Pittsburgh Steelers History vs Chicago Bears – Glorious Wins, Agonizing Defeats, Little In Between

The Pittsburgh Steelers history vs the Chicago Bears is long and rather tortured for Pittsburgh, dating back to 1934, with the Steel City suffering a 7-22-1 record against Windy City.

The founders of both franchises, Art Rooney Sr. and George Halas are both members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While the lopsidedness of the Steelers history vs. the Bears might be due to Pittsburgh’s ineptness during the pre-Chuck Noll era, Pittsburgh’s record in Chicago remains a woeful 1-12.

This chronicle of Steelers history vs the Bears only goes back 35 years that have seen Pittsburgh square off against Chicago 9 times. Indeed, a see-saw dynamic characterizes recent Steelers-Bears history, as the Steelers seem to celebrate glorious victories or agonizing defeats, with very little in between.

Either scroll down or click on the links below to relive key moments in the Pittsburgh Steelers history vs. the Chicago Bears:

Steelers history vs bears, Steelers vs. bears, Antonio Brown, Charles Tillman

Antonio Brown catches a touchdown in front of Charles Tillman of the Bears. Photo Credit: Jason Bridge, USA Today

1986 – Ditka Takes the Wind over the Ball in OT

November 30, 1986 @ Solider Field
Chicago 13, Pittsburgh 10

The 4-8 Steelers gave the defending Super Bowl Champion Bears a run for their money, even though they did not score an offensive touchdown. But that was good enough to force overtime when…

Iron Mike elected to kickoff, trusting in the wind and his defense. The Bear’s defense vindicated their coach, forcing a punt and setting up Kevin Butler’s winning kick.

  • Fun Fact: The Steelers only touchdown came in the third quarter on a fake field goal from Harry Newsome to tight end Preston Gothard.

1989 – Steelers Suffer Third Shut Out of Season

November 11, 1989 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Chicago 20, Pittsburgh 0

Aliquippa native Mike Dikta gave himself a hell of a home coming during the only game he coached at Three Rivers Stadium. His Bears netted 6 turnovers, wracked up 203 rushing yards, and held Pittsburgh to 54 rushing yards during their 20-0 shut out.

1992 – Cowher’s Achilles Heel or Mike Singletary’s Final Game in Chicago?

December 13, 1992 @ Solider Field
Chicago 30, Pittsburgh 6

Rookie head coach Bill Cowher’s 1992 Pittsburgh Steelers had taken the NFL by storm. They traveled to Chicago with a 10-3 record and a chance to clinch their first AFC Central Title since 1984. Cowher Power had rejuvenated the Steelers.

  • The sky was the limit. Or was it?

The Cowher’s Steelers fell flat on their faces. And then the Bears stomped all over them, to the tune of 30-6. Barry Foster ran 12 times for 25 yards. The Bears sacked Bubby Brister 5 times and picked him off twice. Worst of all, Pittsburgh looked lethargic and unfocused.

NBC commentator Bill Parcells attributed the result to the emotional surge occasioned by Mike Singletary’s final game in Chicago, sharing something to the effect, “I was in the Bear’s locker room prior to the game, and this was a team clearly ready to play.”

  • Cowher’s Admission: During Cowher’s early tenure, over confidence was his Steeler’s chronic Achilles heel. Cowher would perhaps dispute this general observation, but a number of years later he admitted that the 1992 game against the Bears was one of the few times the team had not been mentally prepared to play.
Greg Lloyd, Rashaan Salaam, Steelers vs Bears 1995

Greg Lloyd closes in on the Bears Rashaan Salaam in the Steelers 1995 win over the Bears. Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images via the Bleacher Report

1995 – Steelers Streak to the Super Bowl, Vol. I – Super Bowl XXX

November 5th, 1995
Pittsburgh 37, Chicago 34

The 1995 Steelers started 3-4, and looked ugly doing it. After a particularly egregious loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Bill Cowher declared it was now a “9 game season.” Having beaten the Jaguars in week 8, they traveled to Chicago to take on the 6-2 Bears.

  • This was one of the most exciting games the Steelers have every played.

The lead changed 5 times and the score was tied 3 times as the Steelers and Bears fought back and forth in this titanic struggle.

Hope faded for the Steelers when Barry Minter returned an interception to put the Bears up 34 to 27 late in the fourth. But Neil O’Donnell rebounded, taking the Steelers the length of the field capping off the drive with a 11 yard strike to Ernie Mills to tie it up just inside the two minute warning.

Cowher seemed ready to gamble it all when he sent in the 2 point conversion unit, forcing the Bears to burn their final time out. The Steelers kicked the extra point instead, and Willie Williams picked off Eric Kramer in OT, to set up Norm Johnson’s game winning field goal.

  • Cowher’s Quote: When asked if such a dramatic victory might have been a character building exercise for his recently struggling Steelers, Cowher’s response was concise and correct – “Games like this do not build character, they display it.”

That character carried the Pittsburgh Steelers to Super Bowl XXX

1998 – Steelers Start season 2-0, But…

September 13, 1998 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 17, Bears 12

The 1997 Steelers had finished 11-5 and only two Kordell Stewart end zone interceptions away from the Super Bowl. But the 1998 Steelers were a differnt story. They’d beaten the Ravens 20-13 the week before, but had not looked good doing it.

The Steelers defeated the Bears 17-12 on the strength of Jerome Bettis 131 years rushing.

  • Cause for concern: Kordell Stewart went 17-30-1-1. Not bad numbers, but he only threw for 137 yards and was only 4-4 rushing. Whether it was because Ray Sherman didn’t know what he was doing, or a lack confidence, but this was the beginning of a tentative and timid Stewart, as opposed to the swashbuckling Slash that Steelers fans had seen before.

2005 – Steelers Streak to the Super Bowl, Vol. II Super Bowl XL

December 11, 2005 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 21, Chicago 9

The Bears were coming off an 8 game winning streak. Despite their 7-5 record, the 2005 Steelers were coming off a 3 game losing streak, and looking at the possibility of needing to run the table to make the playoffs. The Steelers were up to the task, as the Bus led the march that ended with One for the Thumb in Super Bowl XL.

Jerome Bettis, Brian Urlacher, Steelers vs. Bears, '05 Steelers

Jerome Bettis shows Brian Urlacher who is boss. Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw, Getty Images via The Sun.

The Steelers totally dominated the Bears in the snow at Heinz Field. Jerome Bettis ripped off 101 yards as he plowed through Brian Urlacher and the Bears defense. Willie Parker was close behind him with 68 yards. Ben Roethlisberger hit seven different receivers, as the Steelers out gained the Bears by almost 100 yards, and dominated time of possession to the tune of 37:19 to 22:41

  • Bettis Final 100 Yard Game: This was Bettis’ 50th 100 yard game with the Steelers, a team record. It was also to be the Bus’ final 100 yard effort, and he gained all but one of them in the second half. He also scored 2 TD’s for the 16th time in his career, which brought him to 4th on the Steelers all-time scoring list.

