JZ Sports welcomes our new contributor, Bill Eckert. This is his first piece for us, with more to come. He discusses his love for the Steelers and his expectations of the Giants, who he was raised to follow by his father. It's a dichotomy of one team's expectations to win and the other team's expectations to blow it in the final seconds. Enjoy the article and thanks Bill. 
A Steelers’ Giant Curtain
W.T. Eckert
     I knew I was going to write this column before I watched the games this Sunday. I wanted to compare the two teams that I watch most. Two teams that I believe couldn’t be more different. I discussed the teams and my plans for this column at length with Zack of JZ Sports Inc. and hung up at the start of game one: New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles. The winner would top their division. The game went just as I expected. Game two came after: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New York Jets. If the Steelers win they would claim their place in the playoffs and clinch their division. This was a game that could have gone to either team, but the match up also went as I expected.
     I blame my father for putting me in the situation of following two teams, however it is a situation I have grown comfortable with. You see, my pop is a diehard New York Giants fan. His love of the game spread throughout my family and every Sunday I’m subjected to the screaming and moaning that comes along with watching the Giants lose with disgrace or scrape by, winning by the skin of their teeth, possibly fumbling their way into the playoffs and Super Bowl. I say I’m “subjected” to this because, though I am supportive in the G-Men’s struggle to make the playoffs and Super Bowl, I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan at heart.
     Sometime in the early eighties my folks bought me a Pittsburgh Steelers Starter coat (the ones with the zip-up hoods, very old school). I have never been a guy who could wear a team’s colors and not support them. I went through a long-standing period where I could have cared less about sports and enjoyed the hard hitting sounds of 80’s Metal. It wasn’t until the mid to late 90s, with a little help from John Madden’s video game that I reemerged interested in the NFL and the Steelers.
      Having watched the two teams over the years, I couldn’t help but notice what polar opposites they have become, more so now then ever. Interesting, for a team that has a shared ownership through actress Kate Mara’s parents. The Steelers are a solid team. They are the kind of team that other teams use to test themselves against in order to find out what they are made of. It’s what the Jets did this week. The Giants have become, I feel, a team that the opposition isn’t as concerned with. As Desean Jackson said after the Eagles embarrassed the Giants this week, “No worries, I got nothing to say. We’re a dominating team.”
     The quarterbacks for each team couldn’t be more different: Eli Manning, who at times doesn’t seem he could run a bath, never mind an offense, does, at times, display serious heart by fighting off defenders while remaining in the pocket. His snap decisions, however, seem faulty at best. Though he had overall success in their remarkable loss to the Eagles this week, any success he found in his snap decisions were deeply rooted in luck, or receivers who knew they have to make a faulty play work.
     A prime example where Manning was fortunate enough not to give the ball away on a snap decision occurred this week when the blitz pressured Manning into quickly throwing the ball away, off of his back foot. But he doesn’t just throw the ball away; he bombs the thing down field into a flock of Eagles surrounding a singular Giant. The play should have resulted in a turnover. It didn’t out of luck, I say. I always get the impression that a hit is something that Manning is running away from.
     Ben Roethlisberger, on the other hand, comes off as the gladiator type, welcoming any and all defenders to have a try at taking him down. He stays in the pocket as long as needed but he is an unusually large QB. The greatest example of his toughness came in the matchup against the Ravens in week 13. With an already injured and taped ankle, Roethlisberger received a broken nose during a sack by Haloti Ngata. Carrying on like a leader, he finished the game and the Steelers walked away victorious. His snap decisions are designed to move his team forward and often times he finds success in these decisions.
     Though they lost against the New York Jets this week, they battled through. Going into this game, I knew the Jets were going to have something to prove, especially after the way they have embarrassed themselves over the last few weeks.
     Watching the game was exciting. It was a true battle with neither team resting on their laurels. The absence of the Steelers’ Safety Troy Polamalu (due to an ankle injury) always makes a difference in their secondary, but I can take nothing away from the kind of game the Jets played.  In the end, the Jets worked harder. From the opening kick return by Brad Smith to the Jets defensive damage with a safety during the last three minutes of the game, putting them ahead by 5.
     I’ve always had a problem with making plays with your backfield while in the end zone. And if you are going to make a backfield play, why wouldn't you have your explosive starting back who is going to get out of the end zone fast with a few yards. Granted Mewelde Moore is quick and elusive, but what the Steelers needed was a hole-puncher and a few yards and that would have been easily found in starting running back Rashard Mendenhall.
     The Giants played a very different kind of game. After being exposed to the Giants’ style of football, I have come to understand that, no matter how great their lead may be, the game isn’t a sealed deal until the final seconds have been completely removed from the clock. Their game against the Eagles proved my point perfectly. New York was so dominating throughout the first half of the game and then something happened; they played Giants football. The 24-3 lead at the start of the second half improved to 31-10 and it says a lot about the Giants when coach Tom Coughlin is as excited to see his team wax successful as I was from my living room couch. It wasn’t the only view that Coughlin and I shared.
     Giants’ football is a very special kind of football. It’s the kind of football where they have the ability to blow a 21-point lead in seven and a half minutes. Coughlin knew it too. When Vick made that 65-yard score with the help of Brent Celek, Coughlin folded his arms and had that “Oh no, not again” look on his mug. He knew what I knew. I said it before the game to Zack, Coughlin said it after the game to the press, “The game’s never over until it’s over.”           
     It should make my pop glad to know that Coughlin feels the same way he does. “It’s about as empty you get to feeling in this business,” Coughlin said in his response to the disastrous meltdown his team had. Of course Coughlin did the right thing and took the blame for this Giants tragedy, well, I thought he did until he followed, “I’ll take full responsibility for the last play,” with talking about how punter Matt Dodge was “a young punter. He was told to punt it out of bounds and he got a high snap and didn’t feel like he could.” Way to take the blame coach!
     In both games the death knell came in the sign of a punt return. For the Steelers it started the game and for the Giants it ended the game, both in time and in success. Between the two teams, I got what I came to expect. The Steelers can’t win every game, but they put up a fight and did so until the bitter (and it was bitter) end. The Giants had a great first 3 and a half quarters. Eli did an overall great job putting points on the board but Vick got the best of the Giant defense in the waning minutes of the game. He just, as Coughlin put it, “slithers his way out of there. Whether he ducked down or however he did it . . .” Yeah, however he did it. It’s all right coach, your head was probably so cocked off to the side in disbelief, as usual, that you probably missed that play. But hey, I’ll explain that to my father who, after 50 years of calling himself a Giant’s fan, decided to rip down all the NY Giants ornaments from his Christmas tree and call himself a free agent of football fandom. “I’m watching the game for the love of the sport with no specific attachments,” I recall the phone statement.
     Between my pop and my brother, I thought they had never watched a Giants game before the way they get that Coughlin reaction of bewilderment when the Giants cough up a win. I’ve since learned to keep my NFL emotional attachments in Pittsburgh where, if we lose, we know we did so taking no guff, some busted appendages and we leave with some heart. And pop, there’s room for you on my couch if you ever want to wear the ol’ black and gold while wielding a Terrible Towel!