Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thank You, 12-5 Steelers

Where I live, I'm likely to be booed for this post. So be it. Football fans are immature and psychosomatic. Even I needed a day to defuse after this past weekend's irksome playoff round. For a moment, I was infuriated my football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, just had to be the ones who gave Godboy Tim Tebow his coming out party. As much as this kid was both crucified and glorified all season, the Denver Broncos were the one team I sure as heck didn't want my team to square up against. It was a media bonanza in the making and unfortunately, Ike Taylor and the chewed-up Steelers secondary let Mr. Tebow throw near-Hail Marys all over the place en route to an unbelievable first round dispatching.

I'm a big boy, though. Disgusted as I was watching a first play bomb go for an overtime Denver win to send the Steelers home earlier than most expected, it's a done deal, I'm over it now. Life goes on. I have things to do, stories to write, people to network with. Tebow will either serve the New England Patriots a gridiron hymn or two or he'll be thanking the Lord from the locker room for the end of an improbable miracle season that got him and the Broncos this far. John Elway taught his elevated disciple a few tricks about stunning the favored opposition. Kudos, kid, you bucked the odds and the naysaying oddsmakers. People are kneeling all over the country in your honor instead of God's. Therein lies the dumb irony of this Tebow fad--and it is a fad.

I'm happy to see a lot of Steeler Nation reaching out to the team and the coaching staff to thank them for a 12-4 regular season that would've been a division winner in most cases, save for when your main nemesis boasts the same record and has busted your balls twice in the same season.

Of course, I happen to live where the Baltimore Ravens roost and I can vouch they're partying down here already as if it's Super Bowl weekend and the purple birds have a three touchdown lead over the NFC conference winner. People in this town consider the Steelers their main enemy to the point of ridiculousness. Much as Baltimore Orioles fans used to condemn the New York Yankees as vile invaders everytime the pinstripes set foot in Charm City. Nowadays, the Orioles have posted so many losing seasons in a row the Yankees fans have free reign over Oriole Park at Camden Yards whenever the Bronx Bombers hit town. Can you imagine a day if the gold and black took over M&T Bank Stadium? Not bloody likely, but you get the sentiment.

I won't talk to many football fans unless it's a general conversation about the league overall. Bring any smack talk of any kind and I'm over you, just like that. When you don't actually play the game, how you find the wherewithal to use possessive lingo such as "we," "ours" and "us" is just arrogant stupidity. Worse is when a fan claims "our" team will kick "your" asses. I just can't stomach it. I really can't. So let the Bronco fans Tebow in the streets in genuflection of their season savior. Let the Ravens geeks squawk all they want. If they falter to the Houston Texans this weekend, it's all for naught. Ain't the beer cold, huh, peeps? You have to be from Baltimore to get that reference.

All of that being said, I want to offer my thanks to coach Mike Tomlin and defensive guru Dick LeBeau for a sometimes hard to watch though overall happy season. Moreover, I want to thank the grit of the team itself for continuing to show up even banged up every week. While everyone's getting a good nyuk this week over the email showing Tim Tebow in Heaven and Ben Rothlisberger in Hell, the point everyone lost is that Big Ben at least had enough character to play a respectable level of football while injured. As he has in the past. His numbers the past three to four games aren't all that pretty, but at least the guy showed up. You either forgive Ben's past sins or you don't. The Ravens' Ray Lewis forever carries a stigma out of Atlanta he doesn't deserve but he has the respect of the league evermore. I guess people missed when Rothlisberger pointed skywards during games before Tebowmania ever came about. Ditto for when Ben and Ray Lewis prayed together on the sidelines after each game they knocked heads in. Seriously, though, God favors no team, so get real...

At least we've learned the Steelers offensive line is willing to put their bodies on the line for Roth again, even if most of those bodies got broken up this year, particularly at the center position. You won't find a tougher quarterback in the NFL in this age of pretty boys and numbers crunchers. I'm not saying it to be biased; I've never seen a meathead such as Ben Rothlisberger who will lay it all on the line for his team, no matter how beat up he is. The league and the league's best all inflicted their punishment upon #7 last year in light of his purported (never admitted or confirmed) transgressions and he ate it all up like a man. This year he played hurt after putting up mostly solid numbers. Did it cost his team in the end? Yes and no, but the guy showed what a football player is all about. Go ahead and boo Big Ben if it makes you feel good about yourself, but no professional football player trying to win a ring would scoff at having a bona fide tough guy like Rothlisberger helm his offense.

Thank you to Troy Polamalu, as always. Doubtful he'll repeat as defensive player of the year (that honor will probably go to the Ravens' Terrell Suggs, who stands to inherit their daunted defense once #52 hangs it up), but Polamalu continued to show what instinct does for an already speedy defenseman. Sometimes Troy got burned by overextending a play or by leaving open men in the trust of others in the secondary (cough, cough, Ike), but you can put together a highlight reel of Polamalu's 2011 season that'll rival any of them. You're righteous as always, brother.