2009 – Super Bowl Champion Steelers Slip, Signal Things to Come…

September 20th, 2009 @ Solider Field
Chicago 17, Pittsburgh 14

The defending Super Bowl Champions had won their opener doing what they had done during the previous season – snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. But this trip to Solider Field showed that things would not be so easy for the 2009 Steelers.

The Steelers got on the board quickly with a clockwork like opening drive engineered by Ben Roethlisberger. But Roethlisberger threw an interception and he was off after that, overthrowing and underthrowing receivers and throwing balls that were either too low or two high. Ben Roethlisberger had help however,

Despite that, the Steelers hung in and appeared to be set to repeat history – pull out a win at the last moment.

Unfortunately Jeff Reed missed a long field goal, giving Chicago a victory. Unlike their ’08 brethren, this was to be the first of many last minute losses for the ’09 Steelers….

2013 – Bears Pass Rush Overwhelms Steelers en Route to 0-3 Start

September 22, 2013 @ Heinz Field
Chicago 40, Bears 23

Sometimes single tweet says it all. That’s the case with this Dale Lolley gem that still resonates long after the Steelers 2013 loss to Chicago:

  • That might seem like a harsh exaggeration, but rest assured my fellow citizens of Steelers Nation, it is not.

The 2013 Steelers entered the game at 0-2, yet both of those games had some extenuating circumstances (such as losing 3 starters in their opener to the Tennessee Titans.) But this was the height of the Mike Adams experiment on offensive line and, truth be told, the jury was still very much out on Marcus Gilbert at that point.

Ben Roethlisberger barley had time to breath, let along throw that night, as the Steelers signal’s turnovers directly led to two Bear’s touchdowns. Chicago jumped to a 27-3 lead, until a Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown hookup evened the score to 27-10 at the half.

  • The Steelers opened the 2nd half by 13 unanswered points to bring it to 27-23 by the beginning of the 4th quarter.

Alas, a Jay Cutler scramble on 3rd and 10 gave Chicago new life, and set up a score. The Steelers tired to match, but a Roethlisberger fumble was returned to Pittsburgh’s six yard line and the Steelers started 2013 0-3.

2017 – Trap Game Trips Up Steelers Fueled by Breakdowns in All 3 Phases

September 24th, 2017 @ Solider Field
Chicago 23, Pittsburgh 17 in OT

This was the infamous “National Anthem” game when the Steelers opted not to take the field to avoid controversy only to have Alejandro Villanueva exit the tunnel to observe the ceremony. So much for trying to use team unity as a way of abstaining from political polemics.

  • Things went downhill from there.

Jordan Howard (who?) looked like Gale Sayers and Walter Payton — combined — drilled the Steelers for 140 yards. His compatriot Tarik Cohen (who?) “only” ran for 78 yards, so I guess he must have just been Neal Anderson. The Steelers offense, featuring all four Killer Bees, struggled to establish the run and Antonio Brown bailed Ben Roethlisberger out throughout the afternoon.

  • Worse yet, special teams gave up a blocked field goal AND suffered a muffed punt.

Take away:  This game exposed the run defense as the 2017 Steelers Achilles heel.


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Steelers Nation’s Love for Jerome Bettis was Real

There was no questioning the love, respect and admiration those who knew Art Rooney had for the late founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who passed away in 1988.

In fact, the legendary Mean Joe Greene has stated more than once that winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl following the 1974 season and doing it for his thoughtful and affectionate 73 year old boss, a man who had literally suffered through decades of losing, was “real.” Obviously, this sentiment was shared by most of Greene’s teammates, including linebacker and team captain Andy Russell, who, during the post-game celebration in the team’s locker room, made a last second decision to give the game ball to Mr. Rooney, instead of Greene, the team’s ferocious defensive tackle.

Nobody in that locker room thought twice about Russell’s actions, because it was the right thing and, again, it was “real.”

  • Stuff like that in sports is priceless, and it’s rare to find.

Such was the love for now Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis during his 10 seasons toting the rock in Pittsburgh.

Bettis came to the Steelers in 1996, with a bit of a reputation as a malcontent and selfish player from his days with the Rams. But that reputation was quickly washed away upon No. 36’s arrival, and he soon became one of the leaders in the locker room and one of the most beloved players the City of Pittsburgh has ever seen.

  • There was just something special about Bettis scoring a touchdown.

Maybe it was his charismatic demeanor, or the way he seemed to love sticking up for his teammates by taking on defenders. But whenever Bettis reached pay-dirt either by bowling over defenders or carrying them with him, Yours truly would just “mark out,” as they say in the wrestling business, and it just felt more thrilling and satisfying than when any other Steeler did the same.

  • Obviously, Bettis had the collective ear of his teammates, who seemed to want to play well and win as much for him as for themselves.

In his now famous interview with reporters the day after the Steelers disappointing home loss to New England in the 2004 AFC Championship game, an emotional Hines Ward, said of Bettis, “I wanted to win more for him than anything. He deserves to be a champion.” 

Ward was one of several teammates who stood in the team’s locker room at Heinz Field moments earlier and listened to Bettis thank his teammates for the “memories.”

  • It was unclear at that point if Bettis would return for another season.

Thankfully, he did. This is just speculation, of course, but it’s doubtful the 2005 Steelers would have had that “extra something” to get them over the hump and to Detroit for Super Bowl XL, if Bettis wasn’t around to act as a lightning rod of inspiration. Pittsburgh was 7-5 and on the outside looking in at the playoffs, with only four games left. But there was that “drive” to take the Bus to Detroit.

  • Bettis is a Detroit native, and his teammates wanted desperately to get him “back home” for the Super Bowl.

Bettis wasn’t a starter in ’05, and he only rushed for 368 yards as a back-up to Willie Parker. But he was still one of the leaders of the team, and he had the collective ear of those around him.

The love for Bettis was so real and so genuine, Joey Porter even arranged for The Bus to run out of the tunnel all by himself during the team introductions in Super Bowl XL.

The Steelers winning their first Super Bowl in 26 seasons (a 21-10 victory over Seattle) was special enough, but when you add in the story of Bettis, the love he had from his teammates, and the love the City of Pittsburgh had for him? It turned a great and memorable campaign into a magical one.

Much like with the love and respect his players have for former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the affection Bettis’s teammates had for him is a rare commodity in today’s professional sports world.

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Steelers, Seahawks & Super Bowl XL – Pittsburgh’s Greatest 9 Weeks Ends with One for the Thumb

Soaking in the Joy and Pageantry of the Steelers First Super Bowl Appearance in a Decade

The Steelers had just advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995, and the first memory that comes to mind from the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl XL was the final time I attended a taping of the Joey Porter Show.


Hines Ward, Super Bowl XL, Steelers Super Bowl XL, Antwaan Randle El Hines Ward Super Bowl XL

Antwaan Randle El’s touchdown pass to Hines Ward was the Steelers moment in Super Bowl XL. Photo Credit: Bill Frakes, Sports Illustrated

Hines Ward catches a touchdown pass from Antwaan Randle El in Super XL. Photo Credit: Bill Frakes, Sports Illustrated

Stirling the Pot on the Joey Porter Show Prior to Super Bowl XL

I didn’t realize it would be the last time I would get to attend the show, but it turned out to be because it was canceled prior to the 2006 season, and Porter was out of Pittsburgh by ’07.

