The BTSC Delorean seems to be liking a certain year in recent weeks. Once again, the time circuits are cued up to a time when George W. Bush was celebrating his reelection victory over John Kerry for POTUS, ABC’s Lost was captivating couches and their inhabitants all across America, and Disney Pixar had the top-grossing movie in The Incredibles. Equally as incredible was the inaugural season for Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger. The rookie from Miami of Ohio had won his first five starts and was capturing the hearts of Steelers Nation for the first time in what seemed like forever. Meanwhile, the cross-state rivals known as the undefeated Eagles were rolling into town, a week after the Steelers vanquished the previously undefeated Patriots. Led by Andy Reid, Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens and a suffocating defensive corps, the Eagles looked to be a ferocious foe. Sans their spectacular rusher Duce Staley and the defensive mountain known as Casey Hampton, Steelers Nation was cautiously anticipating the contest.
Welcome to November 7, 2004
The Steelers wasted no time in establishing dominance in this game by jumping on “The Bus”. With an injured Staley in street clothes, the twelfth-year back needed to channel his younger self. Bettis converted a fourth and one, as well as gaining 34 yards on the Steelers’ opening series. Facing a 3rd-and-13 from the Philly 32, the rookie Ben Roethlisberger avoided a rush and took off for a first down of 16 yards to extend the drive. On the very next play, Hines Ward took it on an end-around for another 16 and the score. Hines punctuated the TD by flapping his arms and mocking the patented celebration of T.O. in the end zone. With 71 rushing yards on the opening drive, the Steelers were off to a running start and an early 7-0 lead.
The Eagles attempt to counter was futile as Larry Foote sacked McNabb on third down to force a three-and-out and a punt, which would become somewhat of a theme for the game. It was almost deja vu for the Steelers as well. Facing 3rd-and-13 once again, Roethlisberger converted again. Flushed out of the pocket and forced to throw on the run, he found Verron Haynes across the middle for the first down. Later on the drive, Ben converted another third down (this time it was only a 3rd-and-4) with a pass to Hines Ward that he took down the left side line all the way to glory and a chance to dance again. With 2:27 remaining in the first quarter, the Steelers led by two touchdowns, 14-0.
After stopping the Eagles again, the home team found the end zone on a third consecutive series. Haynes caught a big ball for a gain of 26 to get them into scoring range again, and No. 7 found TE Jay Riemersma, who was covered well by Jeremiah Trotter, in the end zone for the touchdown. Steelers 21, Eagles 0.
The Eagles finally started to rally late in the second quarter, but tough defense by Ike Taylor and Kendrell Bell forced them to have to settle for a 33-yard David Akers FG. On the sidelines, Owens (unhappy with his involvement) was found hounding and incessantly yapping at McNabb on the sideline, who apparently didn’t want to hear it and furiously tried to outrun and ignore him. In fact, that was the most offensive thing the Eagles did all day.
On the next series — with the Steelers approaching midfield — Roethlisberger launched one deep into double coverage to Plaxico Burress. Future Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins intercepted the ball and ran it back 32 yards to give the Eagles good field position. But they were unable to do anything with the opportunity. James Farrior made a great open field tackle on Brian Westbrook after he caught the ball. Westbrook had a lot of open field in front of him and could’ve gone all the way, but Potsie’s heads-up tackle forced another Johnson punt as the first half came to a close.
At halftime, the Steelers welcomed the 1979 Steelers world championship team for its 25th anniversary celebration.
In the third period, Plaxico burst off of the skinny post, caught the ball and a sped down the sideline. It seemed like he was going to go all the way, but his one-handed hotdogging made the ball pop out-of-bounds at the 22. A few plays later, Jeff Reed missed a 33-yard field goal, as the lead remained at 18.
On the next drive, Philadelphia was piercing into Steelers territory as T.O. was starting to heat up. But McNabb, under pressure from Aaron Smith, forced a pass that was picked off by James Farrior. With a 4th-and-3 on the 36, the Steelers went for it. Using the hard count, Philly’s Michael Lewis jumped across the line and gave the Steelers the first down. The Steelers brought in Reed for a 42-yarder and a 24-3 lead with 2:36 left in the third.
Farrior’s great day continued on the next Eagles’ drive as he sacked McNabb. The Eagles had to punt again. But Ben tripped and botched the handoff and the ball ended up in the hands of Michael Lewis as the third quarter expired.
In the fourth quarter, the veteran Willie Williams came alive on back-to-back plays.. First with coverage on a long pass to Todd Pinkston and then with a sack of McNabb on the next play. The Steelers ended up with the ball again after that and drained tons of clock behind the running of Bettis and the versatility of Antwaan Randle-El. Reed converted another field goal with around eight minutes to play in the game to give Pittsburgh a 24-point lead at 27-3.
Bill Cowher showed a lot of class, declining to press his advantage when the Steelers had a chance to run up the score. Willie Parker had his first career carry and it contributed to the rushing total of 252 yards. The Eagles, in turn, only had 21. The Steelers also dominated time of possession to the tune of 41:49 to 18:11. The final score was 27-3 and there was much rejoicing at Heinz Field.
The Steelers went on to win-out and end the regular season at 15-1. But they faded in the AFCCG against New England and a rematch with Philly at the Super Bowl in Jacksonville was not to be. But this game goes down as a satisfying victory against an undefeated opponent for the second straight week and it gave a city and its rookie QB hope for a future hoisting the Lombardi.
As for me, I was in the stands for this game and had a great feeling about my team that helped carry me through the remainder of Autumn. Something had happened before the game, though, that really saddened me.
As we were walking in, an SUV entered the parking lot. The driver was apparently late for work as he hurried to park. The operator of the vehicle was a disoriented Myron Cope. Obnoxious fans yelled joyously to Cope, who barely acknowledged them. The fans joked that the legendary broadcaster was already drunk, but I could tell that just wasn’t the case when I noticed his head was bandaged.
Myron seemed to be a shell of his normally gregarious self and he seemed to be much more aged and struggling as his face painted a picture of desperation. I later read he had become faint and had fallen and hit his head on the toilet. A few months later, he would announce his retirement due to health issues, and this was one of the incidents that cemented his decision to step down. Inside the stadium, an exciting new era was beginning, but outside of it, a storied career that many of us closely associated with our favorite team was coming to a close.