About a year ago at this time, I was in attendance at Heinz Field for a Sunday night game between the Steelers and Bengals. Pittsburgh entered the evening with a 5-8 record, and any shot at the playoffs seemed remote at best.
It was a cold, blustery December evening in Pittsburgh and, even though there were some fun times, it was mostly miserable, despite a 30-20 Steelers victory. It was also the lowest-attended game in the history of Heinz Field (45,873), which probably spoke volumes about what people thought of the weather, as well as their favorite football team's chances of playing in January.
Fast-forward to just over a year later, and I was in attendance at Heinz Field again on Sunday, as the Steelers took on the Chiefs in a very important Week 16 encounter for both clubs.
Fast-forward to about three and half hours after kick-off, and, much like a year ago, I was worried about my toes getting frostbite (couldn't feel my big toe or the one next to it as I walked back to my car), but that was about as bad as the day got for yours truly.
All of the stuff that happened before that was pretty freakin' awesome.
Thanks to my aunt's friend's friends, I was able to make it to Sunday's very important contest. And if you're counting at home, that's now three out of four Steelers games I've witnessed in-person dating back to Pittsburgh's 35-32 loss to the Saints at Heinz Field on November 30. (I had never been to two Steelers games in the same season before 2014.)
Continuing a tradition that started a week after the New Orleans game, when I traveled to Cincinnati to watch the Black-and-Gold beat up on the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, I made sure to break out the Terrible Towel my mom found in the street about a decade ago and brought it along with me to Heinz Field on Sunday. After I twirled that bad boy for the first time following Shaun Suisham's field goal in the first quarter which put Pittsburgh up, 3-0, someone in my group said, "I believe that's Myron Cope's original Terrible Towel."
Maybe it is. After all, it's old and dingy and was discovered by my mom almost a decade ago during Pittsburgh's Super Bowl XL run. And beings that its original owner was never found, who's to say it isn't the first Terrible Towel Myron twirled way back in December of 1975, during a huge playoff game against the Baltimore Colts?
Yes, this towel is battered, faded and tattered, but I now believe it's lucky--and not just for the Steelers. I decided to buy a can of beer before the game, and, despite the fact that I just turned 42 and seven months on December 12 and hadn't shaved since Tuesday, the guy carded me.
Now that's what I call a lucky Terrible Towel.
Anyway, the main reason I was able to attend Sunday's game was because of an extra ticket provided by a family who traveled from West Virginia to see their son, George Triplett, be honored at the end of the third quarter for finishing in first place in the 14-15 year old age group of this year's Punt, Pass and Kick competition.
This kid reportedly kicked a 50-yard field goal while practicing, so needless to say, he has a bright future ahead of him. Of course, his sister, Sophia, 12, was sitting next to me and she said her big brother is nothing but a show-off. Therefore, regardless of all the talents the young Mr. Triplett possesses, his future appears to be as a wide receiver, so he'd better work on his touchdown celebrations.
Speaking of wide receivers, the Steelers took control of the game late in the third quarter on an Antonio Brown three-yard touchdown pass to go up, 17-6. Moments later, with 12 minutes and change left in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh's much-maligned defense seemed to snuff out what remained of the Chiefs' chances, when linebacker Lawrence Timmons made a great play and held tight end Travis Kelce to a minimal gain to force fourth-and-long. Unfortunately, William Gay got all up in Timmons' face and taunted him for his great play, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty and, eventually, a Kansas City field goal to close the gap to eight points with a lot of time left.
No fear. The Steelers answered with a field-goal drive of their own to re-establish their 11 point lead with just 4:04 remaining.
After Suisham's successful kick, everyone in my group decided it was time to leave. But since I arrived at Heinz Field on my own and met everyone there, I just had to stay to see the final four minutes.
The Chiefs did mount a bit of a threat and actually made it an eight-point game again, following a Cairo Santos 23-yard field goal with 1:40 left (the kicker's fourth of the day). But, thankfully, there was no drama during the onside kick attempt, as Will Johnson quickly clutched the football to preserve a 20-12 victory and officially clinch Pittsburgh's first trip to the post-season in three years.
After attending so many previous Steelers games with not much on the line in terms of playoff prospects, seeing them three times during the past month as actual contenders has been a real treat.
I've never been to a Steelers playoff game, but I can always say I was at Heinz Field on December 21, 2014, to watch them clinch a trip to the dance.