Is my headline clickbait?
Did you actually have to go back and Google the Steelers' 2005 campaign (one that was quite magical, btw) to see if they had to play an extra game just to qualify for that divisional-round matchup against the Colts? (The ending of that game was epic, btw.)
The Steelers did have to qualify for the Divisional Round following the 2005 season, but they did so by playing on Wild Card Weekend.
In case you don’t know, Wild Card Weekend is the first round of the NFL playoffs, and it’s where teams who have to play one more game than the squads who earned byes must begin their postseason journey.
I remember how excited I was when the Steelers won their fourth-straight game of the 2005 regular season to finish at 11-5 and qualify for the postseason as the sixth and final seed in the AFC. Pittsburgh defeated the Lions that day by a score of 35-21. Jerome Bettis, playing in what would turn out to be his final regular-season game, scored three touchdowns in the win, as the fans at Heinz Field chanted, “One more year!”
I was filled with anticipation that week, as I anxiously awaited the Steelers wildcard matchup vs. those dastardly Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. I went on Craigslist (my social media at the time, since social media really didn’t exist in January of 2006) and talked smack with folks from Cincinnati.
We went back and forth about who was going to win, the curse of the Terrible Towel (T.J. Houshmandezeh shined his cleats with the towel following a Bengals victory at Heinz Field in early December), and whether or not Bengals fans were going to be heading for the Escaloser late in the fourth quarter (they did, btw).
You know what Steelers fans and Bengals fans didn’t talk smack about that week? We never once argued about whether or not either team was actually in the playoffs yet.
That brings me to the now, and the ongoing NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The Pitt Panthers, my Pitt Panthers, were knocked out of the Round of 32 by Xavier last Sunday. If you’re a Penn State and/or WVU fan, you can take this time now to say, “Haha!” Touche. But I will counter that “Haha” by saying that the Panthers won one more tournament game than the Nittany Lions and two more tournament games than the Mountaineers.
I know what you’re going to say, “That first win over Mississippi State wasn’t really a tournament game. Haha!”
And that brings me to social media and this never-ending thing we like to do in 2023: Engage in silly debates.
Sweet potato pie or pumpkin pie?
Is Diehard a Christmas movie?
What color is that dress?
Is the play-in round a part of the NCAA Tournament?
The NCAA decided to expand its field to 68 teams a while ago. Before the first round tips off on the Thursday after Selection Sunday, however, eight teams gather in Dayton, Ohio, to decide which four will get to advance to the Round of 64. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched those four games that take place on the Tuesday and Wednesday after Selection Sunday, but the atmosphere is electric. The people of Dayton have taken this little two-day event and made it theirs. It’s a ton of fun and worth checking out.
If only the NCAA didn’t decide to name these contests play-in games. This is what leads to such debates every year.
Panthers fans were dejected on Selection Sunday when they found out their team had to win a game in Dayton in order to advance to the Round of 64. Penn State and WVU fans found great joy in this outcome.
I still can’t figure out why, though. The NCAA’s play-in round is simply a series of wildcard games that decide which four teams advance to the next round. Maybe if the NCAA called them wildcard games or, get this, THE FIRST ROUND OF THE TOURNAMENT, people wouldn’t have these silly debates at the onset of the tournament each and every March.
Talk about your March MADNESS.
Yes, it sucked that Pitt, a team that almost won the ACC regular-season title, had to play an extra game, but it still played in one of the rounds of the tournament.
The Panthers, along with Mississippi State and six other teams, were invited as part of the Field of 68. Otherwise, I was as much a part of the NCAA tournament as those eight teams were. North Carolina, the preseason No. 1, didn’t get invited to the Field of 68.
I mean, it’s not like the Panthers had to win an auction to get to the Round of 64. They didn’t have to bribe anyone. They had to win a postseason game that was a part of the NCAA tournament.
I blame this all on the NCAA and its choice of words used to describe those games in Dayton. Again, why not call them wildcard games? Why not call Tuesday and Wednesday the first round of the tournament?
People had been begging the NCAA to expand its tournament field for years, and it finally did. Expansion without a bye was going to be almost impossible, so making eight teams battle for the right to advance to the Round of 64 seemed like a good idea.
And it is.
Just like it was a good idea to make two teams battle it out to advance to the divisional round when the NFL decided to expand its postseason field to 10 teams (five in each conference) back in 1978. Math being math, the only way to avoid an extra round for some and a bye for others would have been to expand the field to 16 teams, but the league wasn’t ready for that back then.
But the NFL was ready to expand its postseason tournament, and in doing so, it created an extra week of playoff excitement for viewers. It gave more fans a chance to dream of a Super Bowl title. It also gave more good teams a chance to win a Lombardi, which the Raiders did in 1980 when they became the first wildcard qualifier to win three postseason games before defeating the Eagles (a division winner and the number-two seed in the NFC) in Super Bowl XV.
The NFL’s postseason field is now up to 14, and it’s just a matter of time before it expands to 16, thus wiping out an extra game for some and a bye for others.
But until it does, Wild Card Weekend will still be part of the NFL’s postseason field of 14.
Just like those first four games in Dayton, Ohio, are a part of the NCAA tournament’s postseason field of 68.