Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Performance Art, David Mamet and the AFC Championship Game

A long time ago, like back in the Neil O'Donnell era, I went to an evening of performance art at Mellon Park put together by this artsy guy who I kinda knew because he dated somebody I knew. I didn't much care for him. I thought he was pretentious and annoying because he was pretentious and annoying. Also, he wore purple. Lots and lots of purple all the time and I don't think I ever saw him when he wasn't wearing at least one article of purple clothing. He had a simply shocking propensity for purple. Not a dignified purple, like Northwestern or Minnesota Vikings purple, either. It was more like the shade of purple preferred by pre-pubescent little girls, the shade they would squeal with delight to find in a pen and then proceed to sign everything in purple and write on the fronts of their notebooks and stuff. That purple. He even wore purple socks. In the summer. With shorts and running shoes. (I am not making this up.)

But I started thinking about him, and this particular evening of performance art because the over-arching theme was time. It was made up of many different vignettes, some of which were more monologue and others more, em, performance artsy, if you know what I mean. And when one of them was finished, Mr. Purple would bang this little gong he was carrying around and call "Time!," only he did it in a really annoying way -- like, "TIIIMMMMMMMMEEE!" -- he really laid on that "M" and dragged it out. Then we'd all walk, like lemmings, to another spot in the park for another vignette.

I found myself thinking about Mr. Purple calling "TIIIMMMMMMMEEE" yesterday morning when I was reflecting on the Steelers-Jets game because it seems to me it was all about time, it was about the Steelers offense's ability to drain nearly all the time out of the first quarter and about the defenses's ability to make the Jets use more time than they wanted to down the stretch.

They opened the game with a 15 play, nine minute touchdown drive. Nine minutes is an insanely long time for the Steelers offense (any offense, really) to be on the field. The Jets offense must have felt helpless, just standing there on a freezing night, watching the slow, inexorable tour of destruction that was the Steelers offense at the start of the game. They were down by seven points, with one-sixth of the game gone before Mark Sanchez even touched the ball. It felt like that opening drive set the tone for the whole first half, that the Jets had been almost lulled into a coma by the first drive. In fact, the Jets held the ball for just 8:04 in the first half. TIIIMMMMMMEE!

After the Jets gamely fought back to make it a two score game, they took over near the end of the 3rd quarter on their own 13 yard line. Though they drove the length of Heinz Field, James Harrison et al. forced them to use 17 plays to do it, and chew up eight minutes of clock before Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel stoned LaDainian Tomlinson at the goal-line. This was a muther of a goal-line stand.

I realize that the Jets got a safety on the very next snap of the ball, and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Of course. But think of it in terms of time. The Steelers forced them to use 12:38, almost a full quarter of the game, to score just nine points. TIIIMMMMMMEEE!

None of it works, mind you, if the Steelers offense cannot close them out.

In David Mamet's brilliant Glengarry Glen Ross, Blake tells the assembled sales team (selling what, I was never clear on) that they should:

"A-B-C. A-Always. B-Be. C-Closing. Always be closing. Always be closing."

QB rating be damned, Pig Ben is a closer. It may not be pretty and you may not be able to look at a stat sheet to see it, but he's got a killer instinct, an innate, uncanny ability to put a dagger in the other team's heart at just the right moment.

I've been critical of Bruce Arians from time to time (mostly, I just wish he'd take that little delayed handoff to Mewelde Moore and the reverse just out of his playbook. Out. Gone. Banished to the trash heap), but I have to applaud his play-calling at the end of the game, twice calling pass plays to pick up first downs when most other coaches would have just run the ball, punted and tried to pin the Jets deep. It doesn't look like much on the stats sheet:

2nd and 9 at PIT 42 B.Roethlisberger pass short right to H.Miller to NYJ 44 for 14 yards (A.Cromartie).


3rd and 6 at NYJ 40 (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short right to A.Brown pushed ob at NYJ 26 for 14 yards (E.Smith).

Just two relatively routine pass plays, but what those two plays really are is: "You see pal, that's who I am, and you're nothing. Nice guy? I don't give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here - close!"

I love the calls. Of course, I love the calls because they worked. But lets face it, only a handful of coaches would do it, have the ability to to do it, because there aren't that many closers out there. Pig Ben has never thrown for a bigger 28 yards in his life.

It is a synergy of a quarterback who can make those kinds of plays and a coaching staff that trusts him to do just that. Always Be Closing. That was a closing.

"Fuck you. That's my name. You know why, mister? 'Cause you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight, I drove an eighty thousand dollar BMW. *That's* my name."

Play big or go home. Once again, the Steelers are going to the Super Bowl. And they're not going in a Hyundai.

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