As we jump in to the BTSC Delorean for a trip to a happy yesteryear in Steeler Nation, I set the time circuits for Halloween of 2004. We head back to a time when America was still reeling from the brief resurrection of the Seaver Family to network television in a Growing Pains movie, “The Return of the Seavers”, radio listeners were honoring trick or treat by requesting “Goodies” by Ciara, The Grudge was number one at the box office, the Boston Red Sox finally broke their epic championship drought a few days earlier and President George W. Bush was days away from defending his presidency successfully against Democrat John Kerry. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers were riding a hot rookie quarterback to a 5-1 record and exciting Steeler Nation into thinking about their team hoisting the Lombardi for the first time in 25 years. But the defending champions from New England were standing in the way and on their way to the Steel City.
Welcome to October 31, 2004.
The 6-0 Patriots came in on All Hallow’s Eve with a winning streak of 21 in a row. Meanwhile, rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the Steelers was on a personal 17-game winning streak dating back to August 2003 in a game against Iowa. In the NFL, Ben had four straight wins to start his career and was looking for a fifth against the Pats.
The opening drive for the Patriots was true to their form as Tom Brady drove them right down the field, but the vaunted Steeler defense kept them from getting into end zone, limiting New England to 43-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. 3-0 Bill Belichick’s boys.
Roethlisberger’s first drive failed, but the rookie phenom took over late in the first and took advantage of a Ty Law injury to find Placico Burress. With Randall Gay subbing for Law, Roethlisberger dodged pressure from three Pats defenders and connected with a beautiful bomb to Burress for 47 yards and the score. 7-3 Steelers with 3:43 remaining in the first quarter
On the very next possession, Brady got absolutely cracked by Joey Porter. The ball came free and Kimo Von Oelhoffen recovered to give the Steelers great field position at the 33 of the enemy. A few plays later Plaxico got free again on a 4-yard pass from Ben near the corner of the end zone. After the review and Jeff Reed’s XP, the score was 14-3 with :29 seconds left in the first.
Usually, Brady and New England come back from a deficit with a vengeance...but it became even uglier 16 seconds later when Deshea Townsend intercepted No. 12 and took it 39 yards to glory. Steelers 21-Patriots 3.
The second quarter was mostly uneventful until the tail end of the half. Right before the 2MW, the Steelers stalled at the two and Reed chip-shotted from 19. But Brady, a master of the two-minute drill, got his team on the board with a pass of two yards to David Givens. It was 24-10 at the half.
The Pats had the ball to open the third and get to within a touchdown of the home team, but Brady’s completion to Kevin Faulk on the first play was stripped by Porter and Aaron Smith recovered at the 19. A few plays later, Jerome Bettis bullied his way in from the two. Heinz Field was estatic and rocking at 31-10.
The Pats managed another field goal on the next drive. Behind great ball control and punishing runs from Duce Staley and Bettis, the Steelers burned clock and capped it off with a Reed 29-yarder to make the score 34-13 at the end of three.
The Steelers continued to bog down the New England offense when Joey Porter sacked Brady again. The rest of the game saw Pittsburgh surrender a garbage time TD from Brady to Givens. But the big story was Coach Bill Cowher’s club ending the epic Patriot streak and continuing on one of his own that would conclude at 15. The Patriots ended that streak in the AFC Championship, but on this particular night, the Steelers were kings of the AFC.
The game was special for me as I was in a transitional period in my life. The ascension of Roethlisberger and the hope of a championship was a beacon of hope for me when I needed one. I was in attendance that Autumn Sunday and will never forget the excitement of that day that sparked hope for a few months at least.