Former Buffalo Bills cornerback Levi Wallace may be new to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he has a high level of familiarity with his free safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick, with whom he played at Alabama during their college days.
Now in his fifth season, Fitzpatrick has established himself as one of the best safeties in the game, and after some criticism for his play last offseason, he came into this year looking to make a statement, saying of the 2021 season, “I felt like last year, it wasn’t a normal year for me”, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Well, he made a statement in the Steelers’ season opener, and while it’s hard for him to surprise people at this point, nobody was more familiar with Fitzpatrick’s routine than his old college teammate, who talked about the experience of playing with him again to reporters yesterday, via the team’s website/
“He’s a baller, man. He does what he does”, he said. “One of the best playmakers, one of the best football players in this league, so I was happy to see him just do him. 14 tackles, pick six, that’s just who he is, so it doesn’t surprise me at this point”.
Indeed, it’s rooted not just in his sheer skill and intelligence, as well as his work ethic, but also in his hunger, his desire to win, something with which Wallace is also amply familiar, and which some commentators seemingly noted as observing more notably during Sunday’s game, even if it’s always been present.
“Minkah’s a competitor, man. He’s always like that since I’ve known him”, Wallace said. “He’s one of the most absolute competitors that I know. He told me Monday last week that he was ready to play the game. Just the rivalry between the Bengals and the Steelers. He showed out and I was happy for him”.
Whether it’s big hits near the sidelines to finish plays—one such play on Sunday elicited a two-finger salute, one on each hand, from Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase—out-of-nowhere plays on the ball when it looked like he wouldn’t even be in the vicinity, or just the amount of chatter he can dish out between plays, you see how much the game means to him.
There was one humorous moment at the end of the first quarter. Bengals running back Joe Mixon had just picked up five yards on 1st and 10 with Fitzpatrick in on the tackle. The Back starting jawing, and then Fitzpatrick quickly pointed him to the direction of the sideline as if to say, ‘You’ve still got five yards’ for a first down’.
They did get the first two plays into the second quarter, but from there, it was a sack and then an interception, leading to the offense’s only touchdown of the game.