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Quit cryin' about Heinz Field

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007

Someday, if the Field Grinches get their way, every pro football game will be played under a dome, on a freshly vacuumed carpet, with the thermostat adjusted to 68.5.

Lambeau Field will be rendered lame, Soldier Field the same.

No mud.

No snow.

No rain.

Mother Nature will be benched, relegated to the sidelines with a clipboard and a ball cap.

Sadly, this already has occurred in places such as Minnesota, where indoor football should be illegal. The Vikings built a proud tradition -- and embodied the rugged personality of their state -- at icy Metropolitan Stadium.

They now play in an oversize family room called the Metrodome.

Which brings us to the Steelers' 3-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Swampball, a game that has people ripping the Rooneys and decrying the conditions at Heinz Field.

An embarrassment, they're calling it. A blight on the organization.

ESPN's Sal Paolantonio went so far as to ask analysts Steve Young and Emmitt Smith, "Should this game have been played on that field?"

Let me answer that.

Should they have played the Ice Bowl at Lambeau in 1967?

Should they have played the 1982 AFC Championship Game in Cincinnati in a minus-59 wind chill?

Should they have played the Fog Bowl at Soldier Field in 1988?

Should they have played that picturesque, snow-and-mud fest between the Steelers and Bears two years ago at Heinz Field?

Should they have played the 1979 AFC title game at Three Rivers Stadium, the one commemorated with a Sports Illustrated cover shot of Terry Bradshaw sliding along the flooded field, under the headline, "SPLASHDOWN TO THE SUPER BOWL"?

Obviously, there was more at stake in some of those legendary games than there was Monday, but bad weather and horrendous fields - to this observer, anyway - make for fascinating theater.

And help to explain why so many of us are addicted to NFL Films.

Those who cited concerns about player safety should consider that the field Monday was nothing compared to the artificial concrete, er, turf, they used to play on at Three Rivers.

Bad-weather games might not make for the best test of skill, but they are a supreme test of will. Think of Hines Ward on the winning drive.

Think of tackle football in the mud and snow when you were young. We used to call it "slip-slidy football" back in Buffalo. We'd play two-on-two in the blizzard-battered streets, where onside kicks off the snow banks were perfectly legal and highly encouraged.

Even if your fantasy team suffered Monday, you must have found the man-versus-nature battle somewhat riveting. The hydroplaning. The quick-sand effect. The lack of on-field markings. The near-uselessness of kickers. All good stuff.

And when's the last time you saw a punt stick in the ground like a javelin?

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had a great answer Tuesday when pressed about the field conditions.

"It's football, man," he said. "It's an outdoor game that's played as you move into December. Everybody loved playing dirty football when you were a kid. What else is new• Guys had a great time. It created some adversity, we overcame it, and we found a way to win the game."

Monday's conditions were a fluke, by the way, caused by the confluence of five games in two days, a new layer of sod and a relentless rain. The Steelers do the right thing by allowing high-school teams to use their field. They tried to do the right thing by resodding it for Monday's game.

The team and the NFL should work to avoid scheduling games around the high-school finals, but, truthfully, Heinz Field hasn't provided that poor a surface during late-season months.

The New England Patriots seem to play pretty well there in January.

Steelers president Art Rooney II yesterday issued a public apology for the state of the field Monday. He really shouldn't have.

From this vantage point, that game was a thing of beauty.

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