By Michael K. Reynolds
Who was the most relieved guy in Pittsburgh last Sunday?
Without a doubt it was Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor. Because had the Black and Gold failed to roar back against the Detroit Lions he would have been wearing the longest goat horns.
Not so much for struggling in his efforts to cover All-World receiver Calvin Johnson, because nobody has been able to cover Megatron this season. No, what would have haunted Ike and all of Steelers Nation was the two, surefire, easy peasy, Pop Warner-style interceptions that slipped helplessly through his hands.
At least one of those could have resulted in a pick six and with a couple key blocks the other had the chance of adding up to a pick twelve for the day. Yes…had they lost, and the season for all practical purposes ended, the nightmares would have resounded throughout the year for one of the Steelers all-time favorite players.
But Ike rebounded in the second half. The Steelers won. And all is forgotten.
Except, it does bring up one question: What if Ike could visit the Wizard of Oz?
Can you imagine him, arm in arm with Dorothy, skipping down the Yellow Brick Road and singing in harmony?
I could be a Hall of Famer
Everyone would know my namer
If I only had some hands.
Dee dee, dee, dee, dee, dee.
I’d be as famous as Tom Brady,
Have Gisele for my old lady,
If I only had some hands.
And yes, perhaps this is too cruel of fun to have at Ike’s expense, but with only 14 career interceptions total in his eleventh season in the NFL, the tape is the tape. For those of us who have suffered through his Achilles Heel all of these years, we can remember just about every one of his agonizing drops.
This all does lead to a very critical question in regards to his career.
What if Ike did have hands?
How great of a cornerback would he be? As it is, there is a strong case for Ike being in the top five of all Pittsburgh corners based purely on his shutdown abilities. But if he could convert the literally dozens of interception opportunities he squandered through the years, would he rank as the best Steeler cornerback of all time?
Of course, the name Mel Blount rises to the top of the heap as not only one of the best to wear a Steelers uniform, but one of the best defensive backs period. But what about with today’s rules? Back then you could mug all those wimpy receivers. Strip search them like a TSA agent and leave them in a tattered heap, not only within the first five yards, but all over the field. How would Blount fair using today’s touch football, Prima Donna-friendly refereeing?
What about Rod Woodson, my personal, favorite, all-time Steeler player? (Okay…Swanny, you’re up there too.) With a pair of hands, how would Ike compare with the track star from Purdue?
Ike entered the league with 4.2 speed, able to rabbit with anyone in the league, and at 6’2, strong enough and tall enough to handle the Michael Irvins and Randy Mosses of the NFL. And although, Woodson was a tremendous playmaker and a player the Rooneys always regretted letting go, he also could be had. The pump fake made Rod look foolish on more than a few critical occasions. There was a lot of boom or bust in Rod’s style of play.
With Ike, he is rarely, rarely, more than inches away from the outstretched hands of his receivers. Sure, he’s been known to draw more than his fair share of pass interference calls, but he has elite ability to cover receivers of all shapes, sizes and speeds. And unlike the great Deion Sanders, who was known to make quite a few “business decisions” when it came to being physical, Ike Taylor provides exceptional support with the run.
Is it too late for Ike? Will he ever be able to catch the ball? It would be well worth his continued effort. Nobody takes care of their body better than Ike does during the season and off-season and because of this it wouldn’t be a surprise if he is able to play for another four or five years, perhaps extending his career with an end-stop at safety.
Until he does learn to clamp onto the ball, Ike will be respected, but never feared. If you’re not a threat to intercept, quarterbacks will continue to throw in your direction, regardless of how tight the coverage. In fairness to players like Woodson, there is much more to intercepting than having good hands. You’ve got to have great anticipation, vision and body control.
But bless his heart. Even with those slippery rock hands, a decent argument can be made that the proud graduate of Swaggin University has been the Steelers most valuable defensive player over the past decade.
What do you think? How great could Ike be if he could find his hands?