Bumped from the Fanposts. Great stuff from a new member here at BTSC. Quite a first post. Keep it coming guys and gals! -Blitz- (Michael B.)
As we head into the relative quiet in the football world that preceeds training camp, I was reflecting back on some of my favorite moments of the Steelers championship run last season. I found there were a number of big moments to really stamp the season and team as something special. The Steelers rarely looked perfect against the daunting schedule they faced, but they almost always rose to the challenge when the game was on the line. After the jump, see if you agree with some of the big, defining moments of the Steelers 2008-09 season. I considered everything up to but not including the Super Bowl, which is in a class all by itself.
8) Larry Foot intercepts Phillip Rivers pass in the 3rd quarter of the Divisional Playoffs after a Darren Sproles kickoff returns sets up the Chargers deep in Steeler territory. The Steelers had just seized control of the game, but a long kickoff return had the Chargers poised to quickly tighten the game again. This brought back memories of past losses to the Jags and Patriots in the playoffs, where long returns killed the Steelers. But Brett Keisel tipped the Rivers pass, and Larry Foot intercepted it to wipe out the threat. This would be the Chargers only offensive play of the 3rd quarter, still an amazing fact. The Steelers didn't score on the ensuing drive, but they punted, and when the kick bounced off the head of the Charger returner, William Gay recovered and the Steelers had flipped the field position on the Chargers. The game really turned on the Steelers snuffing out the scoring threat with Foote's INT.
7) The barrage of turnovers created vs. the Patriots. Ok, this isn't just a single play, so maybe that isn't fair, but the turnover sequence in the second half against the Patriots was amazing and something every Steeler fan had to thoroughly enjoy, given past frustrations against the Pats. In brief, after taking a 13-10 lead, the Steelers kicked to the Pats. Keyaron Fox jumps on a fumbled return. A few plays later, Big Ben hits Hines Ward for a TD, and we are up 20-10. The first play from scrimmage after the Pats get the ball back, James Harrison racks up another sack-strip, Lamar Woodley pounces on the fumble, and the Steelers cash in for 3 pts. to make it 23-10. Another Harrison forced fumble, a Polamolu INT, and a Lawrence Timmons INT later, and the Black and Gold have put the icing on a 33-10 thumping of the Patriots on their home field.
6) Deshea Townsend INT return for a TD completes the Steeler comeback against the Cowboys. The Steelers appeared to be goners in this one, and the Fox broadcast team was letting us all hear how big a win this was for the Cowboys after the 4th quarter goal line stand that kept them ahead 13-3. Seemingly moments later, a signature drive and clutch plays again from Big Ben (and stellar pass blocking from the maligned O-line), and the Steelers have tied the game at 13. This set the stage for Big Play Deshea, as Lamar Woodley pressures Romo who lofts the ball over the charging OLB and into the hands of Townsend. As he crashes into the end zone, Steeler fans everywhere risk ligament damage twirling Terrible Towels with reckless abandon. Steelers win 20-13.
5) Big Ben's 3rd and 8 completion to Hines Ward for an 18 yard gain deep in Jacksonville territory on the game winning drive. What is so special about that? Perhaps it has been lost in all the drama of the long season, but facing a team that beat us twice on our home field the year before (something that has never happened before), the Steelers overcame much adversity in this game. From Ben's interception that was returned 72 yards for a TD on his 3rd pass of the game, to injuries to multiple players, the Steelers were on the ropes the entire way through this one. But the grit and determination that came to define the entire season was revealed on this drive when Big Ben, with D-linemen grabbing at him and pulling him backwards, somehow musters enough strength to loft the ball to Hines Ward, despite being pulled down into a sea of humanity as he released the ball. A few plays later Ward catches a TD pass, the defense stops Jacksonville on downs (remember the year before, when they often could not do this?) and the Steelers show their mettle (thanks for that term, Coach Tomlin) in a gritty 26-21 win in prime time. The ghosts of the preceeding season were put to rest with this victory.
4) Santonio Holmes punt return TD vs. SD in the playoffs. The Chargers jumped out to a 7-0 lead, stunning those at the game and watching on TV. Our offense was sputtering, and we needed a spark. The Holmes TD got the fans going, broke the tension the fans and team seemed to have, and they went on to play a very complete game, winning 35-23. The Holmes TD was key to getting rid of jitters and tension left over from the Big Ben injury against Cleveland, past playoff ghosts, and the inability to score a TD (at least one that wasn't taken away) earlier in the season against the Chargers. This TD got us rolling in the playoffs, especially since it came on special teams.
3) James Harrison sacks and strips the ball from Joe Flacco in the 3rd quarter of the week 3 game against the Ravens, and Lamar Woodley recovers and returns the fumble for a TD. The Steeler offense had just scored a TD moments earlier, awakening from a 10 quarter funk that totaled 1 TD. That cut the Raven lead to 13-10, and then the Harrison play catapults them into the lead. Only minutes earlier, things looked very, very bad for the Black and Gold, but this play launched them to a crucial win against the hated Ravens. Steelers win 23-20 in OT. A loss here would have put the Steelers at 2-2, and behind the rapidly improved Ravens in the division.
2) Santonio Holmes TD reception against the Ravens in Baltimore. The Ravens defense had mauled the Steelers all day long, but just like they did against the Cowboys when the game was on the line, the offense came to life, stopped the pass rush, and Big Ben engineered a 92 yard drive that culminated with this controversial TD. Later replays confirmed the ball crossed the plane of the goal line, but it was oh so close. The win clinched the division for the Steelers, and a 1st round bye. At the conclusion of this game, I said to my wife, "This is the sort of game a championship team finds a way to win. This team is special - we can win the Super Bowl this year." I also said lots of other things about not jinxing the team, not taking anything for granted, one game at a time, etc. to try not to upset the good karma. When Big Ben got hurt against Cleveland and we didn't know if he would be ok, I just knew my spoken words had come back to haunt me and all Steeler fans.
1) Troy Polamolu intecepts Joe Flacco and returns it for a TD in the 4th quarter of the AFC Championship game. Steeler fans were again agonizing as we saw multiple scoring opportunities squandered throughout the game. This is the sort of thing that typically comes back to haunt a team, especially in January. With a razor thin 2 point lead, fans were trying desperately to not think about Bill Cowher's first AFC Championship game against the Chargers. In that game, the Steelers let the Chargers hang around all game, until they finally popped a big pass play, took the lead, and ultimately won when Neil O'Donell's pass to Barry Foster was broken up at the goal line on 4th down. With thoughts of "Just don't let them get across mid-field" swirling about in my head, there were our two defensive stalwarts combining on the same play to deliver an AFC Championship. James Harrison hits Flacco just as he releases the ball, causing it to sail behind the intended receiver, and Troy Polamolu intercepts. His return seemed like it was in slow motion as he weaved in and out of traffic covering the width of the field. When he crossed the goal line, the ghosts of past AFC Championship disappointments were vanquished and Steeler Nation rejoiced.
For me, this moment, with the game hanging in the balance, and the symbolic nature of triumph at the site of past disappointment, was THE top moment of the season prior to Super Bowl 43. What was your favorite, and which moments did I leave out that you think should be in the top tier of memories from last season?