Remembering An Oscar Worthy Performance: PIT vs. TEN. Divisional Playoffs 1/11/2003

I asked Fahey if he would retell this painful story for BTSC. I'm not sure I've ever been so angry during a sporting event. I really respect Jeff Fisher and the job he has done in the National Football League, but this one game will forever taint my image of the franchise. Many thanks to Fahey for the fine story-telling. I can't wait for Sunday. - Blitz-


In looking back to last week we see a game in which our team won, and rightfully won, but a game that will be remembered as one with a controversial call. In looking to next week, our team faces a staunch opponent, one we might see again in the postseason, and a joint-history that contains a story of a downright bad call. As far as degrees of judgment go, I'll take a controversial call over a bad call on any given gameday.

Let's take a quick look.

"For a game to be decided on that call is ludicrous. And for me to have to explain to an official what's reviewable and what's not? That's wrong. Fine me if you want. That's the truth." - Bill Cowher

But we'll get to that. It's difficult to figure out where to begin. We could begin with the preseason, in which the divisions and conferences were once again realigned, and a new playoff format devised. Or we could begin with the preceding weekend, in which a resurgent Wild Card Cleveland came into Heinz Field and pushed Pittsburgh for 57 brutal minutes, until a lucky dropped pass forced a punt, and a rag-tag group named Maddox, Burress, Ward, Fuamatu-Ma'afala, and Tuman drove a bit over half the field to assure the Steelers of one more weekend, a lost weekend in Nashville.


Or we could begin by mentioning that Nashville's a fantastic town.


But a town of heartache: cheatin' women, dead dogs, & cars up on blocks ... old Nashville that is, before the glitz of pop co-opted roots country as a money-market driven derivative of a once-noble form. A town of heartache and loss. A town where thousands have tried to better their luck and strike the bigtime, and a town where thousands have failed.

The Tennessee Titans won their division in the 2002 season, and gleefully waited for Pittsburgh to brave the Volunteer State on January 11, 2003 to see which team might earn a chance to fight for the conference title.

The most recent images of Steve McNair are of a broken-down man struggling to keep his body together while under center. It's often forgotten that he served wonderfully as Steve "Air" McNair (no relation to Michael Jordan) for the Tennessee Titans, with a young, powerful & fast Eddie George taking handoffs.

This one was a tight, hard-hitting game that sidelined Plaxico Burress and Kendrell Bell and Eddie George: the kind of game the two teams have played since the former Houston Oilers were a constant postseason rival in the late 1970s. Each team had exactly 324 yards at the 2-minute warning ... an intense game: even Maddox and Jeff Fisher once had to be separated before a melee ensued. (Although personally, if it came to throwing haymakers, I'd put my money on Fisher ... I'd imagine the old highway patrolman moustache packs a pretty mean jab & hook)

Scoring drives were traded equally, and throughout the course of regulation the box score was split pretty evenly:

  • o TEN - McNair 8-yard run (Nedney kick) TEN 7-0
  • o TEN - George 1-yard run (Nedney kick) TEN 14-0
  • o PIT - Ward 8-yard pass from Maddox (Reed kick) TEN 14-7
  • o PIT - field goal Reed 30 yards TEN 14-10
  • o PIT - field goal Reed 39 yards TEN 14-13
  • o PIT - Zereoue 31-yard run (Reed kick) PIT 20-14
  • o TEN - Wycheck 7-yard pass from McNair (Nedney kick) TEN 21-20
  • o TEN - Kinney 2-yard pass from McNair (Nedney kick) TEN 28-20
  • o PIT - Ward 21-yard pass from Maddox (Burress pass from Ward) Tie 28-28
  • o PIT - field goal Reed 40 yards PIT 31-28
  • o TEN - field goal Nedney 42 yards Tie 31-31

And then into overtime. When you watch your team go into overtime you know your odds of turning off the television happy are the same odds as the coin flip. That's provided the game's called fairly, and the odds are permitted to exist as odds:

Dewayne Washington was beat twice on two big pass plays and the Titans seemed almost as surprised as the audience to find themselves standing within range of a game-winning field goal.

The 2003 Academy Awards were fairly predictable, with Oscars going to:

Best Movie: Chicago

Best Actress: Nicole Kidman, The Hours

Best Supporting Actress: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago

Best Actor: Adrien Brody, The Piano

Best Supporting Actor: Joe Nedney, Kicker, Tennessee Titans

As Nedney's kick failed to split the uprights Dewayne Washington slid along the grass toward the spot of the ball like a baserunner sliding into second on a short outfield pop. Attempting a block in the manner all special teams members are coached to attempt a block. Nedney took two plain-as-day steps into Washington, so that his ankle was ever-so-slightly brushed by a shoulder pad, and proceeded to hop, flop, twist & spin his way down onto the ground as though a sledgehammer had just been applied to his kneecaps.

Washington was flagged for running into the kicker, and Nedney had flopped his way into another kick. Jason Gildon attempted to call a timeout before the new kick, but the referee informed him he didn't have any.

They did have a timeout, and the scoreboard accurately portrayed said timeout, as a matter of fact it portrayed BOTH timeouts the Steelers still had. Postseason overtime is different from regular season overtime, and the umpire of this particular match first didn't grant the TO, and then later (to cover his own ass) told the referee that the TO request came after the snap.

Needless to say, Nedney was given a nice little gift from the officiating crew, and successfully put a final score of 34 - 31 on the board.

"There is one thing that is going to stick in my mind and that's the ref took that. Let it come down to us losing the game and not the ref losing the game for us." - Joey Porter

Milliseconds after the "game-winning kick" Cowher rushed onto the field and got millimeters from referee Blum's face. Spitting and chinning, but ultimately knowing that at this point it was too late ... that there might be a Fed-Ex package from the league the next morning explaining and apologizing for the bad calls and mistakes, but that no Fed-Ex package would get them any further in the postseason.

The Steelers played terribly the following season, and it became readily apparent that Maddox had peaked, or that the league had figured out how to contain and beat him. And in 2004 we entered into the contemporary edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

And so looking to Sunday, and the impending date with the Titans, all I can offer is that I've disliked these guys since they were the Oilers. And grew to dislike them even more in the Glanville days of coaching the team to cheat and steal. And grew to outright detest them since watching Nedney pirouette his team into the Conference Championship.

I don't want to offer too much in the way of predictions and analysis as other posts have already wonderfully covered those topics and I've already spent enough time looking back. But I will offer the following (though it will certainly echo what others have already said): Pittsburgh seems to be peaking at the right time in the season, while Tennessee seems to be in a bit of a mid-stumble. If both of those facets continue you and I will be doing a lot of cheering this Sunday. I've got faith in the Black & Gold to pull off two more wins and keep the playoffs in Pittsburgh. And if we cross paths with Tennessee again in the postseason, we'll wanna do that at Heinz Field. As said, Nashville's a town of heartache & loss.

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