It's early June, so please indulge me, if you will. Sure, OTA's are the Steelers hot topic (kind of), and you probably want to know how well Bud Dupree, Senquez Golson, Sammie Coates, and for that matter, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton or even DeAngelo Williams are doing.
I don't know.
But I do know I was pretty peeved off on December 28, 2003, after Pittsburgh dropped its regular season finale in overtime, 13-10. I was peeved off because it was Sunday Night Football, it was national television, and, it was the Ravens. I shouldn't have been angry. After all, a win wouldn't have secured a higher seed or even a playoff berth; a victory would have simply "improved" Pittsburgh's final number to 7-9. Instead, it was 6-10 and just a little more salt in the wound.
Obviously, no matter the record, just the fact that it was under .500 tells you the 2003 campaign wasn't one to write home about for the Steelers. But if one were to write a book about that season, it would probably be titled, "The Year of the Pass: The Time the Black and Gold Abandoned the Run." Foreword by Jerome Bettis.
Behind Tommy "Gun" Maddox, the Steelers fell in-love with the pass in '03, to the tune of a whopping 3,304 yards, 19 touchdowns and a very efficient 17 interceptions. As for the running game, it finished next-to-last, only averaging 3.3 yards per carry, as Bettis started the season as a back-up to 'Famous' Amos Zereoue.
After starting out a very normal 2-1, Pittsburgh suffered an alarming five-game losing streak and was 2-6 at the halfway point of the season. However, since the AFC North was very weak that year, there was still great hope the Steelers could bounce back and claim their third straight division crown. In fact, fans would call talk shows and say stuff like, "This is the weakest division in the NFL. We got a chance." My brother would call me five times a week and basically say the same thing. (If I had my own show, I would have limited him to one call a month.)
What never occurred to anyone throughout the season was the fact that Pittsburgh was having trouble staying out of the cellar of the weakest division in football.
Anyway, after losing, 6-0, on the road to the equally pathetic Jets in Week 15--a game in-which the offense couldn't pass or run--to fall to 5-9, most fans had given up hope of Pittsburgh making the playoffs (mainly because the team was eliminated).
Fast-forward to that night in Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium. The game could have meant something in the standings to the Ravens (9-6), but earlier in the day, the Bengals "Bungaled" away a chance at the division title by losing at home to the 4-11, then 5-11 Browns.
Now the Ravens game meant nothing to the Ravens, but that didn't stop them from trying to win.
Like the Steelers, I was enduring a tough year in '03, having recently gone through an operation that was trying both physically and emotionally. I was doing well by that point, but I was still in pain and a bit fussy a lot of the time. The only cure, as I saw it that night, was a curtain-jerking road victory over Baltimore.
Fact is, after an 81-yard touchdown pass from Josh Miller (that's right, the punter) to Chris Hope (that's right, the safety) midway through the third quarter and a Jeff Reed 42-yard field goal moments later, the Steelers went into the fourth quarter with a 10-7 advantage. But the Ravens answered with a field goal of their own in the final period to knot the game at 10, and after some more awesome passing by Maddox, regulation came to an end with the score still tied.
You'll be happy to know that Pittsburgh got the ball first in OT and proceeded to pass three straight times for very little. The Ravens got the ball, marched down field and won it on a Matt Stover 46-yard boot.
I was angry for days and days. Screw those Ravens, who finished 10-6 and won the AFC North crown--something they could have accomplished with a 9-7 record, thanks to the Bungals.
What's my point in all of this? Had the Steelers managed to win that night and pacify my aching body and wounded psyche, Ben Roethlisberger wouldn't be here today. Pittsburgh drafted 11th in '03 and was said to be interested in Roethlisberger's services. In-fact, his name was linked to the Steelers quite a bit leading up to the 2004 NFL Draft.
With a 7-9 record, the Steelers would have been drafting a few spots further down in the first round. Rumor has it, the Bills, who picked two spots behind Pittsburgh, would have nabbed Roethlisberger had he fallen to them. A better record for the Steelers would have meant a more advantageous draft spot for Buffalo and a change in the course of history.
Think about all the great memories from the past decade that would have been lost. Think about the two less Super Bowls I'd be able to boast about. Think about the various directions the Steelers organization may have gone. Maybe Shawn Andrews would have come to town after all. Maybe Maddox would have enjoyed another half-decade under center. Maybe Bill Cowher would still be roaming the sidelines at Heinz Field, in-search of his elusive Lombardi trophy.
In 1970, the ability to draft Terry Bradshaw number one overall came down to a coin toss between the Steelers and Bears. Imagine how different history would be today had Pittsburgh lost that toss.
Stuff like that blows my mind.
It's a great lesson to learn. Sometimes you have to endure the tough seasons. Sometimes you have to miss the playoffs multiple times. Sometimes you have to change your philosophies a bit, along with your offensive and defensive coordinators.
Sometimes you have to suffer through a meaningless end-of-season overtime loss just to have championship memories that will stay with you forever.
And, to think, I'm still angry about that loss to the Ravens on December 28, 2003.