Bumped again. Was wondering when the next of Friedman's posts in this series would be published. Voila. A nice Sunday surprise. If you haven't already, I encourage you to read and enjoy 'One Sunday in January' as well as 'One Sunday in December.', the first two additions to what I'm hoping will be at least six or seven part series. -Michael B. -
Terry Bradshaw dropped back to pass with the Steelers trailing 19-17. There was a little over 12 minutes left in the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XIV. Bradshaw had called 60 prevent slot hook and go. John Stallworth had Ram DB Rod Perry beaten down the middle of the field. Bradshaw made the perfect pass and Stallworth galloped 73 yards to the end zone and a 24-19 lead. After a Lambert interception deep in Steelers territory the Steelers are faced with a 3rd and 8 with 5:24 left in the Super Bowl. 60 prevent slot hook and go. Stallworth was good for 45 more setting up then “Closer” Franco Harris with the final TD in a 31-19 win and 4th World Championship. And then it was all over. Darkness fell over the Steelers Dynasty and Steeler Nation was banished into the NFL desert. 26 years Steelers Nation wandered through a barren desolate existence with only a rare and short oasis of playoff water to savor.
After yet another heartbreaking loss to Tom Brady in 2004 many Steeler fans questioned their desire to even see the Steelers play in another big game. Coupled with the Pirates failings during the Barry Bonds years Pittsburgh sports fans had a sense of doom they carried into post season play. When the 2005 NFL season sputtered to a 7-5 record for the Steelers another playoff fizzle was not in anyone’s minds. But the Pittsburgh Steelers got back on The Bus and after reeling off 4 straight wins to close the season and knocking off loud talking Cincinnati with a gadget TD and big scoring Indianapolis with a Herculean effort from Joey Porter and the defense; Steeler Nation rode into Denver confident in victory miles away from the unfriendly confines of the Confluence. It was there in Denver that Ben Roethlisberger exercised the Steelers playoff demons and threw for 275 yards and 2 TDs en route to a 34-17 AFCCG victory and a return trip to the NFL Promised Land. One Sunday in February 2006, the Pittsburgh Steelers were about to battle the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks for a big silver Lombardi trophy. Could this finally be one for the thumb? The Promised Land was on the horizon.
As Jerome Bettis led the Steelers onto Ford Field at Detroit on Sunday February 5 2006 it was a return home. It was also a black and gold, terrible towel waving hometown crowd for Bettis and the Steelers. Steeler Nation was delirious and nervous at the same time. With visions of O’Donnell’s XXX performance in the minds of all Steelers fans old enough to remember many held onto the remote for dear life. The red hot Steelers came out ice cold. Big Ben seemed apprehensive and played like Ben of the 2004 playoffs instead of the “Jesus” like QB that had led Steeler Nation out of the desert and at Lombardi’s pearly gates just this playoff season.
Down 3-0 and faced with 3rd and eternity Roethlisberger scrambled and heaved the ball down field. When Hines Ward plucked it from between 2 Seattle defenders ala Swann and Ben’s 1 yard TD plunge was upheld on review the Steelers had a 7-3 lead and Steeler Nation took a breath. While The Rolling Stones rocked halftime many in the Nation paced, prayed and smoked them if they had them. As a Rock N Roll aficionado but die hard Steelers fan, I do not remember one Stones tune or any of the half time commercials. I took my first breaths in hours as my white knuckles and nerves were frazzled. 30 minutes left and a 7-3 lead. Could Steeler Nation be poised for entrance through the gates of rapture or were we poised for another lesson of humility through horrible failure? Bob Moose anyone? Jose Lind? The ghosts of Stan Belinda and Stan Humphries hung in the thick February air.
The second half started with an incomplete pass bringing up a 2nd down and 10 yards to go for the Steelers. Back to gripping the arms of the chair in deafening silence. Like being at the dentist and waiting on the drill. Counter 34 Pike. Faneca makes a block. Fast Willie Parker hits the seam and is off to the races. We had seen it many times that season. Now I am out of my chair for the first time on this Sunday in February. I am screaming “Run you B*st*rd Run!!”
26 years are flashing before my eyes in the 10.3 seconds it takes Willie Parker to take the rock to the house and give the Steelers an almost insurmountable 14-3 3rd quarter lead. Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, Mark Malone, Gabe Rivera, Keith Gary, Keith Willis, Kent Graham, O’Donnell the loser, Larry Brown, John Elway, Kordell, Tom Brady…I’m breathing again. Even as the Seahawks who have closed to 14-10 and are driving into Steelers territory I am now confident. Ike Taylor steps up like Glen Edwards and Mel Blount before him. All those INTs Taylor has dropped through the years do not matter. He catches this errant Matt Hasselback pass and returns it to around mid field with the aid of a roughing penalty on the Seahawk QB. Now it’s Whiz time. “We’re gonna keep playing!” Coach Cowher tells his QB on the sideline. The Steelers wizard genius offensive coordinator calls a double reverse at a time the Steelers are traditionally conservative and using their Bus Pass. Ben to Parker to Randle El. El running a sweep shows pass like he has all year. El throws a pretty rainbow to the smiling assassin Hines Ward who catches the pass the cover of Sports Illustrated and leaps over the goal line to the MVP trophy. The Steelers and their Nation have crossed over into the Promised Land and will once again drink from the holy challis. The party starts on the sideline, at Steelers Bars and Steeler Nation adobes everywhere. On one Sunday in February years of ignominy and suffrage are wiped away along with tears of joy by terrible towels all over the world. Never again will Steeler Nation fear the post season or the home games that great seasons earn. The drive for 5 has ended but the Steelers are poised to compete for Lombardi trophy’s as long as their big QB stays healthy and out of trouble. On another Sunday in February the Steelers earned their sixth Lombardi trophy. Seventh heaven anyone?