  • Anyway, the show, as always, was taped Tuesday night from the Firehouse Lounge in the Strip District.

The Lounge was really crowded this night. As I said before, the first time I attended a taping of this show, it was right after Pittsburgh defeated the Bears and started their drive to the playoffs, and the crowd was pretty sparse. However, on this night, my aunt and I could barely see the taping of the show because we were back by the entrance–the place was packed as Steeler fans came out strong to celebrate their team’s AFC crown.

Porter was trying to do a “The Rock”-style wrestling promo about the Steelers road journey through the playoffs and how they conquered the “Candy ass” Bengals, Colts, and finally the Broncos on the way to the Big Game. Joey was having problems with his funny little rant and had to do several takes before he finally got it right. Peezy was known for many re-dos each and every show, and this one really took the cake as it must have taken him five or six tries.

This show was particularly interesting because Jerome Bettis was the special guest and many Steeler players showed up to honor him. Bettis would be returning home to Detroit for Super Bowl XL, and it would also be the last game of his remarkable career. I don’t remember all the players that showed up that night, but Casey Hampton was one of them and I smacked him on the back as he walked by, and my hand just about disappeared. It was like touching a big, soft pillow.

Funny personal story: During the taping, I was in the bathroom taking care of business when a huge African American man came in and said, “Hey, have you seen my man’s phone?” And I said, “who?” The guy, a Lounge bouncer, was referring to Bettis, who had misplaced his cell phone somewhere in the bar. I told him I didn’t know Bettis was missing a phone. To this day, I wonder if they thought I found Bettis’ phone in the bathroom and kept it.

  • I didn’t, in case anyone is wondering.

One of the reasons those nine weeks were so special to me was because of attending Porter’s show and interacting with him, Hope, many of the guest Steelers, and of course, my aunt and the dozens and dozens of fans who embarked on the Lounge every Tuesday for some awesome Steelers-fellowship.

Steelers Make Super Bowl XL to “Seemingly” Underwhelming Opponent 

I was excited about the Super Bowl, but it was kind of weird that the Steelers opponent was Seattle.

Don’t get me wrong, the Seahwawks were the number one seed in the NFC in 2005, but it just wasn’t the sexiest of matchups. When you thought of the Steelers in the Super Bowl, you thought of their legendary battles with the Cowboys and even the Vikings, but the Seahawks? But beggars can’t be choosers, and like Flozell “The Hotel” Adams once said, “A Super Bowl is a Super Bowl, even if it’s played in Siberia.”

The bookmakers must not have been too impressed with the Seahawks or the NFC because they installed Pittsburgh, the sixth seed from the AFC, as four point favorites.

The Seahawks fans didn’t take too kindly to their team’s lack of respect in this matchup and were actually pretty vocal on the message boards, especially craigslist, my message board of choice at the time.

According to Seahawks fans (at least the ones from Seattle), Pittsburgh was just a working class town with very little to be happy about other than our Steelers, and their team was going to destroy the Black and Gold so we could go back to living our miserable lives in our dreary city.

  • Does the sun ever shine in Seattle? I digress.

As far as the trash talk from the participants, the only player from the Seahawks that made any noise was tight end Jerramy Stevens. During “Media Day,” Stevens basically said that the heartwarming story of Bettis returning to his hometown to play in the Super Bowl would have a sad ending. As you might expect, the ever out-spoken Porter didn’t take too kindly to this and used it for motivation.

Steeler Nation was concerned about the injury status of Troy Polamalu, who had an ankle sprain, and there was much speculation as to whether or not he would play in the game (he did play, in case you were wondering.)

February 5th, 2006  Super Bowl XL Finally Arrives

The Seahawks controlled the tempo for most of the first half, using underneath routes to wide receiver Darrell Jackson, who tied a Super Bowl record with five receptions in the first quarter. However, there would not be a sixth first quarter catch when, in the first of several controversial calls throughout the game, Jackson was called for pushing off of safety Chris Hope in the back of the end zone on what would have been a touchdown pass from Matt Hasselback and a 7-0 lead for Seattle. The Seahawks had to settle for three instead of seven.

  • And yes, Jackson did push off.

As for the Steelers, they did very little on offense, going three and out on their first three possessions. Pittsburgh’s offense didn’t record its initial first down of the game until early in the second quarter on a third down pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Antwaan Randle El, and even that drive ended poorly as Roethlisberger was intercepted on a deep ball to Randle El.

The Steelers next possession, however, proved to be pivotal. Pittsburgh moved into Seahawks’ territory but was facing a third and 28 from the Seattle 40 yard line, when Roethlisberger made, in my opinion, the most important play of the game, as he avoided Seattle defenders, scrambled to his left, stopped just short of the line of scrimmage, and heaved a pass down field to Hines Ward, which he caught inside the five yard line.

Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger Super Bowl XL touchdown, Super Bowl XL, Ben Roethlisberger touchdown super bowl controversy

Ben Roethlisberger’s controversial Super Bowl XL touchdown. Photo Credit: Heinz Kluetmeier, Sports Illustrated

Three plays later, on third and goal from the one, Pittsburgh scored on Ben Roethlisberger’s controversial quarterback keeper. Everyone knows the story behind that play so I won’t get into it. I’ll just say that only the nose of the football must cross the plane of the goal line. Nothing more. The end.

  • Halftime score: Steelers 7, Seahawks 3.

Super Bowl XL Living Room “Tailgating” Without the Stones Halftime Show

The Rolling Stones performed the halftime show, but I didn’t watch it. I never do. Instead, my uncle and I had started on the beer that he had out on his back porch, and once the flood-gates opened, they didn’t close for several hours.

Steelers Open Second Half of Super Bowl XL “Fast” and Furiously 

My uncle and I were feeling pretty good by the time Fast Willie Parker ran almost untouched for a Super Bowl record 75 yard touchdown on the second play of the third quarter. It really was a thing of beauty with perfect blocks by Alan Faneca and crew.

  • Pittsburgh was now ahead, 14-3.

Pittsburgh Almost Buries Seahawks, but Big Ben Gives Them New Life

The Seahawks tried to answer on their next drive but came away with no points after kicker Josh Brown missed wide on a long field goal, which subsequently set Pittsburgh up in great field position.

Pittsburgh looked to put the nail in the coffin as they drove down inside Seattle’s 10-yardl ine. However, on third down, Roethlisberger’s very poorly thrown pass intended for Cedrick Wilson was intercepted by Kelly Herndon, who returned it 76 yards to the Steeler 24 yard line. Seattle capitalized on the miscue when Hasselbeck fittingly found Stevens for a touchdown pass on third down to pull the Seahawks to within four points, at 14-10.

