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The Road To Super Bowl XL.The Greatest Nine Weeks Ever! (PART ONE)

This is something I started to write a couple of years ago as a celebration of probably the most fun I've ever had following sports: December 11th, 2005-February 5th, 2006. It culminated in the Steelers finally winning that "One For The Thumb" when they defeated the Seattle Seahawks and captured their 5th Super Bowl title and first Lombardi trophy since the 1979 season.

I never finished it, but since posting on various blogs, especially Behind the Steel Curtain, has invigorated my love for writing about all things sports, I've decided to re-post it here and hopefully finish it in the very near future.

Hope you enjoy:

The first half of the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers regular season was going along much like the previous season when they finished 15-1 with rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger before losing to those forkin New England Patriots in the AFC championship game. They were sitting at 7-2, and even though Big Ben was out a few weeks after having minor knee surgery, Charlie Batch filled in just fine in beating a pretty mediocre Green Bay Packers team and the crappy Browns on Sunday Night Football. Things began to take a turn for the worse in week 10 when Charlie Batch was unable to go and Tommy Maddox had to take the helm at qb against the very ordinary Baltimore Ravens. I don't know if any of you remember, but '05 wasn't the greatest year for Tommy Gun. Earlier in the year, he had to fill in for Roethlisberger against the Jacksonville Jaguars and proceeded to throw three interceptions, including the back-breaker in overtime as the Steelers lost and Tommy may or may not have had garbage thrown on his lawn. He didn't fair much better against the Ravens and the Steelers lost 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 Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football. Big Ben was just coming back from his surgery but neither he nor the Steelers defense had an answer for the Colts as Peyton and the boys had their way with our Black and Gold. The Steelers were 7-4 and one game behind the Cincinnati Bengals heading into their week 12 match up at Heinz Field. The Steelers whipped up on the Bungals earlier in the season at Cincinnati and I figured they'd do the same thing at Heinz field and tie the Bengals for the lead in the division which essentially would put them 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. Not only did Pittsburgh's chances at the division look pretty weak, but because of a very poor record in the AFC, their chances at a wildcard looked bleak at best. Things weren't looking good at all for Steeler Nation.

Then.........the fun began! There was no doubt the Steelers had to win their last four games to 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 the Steelers held was over the Chargers because of their 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 week leading up to their March To Greatness, my aunt asked me if I wanted to join her at the Firehouse Lounge in the Strip for the weekly taping of the Joey Porter show. In-fact, she called me the Tuesday night of the taping and asked if I was coming down. I could actually hear the audience applaud in the background as the show was just starting. I turned her down, though. I wasn't in the mood for any Steelers celebrating. I mean, heck, they were pretty much done. They were dead in the water.

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 noteable for a play in which the Bus, Jerome Bettis, ran over Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher during a short-yardage 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 the San Diego Chargers lost to the horrible Oakland Raiders. "Wow, a piece of the puzzle." I thought as I watched the Chiefs go up against the Dallas Cowboys. 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. They didn't get anywhere on the first three downs and after their 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 holding against the Chiefs and the Cowboys had new life. They eventually scored and went on to win. Wow! 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, the Steelers playoff hopes went from last rights to looking pretty good.

A couple of days later, I did join my aunt at the Lounge for another taping of the Joey Porter show. The Joey Porter show was hosted by Peezee himself along 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 subpar production values, but being at the tapings was 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 tapings was to 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 tossle cap and the only place to sign it was the logo so that's what he did. The night was pretty cool.

The Steelers were in even better shape the following week after they dominated the Vikings in Minnesota and the Chiefs and Chargers both lost again. Well, maybe the Chargers won, I can't remember. But as I said, the Steelers owned the tiebreaker over them so the more important loss was the Chiefs.

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 Joey Porter, the crazy but loveable 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.

Heading into week 15, the Steelers were now one-game up on both the Chargers and the Chiefs. Pittsburgh was in Cleveland on Christmas eve to play the Browns and the Chiefs and Chargers were playing eachother. Either way, if the Steelers won, they'd be in the driver's seat and win they did as they simply 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 and it's sweeter each time I see it. I'm not positive, but I think the Chiefs beat San Diego effectively eliminating them from the playoffs. The Jaguars were basically in with the 5th seed so now it was down to the Chiefs and the 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 they started their 8-game run better known as the March To Greatness. I've never heard it called that, I just decided to call it that after I started writing this blog.

The Steelers were 10-5 and the Chiefs were 9-6 heading into the final week but if Pittsburgh lost and Kansas city won, KC would get into the playoffs because of the AFC tiebreaker edge that they had. The night before the last game, San Diego played Denver in a meaningless game for the Broncos who already had the AFC Western division clinched as well as the 2nd seed in the playoffs, and 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 threeway tiebreaker. It didn't happen, though, the Chargers lost and after celebrating New Year's eve the night before, I sat down with my uncle to sweat out the Steelers season finale against the Lions at Heinz field. The Chiefs played the Bengals in a meaningless game for Cincy and beat the beejeezus out of them 37-3. It didn't matter, though. Despite a scary first half, the Steelers pulled away from the Lions and clinched that final playoff berth. During halftime of that game, my uncle was watching Tommy Boy with Chris Farley and I, being a nervous wreck, was off to the side doing karate moves and wound up catching my foot on the back of his chair and fell on my ass. The thing I remember most is looking up and seeing my uncle and little cousin laughing their asses off. You talk about bringing Farley back from the dead.

Anyway, that game turned out to be the last home game for the Bus and he finished it off in style by scoring three touchdowns. The Steelers were in the playoffs and I was relieved.

Ok, this concludes the first part of "The Greatest Nine Weeks Ever." I hope to post more in the near future.

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