Once upon a time, for a very brief time, the Pittsburgh Steelers were a great bombing team ... a pair of deadly receivers in pattern, aces, with Terry Bradshaw counting to three, then smacking the launch button.
"Our philosophy was strike deep into the heart of the enemy," Bradshaw once said in a book. "If I had to throw a little diddly pass, my arm would freeze up. My brain would be yelling at my arm, Now don't you go throwing that junk anymore!
"I was fortunate, I had extraordinary receivers to throw to. I loved to throw deep; they liked to catch deep."
And thus some very pleasant memories were ushered back last Sunday as I watched a Pittsburgh team again blow apart an even fight with a heavy dose of the bomb ... 3rd-and-plenty, check the radar guidance, hit the switch.
It was Brad to Swann in Super X, those two jamming one down the barrel of the Cowboy six-shooter ... or the end of Super XIV, the Rams in their stiff contain coverage that made Terry yawn and his pair of ground-to-air rockets blowing the game to pieces.
This time it was Roethlisberger to some rookie named Brown. Not as fancy as the old days, but the rubble pile looked the same and the explanation was nearly as eloquent.
"Let's just chuck it deep," Roethlisberger said afterward in the postgame. "If they pick it, it will be a pick way down there, just as good as a punt. Ed Reed lined up to the left; that's always a key, to find out where he's at ... then I just throw it as far as I can."
Will the Steelers need the deep strike again this Sunday to pull away from the spirited Jets, whose defense has stiffed the top two quarterbacks in football on their way to the AFC title round?
Don't think so. In fact, I think it will be the other way around, with New York being the club that's forced to attack long-range, lobbing some type of shock play into the system and putting some damage on the defense. In their regular-season match back in December, the Jet shocker points came on a kickoff return for a TD and a safety. Flukies.
To survive another trip through Heinz they'll need more of the same this time. Expect Mark Sanchez to send his best deep-ball man, Santonio Holmes, way out there, to see what those Pittsburgh safeties are up to. Mostly he'll find them stride for stride, Troy Polamalu or Ryan Clark zeroing in on Holmes and looking to split his helmet open. But those Pittsburgh corners (Taylor, McFadden, sub Gay) can be beaten, and all it takes is one rocket to slip through the defensive shield and flip the game New York's way. Sanchez has been good in these playoffs ... patient, steady, careful. Those aren't the words typically assigned to a mad bomber.
Steelers 17, Jets 9
The NFC territories. Against the Packers, they couldn't get a pass rush together, and their little secondary men couldn't cover or disguise anything, and the best way to describe the Falcons' contribution to defensive football, other than "Rodgers 31 of 36," is a single word — desecration.
I put a helluva lot of thought to it, sifting through the old blowout files from prior decades ... Montana's victims, or Peyton's or Aikman's or Elway's. None of them had produced a softer, more disinterested display. At least I couldn't find one. My lord, a top seed, a home seed, outmatched, outcoached and, thankfully, out of the way. The only positive about a 2011 lockout would be not having to watch any more Atlanta pass rushers shuffle and flop around, or those DBs bending over to pick up their hop-scotch chalk.
And all that worry from the Green Bay side if James Starks could hold up the Packer ground game ... please. None of that mattered.
Aaron Rodgers wasn't tested. He sipped his iced tea and made his reads and came up with one of the cleaner sets of passer numbers the postseason has ever seen. The Bears will test him.
Green Bay doesn't come into the NFC title clean. At one point it was an 8-6 operation, but something flipped and it's been an upward push ever since. The only concern is that wobbly ground game, which Atlanta never bothered to test. We still don't know about this Starks. Can they pry him some room through that Chicago line, which will likely be playing it loose anyway? Sure, minimal yards, peanuts, whatever amount the Bear defense plans on conceding. Yes, they'll watch him good in the short-yardage settings.
But the focus will be the Packers' pass-catch game. If Chicago can put the clamps on it, like they were able to do in the Week 17 finale in Green Bay, then you figure Jay Cutler and his half-cocked weaponry can keep it a fourth-quarter ballgame. Then it becomes a field-position and a kicker thing.
But Rodgers hand has been bright crimson. Not from frostbite, folks. From the flames he's set about. From dealing in fire.
Packers 21, Bears 10
Tom Danyluk is an award-winning freelance writer based in Chicago. His book on pro football, "The Super '70s," is available at Amazon.com. You can contact Tom at Danyluk1@yahoo.com.