AFC battle with Steelers draws friends together
(Posted to Fairfield.Patch.com 1/23)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Fairfield, CT – It was the much anticipated AFC Championship showdown in Steel City between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers. Football enthusiasts across Fairfield were planted on bar stools and dug in at home ready to witness history.
A dedicated Jets fan, Woods End Road resident Ken Kubel was one of many hosting home festivities and had pulled out all the stops. The main feature: an 8-foot wide x 4-foot high screen and hi-def projection unit with mini tower speakers for surround sound effect. This was set up in a 24’ x 20’ back family room with vaulted ceiling in which several couches and recliners had been arranged.
In the spacious kitchen, a dedicated, fully-stocked beer refrigerator had been established along with a full chili-and-fixings table and secondary snack set-up with bacon bread, chips, salted nuts and dips. In the wings, sausage and peppers, sandwiches and buffalo chicken nachos.
Attendees, wearing the green given a majority Jets backing, began trickling in early while the Green Bay Packers were completing a mostly dominant 21-14 performance against the stubborn Chicago Bears in the earlier NFC Championship.
Among the arriving Fairfielders was Mill Plain resident Paul Mucha, Lawrence Lane’s Will Silbert and Woods End Road’s Dave Pierpont and Curtis Clarke. Among out-of-towners were Sheltonites Carl Leonzi, Brian Pisanelli and Kevin Sands; Monroe resident John Evans; and Stamford’s Diane Mucha.
There was also a generous helping of youngsters, who had mimicked their elders with jerseys and warpaint, and wives.
“Just as last week (against the Patriots in the AFC Playoff), again the Jets are underdogs, but I believe it’s going to be the same turnout – another Jets victory and we’ll be going to our first Super Bowl in 42 years,” Kubel said, referencing the team’s 1969 win. Since, the Jets have played for the conference title in 1982, 1998 and last year, but never made it back to the Big Dance. In contrast, the Steelers hold six Super Bowl trophies.
The game time temp in Pittsburgh was 15 degrees – 5 with the wind chill – and fans were bundled. It was no warmer here at home, and the house crew was glad to be indoors.
The Steelers had first possession, with QB Ben Roethlisberger on point, and ate up more than nine minutes of the clock to achieve a first TD and take a 7-0 lead.
“The Steelers managed their time well, keeping the Jets offense off the field,” observed Sands, “but New York could turn around and score right now.”
Unfortunately, Jets QB Mark Sanchez couldn’t put a good reply together and the score held at the close of the first.
“I think the Jets are biding their time… but they can’t bide too much time,” said Pierpont. “This game will be won in the second half.”
In the early minutes of the second quarter, NY had a lucky pick-off on a 4th-and-1 Pittsburgh push, but again couldn’t produce.
“Typical. Jets, Mets and Nets,” said Carl Leonzi, a Yankees, Rangers and Giants fan. “They don’t look anything like last week,” he added, going against the grain of the crowd.
New York’s lackluster resulted in another Pitt score – a field goal – with seven minutes left before halftime. At the two-minute mark, Roethlisberger pushed the score up again, running in for a TD, making it 17-zip. “Let’s go Rangers!” Kubel mocked, then, “Time to move on to hockey!” Someone else cried, “Who wants to buy my sweatshirt?” referring to his Jets-logo’ed attire.
The pain didn’t stop there when, seconds later, Sanchez was clobbered, fumbling the ball to allow another Steelers TD. While New York mustered a last second field goal, the Steelers were rocking a 24-3 lead at the half.
Jets fans were despondent but still hopeful. “We need to rally and explode in the next half,” said Matt Kubel, 10.
Kubel may have lit a fuse with his remark as, three minutes into the third, Santonio Holmes caught a Sanchez bomb and scored, closing the gap 24-10. How quickly hope returned to the room… and things started to happen… an interception mid-3rd, a couple of sacks; long pass connects.
The score held going into the 4th and the Jets kept pushing. Mid-4th, they were at the goal line knocking but couldn’t get in. In a twist, a safety resulted, pushing the score to 24-12, Steelers. A follow-up drive punted the score up to 24-19. From oblivion, they’d re-emerged as contenders.
“They’ve pulled this kind of thing off in the regular season,” said Kubel. Hopefully they haven’t climbed back for nothing,” said Silbert.
Unfortunately, it was all for naught, with NY allowing first downs that led to their demise.
Cries of “Let’s Go Packers” closed the party in the Kubel house. “Better luck next year,” said the host.