In the fourth quarter, the Seahawks appeared poised to take the lead when it looked like they would have the ball first and goal after Hasselbeck hit Stevens with a pass inside the five yard line. But in yet another controversial call, Seattle tackle Sean Locklear was called for holding Clark Haggans on the play, and the Seahawks were pushed back. A few plays later, Ike Taylor came up with another one of his big postseason interceptions. During Taylor’s return, Hasselback was called for blocking below the waste (another controversy), which added 15 yards to the end of Taylor’s return and set Pittsburgh’s offense up in prime position.

The “Gadget Play” that Brought “One For The Thumb”

The Steelers capitalized when Randle El, a quarterback in college at Indiana, took a hand-off from Parker and threw a 43 yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward to give Pittsburgh a 21-10 lead. Watch the play here (as of 11/28/15 Roger Goodell’s You Tube police haven’t had this taken down):



Let the Super Bowl Celebration Begin

The Seahawks never really mounted another serious threat the rest of the game, and for the first time in 26 seasons, the Steelers were World Champions and finally had that “One For The Thumb.”

Bill Cowher got the ultimate Gatorade bath, as Steelers fans filled the streets of Pittsburgh to celebrate. The South Side was jammed with fans partying it up all night long. Watching the celebration on TV,  I remember wanting to go out and drive around honking my horn but was also very drunk, and before I could do something really stupid, I thankfully fell asleep on my uncle’s couch.

The Aftermath of Super Bowl XL

I was feeling kind of crappy physically when I awoke the following Monday morning, but my heart was filled with joy–a feeling that lasted for several weeks and months afterwards.

The Steelers would go on to miss the playoffs the following season and many were calling their Super Bowl XL championship a fluke.

  • However, that 2005 team was very strong.

Sure, the Steelers were a wildcard entrant, but they weren’t your average, everyday wildcard team. Many people forget that Roethlisberger missed several games that season after undergoing knee surgery, and Pittsburgh was also without tackle Marvel Smith for several weeks. Pittsburgh was 11-5, a pretty strong wildcard record, and if not for those injuries, the team probably would have won 13 games and the AFC North that year.

  • No. That Steelers championship team was far from a fluke.

They were 15-1 in 2004 and made it to the AFC Championship game. Pittsburgh also had very strong playoff teams in ’01 and ’02 prior to Roethlisberger’s arrival but could never get over the hump.

  • The 2005 campaign just happened to be the year that Pittsburgh finally put it all together.

The fact that Pittsburgh came out of the wildcard round (the beginning of a Super Bowl trend that has continued to this day) shouldn’t tarnish things in the least. Plus, I think the fact that the Steelers returned to the Super Bowl three seasons later and walked away with a sixth ring in Super Bowl XLIII and then appeared in Super Bowl XLV two years later further adds to the legacy of that ’05 squad.

What the Steelers 5th Championship Meant to Me as a Fan

As for me, those nine weeks defined what being a fan is all about. I was 33 years old at the time, but I felt like a little kid as everything about the period seemed so magical and even a little surreal.

  • For years, I wondered if the Steelers would ever bring the City of Pittsburgh another trophy.

Throughout the 90s and into the early 00s, the Steelers set themselves up countless times with premium seeds and home playoff games, only to leave fans depressed and disappointed.

  • For Pittsburgh to finally bring home the Lombardi the hardest way possible just made it that much sweeter.

The Steelers had to scratch and claw their way into the postseason, and if the official had kept his flag in his back pocket and not called holding on the Chiefs in Kansas City’s late-season loss to the Cowboys, Pittsburgh wouldn’t even have made the playoffs, and history would have been much different–every time I think about that, it gives me goosebumps (like the Chin said, it really is a fine line).

It’s a time in my life that I’ll always cherish and I don’t know if I’ll ever have that much fun following a team. It really was a wonderful time and something I’ll never forget.
Go Steelers!!!!!!

Steel Curtain Rising Thanks Tony Defeo for sharing his memories. Read more of his work at Pittsburgh’s Best Sports Blog.

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The Steelers Road to Super Bowl XL: Remembering Pittsburgh’s Greatest 9 Weeks Ever (Part IV).

Still Feeling the Afterglow of the Steelers Upset at Indianapolis

I can’t tell you how stunned I was at the time that the 2005 Steelers went into Indianapolis and knocked off the Colts. Up to that point in NFL history, most teams that had seasons like Indianapolis had in’05–flirting with perfection–usually went on to win the Lombardi trophy. I was pretty optimistic before the game like any fan would be, but even I knew that I witnessed something special.

The next day on craigslist, the fans from Denver were coming onto the Pittsburgh board and thanking the Steelers for allowing the Broncos to host the AFC Championship game.

  • Much like the Colts and Pats fans from a week earlier, they were acting as if victory was all but certain and the AFC title game would be a mere coronation for the their team.

And I can’t really blame them. The Broncos were the No. 2 seed in the AFC, and the fans probably figured the upstart Steelers were out of miracles. After all, Denver had just knocked off the two-time champion Patriots, and the Steelers took care of the No. 1 seed. Another thing working in Denver’s favor was the fact that no number six seed had ever made it to the Super Bowl. If the Steelers were in a similar situation, I would be feeling pretty good, too.

  • At work, everyone was talking about the near-disastrous ending of the Colts’ game and the almost miscarriage of justice because of the blown-call on the Polamalu interception that wasn’t.

But what had some of the female customers just gushing was when Troy kissed his wedding ring as a tribute to his wife after he made what should have been the game-sealing interception. At that moment, Polamalu endeared himself to millions of women and was probably the most perfect man in the universe.

Tuesday evening, I went to yet another television taping of the Joey PorterShow at the Firehouse Lounge in the Strip District, and at that point, Steeler-mania was in full-swing and the place was jumping. In previous weeks, I was able to sit right near the front, but on this night, I was back by the bar, trying to watch it as best I could. This was the only taping I attended by myself since my aunt couldn’t make it that night.

  • I talked to some very interesting people, including a woman who had a home-made terrible towel that she made in the late 70’s. That was neat to see.

Joey’s Steeler-guests that night were Ben Roethlisberger and Chris Hoke. I’m assuming that Roethlisberger taped his interview earlier because he wasn’t there when I arrived, but Hokey’s interview was pretty insightful and funny. He commented on the playoff beards that all the “white guys” were growing for the playoff run. He seemed like a cool guy. It was a pretty fun night, all the way around.

  • Of the three AFC playoff games the Steelers played, the AFC Championship game in Denver was the one I was most confident about, but that didn’t stop me from being nervous.

I had a right to be, of course, as that round of the playoffs was a real source of frustration for many years. The Steelers played in the AFC title game five previous times under Bill Cowher, all at home, and lost all but one time. And here they were on the road in Denver, a place where the team never played well, trying to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 10 seasons.

  • For my money, losing in the round before the Super Bowl is even more frustrating than losing the Super Bowl.

I know a lot of people will disagree with me, but that’s how I’ve always felt. Losing in the Super Bowl is like going to Kennywood on a rainy day. Sure, it sucks, but at least you get to go to Kennywood.

