In the summer of 2004, Twentieth Century Fox released a film called Alien vs. Predator. I thought, “How ridiculous. A film about two remorseless villains squaring off against one another? A story with no hero violates all the rules of theater."
A pair of accomplished writers named Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett believed there was an audience for this type of thing. So they poured their considerable talents into producing a compelling, if not believable plot.
A team of archeologists is sent to Antarctica to investigate a mysterious heat source, where they find pyramids and the remains of a lost civilization.
Well, it’s not long before they discover the civilization belongs to those chest-popping, acid-bleeding creeps who introduced us to Sigourney Weaver in the last year of the 70’s. Right about then a trio of Predators descends on the site in order to collect trophy skulls because Predators are hunters and that’s what hunters do.
The inevitable struggle ensues and it ends with Sanna Lathan joining forces with a Predator to kill the Alien. The Predator then dies from its wounds.
The movie grossed a little over $171 million. Not bad. It turns out people can get into a story about a couple of undesirables doing battle with one another—especially if the story ends with the villains destroying one another, leaving us with our fantasies of heroism.
So if watching two forces of evil bent on destroying one another is your thing, boy do I have a treat for you. There’s a Sunday matinee in Pittsburgh. James Harrison will take shots at Michael Vick. It’s everything you could ever want in a horror movie.
In one corner we have the dreaded Harrison, brimming with renewed vigor as he finally returns after knee surgery. You remember James Harrison, don’t you? He’s the brooding, maniacal, undersized linebacker whose relentless pursuit of quarterbacks is nothing less than one man’s homage to violence.
Those who hate Michael Vick will cheer for James Harrison.
The last time we saw him he was getting fined for his terrifying assault on the Brown’s quarterback Colt McCoy. That’s what it was, yes? An assault? McCoy left the pocket and drifted, carelessly, toward the sideline. Harrison materialized from the middle of the field and placed himself underneath McCoy’s chin.
Of course he was fined. Harrison is always fined. In 2010 alone, he was fined $125,000. And he was suspended a game. This was no mere helmet-to-helmet collision it was an assault on a young man, who out of uniform projects the aura of a woodland creature.
So when the big awful James Harrison assaulted the doe-eyed Colt McCoy, it was not unlike a hunter pumping an unsuspecting deer full of buckshot. That’s what hunters do.
Harrison and the Steelers defense represent an unapologetically violent element of football that’s apparently tough to market to the “casual fan.” They are epitomized by James Harrison’s moody demeanor and his brazen reluctance to accept the role currently offered to all defenses—to become the NFL’s version of the Washington Generals.
The Globetrotters’ long-suffering foils are the benchmark of loveable of losers who know their role is to put up flaccid obstacles that make the show believable, and not to, in any way, tip the cash cow.
When they’re at their best, Harrison and the Steelers defense is brilliant. They get into schemes that even the most experienced quarterback has trouble deciphering. Actually, that’s the splendor of the 3-4 front.
Four linebackers, when joined by two cornerbacks, can effectively eliminate that area of the field commonly referred to as “underneath.”
There, receivers and tight ends and running backs, are forced to run through a gauntlet of defenders who bump, jostle, and redirect them to places they don’t want to go. When the quarterback runs out of time and options, those underneath defenders lay in wait for him, hoping he’ll brave the waters, too.
This week is perfect, then.
Over there, the one warming up by casually throwing the ball 60 yards downfield with a flick of his wrist, is Michael Vick. He’s a monster, a murderer, most foul—apparently even worse than O.J. We know who and what O.J. is. But Vick’s crimes have landed him in some undetermined circle of hell that even Dante himself could not conceive. What’s worse is that Vick has apparently dragged us with him into this place of eternal suffering because we just can’t seem to let it go.
They’re both here. The two most objectionable elements in the league.
Whom to root for? To root against? Both are despised. The lusty cries for hefty fines, for penalty flags, and for lifetime banishment have made your feelings quite clear. I’ve seen all the polls, and read the comments, seen the picket signs that still occasionally appear outside of stadiums where the Eagles are playing. The consensus is that both Harrison and Michael Vick are pure evil.
So which one deserves to live? I mean that metaphorically, of course. But there is something at stake in this. Neither party has performed up to his capabilities of late. Both are at pivotal stages of their football existence. This clash of outlaw ideals may reveal, in definitive fashion, whether Vick or Harrison maintains enough of himself to contend this season and beyond.
In both cases, age and health are factors. Vick, unlike his Pittsburgh counterpart, has more to give. Though it’s been sporadic, Vick has proven that he can throw the ball in a conventional way. I know it’s much easier to relegate Vick’s 2010 season to fluke, than to intelligently discuss his mechanics.
But throwing the ball isn’t like covering people or tackling people. Throwing the ball can be an ageless pursuit, even for proven scoundrels (Ex: Roger Clemens, age 50; fastball, 88 mph)
When he leaves the pocket, Vick can still do things that Manning and Brady cannot. It’s not just the fact he can move, it’s the way he moves—confident and defiant— that makes some traditional fans a bit uncomfortable with the current state of the quarterback position. I think it’s safe to assume those traditional fans, with conflicted hearts, will find themselves rooting for Harrison to treat Vick the way he treated that unfortunate McCoy kid.
And those who are hoping to see Michael Vick elude Harrison’s reach, are those folks who know that at its core, this game is about transcendent ability on both sides of the ball. Evolution defies tradition—new and old.
In the process villains shall emerge.
Go ahead. Pick one.
Follow Alan Grant on twitter @AlanGrant_NFL