In the classic movie Stand By Me, a poignant quote by Richard Dreyfus will forever stand out to me..."I never had friends like I had when I was 12". To me as a boy, there's something magical about the year I enjoyed as a 12-year old. I too had a great group of friends, with one still being my best friend 34 years later. Being 12 is that last year before you enter those awkward teen years that include a good bit of angst. But at 12, most haven't been exposed to such angst as of yet. However, a lot of doors start opening at that age. Ask anybody that knows me well, 1984 is my favorite year for so many reasons. My parents started letting me have more liberties, Reagan was reelected, my Little League team won the title and I discovered Springsteen, Van Halen, Huey Lewis/Carl Lewis, Karate Kid, Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, Police Academy and my hormones because of Madonna's wedding dress and Tina Turner's legs.
That just scratches the surface of that amazing year for me, as I could go on and on and on. That year was also a crazy year for my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers which I will always rank as one of my favorites.
So let's turn back the time circuits on the Delorean to December 30, 1984 to one my favorite Steeler playoff games of all-time.
The 9-7 Steelers, fresh off of an improbable victory in Los Angeles over the Raiders, won the AFC Central and headed to Denver to face John Elway and the 13-3 Broncos. Those Broncos felt disrespected for only having one player (RB Sammy Winder) selected to the Pro Bowl. They even sported t-shirts before the game that read "Rodney's Rejects" referring to Rodney Dangerfield's "No Respect" schtick. The Steelers really didn't belong in that game, as the football world readied themselves for Marino vs. Elway in the AFCCG, but nobody ever told Chuck Noll's team before they boarded the plane for Colorado.
The Steelers faltered early as Mark Malone turned the ball over twice on the team’s first two possessions, but the defense played Denver tough as Rick Karliss missed a field goal. But after that second fumble, which Tom Jackson recovered, Elway found TE Jim Wright for a nine-yard score. It was 7-0 Denver after one.
The Steelers put together a decent drive which got them down to the 11 behind Malone's passing and the feet of Frank Pollard and Walter Abercrombie. Disaster almost struck when Louis Wright dropped an INT. The Steelers got three on a Gary Anderson FG and were back in the game, but Steeler dreams almost died when Craig Colquitt had suffered a punt block for the first time in his career. Denver was four yards away from paydirt and a big lead when Gary Dunn snagged an Elway lob on third down at the Steeler four. The Steelers put together another nice drive and when Frank Pollard scored on a one-yard plunge, the visitors found themselves up 10-7 at the half.
In the third, Karlis deadlocked the score at 10-10 with a 21-yard kick. Denver regained the lead later that quarter when Steve Watson scored from 20 out on a pass from Elway. Watson was Denver's great weapon that day as he caught 11 balls for 177 yards. But the Steelers fought back as rookie sensation Louis Lipps reached the end zone on a 10-yard pass from Malone. It was 17-17 with a quarter to go.
In the fourth, the Steeler defense remained stout and shut down Denver. But Pro Bowl kicker Gary Anderson, who uncharacteristically missed three attempts, missed once again. It seemed like the Steelers couldn't get the big break. With less than three minutes left, it looked like Elway would rally his team to victory but he absorbed a monstrous hit by Keith Willis and was off kilter from there. It was never more evident when he launched a pass that Eric Williams intercepted and returned to the two. Frank Pollard, who finished with 99 yards, ran it in from there. The Steelers were up 24-17 with 1:59 left.
Elway still had time left, but he was too batterred to lead his team back. Four straight incompletions and the Steelers rejoiced as the clock ran out. Pollard and Abercrombie (75 yards) controlled the run game, while Malone went 17 for 28 and had 224 yards passing, including 86 to Louis Lipps.
The Steelers would be outmatched the following week as they valiantly fell to Miami to miss out on the Super Bowl. But it was a game where the Steelers pulled off their greatest playoff upset until the 2005 season.
I remember watching this game with my dad with only the lights of the tv and our Christmas tree glistening in our basement. My dad taught me an important lesson that day that I preach now, you never celebrate until there's three zeroes on the clock. I waited and when they appeared, it was nothing short of glorious.
Even more glorious than Tina Turner's legs.