There is nothing worse than spending an entire week confident that your team will win and make it to the Super Bowl only to see those hopes and dreams hit a brick wall. I have a hard time watching the Super Bowl after the Steelers lose the AFC Championship game. The Super Bowl between the Patriots and Rams was one of the most exciting ever, and I missed most of it because I just couldn’t stand to watch New England play in a game I thought the Steelers were locks to make.

But I was confident leading up to the Denver game because I thought the Steelers had the better team and the better quarterback. The Broncos’ quarterback, Jake Plummer, was having an almost flawless season, rarely turning the ball over.

  • But I knew if he was pushed and confused by Dick Lebeau and the Steelers defense, Jake “The Snake” he would be forced into turnovers.

I commented to a friend of mine that Plummer would play like Kordell Stewart did in the 1997 AFC Championship game against the Broncos.

AFC Championship Game: Steelers Dominate Denver in First Half

The AFC Championship Game vs. Denver began as the Steelers got a field goal on their first drive, but not before I almost had a heart attack when Champ Bailey nearly picked off Roethlisberger on a third down pass to Hines Ward. Thankfully, Ward came to the rescue and caught the deflected pass before getting smacked by John Lynch. We had our first Nate Washington sighting on that drive as he made the first catch of his career, a key pick up on another third down. A few plays later, Jeff Reed kicked a 48 yard field goal, and the Steelers were in front, 3-0.

  • On the next Broncos’ drive, Plummer was hit by Joey Porter, who stripped him of the ball. Casey Hampton recovered and the Steelers were on their way.

Pittsburgh capitalized on the takeaway and made 10-0 early in the second quarter when Roethlisberger pump-faked a slant pass to Cedrick Wilson, who instead, turned it into an out and was wide open in the back corner of the end zone for a 12 yard touchdown pass. Bailey bit hard on the play and seemed to be stunned at the turn of events.

  • After Denver made it, 10-3, Pittsburgh marched down field and went up, 17-3, on a Jerome Bettis tough, three yard touchdown run late in the second quarter that turned out to be the last one of the Bus’ career.

Instead of just running out the clock, Denver decided to try and move the ball and Ike Taylor, of all people, intercepted a lazy pass by Plummer and Pittsburgh was poised to take an even bigger lead into the half.

Pittsburgh advanced the ball to the 12 yard line, and with time running out, Bettis inched up to the line right before the snap, took a quick hand-off and raced untouched for a score. Unfortunately, it didn’t count because Ward was called for illegal formation.

Thankfully, Ward made amends on the next play when a scrambling Roethlsiberger threaded a pass through two Broncos’ defenders and hit No. 86 in the back of the end zone with a 17 yard touchdown pass to put Pittsburgh ahead, 24-3, with just seconds left in the first half.

We were going nuts at my uncle’s house. Just a year earlier, the Steelers were down, 24-3, to New England at halftime of the AFC title game and here they were on the positive side of the exact same score.

Steelers Play Rope-a-Dope with Denver to Start Second Half

Pittsburgh got the football to start the second half and a did a good job of burning clock on its first two drives but couldn’t quite put the Broncos away. Denver’s offense finally broke through and inched a little closer late in the quarter when Plummer hit Ashley Lelie with a 30 yard touchdown pass over a beaten Chris Hope to make it, 24-10, Pittsburgh.

But Pittsburgh’s offense answered the Broncos’ score by putting Reed in position to kick a 42 yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. Reed’s attempt was successful, and the Steelers were sitting pretty with a 27-10 lead.

On the very first play of Denver’s next possession, Larry Foote picked off Plummer, and Pittsburgh had the ball near mid-field. My confidence was at an all-time high. Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t really capitalize, and when the Broncos got the ball back, they marched down field with the help of several penalties on Pittsburgh’s defense–including a questionable pass interference call on Taylor–and got to within 10 points thanks to a Mike Anderson three yard touchdown run.

  • At that point, I was pacing the floors, and almost fainted when Roethlisberger was nearly intercepted by Lynch on the Steelers subsequent possession.

Denver eventually got the ball back and had all the momentum.

Keisel puts Steeler Nation at ease

I had no need to worry.

It was fourth and 10 yards to go and precious few minutes left in the game. Plummer stepped back to pass and was almost taken down by Clark Haggans, who missed the often-elusive quarterback. However, Brett Keisel reached Plummer and knocked the football loose. To this day, I don’t know who recovered the football, but like play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove exclaimed, “It didn’t matter!”

By this point, victory was all but assured. However, I’m sure the ending of the Colts’ game was still fresh in every fan’s mind (I know it was for me), so nobody had stamped their ticket to Detroit just yet.

The Steelers eventually moved the football inside the 10 yard line, and during a break in the action, Cowher called over Bettis and had this smile and expression on his face. I couldn’t read his lips, but I’m guessing what he was telling the Bus was something like, “We’re riding you to the end zone, Bussy. Please don’t torture us like you did last week.”

After a couple of Bus rides, it was third and goal inside the five yard line. Instead of giving it to Bettis once again, it was a bootleg, and a four yard score by Roethlisberger to give Pittsburgh a 34-17 lead and assure a trip to Super Bowl XL.

When Roethlisberger scored, I jumped up and said, “We’re going to the Super Bowl!” It was one of the best moments of my life, and I mean that in all sincerity.

Despite the few nervous moments in the second half, it was one of my all-time favorite Steelers games. It was nice to see the AFC Championship game be sort of a blow out with very little suspense.

Feelings of Euphoria in Pittsburgh, Steelers Nation

The feeling that I had the rest of the evening was euphoric. Something happens to you when your favorite team wins a game like that. You have this urge to get in your car and drive around so that’s what I did. I found myself at my sister’s house in Avalon, and my brother in law, a Broncos fan, was still talking trash and trying to remind me of the Broncos’ back-to-back Super Bowl titles in ’97 and ’98. But he couldn’t hurt me that night. I was in Heaven.

Ok, this concludes part four. I hope you all enjoyed it. Stay tuned for the conclusion!

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The Steelers Road to Super Bowl XL: A Fan Remembers Pittsburgh’s Greatest Nine Weeks Ever (Part III).

Steelers vs. the Indianapolis in the AFC Divisional Playoffs 

The Steelers were the huge underdog going in and most people thought it would be a repeat of the game late in the regular season when the Colts outclassed Pittsburgh, 26-7, on Monday Night Football.

Cowher Decides its Time for Big Ben

One of head coach Bill Cowher‘s perceived faults in previous postseasons was being too conservative on offense and letting the other team dictate the action.

For the first time in over twenty years, the Steelers had a bona fide franchise quarterback in one Ben Roethlisberger, and Cowher cut him loose on the Colts right out of the gate. The first possession of the game saw the Steelers drive right down the field on the strength of Roethlisberger’s arm. He got things started with a play-action pass to tight end Heath Miller for 36 yards that set Indianapolis back on its heals. The drive culminated in a quick slant pass to Antwaan Randle El for a six yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Two drives later, the Steelers took control of the game when Roethlisberger hooked up with Miller for a seven yard touchdown pass, making it 14-0 Pittsburgh in the first quarter. The key play on this drive was a third down pass to Hines Ward in which he picked up 45 yards and netted an additional 15, thanks to a face mask penalty on a Colts defender.

