Thirty-three reasons why I'm convinced the Steelers will beat the Patriots on Sunday.
No. 1: Pittsburgh is a city with its priorities in order. The first thing you see at the airport are two life-sized mannequins: one is of patriot George Washington, clad in red, white and blue and looking like he stepped off the side of New England's helmet; and the other is Franco Harris making his Immaculate Reception. Franco's mannequin looks like he could take George.
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Your life expectancy tends to go down any time you come in contact with James Farrior on the field.
No. 3: "We're gonna come out gunning for the Patriots and just see what happens," says Ward, who somehow remains underrated two seasons after winning Super Bowl MVP. "The greatest thing in the world is to play when no one's giving you a chance to win. It's like David and Goliath. No one's giving us a chance. But we've got a lot of guys who have won a Super Bowl, too. So we'll just have to see what happens."
No. 4: With 12:31 left in the game, during a TV timeout, Cincinnati wideout Chad Johnson waltzed over to the Steelers' huddle to try to use the team's cleat cleaner. Linebacker Larry Foote blocked his way, then stepped in front of him and threatened to drop-kick him into the Monongahela. There's a nasty, street fighting mentality in all great football teams and that includes the Steelers.
No. 5: Here's what I mean: "You take a little bit of football out of them with every hit you make," says linebacker James Farrior, the heart and soul of Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense. "Especially with wide receivers and quarterbacks, that's what you have to do: take a little bit of football out of them with each hit."
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No. 7: Speaking of former Steelers. I once interviewed Kevin Greene at his home in Alabama. In his basement was a family portrait from when he was a kid where Greene looked like a member of the Brady Bunch. He promised to kill me if I ever mentioned it in print.
No. 8: The Eagles and the Ravens almost beat the Pats. These are two mediocre teams -- at best. Baltimore was a 20-point dog for crying out loud. If Kyle Boller and A.J. Feeley thrived, what will a guy like Ben Roethlisberger be able to do? There is a cumulative toll that maintaining perfection takes on a team over the many weeks of a season and you're seeing the effect of that.
No. 9: Tony Dungy has said it, Don Shula said it Monday night and I'm sure Bill Belichick is thinking it: The perfect season doesn't really mean anything compared to a Lombardi trophy. At some point that mentality will manifest itself on the field, which means if the Pats check out, this game could get ugly.
No. 10: The Heinz Field JumboTron DJ. Is there a better kickoff riff than the Harley drum roll at the beginning of Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher"? Or a better postgame celebration song than U2's "Elevation"?
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No. 12: Fourteen of the Patriots' starters are players they drafted. They stock their team with cost-effective, young talent through the draft which frees up considerable money to go after the last few pricey ingredients in free agency. They coach up players from the late rounds. They do not overpay for aging players or take an emotional approach to keeping their own veterans. All concepts the Steelers pioneered long before Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli came along.
No. 13: Nose tackle Casey Hampton cannot be effectively blocked by a single lineman. Because the Patriots don't like to run out of an I formation with a lead blocking fullback that means Foote and Farrior and the rest of Pittsburgh's physical, fast front seven will be running free and playing downfield.
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If you want to keep Brady off the field, keep handing off to Willie Parker.
No. 15: the best way to slow down the Patriots' explosive offense is by grinding down the clock on the ground with guys like Parker.
No. 16: On the shuttle to the stadium Sunday night, a bunch of Steelers fans ditched one of their buddies at the hotel because he had brought his wife with him to the game. Steelers fans seem like the funny, self-deprecating type of drunk whereas Patriots fans strike me as the dude who is your all-time best bud at beer No. 4 and is threatening to gut you with a letter opener at brewski No. 8.
No. 17: If the Eagles and Ravens proved anything it was just how much pressure up the middle can disrupt Tom Brady's rhythm. And is there anyone better at that in the game right now than Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the mastermind behind the zone blitz? During one drive against Cincinnati, Steelers Swiss Army defender Brett Keisel lined up in six different spots. One down he's a defensive end, the next he's a linebacker, then he's got his fist in the dirt taking on double-teams, then he's on the edge as a speed rusher. Like the rest of his teammates, Keisel seems eager to get at New England, sensing the Patriots were ripe even before their Baltimore escape. "Oh no we want them undefeated, we want them at their best," he said. "I haven't watched much film on them but from the highlights I've seen it's pretty much chuck it up to Randy [Moss] and let Randy, when he's triple-covered, jump up and make a play. How do we stop that? Gotta get to Brady."
