Head games: Harrison not singled out
The NFL didn't necessarily single out Steelers linebacker James Harrison when it issued an edict that helmet-to-helmet blows will no longer be tolerated. But with $100,000 in fines this season -- that's with one reduced by $25,000 -- the Pro Bowler is an example of the league's intolerance to an increasingly violent game.
In a season partly defined by the league's crackdown on such contact and jaw-jarring shots to defenseless players, two unapologetically physical teams -- the AFC champion Steelers and NFC champion Green Bay Packers -- collide Sunday in Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas.
Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, said the league is confident that most players have adapted to the new, stricter rules. But pressure appears to be on the game's officials to apply what players have described as ambiguous rules without adversely influencing the outcome.
"I understand where the league and officials are coming from in trying to make the game safer," said Steelers backup quarterback Byron Leftwich. "But it's hard to ask those guys, especially defensive players, to ease up.
"You really don't want a game determined by a 15-yard penalty where a team gets a first down. You don't want a game of this magnitude to end that way."
No one, including Harrison, expects referee Walt Anderson and his crew to be lenient on the biggest stage in pro football. Anderson said the NFL expects the officials to call the game the way they have all season.
"We would always like (the rules) to be crystal clear, but obviously it is not a perfect world," Anderson said. "We are working hard to try to minimize confusion and to be clearer as we go through and forward."
Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor said the possible consequence of head shots isn't a concern as the Steelers seek a record seventh Super Bowl title and their second in three seasons.
"The way we play football, we'll have to suffer the consequences of a high shot," Taylor said. "We'll rally around one another and put up enough money to pay each other's fines. We've got to play football the way we know how to play football."
The Steelers and Packers play a similar style, especially defensively. Both are aggressive and intimidating.
"We think we understand what (the officials are) looking for, but everybody's just got to be smart," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "I think if we take the commonsense approach, it'll keep us away from getting penalties."
"I suspect they'll (call the game) the way they've been doing since they've been enforcing the rule," said defensive end Nick Eason. "I don't think anything is going to change because it's the Super Bowl.
"We're going to play physical because that's how we play. We're not going to be thinking about calls."
Even though Harrison's roughing penalties and four fines drew more attention throughout the regular season, the Packers' defensive unit also has been accused of dirty play. The league fined linebacker Nick Collins for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Dallas receiver Roy Williams.
"I think they'll call the game close because it is the biggest game and everybody's watching," Steelers safety Will Allen said. "You've got to play the game because if you get fined, you get fined. You can't control everything. It's a contact sport -- that's the way it is."
The league last week re-emphasized the need to protect exposed quarterbacks -- even in the playoffs. They levied a $10,000 fine on Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers for a blow to the head of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game.
"We can't think about how they're going to call the game," said Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor. "The slightest hesitation will cause you or someone else to get hurt.
"When you start thinking, you can't play. This is a fast game, so a collision is going to happen -- and some of those might be helmet to helmet. If the flag is blown, you have to keep playing."
Q&A with Max Starks
So many guys have been here before, but what does it mean to see Flozell going?
MS: A lot of us in this locker room have been here since 2004, 2005, and I wouldn't say we're numb but we have an expectation level that we're always going to be in the hunt for a championship, and now three out of six years we've had that opportunity. Now to see Flozell in his 13th year, and he's been fighting for this opportunity his entire career, come to Pittsburgh at the last minute, learn a brand new offense and then come to this point where he's going back to Dallas where he started his career is awesome. You couldn't write a better story for him.
How has the experience changed from year to year for you?
MS: My first year I was at right tackle, the second time I was at left tackle and now I'm middle bench I guess so each experience has been different and meant something different. This one's special to see what this offensive line has grown into and what we've accomplished as a unit. Just to see guys step up to the plate big has been paramount for our success. I love the guys in this room, and those guys are definitely deserving of this. It's going to be a good time in North Texas.
Any one memory stand out above the rest?
MS: Both are special, but Detroit was the same spot where my father played his one and only Super Bowl against the 49ers. He lost. But he was the only guy to sack Joe Montana, so to practice in the Silverdome and know my dad played there was special. And my mom's from Detroit. Going to Tampa is as close as I'll ever get to playing at home in Orlando, so to get to play in front of the home crowd and audience with all my friends and family I grew up with. So those are definitely really special memories, and now this one for Flozell, because he's one of the guys I looked up to as a young guy. To play on the same team as him and get to take him back to Texas the way we took Jerome to Detroit is special.