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Memorable AFC Championship Game moments in Pittsburgh Steelers history

The Steelers had great moments in AFCCG history, but these may rank as the finest.

AFC Championship Game: Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The AFC Championship Game is being played in Kansas City this weekend minus the team that has played-in (16) and hosted (11) the game the most...The Pittsburgh Steelers. While the Steelers couldn’t muster their way in this past season, there have been some very memorable moments featuring the black-and-gold. Here are some that pop up most in the craniums of Steeler Nation.

J.T. Thomas’ Redemption - December 29, 1974

The Steelers were on the doorstep of finally getting Art Rooney Sr. to the ““Big One” courtesy of rushing greatness by Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier and great defensive performances by Joe Greene, Jack Ham (two picks) and Jack Lambert. Home Team Oakland was down by four and driving with 1:18 left. The Steelers gang rushed Ken Stabler and sacked him, but J.T. Thomas was nailed for holding in the secondary. Enraged, he picked up the flag and spiked it. Today that would have definitely drew more of a penalty. On the next play, Thomas intercepted a Stabler duck and returned it 38 yards to the Oakland 25 with one minute remaining. The game was sealed when Franco scored from 21 out, two plays later. After 41 years, Art Rooney finally found his team in the big game and we all know what followed.

The Non-Call That Helped Change The NFL - January 6, 1980

On a drive in which Mike Renfro recovered a fumble in the vicinity of five Pittsburgh defenders, drew Mel Blount into a chuck penalty and caught a key first down...the second-year man from TCU was involved in one of the most controversial calls in Title Game history. With 1:30 left in the third, Dan Pastorini threw a six-yard rainbow to Renfro for an apparent touchdown in the corner of the end zone over Ron Johnson. The replay showed that Renfro had clear control of the ball with his left foot down and his right foot hitting the pylon. NFL Films much later showed some movement in Renfro’s hands. If instant replay was in effect, the call on the field very well could have been reversed and Pittsburgh fans would have been hard pressed to argue it. (It was much more borderline than what first appeared on NBC television.) The officials conferred and referee Jim Tunney ruled it out if bounds. Houston was livid. Steeler fans accepted the gift. It was now second down and goal from the six and the Steeler defense held the Oilers to a field goal. It was 17-13 at the end of the third. The game ended 27-13 and the Steelers went on to win their fourth Super Bowl. The Renfro play became a major factor in replay being inserted into the NFL.

Ernie Mills Comes Up Big Again and The Unanswered Prayer - January 14, 1996

The Steelers were heavy favorites to advance to the first Super Bowl appearance of Bill Cowher’s career and the first for the franchise in 16 years, but somebody forgot to tell Jim Harbaugh and the Colts to lay down and let it happen. With 3:03 remaining in the game and Indy up 16-13, the Steelers got the ball back needing at least three to tie. But the way the Colts were playing, a TD seemed necessary. The game almost ended on that drive when Quentin Coryatt seemingly iced the game with an interception of Neil O’Donnell. But at the last moment, WR Ernie Mills bumped the ball out of the linebacker’s grasp. On fourth down, O’Donnell completed a crucial pass to Andre Hastings. On the very next play, No. 14 launched a 37-yard pass to Mills. No. 89 caught the ball in traffic, while managing to stay in bounds at the one. Bam Morris helped Pittsburgh take the lead on the next play. However, Captain Comeback wasn’t done. With very little time left, Harbaugh got the Colts to the Steeler 29. He then lined up with :05 seconds on the clock and launched a Hail Mary into the right corner of the end zone, where Aaron Bailey was waiting. Everybody in Three Rivers Stadium and at home watching on NBC thought Bailey caught the prayer. But Myron “Boo” Bell helped knock the ball away and the Steelers celebrated the big win. Eventually, they would fall two weeks later to Dallas in SB XXX.

Ben Roethlisberger’s XL Bootleg - January 22, 2006

The Steelers had lost three-straight AFC Championship Games at home, so playing in the rarified Denver air was fine for the 2005 sixth seed. A week after stunning the favorites, the Indianapolis Colts, on the road...the “Road Warrior” Steelers won their seventh-straight elimination game of that season behind a masterful performance by Ben Roethlisberger. The second-year QB was 21 for 29 and threw two TD passes in the game. But with 2:59 left and the team leading 27-17, Big Ben scored off a four-yard bootleg to the left to put the contest out of reach and send Jerome Bettis home to Detroit for the Steelers first Super Bowl in ten years and their first victory in 26.

No. 43 Zig Zags the Steelers into Super Bowl No. 43 - January 19, 2009

In the fourth quarter and nursing a slim 16-14 lead at home against their bitter division rivals, the Steelers’ saw a drive (attempting to ice the game) fail after Terrell Suggs sacked Ben Roethlisberger after the Steelers started at their own 40. The Baltimore Ravens took to the turf with a chance to take the lead with 6:50 remaining on the clock. What seemed to be a starting point at the 40, Darren Stone whipped Anthony Madison down miles out of bounds by the B-More bench. Instead of starting off only 60-yards away, Flacco and the offense started way back at their own 14. The Ravens were trying to move the ball, but the Steeler defense came up big on back-to-back plays. On second down, James Farrior forced Joe Flacco into LaMarr Woddley and No. 56 got his second sack. But fortunes really changed when Flacco threw a pass to Derrick Mason on third and 13 with hopes to move the chains. Troy Polamalu, who had been dominant all game, undercut the route and thieved the ball. No. 43 zigged and zagged and ran from sideline to sideline before he made a beeline to the end zone. In what was one of the most majestic plays in Steeler lore from a player with a wrapped calf, the pick-six basically iced the game for Pittsburgh. They would go on to win SB XLIII in even more memorable fashion two weeks later.