Awkward Playoff Kiss

Welcome back, friends!

The NFL playoffs for me as a rookie took on an out-of-body type experience. In theater, it’s called stage fright. During one game, I can describe my body as having cold feet, hands, and legs, and my arms being stiff and virtually immovable. Being stiff and rigid is a problem as punters, like other players, have to stay ready on the sidelines. Punters pride ourselves on our flexibility, our dexterity and preparedness, and our nonchalant display of mind over matter.

I remember this playoff game against the Houston Oilers vividly. We had already exchanged wins during the regular season. I felt like a seasoned player until this game. I questioned the effect from the stage fright caused by the intensity and loudness of the jubilant Steeler fans – No, they’re always that way.

Was it because of the rain all week that I was waterlogged and cold just like the footballs? Was it because 85% of this current Steeler team had already played in a Super Bowl, and the majority of that percentage had two Super Bowl rings already? Maybe that was it. Could I measure up? After all, I was a southern rookie in a northern town. Even living six months in the Pittsburgh area, I was beginning to notice my southern draw.

See! I had stage fright! Everything was the problem.

Somehow I managed to do my job well during the regular season, and I had done well up to this point in this playoff game. The final score stood and was set for most of the 4th quarter. That should have given me peace, but there was something still there.

The final seconds ticked off the scoreboard. Helmets and hats were flying in the air. The celebration had begun. I became reflective – now we are headed to the Super Bowl. I did not want to throw my helmet. I did not run around like a hysterical lottery winner. I just stood there at the end of our sidelines looking and observing the players and the crowd – fully absorbing the moments.

Suddenly a fan had jumped the railing and headed for somebody, anybody, and evidently, I was the target. All I know is from behind me I see a hand grasp my single bar facemask on my helmet with me in it. My head is forcibly turned to my right exposing puckered lips. The fan then planted a kiss on my nose. In the whirlwind moment, I didn’t have time to close my eyes or to say no.

At that moment, I had clarity.

The rigidness left my body as the warm blood triumphantly returned to my waterlogged extremities. The stranger, the unknown kisser who fortunately did not stay to intensify the awkwardness, ran backward away from me all the while giving me a thumbs up. He proceeded to jump up and down like a happy kid at recess as he disappeared into the crowd on the field.

This was the innocent contact I needed to bring me back to an in-body experience. The kiss defined the significance of being a Steeler. The Steelers, the Steeler fans are winners. I was then, and am now, part of the Steeler Nation.

To the Steeler fan who jumped the rail and kissed me: if you are out there and read this, if one of my sons ever becomes a Steeler someday, please just give them a high five. Ha, and thank you for being a Steelers fan!

Philippians 4:6-8. Amen, and go Steelers!! – Craig