Since we're well-over two-months beyond the disappointing Super Bowl XLV loss to the Packers, I finally allowed myself to go back and relive those exciting postseason games at Heinz Field that enabled the Steelers to advance to their 8th Super Bowl.
The other night, I popped in the tape of that thrilling victory over the Ravens in the divisional round in-which the Steelers overcame a 21-7 halftime deficit to win, 31-24, in arguably the most memorable and exciting playoff game in the ten-year history of Heinz Field. Watching it the second time was almost as sweet as experiencing it in real time back in January.
It was an epic comeback over their bitter rivals and a game that Steelers fans will be talking about for decades. But afterwards I started to realize something: Facing a large deficit at Heinz field in a playoff game is nothing new for the Steelers. In-fact, it's pretty common.
In the 2001 AFC Championship game, the Steelers trailed the Patriots 21-3 in the second half and went on to lose, 24-17. In their very next playoff game at Heinz Field-- the 2002 Wildcard game against the Cleveland Browns--the Steelers were down 24-7 in the second half before rallying to win, 36-33. Two seasons later, in a re-match against New England in the 2004 AFC Title Game, Pittsburgh trailed 24-3 on the way to a 41-27 beat-down. In 2007, the Steelers hosted the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Wildcard round and fell behind 28-10 in the 3rd quarter, made a furious comeback in the 4th quarter, but fell short in the end, 31-29. When you add the recent Baltimore game to the mix, that's 5 times the Steelers have trailed by two-touchdowns or more in 10 postseason games at Heinz Field since the franchise moved to their new digs in 2001.
In contrast, the Steelers hosted 18 playoff games at Three Rivers Stadium from 1972-1997 and only trailed by two touchdowns or more once--a 24-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills in a 1992 divisional playoff game.
That's a lot of games over a long period of time. You'd think somewhere along the line, even one of those 70's teams would have come out and laid an egg in-front of the home-fans.
I know the 70's Steelers are considered the greatest dynasty in NFL history with a roster made-up of 9 future Hall-of-Famers drafted by a Head Coach that is also in Canton, but what about the Steeler playoff teams from the 90's? Yeah, sure, those squads were loaded with talent and led by a Head Coach that is also headed to Canton someday, but they sure as heck didn't have 9 Hall-of-Famers on their roster and they never won a Super Bowl. Yet, other than that one game in '92, they never found themselves trailing by two or three touchdowns in a playoff contest at Three Rivers.
The Heinz Field portion of Steelers history obviously hasn't been too shabby and is at the very least, the second greatest era in franchise history. The Steelers have been to 3 Super Bowls and won 2 World Championships. Nine future Hall of Famers may not have run out onto Heinz Field, but more than a few future candidates have played for Pittsburgh over the last ten seasons.
Also, that future Hall of Fame Head Coach that was the leader of those 90's teams, one Bill Cowher, was also the head man in half of the playoff games hosted at Heinz Field. Cowher's successor, Mike Tomlin, has coached the other half and is building a fairly decent legacy in his own right.
So why so many bad starts at Heinz Field in the postseason? The obvious answer would be horrible play--key turnovers, poor special teams play, bad-defense--but I thought being at home in the playoffs was supposed to provide a psychological edge for the home team. It's the visitors who normally come unglued.
I don't even have any real theories to put forth, just the simple facts that I've provided. I'm asking Steeler Nation for the answers. I'm sure there are a ton of Steeler fans out there who have been to both Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field for playoff games and could weigh-in on this subject. The fact that Pittsburgh has been so hugely successful as an organization over the past 10 years only adds to my intrigue.
Any theories you'd like to share would be greatly appreciated by yours truly.