A Fan’s Memories of the Steelers Road to Super Bowl XL: The Greatest Nine Weeks Ever (part II)

The 2005 Steelers four game season ending winning streak left me pretty pumped up for Pittsburgh’s wildcard playoff game against the Bengals at Cincinnati. More than anything, I wanted to see Pittsburgh beat the Bengals in their place and knock them out of the the playoffs. Let’s face it, the Steelers were the sixth seed and no team seeded that low had ever made it to the Super Bowl, but if Pittsburgh could knock out the Bengals, that would be pretty sweet.Meet the Underdog ’05 Pittsburgh Steelers

That week, leading up to the game, I remember reading some article online about how teams that had to scratch and fight their way into the playoffs on the last day of the season never really did that well in the postseason.

  • The article provided statistics to back up those claims.

It was pretty standard knowledge for most die-hard football fans, such as myself but still kind of sobering. Every now and then, wildcard playoff teams did make runs, and a few even went all the way to the Super Bowl. And the ‘80 Raiders, ’97 Broncos and 2000 Ravens actually won the championship coming out of the wildcard spot.

But, mostly, wildcard teams made an early exit from the postseason because, number one, they normally play against superior opponents, and two, it’s very hard to win on the road in the NFL, especially in the postseason. The ‘85 New England Patriots were the only team (up until that point) to be the last seed in a conference and win all of its playoff games on the road and make it to the Super Bowl–the shufflin’ ’85 Bears blew-out New England, 46-10, in Super Bowl XX.

The Tuesday before the game, I went to yet another taping of The Joey Porter Show. James Farrior was Joey Porter’s guest that week and my aunt’s friend went nuts because she thought Farrior was hot. There was a local comedian/dj named “Freedom” that always sort of mc’d each show and was in charge of getting the crowd excited or telling people to be quiet. In-fact, he often held up a sign that said “quiet please” but on this particular night, the sign read “quite please” which I thought was pretty hilarious.

During a break in taping, Freedom tried to get the crowd riled up for the playoffs, but the people weren’t too excited. He said, “Doesn’t sound like you’re ready for the playoffs!” And he was right, my aunt and I were still able to get pretty decent seats in the Firehouse Lounge. It wasn’t really crowded at all and Pittsburgh, in general, didn’t seem too thrilled about the upcoming playoff matchup.

Steelers fans are generally pretty football savvy and, perhaps, they read the same online article that I did about wildcard teams. Although, from what I’ve seen over the years, fans usually temper their excitement when a team is seeded low, but then hop on board if the team starts to do well, which would be the case later on………IN A BIG WAY!

Anyway, back to the show. Joey would often have non-Steeler guests on his show, and Pittsburgh’s own Monte “Mason” Clay, the WBC and/or WBA and/or IBF Featherweight champion of the world (I can’t remember) made an appearance that night.

When Clay and his entourage came through the crowd at the Lounge, there was a huge guy with a couple of belts on his shoulder, and I thought he was Clay, but duh, featherweights are small, and Monte was the little guy walking in front shaking hands–he looked like he was nine years old. After Clay’s spot on the show, the night ended with a performance by some local musical duo. Apparently, Joey thought they were a hip-hop group because he tried to introduce them with this make-shift grill (or is it grille?) in his teeth.

The mouthpiece kept falling out and Joey needed about five takes in-order to get it right. I just thought it was funny that Porter thought these guys were all about hip-hop because when they performed, it clearly wasn’t hip-hop. In-fact, during the interview he had with them, one of them tried to point this out, but Joey didn’t seem to catch-on.

Steelers vs. Bengals in the Wild Card Round of the ’05 AFC playoffs

As I’ve stated, the Steelers were the sixth seed in the AFC and the Bengals, the AFC North winners, were seeded third and were the home team for this game.

I watched the game over my uncle’s house which was usually the rule for me for Steelers games in those days. A couple of his neighbors were there, as well, so it was one giant party.

