Hus­tle play im­presses

Mc­Don­ald’s chase last week earns Steel­ers team­mates’ re­spect.

The Citizens' Voice - - Sports - BY WILL GRAVES

PITTS­BURGH — Vance Mc­Don­ald heard the dreaded “dou­ble thud” and then just started run­ning.

The first “thud” came from Pitts­burgh Steel­ers kicker Chris Boswell’s right foot smack­ing the ball while at­tempt­ing a 35-yard field goal late in the first half last Sun­day in Chicago. The sec­ond thud came when Bears de­fen­sive back Sher­rick McMa­nis blocked it.

Mc­Don­ald turned around and saw Chicago’s Mar­cus Cooper sprint­ing down­field af­ter the ball popped up per­fectly into his hands. So Mc­Don­ald, only on the field be­cause of an an­kle in­jury had briefly side­lined Jesse James, took off. The backup tight end never lost be­lief he could chase down Cooper, even though the Steel­ers end zone was 80 yards away and Cooper had a con­sid­er­able head start.

“It didn’t even cross my mind. I was go­ing to catch him no mat­ter what,” Mc­Don­ald said. “Whether it would hap­pen or not is a dif­fer­ent story. But in my mind, I was go­ing to catch him.”

Mc­Don­ald did, but with more than a lit­tle help from Cooper. Think­ing he was in the clear — and re­ally, he was — Cooper de­cided a lit­tle show­boat­ing was in or­der as he ap­proached the goal line for the sec­ond touch­down of his ca­reer. So Cooper started jog­ging at the Pitts­burgh 20. By the time he crossed the 5-yard line, Cooper was prac­ti­cally strut­ting.

And Mc­Don­ald was still com­ing.

“I just kind of thought ‘OK, there’s no way this is re­ally about to hap­pen,”’ Mc­Don­ald said. “Like he’s slow­ing down but at least he’s go­ing to cross the goal line. But then he didn’t and I was just like ‘Golly, what were you think­ing?’ But it hap­pened re­ally fast.”

Mc­Don­ald reached Cooper just be­fore he went into the end zone, swat­ting the ball out of his hands in the process.

“I knew at that point if I could take away pos­ses­sion of the ball to stop them from scor­ing on the play, then that’s what I was go­ing to for,” Mc­Don­ald said. “I was ac­tu­ally try­ing to hit it back­ward to keep it from go­ing in the end zone, but that didn’t hap­pen. It was 87 yards. I had a lot of time to think.”

A scram­ble en­sued, one that ended with Steel­ers punter Jor­dan Berry — an Aus­tralian — punch­ing the ball out of bounds. The Bears thought it was a touch­down. The Steel­ers thought it was a fum­ble and the half was over, sprint­ing to the locker room be­liev­ing they were only down seven.

The of­fi­cials weren’t sure what to make of it be­fore award­ing the Bears a shot at a field goal of their own af­ter rul­ing Berry il­le­gally swat­ted the ball. Mc­Don­ald’s hus­tle evoked mem­o­ries of Buf­falo wide re­ceiver Don Beebe chas­ing down Dal­las de­fen­sive line­man Leon Lett late in the Su­per Bowl a quar­ter cen­tury ago.

Beebe’s dash gave the Bills a small moral vic­tory in a game they would lose by five touch­downs. Mc­Don­ald’s abil­ity to save four points fac­tored in the game push­ing to over­time. It also helped his street cred in the locker room. The Steel­ers ac­quired Mc­Don­ald a month ago from San Fran­cisco. He’s still wait­ing to make his first catch. It’s hard to imag­ine it be­ing more mem­o­rable than his first forced fum­ble.

Mc­Don­ald earned a “ta­ble tap” — a sign of re­spect for a heads up play — dur­ing the team’s usual Mon­day re­view. Then it was back to work pre­par­ing for a visit to Bal­ti­more.

Guard David DeCas­tro likened it to a sim­i­lar play by Dar­rius Hey­ward-Bey in Week 17 last sea­son in an oth­er­wise mean­ing­less fi­nale against Cleve­land. Backup quar­ter­back Landry Jones threw an in­ter­cep­tion the Browns ap­peared to re­turn for a score. The au­to­matic re­view, how­ever, showed that Hey­ward-Bey ended up swat­ting the ball free be­fore the goal line. The save helped Pitts­burgh stay in a game it ral­lied to win.

“Just pure hus­tle,” DeCas­tro said. “It’s great. It shows the at­mos­phere and kind of what’s ex­pected. Vance is a great guy and he knows that.”

JOSE M. OSORIO / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Steel­ers’ Vance Mc­Don­ald, left, strips the ball from Bears’ Mar­cus Cooper be­fore Cooper could cross the goal line dur­ing last week’s game in Chicago.

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