Kovacevic: Charlie Batch, Homestead tough
BALTIMORE — Whatever you do, don't dare call Charlie Batch tough.
Not for this.
Don't call Batch tough for standing tallest in the Steelers' 23-20 triumph over the Ravens on Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium. Sure, it was a scintillating script — the beleaguered No. 3 quarterback driving through the despised archrival for a last-second score — but it was still just a football game. A child's game.
Don't call Batch tough for showing he's still got that sharp arm and sharper sense that have kept him in the NFL for 15 years. This 25-of-36, 276-yard performance was 180 degrees from the Cleveland debacle, but as fellow old guy James Harrison put it after this one, “Nothing Charlie was going to do was going to surprise us.” Of course not. It was a mere matter of rust removal.
Don't call Batch tough for throwing that block on the Ravens' Cary Williams for Jonathan Dwyer's 16-yard touchdown run that sparked the comeback. Dwyer called the block “amazing,” and he didn't attach a QB asterisk. Then again, that's how the play is designed.
Don't even call Batch tough for weathering the two cheap shots that Baltimore's once-proud defense felt necessary to take on the final drive — head shots by Haloti Ngata and Paul Kruger — to stop a man three days shy of his 38th birthday. As Mike Tomlin shrugged off, “Toughness comes with the job, for everybody who plays that position for us.”
He's right. Quarterbacking is a job. And Batch did it better than any of us — I'll raise my hand if you raise yours — had expected.
Good for him.
But if you want to know what makes Charles D'Donte Batch truly tough, you've got to understand that all he really achieved here was channeling his inner Homestead.
If you want to know what that means, you could simply hear this exchange he and I had after all the cameras and microphones had cleared from his stall Sunday.
Did you think after everything that went wrong in Cleveland, I asked, that you'd just played your last NFL game?
Batch's eyes widened and fixed as he answered: “No. Absolutely not.”
Tough is enduring the senseless killing in 1996 of his younger sister, 17-year-old Danyl Settles, in gang crossfire in Munhall.
Tough is becoming the “rock of the family, the rock of the community” at age 22 when tragedy struck. That's how Batch's mother, Lynn Settles, described her son to me many years ago at a Homestead Eat'n Park, just as the football world was taking notice of her son as the upstart quarterback of the Lions.
Tough … yeah, Cleveland was tough.
But you should have seen Batch seated alone in that locker room nearly an hour after all those limp throws and three picks. The head never hung. The expression never changed.
Tough is preparing for this game, this special Sunday for him and his mates, even as he kept community at the forefront.
On Friday night after being inducted into the Steel Valley Hall of Fame, Batch was asked to speak at a banquet inside St. John Cathedral in Munhall. Of course, he obliged.
With his family and the Steelers' Max Starks among the 500 jammed in, Batch didn't pout about Cleveland or all the local criticism or being washed up or anything that would hint at self-pity. That's not him. He spoke instead of being “born 16 miles from Three Rivers Stadium and now wearing No. 16.” He spoke of hoping to “hang on for one more year when I signed here, and now it's 11.”
He called himself "so very lucky."
He spoke of his sister, too. He always does. Danyl's name adorns many of the community parks and programs Batch has built up in Homestead and Munhall. It's how she lives on.
It's why Batch lightly dismissed a question after this game about feeling urgency: “I look at every game like it's my last. A lot of people will look at it and make it out to be more than what it was. I wanted this opportunity because I played poorly last week.”
It's why he deflected credit: “The receivers did a great job of getting open, the line did a great job of protecting, and I was able to set my feet and have fun.”
It's why he even left open the chance of returning in 2013: “As long as I can play.”
When you saw Ben Roethlisberger embracing Batch right after Shaun Suisham's kick split the uprights, clinging emotionally for about a half-minute, know now that it wasn't because of a football game. It's because the Steelers understand better than any of us what makes Batch who he is.
“I've never known anyone as tough as Charlie Batch,” center Doug Legursky said. “We're lucky to have him.”