The game started off in controversial fashion as Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer was knocked out after being hit in the knee by Steelers defensive lineman Kimo von Oelhoffen during a long pass conversion to Chris Henry early in the first quarter. Palmer suffered a serious knee injury and obviously had to leave the game.

The scrappy, gutty Jon Kitna replaced Carson, and after Henry also had to leave the game later in the drive with a serious injury, the Bengals settled for a field goal and a 3-0 lead. I remember saying that it was probably the most costly field goal drive in the history of the postseason. Cincinnati was not done. Running back Rudi Johnson scored on a 20 touchdown run later in the first quarter, putting the Bengals ahead, 10-0. I was kind of worried at that point.

I mean, the Steelers last playoff game was a beatdown by the Patriots in the AFC Championship game the season before and here they were getting outplayed again. However, Pittsburgh’s offense started to come to life at the end of the first quarter and eventually mounted a drive that ended with a screen pass to Willie Parker who took it in for the score. Pittsburgh was now down, 10-7, and I was feeling pretty good about things.

The Bengals drove down the field again, and just when it looked like they were going to have to settle for a field goal attempt, Troy Polamalu was called for a personal foul and Cincy had new life. The Bengals eventually scored a touchdown, and Pittsburgh was down by 10 points once again. Late in the half, Roethlisberger hit Cedric Wilson on a long pass play and suddenly, the offense was threatening again. Jerome Bettis tried his patented running back option pass to tight end Jerame Tuman but threw it at his feet. The lack of execution didn’t hurt the Steelers because Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward on a slant for the score and Pittsburgh was back in the game, only down, 17-14, at the half.

  • It was all Pittsburgh from that point on.

Things started out fine for the Bengals as they took the second half kick-off and drove into Pittsburgh territory, only to botch a field goal attempt and give the Steelers great field position. Pittsburgh immediately capitalized on the mistake when Ben threw deep to Antwaan Randle El for what appeared to be a touchdown.

The officials called it incomplete (why Bill Cowher didn’t ask for a review is beyond me), but it didn’t matter because the Bengals were called for defensive pass interference on the play, and the Steelers had the ball at the five yard line. A play or two later, a couple of Bengals took a Bus ride as Bettis plowed into the end zone to give Pittsburgh its first lead of the game, 21-17–a lead they would never relinquish. When Jerome scored, I jumped up and screamed and looked over at my uncle’s neighbors and said, “In-case you didn’t know, that was my playoff scream.”

Cincinnati continued to do nothing on offense, and near the end of the third quarter, Pittsburgh looked for a knock-out blow. With the ball at Cincinnati’s 43, Randle El took a hand-off on an end-around play only to stop and lateral it back to Roethlisberger, who then threw deep down field. Initially, I thought he was going to Hines and it appeared to be overthrown, but nope! Wilson was there, wide-open for the score and Pittsburgh was now up, 28-17, and we all went nuts in my uncle’s living room. Speaking of going nuts,  it was funny seeing and hearing the Steelers fans cheering right there in the middle of all those quiet Bengals fans at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Steelers continued to dominate in the fourth quarter, and with the help of a Farrior interception and a Bettis long run, they tacked on another three points for a 31-17 lead. Polamalu finished things off with an interception late in the game and scared the crap out of everyone by lateraling the ball back to Chris Hope instead of just taking a knee.

  • It was Cincinnati’s first playoff game in 15 years, and I’m sure it didn’t go as planned for the players and fans.

After the game, the Bengals players and fans cried that the only reason Pittsburgh won was because Kimo knocked Palmer out. Last time I checked, Carson didn’t play defense, and the reason the Steelers won that game was because they were more physical than the Bengals. Congratulations on winning the 2005 AFC North Division, Cincinnati. When I say “Who Dey?” You say, “We Dey!”

AFC 2005 Divisional Playoffs – Steelers vs. Peyton Manning and the Colts

It was now onto Indianapolis for the Steelers, where they would have to face the number one seeded Colts. The Colts won their first 13 games in 2005 and, naturally, there was talk of them going undefeated.

