The Boston Globe’s Jackie MacMullan on a Pittsburgh safety who managed to become, well, quite famous in the past week.
Long after a future Hall of Fame quarterback undressed him in front of a national audience, with touchdown bombs over his head and verbal bombs inches from his face, long after a raucous hometown Patriots crowd mocked him with a derisive cheer that sounded a bit like M-V-P, but upon further review was actually “Guar-an-tee,” young Pittsburgh safety Anthony Smith stood at his stall in the hush of the muted Steelers locker room yesterday and was offered a chance to rewrite history.
Smith is the second-year player who boldly – and foolishly – guaranteed the Steelers would win yesterday’s game against New England.
“Anthony,” I asked him, just minutes after New England shredded his team, 34-13, by scorching the secondary for 399 passing yards and four touchdowns, “If you could do it over, would you guarantee the win again?”
“Yes,” he answered. “I come out every game to win. In this league, if you walk into an arena planning to lose, you’re not a guy anyone will want to play with.”
Nobody can match New England’s ability to take the slightest perceived disrespect and transform it into a major – and personal – injustice. The Patriots relied on this tactic in Super Bowl XXXIX when loudmouth receiver Freddie Mitchell belittled their secondary. They worked themselves into a lather during last season’s playoffs when San Diego star Shawne Merriman predicted the Chargers would face the Jets, because they would beat the Patriots.
The latest victim of their motivational frenzy is Smith, the former Syracuse star whose aggressive defensive style was expertly exploited by the Patriots.
“We knew he plays that way, so we put some stuff to take advantage of that,” said receiver Jabar Gaffney (seven catches, 122 yards).
Patriots CD Ellis Hobbs is also a young, confident player who isn’t afraid to speak his mind or flaunt his abilities, yet he refused to be lumped in the company of Smith.
“I’ve said some things I’ve regretted,” Hobbs said, “but nothing to that degree. Nothing where I’ve gotten the whole East Coast ready for you, saying, ‘Come on over here so we can slap you around.’”
Perhaps this would’ve been a good time for some mature observer — Mike Tomlin? Jackie MacMullan? — to suggest that perhaps Smith is more naive than arrogant. His “guarantee” of a Pittsburgh win wasn’t volunteered out of the blue, it came from being questioned about the Steelers’ chances. Can we presume that if any members of the Jets profess to being scared shitless of facing the Pats next Sunday, MacMullan and colleagues will applaud their honesty rather than questioning their desire?