Team players

Chris Cornell looks over the heads of his offensive line, trying to read the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense. Blitz? the Soundgarden singer and Seattle Seahawk quarterback thinks. No, just a pass rush. I can see Rusted Root crowding my man Mark Arm at left tackle. And sure enough, the loopy Pittsburgh jam band is cheating on the Seahawk snap count, making their rush much less than super unknown. Before Rusted Root or the rest of the Steelers know it, Seattle center Jeff Ament has fed Cornell, who rolls out and hits wide receiver Sir Mix-a-Lot for a 20-yard reception. Touchdown, baby. Put 'em on the glass.

But the Steelers aren't down for the count. Head coach Bill Cowher turns with a scowl toward the Ford Field stands. A pocket of Steeler faithful catches his eye; they've traded their terrible towels for a homemade sign. "Expunge the Grunge," it reads, and Cowher smiles. On a hunch he puts in promising young quarterback the Modey Lemon, whose bluesy punk scraggle can't be stopped by any sardonic pop fronting from the Presidents of the United States of America. Those guys might eat peaches, but without star linebacker Lump (out since Week 11 with a hip flexor), PUSA's front four is porous. The Steelers exploit that weakness all day, to the tune of two more touchdowns, and by halftime they're leading Seattle 21 to 7. At that point, Terry Bradshaw starts whinnying and speaking in tongues. But everyone agrees that he probably would've been doing that anyway, even if it were the Bears and Colts in Super Bowl XL. Dude played too many games without a helmet on.

Pam Oliver corrals Cornell coming out of the tunnel after halftime. "Chris, you've fallen on black days, failing to score on your last two drives. What do you need to do to get back in the game?" "Well, we've got to get back in this game, you know?" Cornell says. "We've got to give 110 percent out there, and leave it all on the field. It's been a long season, but save for Lump we've remained largely injury-free. We know this is what we've been playing for all year, so we just have to go out there and play our game and hopefully come out with a win."

Mix-a-Lot puts a motor in the back of his own Honda soon after the third quarter starts, lighting up Rusted Root for another 100 yards receiving. Appar-ently it's difficult to defend the pass effectively when you're clutching a didgeridoo. The score is tied at 21 by the end of the third, and tensions are high. An impromptu Anti-Flag gig breaks out on the Steelers' sideline, and Hammerbox reunites in the Seahawks' end zone. Young Brandi Carlile consoles a moaning Eddie Vedder, and Pittsburgh pop mainstay Weird Paul Petroskey agrees to become the first-ever vocalist of churning math rockers Don Cabellero. Anything to keep morale up, you know?

The Modey Lemon keeps completing passes with the precision of a band that's driven 37 hours for a gig, but Cornell keeps countering with Jesus Christ poses and hot routes to the chief boot knocka. As the game remains tied into the fourth, the frazzled head coaches engage in some Super Bowl psy-ops, their own XL mindfuck. Seahawk head coach Mike Holmgren dons an Andy Warhol novelty wig; Cowher does his infamous Space Needle impersonation. Neither coach is willing to give an inch; instead they give each other the finger.

It remains a feverish battle all the way to the end, Pittsburgh brawn versus Seattle temperament. Eventually there are only three minutes left. It's second down, Seahawks ball on the Steelers 48-yard line. Cornell needs a long 12 yards to get a first. The line jumps once, and then a gadget play fails. It's now third and 17, and Ford Field is louder than love. I've got to watch that zone blitz from Rusted Root, Cornell thinks as he crouches under center. But what about those rambling rockers in the Clarks? They're patrolling the secondary! Ament's snap is good, but Cornell has nowhere to throw. In a bizarre turn of events he freaks out, throws off his helmet, and leaves the game to join a crappy post-grunge supergroup. Experience Music Project co-founder Paul Allen replaces him at QB, but he's no match for Rusted Root's vaunted blitz. They intercept a pass, return it for a TD, and send the Seahawks on their way back to Seattle. Steelers win, Steelers win, and somewhere in Detroit Terry Bradshaw starts speaking in tongues again.

Johnny Loftus is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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