Defense has Manning on his Heals in Rematch

On defense, the Steelers had Peyton Manning and the Colts’ offensive line totally confused. In the regular season game, Pittsburgh’s defense barely touched Manning as he passed for 245 yards and two scores, but in this game, he didn’t have much time to do anything, especially in the first half. Towards the end of the second quarter, the Colts embarked on their best drive of the game up until that point. They started at their own two yard line after a great punt by Chris Gardocki.

Thanks mostly to running back Edgarin James, Indianapolis moved the ball deep into Steelers’ territory. Eventually, it was third and goal and it looked like James scored on a tough running play. Unfortunately for the Colts, a linemen moved too early and Indy eventually had to settle for a field goal to make it 14-3 at halftime.

The Defense, The Bus Impose Their Will in the Third Quarter

The second half started out pretty much like the first half, at least for the Colts on offense. They couldn’t do much of anything, and Pittsburgh was winning the battle of field position.

In-fact, the defense sacked Manning just inches shy of his own goal line, nearly resulting in a safety. The ensuing punt gave the Steelers great field position at the Colts’ 30 yard line. Passing was great early on, but on the previous drive, it looked like Roethlisberger injured his throwing elbow while being hit.

  • If ever there was a time to kick the tires and bring Jerome Bettis, the Bus, out of the garage, this was that time.

Bettis was the workhorse on this very short drive, a drive that would eventually result in a one yard scoring leap by the big man and a 21-3 lead for Pittsburgh. I was hysterical. I remember picking up my two year old cousin and throwing her around. I was so happy! And even though the Colts had the best offense in the NFL that year, for some reason, I didn’t think there was any way they’d come back on Pittsburgh’s suffocating defense.

Manning Steps Up to Impose his Will on Tony Dungy and the Steelers Defense

The following drive, however, the Colts got back in the game when Manning appeared to wave off the punt team on fourth and short, deep in his own territory and hit Brandon Stokley with a 13 yard pass on the last play of the third quarter to move the chains and give his team new life. Two plays later, Manning hit tight end Dallas Clark and Clark out-ran most of the Steelers secondary for a 50 yard touchdown to make it 21-10.

  • Just like that the Colts were back in the game after being dominated for three quarters.

The next drive, in my opinion, was the most important one of the game for Pittsburgh. They didn’t score, but they took about eight minutes off the clock after converting twice on fourth and short. There was much controversy on the first conversion after the Colts jumped off-sides and touched one of the Steelers offensive linemen because they thought that Alan Faneca flinched.

Whether he did or not was immaterial because the officials didn’t blow the whistle so off-sides should have been called. But nothing was called and after a lot of arguing from the Steelers’ sideline, the refs just did a “do-over” and I almost had a heart-attack when it looked like Roethlisberger was stopped short. But thanks to a great second-effort and a little push from Jerome, he just barely made it.

Troy Polamalu Saves the Day for Pittsburgh……..Not so Fast

As I said, Pittsburgh didn’t score on that drive but they gave the ball back to the Colts with barely over six-minutes left in the game. At that point, one more defensive stand would all-but wrap up the game for the Steelers. And they appeared to make that stand when Troy Polamalu dove to intercept a Manning pass.

He got up to try to advance the ball and fumbled it, but fell on it and Pittsburgh had the ball at mid-field with less than six-minutes left. I went into celebration mode at that point. I figured the Steelers would just run the clock down and be on their way to Denver for their second straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game. The Colts challenged the play, but it just seemed like blind desperation from head coach Tony Dungy. It was obvious from every camera angle that Polamalu intercepted the ball and it never touched the ground. I walked around my uncle’s living room with my arms raised in victory.

  • Mr. referee came out to give his verdict, it was just a formality, though, right?

Wrong! He said that since Polamalu lost the ball before getting both knees off the ground while trying to advance it, it was an incomplete pass. So, in other words,  had Polamalu stayed there on the turf after intercepting the pass, it would have stood, but since he got up and tried to advance the ball, it was an incomplete pass? He was punished for doing more? Made no sense then, makes no sense now. I had never witnessed such a call before that day and not since. I don’t know what the referee’s thought process was or what rule he used as a reference for his decision, but he was clearly wrong and everyone knew it.

I remember turning to my uncle and saying, “I can’t believe they’re taking the game away from us!” My uncle said that he never saw me so angry and beside myself watching a sporting event, and he was right. I could not believe that happened. If you don’t already know, you can probably guess what unfolded once the Colts resumed their drive.

They eventually scored a touchdown on a James’ three yard plunge, and Manning hit Reggie Wayne for a two point conversion to make it 21-18 with a little over four minutes to go. Just minutes prior, it looked like the game was over and now suddenly, the Colts had all the momentum.

The Steelers needed to run the clock out at that point. Roethlisberger, sore elbow or not, threw for a first down, but underthrew Ward on third down later in the drive, and the Steelers had to punt. So, there it was, the Colts had the ball with 2:42 left and I was so nervous, that I wussed out and left for a drive in my car. Can you believe that? Me, Mr. Steelers fan, chickened out and took a tour of Pittsburgh during the most crucial part of the Steelers season.

Missing Perhaps the Most Heart Stopping (literally) 2:42 seconds in Steelers History

I drove to Mt. Washington, for some reason, and decided to turn the radio on about 15 minutes later. At that point, the first thing I heard was Tunch Ilkin, the Steelers color commentator, saying his heart went out to Tony Dungy whose son committed suicide earlier in the year.

I didn’t hear the Colts crowd going nuts. “What happened?” I wondered to myself. The Steelers were kneeling on the ball and Steelers play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove was singing, “turn out the lights, the party’s over.” I knew at that point Pittsburgh had victory in hand, so I stuck my hand out of my car and did the “No 1” sign as I drove to my mom’s house, not knowing the pulsating events that led up to the Steelers’ upset victory.

  • When I arrived at Mom’s, she informed me that she prayed for a miracle during the last seconds of the game.

According to her, the miracle came true because Pittsburgh won. However, she wasn’t quite sure what transpired that led up to the victory.

Do you remember what transpired in-between the time I left my uncle’s with 2:42 remaining? I believe every Steelers fan knows what happened, but I missed it all. The Colts got the ball back and needed a field goal to tie it or a touchdown to win it.

  • Pittsburgh didn’t allow an inch on defense, sacking Manning twice, the second time Joey Porter dropped Manning on fourth and long, in the shadows of Indianapolis’ own end zone.

After the sack, Manning screamed, “Yeah, that’s the game, baby! It’s on to Denver!” The Steelers had the ball 1st and goal with 1:28 left. Unfortunately, they couldn’t just kneel on the ball because Indianapolis had all three time outs left. The offense had to punch it in to put the game on ice. On first and goal, Roethlisberger handed it off to Bettis, who unbelievably fumbled!