Even though that didn’t happen and even though Tony Dungy rested most of his starters over the last few weeks of the regular season, the Colts were still heavily favored to beat Pittsburgh and go on to win the Super Bowl. And if it wasn’t Indianapolis, it was going to be the two-time defending champion Patriots.

The Steelers weren’t really considered much of a factor by anyone outside of Pittsburgh. In-fact, when all the so-called experts previewed the four playoff games during the week, most were conflicted on the Seahawks/Redskins, Bears/Panthers, and Patriots/Broncos, but just about everyone agreed that Peyton Manning and the Colts would have their way with Pittsburgh much like they did in Week 12 of the regular season.

The Tuesday before the game, I went to yet another taping of the Joey Porter Show. When I arrived at the Firehouse Lounge, my aunt asked me if the little black guy that Porter was interviewing was Alan Faneca, who was going to be one of Joey’s special guest Steelers that night. For those of you who do not know, Faneca is not a little black man, he’s a huge white guy. The little black dude turned out to be Steelers defensive back Tyrone Carter.

It was a fun night in the Strip, and the Lounge was a little more crowded than the week before, as my aunt and I had to stand farther back. You could see the excitement on the faces of everyone, and I could tell they were really pumped about the upcoming game with the Colts.

No city supports its team like Pittsburgh supports the Steelers. My store deals with this baker in Baldwin, and towards the end of the regular season when the Steelers went on their playoff run, we started ordering Steelers helmet cakes, Terrible Towel cakes, black and gold rye bread and other Steelers pastries. Right around the week of Steelers/Colts, people started calling in orders for special Steelers cakes for playoff parties they were having. The cakes kinda looked like birthday cakes but with player names and numbers, and I could just picture people standing around these cakes singing, “Happy Steelers playoff game to you. Happy Steelers playoff game to you. Happy Steelers playoff game to Steeler Nation. Happy Steeler playoff game to you!”

I’m sure you know of craigslist–my sister is obsessed with that site. I think about 94% of her furniture was purchased on craigs. I like Craigslist myself, but I mainly go on the “rants and raves” message boards where people talk and argue over just about any subject that you can think of.

During playoff weeks, however, this board is invaded by smack talkers. The week leading up to the Colts playoff game, Indy fans would come over to the Pittsburgh boards and talk trash, and we obnoxious Steelers fans would go to their boards and talk trash. Even the Patriots fans joined in, and the most unreal thing was seeing Colts fans and Patriots fans argue over who was going to win the AFC championship game the following week. Both had decided that their teams were going to win their “tune-up” divisional playoff games that week. I had never seen such brashness in all my days.

The Indy fans were a little more gracious than the cocky New Englanders, but both had completely written off the Steelers and the Broncos. It didn’t matter to the Pats fans that their team was a wildcard team heading into Denver, they were the defending champions, and their boys could do no wrong.

  • If there is one fan-base I cannot stand, it’s the Patriots fans.

Before pretty boy Brady came along and before Belichick became this defensive genius (perhaps illegally), the Patriots were behind the marathon and the Strangler in terms of importance in the metro-Boston area. But after they won a few Super Bowls, suddenly everyone jumped on the wagon, and the Patriots were the greatest ever.

Towards the end of the week, Roethlisberger and Porter both made remarks that had everyone talking. Big Ben said the Colts were a great team and their B+ game was good enough to beat Pittsburgh’s A game. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but that was basically what he said. I guess he was going out of his way to praise the other team much like Joe Paterno did when he acted worried about facing Central Carolina.

Porter, on the other hand, took the exact opposite approach by stating that the Colts were a finesse team that didn’t like to play physical. This had the fans angry and the media members wondering why Joey would say such a thing and “wake the sleeping giant.”

It really irritates me when people say stuff like that. Not what Porter said, but how people think that words really matter that much. “Oh no, Joey’s talking smack, the Colts might try now.” Words mean absolutely nothing, and if a player is looking for motivation via trash talk, he’s in trouble. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m guessing the prospect of winning the Super Bowl was more than enough motivation for the Indy locker room.

That concludes part two of my four-part story. Check back soon for part three….

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