What an ending. Man alive, there is nothing better than a “walk-off touchdown” to finish a game. Of course, in order to truly appreciate the impact of Le’Veon Bell’s game-winning touchdown run, you needed to have watched every single heart-attack-inducing second of the Steelers-Chargers game. Likewise, you will need to read this entire article, in order to entirely understand the emotional roller coaster which I experienced during that game.
Let’s start at the beginning.
As I got out of my car in Qualcomm Stadium’s parking lot, I did a double-take, because I could have sworn that it was a Steelers’ home game. There was a disproportionate ratio of Steelers jersey to Chargers jerseys… something around twenty Steelers jerseys to every Chargers jersey. I shrugged that off, thinking that Chargers fans were probably still at work, and would be arriving right before game time. Indeed, by kickoff the ratio had dwindled down towards a fifty-fifty split, which is still amazing for a road game.
Fast-forward to when I arrived at my seat on the Chargers side of the stadium (note: that is the only side to sit on in Qualcomm Stadium, because the visitor side is routinely bathed in harsh, blinding sunlight). Being on the home side meant that I was sitting amidst a good many Chargers fans. I greeted everyone around me, ascertaining the “sportsmanship level” of those who may or may not throw beer on me. The Chargers fan to my immediate right was attending the game alone, and due to that circumstance and due to his friendly nature, we struck an accord. (Let’s give him the pseudonym: Joe.)
As the game was about to commence, Joe informed me that he had attended Virginia Tech at the same time that Michael Vick was playing there; hence, Joe was secretly rooting for Vick to have a good game. With that common denominator in place, Vick became the focal point of most of our conversations throughout the evening. Alas, for three quarters, it was a painful experience. That said, my jovial side made the best of a horrible situation, by wisecracking at Vick’s expense. In fact, Vick’s performance was so bad that at one point, I stated that the Steelers needed to get a safety (two points) and on the ensuing free kick, the punter needed to muff the punt, so that the Steelers could get in field goal range (three points). The result would be an eight-to-seven victory for the Steelers.
Obviously, I had zero faith in Michael Vick.
Knowing that my “low-scoring victory” scenario was improbable, I slightly altered my prediction: the Steelers defense needs to score a touchdown. Low and behold, on the very next drive, Jarvis Jones forced a fumble, which Shamarko Thomas recovered and returned for an apparent touchdown. Alas, the side judge blew the play dead after the fumble recovery so the touchdown did not count. Adding salt to the wound, Vick wasted great field position, by going three-and-out… and then, gaining zero yards on the next drive.
My confidence in Michael Vick had reached an all-time low.
Hence, once again, I revised my prediction: the Steelers’ defense needs to score a touchdown that is not called back. Not more than two plays later, Antwon Blake intercepted a pass and returned it seventy yards for a touchdown. Joe gave me a high five, as well as giving me credit for predicting that play. To which I retorted something about that being the “only” way that the Steelers were going to score any points with Vick at the helm. We both laughed… and then sighed, realizing that I was probably correct.
The next three drives were:
–San Diego: eight-play drive for a field goal
–San Diego: eight-play drive for a touchdown
At this point, the Michael Vick bashing hit an all-time low. Joe and I were taking turns ripping into Vick. It pained Joe to admit that a player whom he had profusely enjoyed watching in college, was now a shell of his former self. Likewise, I was pained to see the Steelers’ quarterback position played as poorly as I may have ever seen it played… with the operative word being “ever”. In fact, I actually stated that I was hoping that the defense would get back onto the field, because that was the only way I felt that the Steelers were going to score.
Then Vick hit a seventy-two yard touchdown strike to Markus Wheaton. And, Joe and I just stared.
Even more impressive was the eighty-yard, game-winning touchdown drive that Vick orchestrated with a little over two and a half minutes left in the game. On that drive, Vick hit passes of nine yards, fifteen yards, and sixteen yards; on one play, he ran for twenty-four yards; and, he also converted three third-downs. I am not saying that it was as important as Ben Roethlisberger’s final drive in Super Bowl XLIII, but considering the circumstances, it was every bit as impressive. And, the 30,000 or so Steelers fans in attendance agreed: when Bell scored, the eruption was louder than I have heard in a long, long time.
Even as I type this, chills are running down my spine.
To make a long story short, I have learned my lesson. I shall not berate a Steelers player, for it seems that they are better than this armchair quarterback. To Michael Vick, I want to say that Joe and I owe you an apology. Thank you for one of the greatest games that I have ever experienced.