Nick Harper, the Colts defensive back, picked the ball up and was off to the races. Roethlisberger made a play for the ages as he zigged when Harper zigged and zagged when he zagged. Roethlisberger lunged for Harper’s leg and brought him down near mid-field. Everyone was in disbelief, especially Bettis who was inconsolable on the sidelines.

(The Bettis fumble was shocking to everyone, both players and fans alike, and it was later revealed that Pittsburgh resident Terry O’Neil suffered a heart attack just seconds after the Bettis fumble and needed immediate medical attention–O’Neill would thankfully make a full recovery).

Naturally, the Colts drove the ball down the field on the Steelers’ stunned defense and eventually had a second and two at Pittsburgh’s 29 yard line. Manning went for the victory when he went deep for Wayne in the end zone. Wayne came within inches of catching the ball only to have it knocked out by Steelers rookie defensive back Bryant McFadden. People are always going to remember “the tackle,” but I think McFadden’s play is one of the most underrated in Steelers’ history, and it was the best play of his career. Two plays later, Mike Vanderjagt, who hadn’t missed a field goal at home the entire season, set up for a 46 yard attempt with seconds remaining.

  • I guess my mom must have prayed for intercession to the right Saint because, not only did Vanderjagt miss the kick, it wasn’t even close.

I missed all of that, but maybe it was a good thing. My uncle was eating some dinner on one of those drop tables and when Jerome fumbled, he said he flung it across the room. In crucial moments of a big game, I usually stand right by the TV, so I might have been in the line of fire and had my face rearranged by that drop table and some mashed potatoes.

What an exciting victory. This concludes part three of my tale.

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

The first half of the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers regular season was going along much like the previous one, when Pittsburgh finished 15-1 with rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger before losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

Even though Roethlisberger was out a few weeks after having minor knee surgery, Charlie Batch filled in just fine in beating a pretty mediocre Green Bay team on the road and the miserable Browns at Heinz Field on Sunday Night Football. Pittsburgh was 7-2, and the playoffs seemed like a sure bet.

However, things began to take a turn for the worse in Week 11 when Batch was unable to go and Tommy Maddox had to take the helm at quarterback against the very ordinary Ravens. I don’t know if any of you remember, but ’05 wasn’t the greatest year for Tommy Gun. Earlier in the season, he had to fill in for Roethlisberger against the Jaguars and proceeded to throw three interceptions, including the back-breaker in overtime as the Steelers lost and Maddox may or may not have had garbage thrown on his lawn.

Maddox didn’t fare much better against the Ravens, and Pittsburgh lost, 16-13, in overtime with some help from a fluky interception off of Hines Ward‘s cleats near mid-field. The following week, the Steelers traveled to Indianapolis to play the then undefeated Colts on Monday Night Football. Roethlisberger was just coming back from his surgery, but neither he nor the Steelers defense had an answer for Indianapolis as Peyton Manning and the boys had their way with our Black and Gold.

The Steelers were 7-4 and one game behind Cincinnati in the AFC North, heading into their Week 13 match up at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh whipped up on the Bengals earlier in the season at Cincinnati, and I figured the team would do the same thing at Heinz field and tie the Bengals for the lead in the division which essentially would put the Steelers one game ahead because of the head-to-head tiebreaker they would hold. Didn’t happen.

It was a pretty good game, but the Bengals eventually won by a touchdown and held a two-game lead with just four to go, all-but clinching the AFC North. At 7-5, not only did Pittsburgh’s chances at the division look pretty weak, but because of a very poor record in the AFC, its chances at a wildcard looked bleak at best.

  • Things weren’t looking good at all for Steeler Nation.

’05 Steelers Rally to the Playoffs Begins!

Then………the fun began!

There was no doubt the Steelers had to win their last four games to even have a chance to make the playoffs, but they were in a dog-fight for the last two spots with the Jaguars, Titans, Chiefs and Chargers. The only tiebreaker advantage Pittsburgh held was over the Chargers because of a last-second victory earlier in the year.

The rest of the teams had the Steelers dead-to-rights, and the Chargers were still one-game up on Pittsburgh, tiebreaker or not. I’m always pretty optimistic about my Steelers, but even I had very big doubts about them getting into the postseason.

The Tuesday night after the Bengals loss, my aunt asked me if I wanted to join her at the Firehouse Lounge in Pittsburgh’s Strip District for the weekly taping of the Joey Porter Show. I turned her down. I wasn’t in the mood for any Steelers celebrating. As far as I was concerned, they were pretty much dead in the water in terms of any postseason hopes.

Onto the game against the Bears. The Steelers played their best game in weeks as they manhandled the supposed toughest team in the NFC. The game was most notable for a play in which the Bus, Jerome Bettis, ran over Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher during a short-yardage touchdown run in the snow at Heinz Field.

It was fun to see the Steelers win, but their playoff hopes were still pretty sad.

Later that evening, I was shocked to hear that San Diego lost at home to the Dolphins. “Wow, a piece of the puzzle,” I thought as I watched the Chiefs go up against Dallas later that afternoon. I haven’t been a Cowboys fan in years, but you better believe I was that day. Trailing, the Cowboys had the ball first and goal late in the game. Dallas’ offense didn’t get anywhere on the first three downs, and after a fourth down pass fell incomplete in the end zone, I thought, “Oh well, at least the Chargers lost and the Steelers gained a little bit of ground in the playoff picture.”

  • Wait a second!

There was a flag for defensive holding against Kansas City, and the Cowboys had new life. Dallas eventually scored and went on to win. Not only did the Steelers win and break their three game losing streak, but the Chargers and Chiefs both lost and suddenly, within a span of six hours, Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes went from last rights to new life.

A couple of days later, I did join my aunt at the Lounge for another taping of the Porter’s show, which was hosted by Peezee himself, with former Steeler Chris Hope and Jon Burton of Channel 4 Action Sports acting as co-hosts. The show was taped on Tuesdays and aired on Friday or Saturday nights on WBGN.

It was like a poor man’s Jerome Bettis Show with sub-par production values, but being at a taping was always a ton of fun. The place wasn’t too crowded my first night there. I was able to sit right behind the cameras beside my aunt and her friend. Joey always had at least one special guest Steeler each show and Antwaan Randle El was the guest that night. Afterwards, the fans all gathered around the guys for autographs and pictures.

In-fact, my aunt’s main purpose for attending these shows was so she could get as many autographs as she could on a Steelers shirt that she would eventually give my uncle. I’ve never been an autograph seeker, but it’s like a knee-jerk reaction when you’re around a celebrity of any kind.

For some reason, you feel compelled to ask them to sign something. Randle El disappointed most of the crowd by skirting out of there pretty fast after the show ended, but Porter and Hope stuck around to sign stuff and have their pictures taken. When Hope finally came my way, I said, “Hey man, could you sign my hat?” as I shoved it in his face. And he said, “where?” My hat was this Steelers tossel cap, with very little room for writing, except on the logo, so that’s what he signed.

  • It was a pretty cool night.

The Steelers were in even better shape the following week after they dominated the Vikings and Kansas City lost again, this time to the Giants. The Chargers won, becoming the first team to defeat the Colts, but as I said, the Steelers owned the tiebreaker over San Diego.

