eagles added three points just before the half to take a 24-14 lead.
At this point, The Eagles controlled the game. Philadelphia scored on four of six drives with one drive stopped by an unforced error when Hurts dropped the ball. The Eagles defense held the Chiefs to a touchdown on their first drive. Then a missed field goal and two punts. The only thing that kept the game within ten was Jalen Hurts mishandling the football. During halftime, pundits speculated whether Chad Henne would open the second half as the Chiefs quarterback.
The Chiefs Come Marching In
But Mahomes was back. The Chiefs marched down the field on a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Seven of the 10 plays were on the ground including Mahomes scrambling for 14 yards. Whatever medical treatment he received at halftime worked. The turning point game of the next series when Kansas held the Eagles to a field goal. Philadelphia still led 27-21 but the momentum had shifted.
The Chiefs drove down the field again. This time Mahomes threw six passes including four of the seven JuJu Smith-Schuster caught in the game. The touchdown toss to Kadarius Toney took advantage of the aggressive Eagles’ defense leaving him wide open to take the lead early in the fourth quarter. Then, Kansas City forced Philadelphia to punt, and Kadarius Toney returned the ball 65 yards. With first and goal from the five, Mahomes connected with Skyy Moore for a 35-27 lead.
The Eagles answered with a score of their own. The big play a 45-yard pass from Hurts to DeVonta Smith. The Eagles used their push-from-behind quarterback sneak at least twice this series. Jalen Hurts scored from two yards out. Tie game 35-35 with 5:15 to play.
This is the End
The Chiefs started at their 25-yard line. But the highly-ranked Eagles’ defense was knocked back again. Isiah Pacheco gained 10 on a third and one play from the Kansas 47. On the next play, the previously hobbled Mahomes ran up the middle for 26 yards. On third and eight from the 15, Mahomes overthrew JuJu. A field goal would make it 38-35 but Philadelphia still timeout and 1:48 on the clock to tie it or win outright. But officials flagged James Bradberry for defensive holding effectively ending the game.
The Chiefs deserved the win. The Philadelphia defense laid an egg in the second half. While the Chiefs scored one and almost a second defensive touchdown. Patrick Mahomes proved he is a top-tier quarterback. Especially the gutsy play in the second half after hurting his foot just before halftime.
First, I thought overall the officials did a decent job officiating. Only nine penalties so they were not whistle-happy. Many folks including I disappointed that the game effectively ended with a penalty.
Replays clearly showed Bradberry tugging on JuJu’s jersey. So, it was a penalty.
Should the officials have thrown the flag in that situation? My answer is that it depends. Players in all levels of different sports are taught to play to the whistle. Part of that lesson is to play hard and don’t let up until the whistle is blown. The other part is to adjust your play to what the referees are calling. The answer to my question would require reviewing each passing during that game. If defenders tugged on an intended receiver’s jersey multiple times during the game and officials did not penalize it. Then defenders will continue since the officials have given tacit permission. In that case, the penalty should not have been flagged. But, if tugging on jerseys called earlier or had not occurred at all. Then the penalty appropriate to be called. For me, it is all about consistently applying the rules during a given game.
I believe the officials properly called the fumble returned a touchdown by the Chiefs an incomplete pass. Miles Sanders caught the ball but did not make a “football move” before the ball jarred loose. My question is what if that exact play was right on the goal line with the nose of the ball just over the chalk? Is it a touchdown or an incomplete pass? I believe current NFL rules robbed the Chiefs of a second defensive touchdown.
I’m not a fan of all these replay assistant calls. It just slows the game down and they still don’t get the call right 100% of the time. “The league … realizes that if a fan attends a game and goes away without remembering the referee, umpire, field judge or linesman, that a game must have been expertly officiated.” Former NFL Commissioner Bert Bell. The NFL had it right the first time.
The game announcers mentioned several times about the unique grass blend and the $800 thousand paid to make the field look great. But what I saw were players losing their footing on multiple plays. Both on the painted surface and the grass. Running backs, quarterbacks, and linemen all took turns slipping or sliding which impacted the results of plays on both sides of the ball. An embarrassment.
Can Steelers Compete?
After the game, a number of Steelers fans concluded that the 2023 Steelers could not compete with either Kansas City or Philadelphia. A popular opinion is that the Steelers must have a top-five quarterback and an offense that scores at will to have a prayer of winning another Lombardi. That may be the case.
But rather than trying to remodel the roster to emulate either team, I believe Pittsburgh must continue to build on the roster they have now. Re-sign key players scheduled to be free agents like Cam Sutton or Terrell Edmunds to name two. Sign free agents to strengthen position groups that have gaps like inside linebackers or linemen. And of course, take advantage of the draft. The Steelers need to make the playoffs to compete. Once there anything can happen.
YOUR MUSIC SELECTION
I always like to include a bit of music. Luckily for us, we can enjoy most Sunday’s. Not all can. Here is Bloody Sunday by U2.