College football finds itself in a perilous position on the eve of the 2020 season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are obsessed with the Patriots, largely because New England has had the wood over Pittsburgh in recent times, including the AFC Championship Games in 2002, 2005 and 2017.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has found the going even tougher, fairing 2-7 against the Patriots since he assumed the role in 2007.
Proof of this obsession with the Patriots came to light in November during an interview with Tony Dungy on NBC. Pittsburgh’s meeting with New England was still two weeks away, but Tomlin made no secret of the fact he was looking ahead to that game and beyond.
“Man, I’m going to embrace the elephant in the room. It’s going to be fireworks,” he said.
“[The game] is probably going to be part one, and that’s going to be a big game. But probably, if we’re both doing what we’re supposed to do, the second one [the AFC Championship game] is really going to be big. And what happens in the first is going to set up the second one, and it’s going to determine the location of the second one.”
While the average punter would agree with Tomlin’s notion, it’s one thing for Joe Blow to summarise the AFC is a two-horse race between the Steelers and New England, it’s another for a professional head coach to disrespect the NFL and essentially give the middle finger to two divisional rivals in Cincinnati and Baltimore, whom Pittsburgh played in the ensuing weeks.
History shows the Patriots won a controversial game against the Steelers 27-24, thanks to an overruled touchdown catch that would’ve handed Pittsburgh the game. Losing on a contentious call no doubt only fuelled the fire for Tomlin and his players.
Fast-forward to the playoffs and the Steelers drew the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round, with the winner advancing to the AFC Championship game. Anticipating a rematch of last year’s game, some loose-lipped Steeler players followed their coach’s lead.
There was this tweet from Le’Veon Bell:
I love round 2’s…we’ll have two round 2’s in back to back weeks…
— Le'Veon Bell (@L_Bell26) January 14, 2018
Then safety Mike Mitchell was quoted in Sports Illustrated saying, “We can play them in hell, we can play in Haiti, we can play them in New England… we’re going to win.”
The golden rule of sport is never provide your opponent with motivation, and the Jaguars fed off this arrogance on the way to an upset win and a ticket to Foxborough to play the Patriots.
In a way, New England beat Pittsburgh without even stepping on the field, because this franchise has completely infiltrated the minds of the Steelers.
The desire to beat the Patriots proved a distraction, as Pittsburgh didn’t warrant Jacksonville the respect they deserved, and ultimately it cost them.
New England psyched out Pittsburgh and Tom Brady didn’t even have to hike the ball.