I went to another taping of the Joey Porter Show that following Tuesday, and the crowd was still pretty small despite the Steelers’ playoff chances looking a lot better. The thing I remember most about that night was Porter, the crazy but lovable linebacker, recounting an argument he had with someone from the Vikings and describing it with the help of the f-word before catching himself and apologizing to the audience. Joey’s guest that night was fellow Steelers linebacker Larry Foote.

Things Begin to Fall into Place for the ’05 Steelers

Heading into Week 16, Pittsburgh was now one-game up on the Chiefs, who were playing San Diego at home. The Steelers were in Cleveland on Christmas Eve to play the Browns. While Kansas City knocked off the Chargers, 20-7, Pittsburgh pounded the Browns, 41-0. I didn’t get to see the game because I was working, but I did have it taped for me, and I’ve probably watched that beat-down a dozen times.

Speaking of beat-downs, the Cleveland game is probably most noteworthy for being the contest in-which a Browns’ fan ran on the field and was snatched and flung to the ground by future Defensive Player of the Year, James Harrison.

  • With one week left in the season, the Steelers were 10-5, and a game-up on both Kansas City and San Diego.

The Jaguars were basically in with the fifth seed, and the Chargers were eliminated, thanks to the loss in Kansas City, and now it was down to the Chiefs and Steelers for the last seed in the AFC. On a side note, I didn’t go to the Joey Porter show that week. I don’t remember why, but it was the only one I missed after the Steelers started their historic run.

Despite Pittsburgh having a one-game lead over the Chiefs, if the two teams finished the regular season tied at 10-6, Kansas City would get into the playoffs, based on a better conference mark. That Saturday night, the Chargers played Denver in a meaningless game for the Broncos who already had the AFC Western Division clinched as well as the second seed in the playoffs.

If San Diego would have somehow won that game, Pittsburgh would have clinched that last playoff spot before Sunday’s games were even played based on some weird three-way tiebreaker, involving the Chiefs. It didn’t happen, though. The Chargers lost, and after celebrating New Year’s Eve, I sat down with my uncle to sweat out Pittsburgh’s season-finale against the Lions at Heinz Field. The Chiefs played the Bengals in a meaningless game for Cincy, and Kansas City won, 37-3.

’05 Steelers Seal the Deal – Road to Super Bowl XL Opens!

The 5-10 Lions didn’t go quietly, as Pittsburgh only led, 21-14, at halftime. During the break, my uncle was watching Tommy Boy, and I, being a nervous wreck about the game, was off to the side doing karate moves and wound up catching my foot on the back of his chair and fell on my butt. The thing I remember most is looking up and seeing my uncle and little cousin laughing hysterically. You talk about bringing Chris Farley back from the dead.

Anyway, that game turned out to be the last regular season and home game for the Bus, and he finished it off in style by scoring three touchdowns in a 35-21 Steelers victory.

  • Pittsburgh was in the playoffs with the sixth seed in the AFC, and I was relieved.

This concludes part one of my story. Join me next time for part two.

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Outakes: Steelers Broncos AFC Championship Win Sends Pittsburgh to Super Bowl XL – One for Thumb In Sight

Founded in 2008, Steel Curtain Rising existed before then, but on email. Now you can enjoy these Outtakes.”

One for the Thumb.”

In the 26 years after Joe Greene threw down the “One for the Thumb” gauntlet for the rest of the franchise, five times before the Steelers have stood on the door step, only to fall short. 4 of those times the Steelers were unable to open the door, and the one time Pittsburgh opened it, Neil O’Donnell allowed Larry Brown to shut during Super Bowl XXX.

  • The Steelers Broncos AFC Championship win again opened the door and opened it compelling fashion.

While today’s game might have lacked the suspense of the AFC divisional victory over the Colts, the Steelers compensated for it with ingenuity. One really must credit to Bill Cowher for keeping the boys mean and hungry, and Ken Whisenhunt  deserves even more credit for devising and deploying a brilliant game plan. I don’t know how many coaching vacancies are left, but Steelers fans had better enjoy Ken Whisenhunt while they can.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs Broncos, Steelers AFC championship Broncos

Ben Roethlisberger in the 2005 AFC Championship Game. Photo Credit: Denver Post

Has a Bill Cowher-coached Steelers team ever come out and called a better game on offense? I don’t know.

Not only did Ken Whisenhunt call the right play at the right time, but his players executed. To be sure, the Steelers got a few breaks (Hines Ward turning a would be Champ Bailey int/TD into a receptions. Neither of Willie Parker’s fumbles costing the team,) but that’s all part of the game. The fact the so many people had a piece of the ball says it all. Hines Ward, Cedric Wilson, Jerome Bettis, and Ben Roethlisberger got TD’s. Heath Miller didn’t get a TD, but came up with clutch catches when the Steelers needed him.

Aside from executing a well-devised game plan, the Steelers took advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves. 10 of those 24 first half points came directly off of turnovers. Which is to say that the Steelers started 24-3 instead of 14 to three. And make no mistake about it. Getting up a lead prevented Denver from running the ball, and the Broncos had shown some ability to do that early in the game.

The Steelers defense also earned its share of the credit.

  • For once, Phil Simms is right about the Steelers, Pittsburgh’s defensive backs can cover.

Although the Steelers defense did get into Jake Plummer’s face when it was important, there were also a number of times when he had loads of time to throw, but couldn’t find anyone open. One of the telling stats is that Plummer had so little success throwing long down the field. (And to think, a lot of people cited the Steelers weakness vs. the deep ball. Well, in the Steelers-Broncos AFC Championship game, defending against the long ball wasn’t a Pittsburgh weakness.)

All in all, the Steelers played a hell of a game. They had a great game plan, they executed, and they stayed focused, with the one exception of the Bronco’s only TD drive where we gave them 31 yards on penalties. Pittsburgh also prevented Denver from establishing momentum.

  • When the Broncos answered Jeff Reed’s 2nd field goal with a 47 yard Charlie Adams kick return, Larry Foote answered with an interception on the very next play.

Credit the Broncos. They didn’t fold up and quit, when they could have. They stuffed the Steelers running game (yes, I did think Pittsburgh’s play calling got a little conservative, but Ken Whisenhunt’s boys did move the chains and eat up the clock.)

The Steelers fought long and hard to get here.

  • Few people thought the Steelers would be here after the Steelers late season loss to the Bengals.

But I credit coach Cowher for bringing the boys back to basics (putting on full pads for practice clearly did the trick). Bill Cowher kept this team focused, he re-grounded the Steelers in their our physical identity, and that opened the door to the playoffs.

  • Then Bill Cowher unleashed what was, but shouldn’t have been his secret weapon. Big Ben Roethlisberger.

The decisive edge for the Steelers through the 2005 playoffs thus far has been having a legitimate franchise quarterback under center. And what a difference Ben Roethlisberger has made.

  • It’s been a hell of a ride thus far, and folks, it ain’t over yet!

Enjoy it. (Click here for our summary of Super Bowl XL)

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