Thank you, Antonio Brown. What a breakout season with all-around stats on receiving, running and special teams. All season long we heard the commentators say over and over how Coach Tomlin cited Antonio Brown as the hardest working man on the team. Try one of the hardest working men in the whole damn league...

Thank you to Rashard Mendenhal and Mike Wallace for doing your best to open up the offense. Not easy trying to light up the stat sheet as a running back in a season where passing became the norm for most teams including this one. Wallace was Mr. Electric many times this season. Hopefully he's ditched that awful faux hawk for good. Thanks most of all to Heath Miller, one of Pittsburgh's most reliable receivers and also one of their classiest. Similar to former Ravens receivers Brandon Stokley and Todd Heap, Heath Miller is a tank in the open field who makes most of his catches, takes a number of beatings and leaves his mouth shut. In an era of football where trash-talking, muscle-flexing divas rule, kudos to Miller for showing the old school rules. A quick shout-out to Hines Ward for posting his thousandth reception and twelve thousandth yardage points. Not bad on top of a glitzy dancing trophy. Keep away from the car keys when you've been tipping the bottle, though, Hinesy, eh?

Thank you, James Harrison and the entire Steel Curtain. Harrison has been the league's favorite bitch in terms of enforcing helmet-to-helmet fines. I can only imagine what players from Mike Singletary's day on back to the real bruisers of the NFL (ala Artie Donovan, Ray Nitschke and Dick Butkus) must think about the hypocritical policing of defensemen today. Yes, we would rather see our gridiron heroes live into their elder years with their brains intact, but Harrison has remained a perpetual scapegoat for a position where you're taught to clobber and play at a high level of intensity. Harrison got another fine and a suspension this year on top of missing a few games due to injury, but when he was on top of his game this season, he was a difference maker.

There's many players I'm unintentionally ommitting like the Viking-esque Brett Kiesel, whose exit in the Denver playoff game was more detrimental in that loss than most people realize. It wasn't just Tebow lighting up the depth chart. He didn't have Kiesel chasing his ass around, nor Polamalu since the latter had to back up and cover the gap lost to the sideline instead of engaging Tebow with his usual mad dog pursuit. Cheers to Tebow for making the Steelers' D look shabby, but the banged-up Kiesel was a sad reality to a fine season lost through adversity.

No excuses, as they say. In the NFL, you figure out how to win, or you go home, regardless of the amount of personnel lost. Which leads me to again thank Coach Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau for ingeniously orchestrating a 12-4 regular season that could've gone much worse given all the guys they lost. Award of courage goes to Tomlin for putting safety before glory by making the right decision to bench Ryan Clark, who has sickle cell anemia and nearly died from the altitude of Denver a couple years back. A controversial call that brought out jeers from cowardly football "fans," Clark was reported as saying Coach Tomlin treated his situation the way he would if it his own son. Kudos times the power of three.

Yeah, Pittsburgh should've won the second Ravens game and they choked by not kicking the field goal within the play clock allotment. You can't always trust your defense when your opposition knows you so well. They got burned. Yeah, the Steelers shot themselves in the feet out in San Francisco, but so did the Ravens in San Diego the same weekend. Bad juju on the west coast for each team on top of poor officiating in both games. The bottom line is the Ravens owned the Steelers this year and I believe that must've weighed as heavy on the Steelers' minds as the revolving injuries they had to adjust through the season. At least they posted two shutouts and the least amount of points given up prior to the playoffs. Okay, they got Tebowed in the end, but they lumbered into Denver instead of gimped, so let's cut Pitt some slack.

You have to tip your hat when your team slugs through turmoil instead of folds up. Whether you love 'em or hate 'em, at least the Steelers were still feared in 2011, all the way down to a playoff game they were expected to win and crumbled under their own faltering weight. Divine intervention? The press likes to joke it up in the interest of headlines, but Steeler fans aren't laughing. The whole good versus evil tripe surrounding last weekend's playoff game superceded the event itself, stupidly enough. Denver pulled off a deserved upset, but there's no tangible reason why Steeler Nation shouldn't be proud of 2011--not when so many men gave life and limb just to make it to the playoffs.

And seriously? Let Hines take his pay cut if the cap demands it and finish out as a Steeler. It shouldn't even be up for discussion. Nobody wanted to see Emmitt Smith (a dancing champion in his own right) finish his stellar career as an Arizona Cardinal. They may have silent bounties on 86 here in Baltimore, but once Ward finally steps down, it'll all be moot on his way to Canton.

Finally, prayers go out to Kirby Wilson, the Steelers' running backs coach who was badly burned in a fire prior to the AFC playoffs. We don't need a Tim Tebow to lead us on wishing you Godspeed in your recovery...

Photos courtesy of and available for purchase at www.pittsburghsteelers.com

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