Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Great Day For Pittsburgh and the Panthers

At the start of the day, three home teams had very high hopes.  The Indianapolis Colts planned to begin their march to the Super Bowl.  The Chicago Bears looked to advance to their first NFC championship game in 17 years.  And the Louisville Cardinals anticipated a victory over a previously undefeated opponent.  All three fell short of their goals.  This Sunday, the sports world belonged to Pittsburgh and the Panthers.



Most notably, the Pittsburgh Steelers stunned the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts 21-18 in an AFC playoff showdown.  Pittsburgh dominated the first three quarters before Indianapolis closed to within three with 4:24 remaining.  On fourth down, Peyton Manning was sacked on his own 2-yard line with 1:20 remaining, seemingly ending matters as reporters thought of 20 different ways to ask, “Peyton, what’s that stuck in your throat?”



The contest then ended as everyone expected it would.  First, a future Hall of Fame running back (Jerome Bettis) fumbled the ball away.  Then, a cornerback (Nick Harper) who was allegedly stabbed by his wife yesterday picked up the ball and looked to score a touchdown that would put the Music City Miracle and Immaculate Reception to shame.  The return was stopped when quarterback Ben “Call Me Butkus” Roethlisberger made the tackle.  Eventually, the Colts attempted a tying field goal, missed badly by the most accurate kicker in NFL history (Mike Vanderjagt).  I’m pretty sure a bunch of dinosaurs then came onto the field and started doing the Electric Slide.



Just as predictable as Pittsburgh’s triumph was the Carolina Panthers’ high-flying 29-21 victory in Chicago.  In November, the Bears kept the Panthers out of the end zone in a 13-3 triumph.  Today it took Carolina 55 seconds to score a touchdown.  A Bears defense that had allowed 61 points in eight home regular season games was grilled like a Chicago-style hot dog.  Carolina’s Steve Smith had 218 receiving yards, turning the Monsters of the Midway into the Windy City Wimps.  Just don’t tell them I said that.  Please.



However, the Panthers’ victory came at a price.  Running back DeShaun Foster, already subbing for the injured Stephen Davis, broke his ankle.  More seriously, Carolina’s win means that sports fans must endure another week of Jake “Daylight Come and You Gotta” Delhomme references from ESPN’s Chris Berman.  I don’t know what we’ve done to deserve that.



With karma on the side of Pittsburgh and the Panthers, Louisville faced a double whammy against the Pittsburgh Panthers.  The Cardinals entered with a #10 ranking, due to last year’s Final Four run and this year’s impressive victories over… well, due to last year’s Final Four run.  Trailing most of the game, the Panthers rallied for a 61-57 victory.  Sports bars around Pittsburgh erupted.  Because the Steelers were leading at the time.  Most of the city is still unaware that Pitt played a game today.



Pitt’s surprising undefeated run will surely end soon in the difficult Big East.  Louisville is one of four new additions to the league, which now has 16 members.  The Panthers will have a particularly tough time with #3 Villanova, which… hang on a second… this can’t be right…  Okay, they don’t even play Villanova?!  And they’re in the same conference?  How does that make any sense whatsoever?  Anyone?



Somehow, the NHL was immune to the Pittsburgh/Panthers effect.  The Florida Panthers were not in action today, but the lowly Pittsburgh Penguins lost 5-4 to the Nashville Predators.  However, since most of you were not aware of the existence of a team called the Nashville Predators, I’ll move on to the next paragraph.



I feel eminently qualified to comment on a big day for Panthers.  On a glorious day in 1984, my game-winning goal led the Northeast Panthers to the city junior high school soccer championship over the hated Northwest Vikings.  Way back in the days when you could mention Vikings in a sports column without inserting the phrase “sex boat.”  On that day I felt as Steve Smith does today.  Except that he doesn’t wear braces, and he’s not a dork.