Then he breathed it in, exhaled it out and experienced an exhilaration, as he'd later tell me, he'd never experienced at Heinz Field.
This was the fourth quarter. The Steelers' defense had just taken the field. Four-point lead. A once-promising season seemingly on the line. Tom Brady in the far huddle, Bill Belichick on the far sideline. And in this minute and change, with all outside eyes tuned out because of a TV timeout, Pittsburgh and its football franchise, two entities that cannot exist without each other, had themselves a bit of a moment.
The 65,280 on hand rose to their collective feet, whipped up a small wind with their Towels and, my goodness, did they cheer. And scream. And probably belch somewhere in there, too. And eventually, all that cacophony cranked up into one of those majestically coarse roars that once were so common around here.
You know the sound. It's different. It's got the same decibels, but it's defiant.
"That's not for us. Not when it gets like that," David DeCastro was telling me, referring to the crowd's common reactions for the offense. "That's for our defensive guys. That's the only time you'll hear it like that in here."
Been a while, huh?
Watt loved it. And he wanted more. So he stepped out to the left of the line of scrimmage, the TV timeout still going, and waved both his arms. Then more animatedly. Then to the point he was whipping up his own small wind.
Because on this day, my friends, these two entities were again one and the same:
[caption id="attachment_739960" align="aligncenter" width="1500"] A fan and T.J. Watt, Sunday evening at Heinz Field. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
So much has gone so weirdly for this team. Won six in a row, then lost three in a row. Chased the AFC's top seed, then got chased by the Ravens and even the Browns. Drama's been followed by apparent stability, then more drama, then who-knows-what's-next. It's been harder to read than the Raiders' X-ray machine.
But the one constant, at the risk of inflating an intangible, is that they haven't connected with their own city.