My DMC-12 in my black-and-gold mind operates on auto-pilot. So, as I open the door to my cranial Delorean in anticipation of the date displayed on the time circuits, I pray that it’s not from the 60s (those were dark times in the ‘Burgh). But I was pleased to be only going back 14 years when the Lombardi trophy returned from its 26-year Steel City siesta.
The year was 2006.
It was a day when America lost the comic brilliance of Franklin Cover, the man who portrayed Tom Willis on The Jeffersons. Also Costa Rica held presidential elections, slasher thriller When A Stranger Calls was No. 1 at the box office and, although the song was nearly 21-years old and it was February, I was walking on sunshine.
For the first time in ten years since their devastating loss to Dallas in Super Bowl XXX, my Steelers were in the Super Bowl. They needed a series of improbable events and planetary alignment to get there. That scenario included a must-win 4-game streak to end the 2005 season, plus a Carson Palmer injury in Cincy, a Ben Roethlisberger miracle tackle in Indy, and a win in tough-to-play Denver to get there.
Tickets were going for three grand a piece and I just couldn’t scrape that kind of cheddar together. I was bummed but elated as the day grew closer. The night before the game I was invited to spend the evening in Maryland with my girlfriend’s family for Mexican Night. It was right around 7pm and the game was 23 hours away, when my future brother-in-law (a Ravens fan) looked at me and said, “I forgot you were a Steeler fan. I had free tickets come across my desk yesterday. If I would have thought about it, I would have given them to you”.
I’ve been speechless maybe one or two times in my existence.
A flood of ideas popped in my head, which included many that would result in my beating the refried beans out of him, then being incarcerated and missing the game altogether. While I stuttered and he kept babbling, my future wife implored him to just stop talking. I regained my speech when he absurdly said how “the game is tomorrow, you’d never get there anyway”. I explained that I could be in Detroit in seven hours and asked him to call somebody to see if he could get me the tickets. I felt like a desperate crackhead looking for one more score. He said he would call while I hyperventilated on my future in-laws’ couch. I’m pretty sure he lied, but he said he called to no avail. To this day, I haven’t fully forgiven him.
I woke up the next day and drove to Johnstown to watch the game with my parents and sister. I couldn’t watch the game with my girlfriend, because superstition didn’t allow it. We spent the Saturday before each postseason with each other and then I drove a long distance to watch the game. I needed to keep that party going, because heaven knows that the Steelers’ fortunes ride on my watching habits. Everything was pretty much a blur of excitement up until Aarron Neville, Aretha Franklin and Dr. John performed the Nation Anthem at Ford Field in Detroit. Then I marveled as I watched Jerome Bettis — unwittingly duped by his teammates to run out onto the field in his hometown for what would be his last NFL game — while a sea of past Super Bowl MVPs looked on.
The Seattle Seahawks won the kickoff and elected to receive. There was very little action as each of the team’s first two possessions ended with punts. On their third series, Seattle started strong, courtesy of a short Chris Gardocki punt that Peter Warrick returned a yard short of midfield. Three plays later, Matt Hasselback seemingly completed a dominant drive with a touchdown pass to Darrel Jackson. However, he was called for what even Tunch Ilkin called a “ticky-tack” offensive pass interference play on Chris Hope. This stalled their drive and Josh Brown put Seattle up 3-0 to end the first quarter.
The Steelers, especially Ben Roethlisberger, didn’t play much better to start the second quarter when he threw a pick with his team finally driving. On the next Steelers’ drive, Roethlisberger came somewhat alive, as he converted a third-and-28 with a 37-yard across-body heave to Hines Ward down to the 3-yard line. After Jerome Bettis got them to the one, Roethlisberger faked a handoff and seemingly dove his way short of the end zone. But after a brief stutter by the ref, a touchdown was signaled and Seattle challenged to no avail. The half ended as Brown missed a 54-yarder on the next drive and Pittsburgh ran out the clock leading 7-3.
After the disappointing debacle that was The Rolling Stones at halftime, Willie Parker electrified Steelers Nation, going 75 yards untouched through an Alan Faneca-made hole to paydirt and a 14-3 lead. It replaced Marcus Allen’s epic 1984 jaunt in the record book, and still stands as the longest run in Super Bowl history.
After Brown missed another FG, Pittsburgh drove again and were on the verge of putting the game away when Roethlisberger threw another interception from the six that Kelly Herndon returned 76 yards to the Steelers’ 20. Hasselbeck then cut the lead to 14-10 when he found Jeramy Stevens for a 16-yard score.
After the Steelers punted, Matt Hasselbeck drove the Seahawks down the field to the Steelers’ 1-yard line. But Sean Locklear was called for a hold and Ike Taylor intercepted Hasselbeck three plays later.
Four plays later, Pittsburgh ran a reverse that appeared to be blown up by Seattle. But Ben threw a devastating block that allowed Antwaan Randle El to throw a 43-yard touchdown pass to an all-alone Hines Ward, who galloped into the end zone giving the Steelers a 21–10 lead. It was the first time a receiver had ever thrown a TD pass in the Super Bowl. Ironically, both ends of that tandem had played QB on the college level.
Seattle attempted a comeback but, on the strength of a Casey Hampton sack and Jerome Bettis draining the clock on seven straight runs, the Steelers triumphed as the clock ran out. Steelers Nation celebrated while Seattle felt robbed. Ward was named the MVP, Jerome Bettis retired on the podium and Bill Cowher beamed as he handed the Lombardi to Dan Rooney.
As for me, It was the first Super Bowl championship I witnessed in my adult life. I was on an amazing high that was 26-years in the making and I never wanted to come down. As I drove two hours back to Maryland in a driving snowstorm late into the night, I listened to the post-game on the radio and found myself alone in tears in my car. I reached my apartment around 3am when the urge hit me to drive past my girlfriend’s sister’s husband’s house and honk the horn in celebration.
I’ll leave it to your imagination to guess what I ended up doing.