As we return to a former Steelers time, the Delorean is geared up for an exciting beginning for Steelers Nation and Papa Art’s franchise. Let’s go to a year when Pittsburgh fans were recognizing the 25th anniversary of the Pirates last World Series, the Boston Red Sox kept their World Series dreams alive when, down three games to one, David Ortiz smashed a homer in the 12th inning of a possible elimination Game 4 in the AL Championship, Team America: World Police was best at the box office and election season was heating up in the USA with a W vs. John Kerry battle a few weeks away.
Welcome to October 17, 2004.
As for Steelers Nation, excitement was aplenty with the Pittsburgh defense topping the league in takeaways and a rookie QB leading the 4-1 Steelers to a fast start and eventually a 15-1 regular season. There was great anticipation as the Steelers traveled to Dallas to lock horns with their Super Bowl rivals, three times from the past.
The Cowboys elected to receive the opening kickoff from Jeff Reed. The initial drive featured four catches by Keyshawn Johnson
from Vinny Testeverde for 27 yards. No. 19 had 13 more yards on a run as well. From the 21-yard line, Richie Anderson went right and continued right into the end zone. Just like that, with 9:15 left in the first quarter, Bill Parcells and Company led 7-0. The rookie version of Ben Roethlisberger calmly led his team to the field in only his fourth start as a professional. Using four key weapons — Hines Ward (15 yards), Plaxico Burress (32 yards), Jay Riemersma (10 yards) and Duce Staley (8 yards) —Big Ben led the Steelers down the field with precision. The 8-play/70-yard drive concluded when Ben and Plaxico connected for a 5-yard score. Ben was a perfect four of four on the drive, and it was now 7-7.
But those two touchdowns to open the game were “it” for the quarter. The Steelers’ defense was led by tackling machines named Aaron Smith (sack), James Farrior (sack and a forced fumble), and Troy Polamalu. Both defenses continued to do their jobs well and kept each other from scoring untill there was 4:57 remaining in the first half. After Duce Staley (93 yards for the game) rumbled 24 yards, but temporarily left due to a leg ailment, Jeff Reed kicked a 51-yarder, followed by Billy Cundiff’s answer of a boot from 47. Cundiff’s kick was made possible by Richie Anderson’s “give up” draw on 3rd-and-17 that gained 18 yards. Troy Polamalu’s great defense against Jason Witten saved a TD on that drive. The halftime score was 10-10.
After the Steelers returned to the field in the third quarter, disaster almost struck when Ike Taylor mishandled the kickoff and Dallas jumped on it. But instead of just going for the recovery deep in Steelers’ real estate, they went for the end zone and gave the ball right back to Pittsburgh. With both Ben and Duce banged up, the Steelers faltered on the half’s initial series. But when it was Dallas’ turn, they took advantage. Testeverde employed Keyshawn, Terry Glenn, Eddie George and Dedric Ward to get into field-goal range and a 39-yard FG by Cundiff made the score 13-10 Dallas with 5:39 left in Quarter No. 3.
After Bill Cowher’s team did very little on their next drive, the home team got busy once again. It took only three plays for Testeverde to get Dallas into the end zone — a pass to Glenn for 48 and Keyshawn’s 22-yard scoring reception highlighted the 68-yard drive that gave America’s Team a 20-10 advantage. It was looking bleak for the winning streak, but Roethlisberger would rally his team on a drive that extended into the final quarter. With a 7-completion drive (including four to Hines), the eventual NFL Rookie of the Year engineered a drive of 74 yards that ended with a Jerame Tuman catch of seven yards in the end zone to cut the lead to 20-17.
The next three drives would conclude with punts. Two Dallas series were ended by sacks of Vinny by Farrior and Larry Foote, the last one with the Cowboys driving onto the Pittsburgh side of the field. All Dallas had to do was get a first down and run out the clock, but the blitzing Steelers flustered QB Vinny, causing the Dallas signal-caller to lose the ball and Kimo von Oelhoffen picked up the pig, rumbling all the way to the Dallas 24. With twenty seconds until the two-minute warning, Ben took over and completed two balls to Tuman and Burress for 17. Staley ran twice to get the ball to the 2-yard line and the Bus did the rest. Just like that, it was 24-20 Steelers in front of a stunned Dallas crowd. With :25 seconds left and the ball at their own 35, the Cowboys couldn’t get in position. The victory was secured and there was much rejoicing.
This game was significant for the fact that the Steelers, led by the young Roethlisberger, were starting to gel. This was Ben’s second of many fourth-quarter comebacks to follow. Steeler Nation knew that they were watching a budding team hero in the infancy of a possible legendary career.was beg It was also significant for me. My cousins, Vinny and Dave, were at the game. When Dallas took the 20-10 lead, they chose to go out as they left the game and were walking through the parking lot. My dad grabbed the phone and thanked his nephews for guaranteeing a Steeler win because “ You never celebrate until there are zeroes on the clock”. He also chastised them for leaving the game early and calling from the parking lot. After the game, my father called them and they were shocked to learn that their Cowboys lost to the Steelers after being up by 10 in the fourth quarter. I’ll never forget my dad’s words, “Boys, if you’re going to call and gloat, do yourself a favor and at least know who won the game.”