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Sprinting out of the pocket on a broken play is Big Ben's favorite field to feast on.
No. 19: The bank of eight flat-screen TVs in the media lounge in Pittsburgh. Six were showing the game telecast and the two on the outside were tuned to a Seinfeld rerun. I think it was the "Shrinkage" episode.
No. 20: No. 3: The Andy Warhol bridge. Iron City beer. Mister Rogers. And Sidney Crosby.
No. 21: There is simply no chance Ravens linebacker Bart Scott will be traded to the Steelers in the next four days.
No. 22: OK, the Ravens calling timeout before Brady got stuffed on fourth down was serendipitous. The offside call after that was lucky. The flag in the end zone was a fluke. And the ruling on the touchdown catch was divine intervention.
No. 23: Steelers owner Dan Rooney has been one of the Pottsville Maroons' most outspoken supporters. And when I saw him Sunday night in the Steelers locker room he made me promise to keep getting the word out. "That's a great story and a great team," he said. "The Steelers and Steelers fans have always supported Pottsville and we always will. Keep it going, OK?"
No. 24: Something called the Poverty Neck Hillbillies did one of those "Solid Gold" lip sync performances at halftime of the Cincy game that was so bad it looped all the way back around to good. The violin guy did his entire solo with the thing at his hip.
No. 25: A defensive coordinator in the AFC recently confirmed for me that the receiver cut the wrong way on both of Neil O'Donnell's horrific picks in Super Bowl XXX.
No. 26: The last thing New England fans want is another victory parade, trust me. At last year's holiday parade in my hometown Santa's helpers were throwing Junior Mints off the top of a fire truck. One of them beaned my daughter, Ally, in the head. I mean a perfect shot from, like, 30 feet away. She was crying. I was laughing. And no one around us thought my screams of "MAN DOWN, MAN DOWN!" were very funny. Not good. This year the whole parade sat still for 45 minutes after a clown was injured. Something that is very funny even though it's not supposed to be.
No. 27: The Patriots stink in the red zone. They are superb at just about everything else but they're dead last in the red zone, where a shortened field takes away a lot of their versatility.
No. 28: Normally a right tackle, Max Starks is playing great right now at left tackle. On Sunday night he shut down Cincinnati's best lineman, Justin Smith.
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When the Niners made their bid at immortality, the Steelers stopped them (in Candlestick no less).
No. 30: Payback. New England's entire dynasty has been built at the Steelers' expense. In both 2005 and 2002 the Patriots beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game. Which brings me to my next reason…
No. 31: No more Bill Cowher. Even with Super Bowl XL Cowher was one of the worst big-game coaches in the NFL. He froze under pressure and was incapable of adjusting in big games when his basic schemes didn't overpower opponents. That made him easy pickings for a guy like Belichick.
No. 32: The dance scene in "A Charlie Brown Christmas." It's hard to take your eyes off the yellow-shirted shoulder shimmy kid but have you seen Linus getting all nasty? This really has no connection to the Steelers and Patriots other than the fact that Chuck has been wearing Steelers colors for, like, 75 years straight.
No. 33: I bumped into Steelers coach Mike Tomlin outside Heinz Field at about 12:45 a.m. Monday morning. He looked cool and relaxed in his jeans and sport coat and as he headed to his Escalade in the breezy, cold night air I noticed that under his arm was the 5-inch-thick Steelers playbook. Tomlin had six days to prepare, one more than the Pats, and he walked confidently, like a guy who had all the answers to the Patriots right at his fingertips. We'll see.
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His latest book, "Breaker Boys: The NFL's Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship,", published by ESPN Books, has been optioned as a movie. In addition, he is the author of the memoir "Noah's Rainbow."The Flem File will run each Thursday during the NFL season.