As the 2009 Steelers prepared for their Week 17 game in Miami on January 3, 2010, the chances at a playoff berth were quite slim. In addition to a win over the Dolphins, Pittsburgh (8-7) needed the Texans and Jets or Ravens to lose under one scenario; if Houston didn't lose its 1 p.m. game to the Patriots, who were locked into their seed and didn't have anything to play for, Baltimore, Denver and New York would then all have to lose their games in-order for the Steelers to punch their postseason ticket and have a chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Of course, most of what the Steelers needed to happen didn't, and it was a depressing few days afterwards knowing my favorite football team would be sitting home watching the playoffs just like I was. But, hey, at least I had time to prepare myself for that very real possibility, especially after a five-game losing-streak--including losses to the 4-12 Chiefs, 5-11 Raiders and 5-11 Browns--left Pittsburgh at 6-7 before a three-game rally at the end made things somewhat interesting.
Two years ago, as the Steelers prepared for their regular season-finale against Cleveland at Heinz Field on December 29, 2013, the chances at landing a postseason ticket seemed even more dismal than they did four years earlier. In addition to a victory over the Browns, Pittsburgh (7-8) needed the Dolphins, Ravens and Chargers to all lose their games. Even though the odds seemed almost impossible, believe it or not, along with a victory over Cleveland, the Ravens and Dolphins both lost their 1 p.m. games, and it all came down to a Chiefs team that was locked into the fifth seed and had nothing to play for, defeating a fired-up San Diego squad on the road in a 4:25 match-up. Impossible, right? For the entirety of the 2013 season, I basically had an emotional detachment to the Steelers. I knew they would be fairly bad, which they were (at least early on), as they started out 0-4 and 2-6. Pittsburgh rallied a bit in the second half of the season, winning three games in a row, and even had a realistic shot at making the playoffs, despite a 5-6 record. However, after back-to-back gut-wrenching losses to Baltimore and Miami, the Steelers were 5-8. Forget about the playoffs at that point; the first losing season in a decade seemed like a mere formality. However, the Steelers rallied to finish at 8-8, and there were the Chiefs' backups (coach Andy Reid rested 20 starters) playing with a 24-14 lead early in the fourth quarter and oh so close to completing Pittsburgh's postseason grand slam.
Unfortunately, Kansas City quickly lost the lead and then the game in overtime, thanks to Ryan Succop and some questionable officiating. After not caring a whole heck of a lot that year, there I was, some three hours after the Steelers final regular season game had ended, sitting in my recliner in my darkened living room, all depressed because the playoff miracle didn't come to pass. But, hey, when I woke up that morning, I knew the odds were long. Besides, when you put your fate in someone else's hands (or feet in the case of Succop), forget the sixth seed, that's the ultimate wild card.
Fast-forward to 2015 and the aftermath of Pittsburgh's exciting 34-27 come-from-behind victory over the Broncos at Heinz Field on December 20. The victory improved the Steelers to 9-5 and officially put them into the sixth spot in the AFC, thanks to a tiebreaker over the Jets.
I must say, despite nothing being clinched, a playoff berth seemed like a mere formality, considering all it would require was a victory over the 4-10 Ravens, followed by a season-ending win over the last place Browns. Much like Clark Griswold and his pool in the movie Christmas Vacation, I pretty much had my emotional bonus check that was a postseason which included the Steelers spent before it even arrived in the mail.
Like Clark daydreaming about a pool party and the woman in the bathing suit, I had visions of the Steelers running roughshod through a suddenly compromised AFC playoff-field on their way to Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco. In-fact, just last week, Jeff Hartman discussed the Steelers chances at the number two seed, provided they won-out to finish at 11-5 and some other dominoes fell in their favor. At the very least, a wild card spot was certain, right?
Sadly, you know what happened on Sunday. Over the span of about three hours, Pittsburgh went from a team that could finish 11-5 and possibly earn a bye, to a team that could finish 10-6 and possibly miss the playoffs.
No, it's not over yet; much like Clark Griswold after his famous rant about his cheapskate boss, I can have my happy ending, despite Pittsburgh's jelly-like performance against the Ravens on Sunday, provided the Steelers take care of business at Cleveland this week, and Rex Ryan gets his revenge on the Jets for firing him.
However, if things don't go as hoped...it's one thing to miss the playoffs after starting out 6-7 or 5-8, but to miss the postseason after having visions of a Super Bowl pool party?
Let's just say I'll be looking for some Extra Strength Tylenol.