I've watched hundreds of Steelers games in my life, and among those hundreds of games, many included tough, last-second losses. And with the exception of one or two that occurred after Pittsburgh already had its playoff seed locked up and started Mike Tomczak at quarterback for an "injured" Neil O'Donnell, every single one of those losses was heartbreaking and have stayed with me to this very day.......except for one.
As I've stated a time or two recently, I'd give just about anything (including my very soul) to see my Pittsburgh Pirates have a successful, winning 2013 season and, at the very least, make it all the way to the World Series.
When I think about, however, I suppose I was selling out my Steelers soul way back when it was just knee-high to one of Satan's little helpers. While doing some research on Pittsburgh's early 90s offenses under OC Joe Walton the other day, I stumbled upon the box score of a game between the Steelers and Giants that was played on October 14th, 1991, at Three Rivers Stadium.
I remember that day well as it was an exciting sports day for Yours truly, but it had nothing to do with the Steelers. Instead, I was completely caught up in the wave of excitement involving the Pirates and their bid to make it back to the World Series for the first time in 12 years.
Forty eight hours earlier, the Pirates were getting their butts handed to them by the upstart Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, losing 10-3 at old Fulton County Stadium to fall behind in the series, 2-1. However, after an exciting 3-2, 10 inning victory in Game 4, Sunday evening, and a crazy 1-0 triumph, Monday afternoon, Pittsburgh was headed back to Three Rivers Stadium with a three games to two lead and poised to clinch the pennant over an underdog Braves team that finished in last place the year before.
Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke, Bobby Bonilla, Doug Drabek and John Smiley were just some of the stars of one of the most talented teams in baseball, a team that came up short in the NLCS in 1990 and would not be denied this time around. To quote former Pirate and Pittsburgh native, John Wehner: "Not a soul in that clubhouse thought we were going to lose." That same sentiment was echoed by an entire city of Buccos fans who just couldn't wait to see their team take on the Twins in the World Series.
But before Three Rivers could be prepared for Game 6 of the NLCS, there was the matter of that ho-hum Monday night contest involving the Steelers (3-2), who, believe it or not, were bringing up the rear in-terms of on the field/ice success among the three Pittsburgh sports teams during that period. While the Pirates were winning division titles and playing in exciting postseason games, and the Penguins were in the midst of back-to-back Stanley Cup victories, the Steelers were in the throes of a pretty long stretch of mediocrity that saw them miss the playoffs six times in seven seasons.
Mediocre or not, the Black and Gold were still a draw, and the stage was set for Monday Night Football against the Giants, the defending Super Bowl Champions. Bubby Brister was the starting quarterback for the home team, and the game started out as another mediocre performance for the Steelers, as New York built a 20-0 lead by the third quarter. It was 22 years ago, so I don't remember if it was due to injury or poor performance, but Brister was replaced by Neil O'Donnell in the second half, and No. 14 actually rallied the team.
Trailing 20-3 in the fourth quarter, Gary Anderson kicked a 39 yard field goal to bring the Steelers to within two touchdowns. Later in the period, O'Donnell hooked up with Louis Lipps for a 16 yard touchdown to pull Pittsburgh to within seven. When the offense got the football back again, O'Donnell connected with tight end Eric Green (you remember him? He was Gronkowski before Gronkowski was Gronkowski.....only fatter) on a five yard touchdown pass to miraculously tie the score in the waning moments of the game.
My uncle and I were watching the game, and we were excited but not nearly as excited as we probably should have been--I guess you could say our hearts (and souls) belonged to the Buccos at that moment.
Unfortunately, the Giants took the football and marched down field to set up a 44 yard field goal attempt for Matt Bahr, which he connected on as the clock hit zero to give New York a 23-20 victory.
Any self-respecting Steelers fan would have been angry and upset about the "soft and cheesy" defense letting the Giants go right down the field after such an epic comeback. However, I wasn't upset at all, and that's because I had bigger fish to fry--my Pirates were going to the World Series!
It was kind of like a scene from the movie, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, where, upon finding out that his show, the Green Hornet, was canceled, Lee turns to his wife and says, "No problem, I'll just go right to Kung Fu." Kung Fu was a show Lee conceived and thought he would star in. But since it was the early 70s, TV executives thought Lee was too Asian to play an Asian from Asia, and David Carradine played the role of Caine, instead.
Much like Bruce Lee, my plans were ruined days later when the Pirates didn't score a single run in Games 6 and 7, and it was Braves faithful who got to play the role of "Delirious fans of the National League representative in the World Series," as Atlanta took on the Twins in the Fall Classic.
(editor's note: The Twins defeated the Braves in the best World Series ever played)
After that Kung Fu kick back to reality, it was back to caring about my Steelers, and boy did I care. I cared as I watched them lose the following week to Seattle and five more times after that on the way to a 7-9 record in Chuck Noll's final season.
The moral of the story: You should always care about a last-second loss suffered by your favorite football team because you just never know when Bonds and Van Slyke will bite it in crunch time.