Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It Was An Ugly One Monday Night

The Heinz Field was worn from half an NFL season and high school and college games. Sunday night new sod was put down over the turf for Monday Night Football's national audience. But then the rain came. The field was drenched, and over-top the previous turf it had little drainage.They walked around with pitchforks piercing the field hoping to improve drainage. Field crew members covered it with tarps, but the seams leaked puddles onto the field.

The big game between the 0-10 Miami Dolphins and the Pittsburgh Steelers was delayed 25 minutes. But eventually they kicked off. The field was like a sponge. Players cleats sunk inches into the ground. Everyone moved in slow motion, kicking up splashes of water. In no time the playing surfaces was littered with more divots than Charles Barkley's home golf course. Numbering and lines became unreadable and then disappeared altogether. All you could see were the out of bounds lines, the goal line, and what faintly resembled a Steelers logo in the center of the field.

Ricky Williams was making his second return to the NFL following his reinstatement by commissioner Roger Goodell, but he only made it through 6 carries. 15 yards, one fumbled, and he left with a pectoral injury. Later in the second half the Dolphins would lose back-up running back Jesse Chapman, and be left dependent on 3rd-string back Patrick Cobbs, who only has 11 career carries in 2 seasons.

At half time the score was still 0-0. Neither team had made an appearance in the red zone. Only 5 plays went over 10 yards. The Dolphins had 71 total yards, the Steelers 112. Together they were 2-11 on 3rd Downs.

Frantically the field crew worked to improve the field during half time. The local marching band was held off the field as the crew laid down new lines. But it was in vain.

The second half was much of the same. Stuck in the 0-0 deadlock it became apparent that his was the type of game that would be one by as little as one score. Jeff Reeds 44 yard field goal attempt near the end of the 3rd quarter didn't even come close, tumbling wildly off course and short. Punts were knocked down from the swirling winds and rain, hitting the ground and dying immediately were they land. Twice the Dolphins went for it on 4th down rather than taking their chances with a medium range field goal.

It stayed scoreless far longer than any game since the merger of the leagues. The Dolphins were winless in the previous 11 weeks and it they remained one big play away from upsetting the 7-3 Steelers. The Steelers found themselves tied with the worst team in the lead, and this only a week after falling to the equally disappointingly 1-8 New York Jets.

Heading into overtime locked at 0-0 appeared completely possible.

With 4:13 left in the 4th quarter the Steelers took over on their own 42. With the help of 3 completions to Hines Ward for 38 yards, the Steelers slowly they worked down the field into the Dolphins territory. The first snap in the red zone did not come into the game until the Steelers were on the 19 yard line with 3:08 left in the game.

On 4th and Goal from the 6 yard line Jeff Reed and the Steelers lined up for what was anything but a give-me 24 yard attempt. With 20 seconds remaining Reed lifted the ball off the sloppy mud-ridden field and through the uprights to win the game for the Steelers 3-0.

To say it was an ugly game would be a vast understatement. It probably shouldn't have been played. Had it not been a Monday Night game on national television, it probably would not of. For the Dolphins it was another lose in a close game, and they fell to 0-11. For the Steelers they picked up a narrow victory, but were embarrassed by field issues that rendered the playing surface into almost unplayable terrain.

Surely this game will find its way into highlight reels of the future, but for none of the right reasons.